President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov
In Turkmenistan, persecution against Christians comes from most parts of society. The government heavily restricts religious freedom, going so far as to make it extremely difficult to print or import religious materials. While unregistered churches are most heavily targeted, even Russian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches are monitored by authorities. In addition to official pressure, Christians who have converted from Islam are also pressured by their families and their communities. Some Christian converts are even the victims of violence, all in an effort to try to coerce new believers into renouncing their faith in Jesus.
Pastor Ilmurad from Turkmenistan was sentenced to four years imprisonment, falsely accused of fraud. While he was in prison, he was told that he would be released if he denied his Christian faith, but he refused. He had to do hard labor during his imprisonment and sleep on a concrete floor.
He was released in 2012, and Open Doors’ local partners recently had contact with Ilmurad again. It has taken time for him to heal after his hard experiences in prison, but he has largely recovered. He is still a pastor and helps people in his town.
Ilmurad is still thankful for all the support and prayers he received from his fellow brothers and sisters around the world.
Not much has changed in Turkmenistan, though it fell slightly in the rankings. Turkmenistan has continued to function as if the COVID-19 pandemic does not exist. This is another area where the authoritarian system of government has operated outside of reality and the care of its people. Similarly, the country continues to treat religious freedoms as optional, making it extremely difficult to follow Jesus in Turkmenistan. The government cracks down on anything it perceives might be a threat to its rule, including expressions of Christianity that leaders feel they can’t control. Christians who converted from Islam continue to experience significant pressure from family and society, and most of the reports of violence against Christians have stemmed from that reality.
Church leaders in Turkmenistan are especially targeted for persecution. Muslims consider them primarily responsible for leading people away from Islam and attack those they deem to be most active evangelistically. The government sees leaders as primary targets to control Christian activities. All Christians experience some level of rights violations, but Christian converts from Islam are certainly the most impacted by direct violence. Additionally, persecution is worse outside of urban areas, though the government’s persecution extends into every corner of Turkmenistan.
We can’t talk specifically about work in Turkmenistan for security reasons. Open Doors provides immediate aid to Central Asian believers when they are jailed, excluded from families and communities, and deprived of livelihood and employment because of their faith in Christ. We also strengthen the persecuted church in Central Asia through biblical training and discipleship.