By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest with additional reporting by BosNewsLife International Correspondent Joseph DeCaro
ASHGABAT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Some churches in the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan have “literally come under fire” by authorities after a Baptist church building recently burned to the ground, a mission group said in comments obtained by BosNewsLife Friday, November 23.
Pastor Vasily Korobov of the ‘Baptist House of Prayer’ in the town of Turkmenbashi, 560 kilometers (348 miles) west of the capital Ashgabat, was “thoroughly” interrogated following the fire because it involved a religious organization, claimed the Slavic Gospel Association (SGA).
Korobov was asked many questions just about the church, added SGA spokesman Joel Griffith.
“It just seemed like — the questions that they were asking him — they were looking for something other than just a church fire,” he added in a statement.
It was not immediately clear whether the fire was arson or an accident, but “harassment” has been intensifying in Turkmenistan, according to local Christians and mission groups.
Devoted Christians reportedly face fines and threats of expulsion from villages and schools because of their faith.
Believers have been accused of violating laws banning “unregistered” religious groups, a charge that can carry a fine of up to ten times the minimum monthly wage.
Gtiffith said however that registration can lead to closer surveillance of the congregation by authorities, resulting in the expulsion of foreign Christians and the exile, or imprisonment, of native pastors.
“We have to remember how things were under atheistic communism,” said Griffith.
“Now, I wouldn’t say that’s it’s gone that far quite yet, but it’s beginning to head in that direction,” he added.
Yet, “If I know anything about the believers in the former Soviet Union, they’re going to stand boldly and continue to serve Christ no matter what,” the spokesman stressed.
Turkmen authorities did not comment on the latest developments, but they have been reluctant to discuss religious policies with foreign reporters and rights activists.