TURKMENISTAN: Jehovah's Witness freed early from camp
Oguljan Jumanazarova, a Jehovah's Witness lawyer serving a four year sentence in the women's labour camp in the northern town of Tashauz, was freed early on 20 September, the Jehovah's Witness centre in St Petersburg has told Forum 18 News Service. Jumanazarova, from the town of Seydi, was sentenced in July 2001 on fraud charges that the Jehovah's Witnesses insist were imposed in retaliation for helping fellow Jehovah's Witnesses with their legal problems. "Nothing more is known about the terms of her release – only that she has been freed," a Jehovah's Witness spokesman told Forum 18. The Jehovah's Witnesses – like all non-Sunni Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox communities – have been denied registration and are treated as illegal.
Jumanazarova, who became a Jehovah's Witness in 1999, worked for a public attorneys' association in the town of Seydi close to Turkmenistan's north-eastern border with Uzbekistan. She began to face pressure after helping fellow-believers with their legal problems. In 1999, the authorities tried to confine her in a psychiatric hospital, which she managed to avoid by temporarily fleeing from the town. She was arrested in July 2001, tried and sentenced. The Jehovah's Witnesses say her sentence, on accusations of fraud, was based on fabricated evidence. Her sister took care of her daughter while she served her sentence.
Although Jumanazarova has been freed, five other Jehovah's Witnesses are reported to remain imprisoned, four of them for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of religious conscience. Three of the four prisoners – whose names remain unknown - were sentenced in August to one and a half years' imprisonment, while the fourth conscientious objector, Nikolai Shelekhov, completes his one and a half year sentence (his second) next January (see F18News 2 October 2003). The other prisoner is believed to be Kurban Zakirov, sentenced to eight years' imprisonment in 2000 and believed to be held in a labour camp in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi.
President Saparmurat Niyazov periodically decrees prisoner amnesties – the next scheduled amnesty is to mark the Muslim holy night at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan (in Turkmen, Gydyr gijesi), which this year falls on 21-22 November. However, Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious prisoners have never been freed under such amnesties, as they refuse to repent of their "crime" and swear the required oath of loyalty to the president on the Koran and the president's spiritual book, the Ruhnama.
The Jehovah's Witnesses – like all non-Sunni Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox communities – have been denied registration and are treated as illegal. Members have been sacked from their jobs, had their homes confiscated in punishment for using them for meetings and been fined.
2 October 2003
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Turkmenistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the complete lack of freedom to practice any faith except for Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity in a limited number of registered places of worship. All other communities - Baptist, Pentecostal, Adventist, Lutheran and other Protestants, as well as Shia Muslim, Armenian Apostolic, Jewish, Baha'i, Jehovah's Witness and Hare Krishna – are de facto banned and their activity punishable under the administrative or criminal law. Religious meetings have been broken up (with a spate of raids on Protestants and Hare Krishnas since May), believers have been threatened, detained, beaten, fined and sacked from their jobs, while homes used for worship and religious literature have been confiscated. Religious activity is overseen by the secret police's department for work with social organisations and religious groups, which recruits spies in religious communities.
1 September 2003
In the wake of the latest raid on a Baptist Sunday service in Balkanabad on 24 August, police have banned church members from meeting for services and threatened that if they do so they will be fined for each meeting. In July and August, all its members had already been fined 48 US dollars each. "The Baptists refuse to be registered, citing the fact that they are forbidden from having contact with the secular authorities," Balkanabad's procurator Berdy Shirjanov told Forum 18 News Service. "The law is the law. We have to fine the Baptists."
4 August 2003
Two signing deaf and speech impaired Baptist women are the latest victims of Turkmenistan's campaign against religious minorities, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Olga Shchedrova has been fined, had money stolen from her by officials, and suffered the same officials' attempts to humiliate her. But she still refused to deliver court summonses to other Christians. Nezire Kamalova has been threatened with 15 days' imprisonment for non-payment of a fine and her mother is now threatening to send her to non-Christian relatives in a distant village, to prevent Kamalova attending Christian services in Turkmenabad.