Turkmenistan president eases restrictions on religious groups

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov abolished a law intended to limit religious freedom, amid strong international criticism of abuses against minority faiths in the former Soviet republic.

State-run TV reported the action on a statute that authorized criminal prosecution for illicit religious activities. The government has also revoked financial controls over religious groups and no longer requires reports on foreign financial assistance.

Earlier this year, Turkmenistan scrapped a requirement that religious groups have at least 500 members to register with the government. Now groups need at least 5 Turkmen citizens and 51 members to qualify.

The U.S. State Department criticized the republic in a December religious freedom report. It said people practicing any faith other than Sunni Islam or Russian Orthodox Christianity risked detention and confiscation of literature and materials.

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