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20 December 2013

TURKMENISTAN: "Singing about God here is banned"

Police and MSS secret police in Dashoguz in Turkmenistan have raided members of Light of the East Church, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Two homes of church members were raided and religious literature including personal Bibles were seized. One church member was threatened with a 15-day jail term and deportation, even though he is a Turkmen citizen. During one raid, on a rehearsal of songs for the following Sunday's meeting for worship, officials stated that "singing about God here is banned". The Church was also threatened that it might lose its state registration, thus making it illegal. A state religious affairs official who is also an imam told the church's Pastor Yuri Rozmetov that the Christian faith "is wrong" and pressured him to become a Muslim. Meanwhile, the level of fines to punish individuals and communities for exercising their freedom of religion or belief has been increased. And the state continues to limit the total number of Muslims allowed to take part in the annual haj pilgrimage to 188 people including MSS secret police. Officials have refused to discuss the cases with Forum 18.

20 December 2013

TURKMENISTAN: New prisoner of conscience, prisoners "set up" not to be amnestied

Suhrab Rahmanberdiyyev has become the 11th known prisoner of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief in Turkmenistan, Forum 18 News Service notes. He became the ninth known jailed conscientious objector to military service when he was given an 18-month prison term on 18 November. The 18 year old was also beaten while in custody, and relatives did not know that the trial was taking place and so were unable to attend. Known freedom of religion or belief prisoners of conscience are nine Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors and a Protestant and a Jehovah's Witness jailed for other freedom of religion or belief-related reasons. At least two of the prisoners of conscience - Zafar Abdullaev and Atamurat Suvkhanov – were obstructed from being included in a December prisoner amnesty. A labour camp official told Abdullaev he had to admit to violating prison regulations so as not to be on the amnesty list. "The official threatened that if Zafar didn't do this himself, he would find a way to set this up", Forum 18 was told. Officials have refused to discuss the cases with Forum 18.

17 September 2013

TURKMENISTAN: "If you adopt their faith I'll tear off your head"

Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev, a former religious prisoner of conscience, many of his relatives and many of his unregistered Protestant congregation have been summoned for interrogation, threats and insults since 15 September. One police officer threatened to "tear off" the head of one of his relatives if she adopted "their faith", he told Forum 18 News Service from Mary. "Who is threatening him? We simply need to know more about him," an officer of Mary police Criminal Investigation Department claimed to Forum 18. No one at Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry could explain why it had told the United Nations Human Rights Council in follow-up to the UPR review that "no laws" restrict the rights of unregistered religious communities when wide-ranging new Administrative Code punishments have just been adopted. "Our Ambassador to the UN, Esen Aydogdyev, will be answering all these questions at the Human Rights Council session in Geneva on 18 to 20 September," one Foreign Ministry official told Forum 18 and put the phone down.

29 August 2013

TURKMENISTAN: New prisoner of conscience; police raid children's camp

Yet again a court in Turkmenistan has imprisoned a young man whose conscience will not allow him to conduct the compulsory military service. Amirlan Tolkachev, who is 20, was given an 18-month prison term in Turkmenabad on 10 July, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. He is one of nine current known imprisoned conscientious objectors, all of them Jehovah's Witnesses. Fifteen sentenced conscientious objectors – many of them still in prison - have lodged complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, three of them today (29 August). Meanwhile, police raided a summer children's camp run by the Baptist church in the town of Mary. Fifteen police plus health and other officials questioned the children, took food samples and ordered the camp closed. Two fines were then handed down. The man who answered the phone of Mary's police chief refused to discuss why the camp had been raided and shut down. "Who are you?" he kept asking Forum 18.

