"Some ten officials from the local Religious Affairs Department, the police, secret police, Justice Ministry and Tax Ministry" raided the Bible class from the Greater Grace Protestant church on April 11, said Forum 18, a Norway-based human rights group.
Murad Aksakov of the local administration reportedly defended the raid saying they wanted to find out how many people attended the classes, who those people were, and "whether everything was in order" with the church's documents. "We went there as guests, and I don't see anything wrong with that since we have the right to check up on religious organizations," he said in published remarks.
Pastor Vladimir Tolmachev reportedly said he was warned that the church was not allowed to teach its own members without permission from the government's Religious Affairs Committee. Officials allegedly told Tolmachev he would receive an official warning.
Further such warnings, he said, "could lead to the church's registration being stripped from it, rendering all its activities illegal." Forum 18 said the incident was, "an illustration of the problems even registered religious communities" face in the predominantly Islamic nation. "The church has no building of its own and has already had to move its services ten times this year."
President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who was sworn in after winning elections in February 2007, has been under pressure to improve political and religious rights in the country.
He has made clear however that while some reforms such as better education and higher pensions are allowed, he will continue the main policies of his autocratic predecessor Saparmyrat Niyazov, who died in December 2006.
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