23 May 2013

TURKMENISTAN: Raids, deportation, visa denial, Government denies UPR complaints

Turkmenistan continues to try to isolate religious communities from their fellow-believers elsewhere, Forum 18 News Service notes. In early 2013, after a police raid on a meeting of a religious community, a Central Asian foreigner present was deported. Their holy book was also confiscated. Also, after a local religious community had gained the required permission of the state Gengesh for Religious Affairs, the Foreign Ministry refused to grant a visa to the foreign national the local community wanted to invite. The religious communities concerned wish to remain unnamed, for fear of state reprisals. Government officials have rejected all criticism of the country's violations of freedom of religion or belief during the United Nations (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Turkmenistan. Officials would not explain to Forum 18 why the government is still only "currently analysing" September 2008 recommendations by Asma Jahangir, the then UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

17 May 2013

TURKMENISTAN: Lebap Region raids, confiscations, fines and public vilification

Two members of a Protestant community in a village in the eastern Lebap Region were fined more than two months' average local wages after police were informed that a church member was reading Christian literature at work, Protestants complained to Forum 18 News Service. State religious affairs officials (including state-appointed imams) and police raided several local Christians' homes, confiscating Bibles and other literature. "They said the Bible was printed in Kiev in Ukraine, and therefore reading it was banned," Protestants told Forum 18. The Judge told one of the fined church members: "If you want to know about God, read the Koran." In another village of Lebap Region, local elders wrote to Turkmenistan's President complaining that a Protestant leader is "very dangerous to society". Local Protestants have faced public vilification at residents' meetings. State religious affairs officials refused to comment.

25 March 2013

TURKMENISTAN: Ninth imprisoned conscientious objector

Despite hospital documents testifying to various health problems, Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Atamurat Suvkhanov was deemed medically fit for conscription. When he refused compulsory military service, he was again given a one-year prison term, his second. The Military Prosecutor's Office and the court refused to discuss his case with Forum 18 News Service. While awaiting his appeal, Suvkhanov "told his relatives that the authorities intend to keep him for quite a long time in the investigation prison trying to break his will," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Another of Turkmenistan's nine imprisoned conscientious objectors – sentenced in January - was beaten by fellow prisoners on secret police orders in the same investigation prison, Jehovah's Witnesses added.

25 February 2013

TURKMENISTAN: Government changes Islamic leadership again

Turkmenistan's government has changed the entire leadership of the country's officially permitted Muslim administration, Forum 18 News Service notes. Turkmenistan has not announced whether the new Chief Mufti and regional imams also have the usual second role as officials of the Gengesh (Council) for Religious Affairs, whose task is to restrict freedom of religion and belief. However, a regional Gengesh official confirmed to Forum 18 that this was happening in their region. The latest appointments came as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, complained of the difficulties of recovering Soviet-confiscated Orthodox churches. The Armenian Apostolic Church is hoping promises of being allowed to resume its activity among Turkmenistan's ethnic Armenian minority will eventually be fulfilled. And Turkmen students studying in Ukraine have been pressured not to attend non-Muslim religious communities. "The idea that we had instructions from our Foreign Ministry is stupidity," an official of Turkmenistan's Embassy in Ukraine told Forum 18.

18 February 2013

TURKMENISTAN: Four new conscientious objector prisoners of conscience

Six months after each completing 18-month jail sentences in Turkmenistan for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience, Jehovah's Witnesses Dovran Matyakubov and Matkarim Aminov have been sentenced in Dashoguz to two more years' jail on the same charges. Two other conscientious objectors from Dashoguz were jailed for the first time in December 2012 and January 2013, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. In the same period, a conscientious objector in the capital Ashgabad was given a large fine. These latest sentences bring to eight the number of known conscientious objector prisoners of conscience, with a further four men serving suspended prison sentences. In the Seydi Labour Camp, where most conscientious objector prisoners of conscience are held, they have regularly been subjected to spells in the punishment cell and some have been brutally beaten. One of the former prisoners contracted tuberculosis in the Camp. The family and friends of a conscientious objector prisoner of conscience who exercised their right to complain to the UN have faced a raid by about 30 police, detentions, torture, beatings, interrogations, threats, and fines.

14 February 2013

TURKMENISTAN: Raid, two-day detentions, torture, rape threat, fines

After the UN Human Rights Committee sought a response from Turkmenistan to complaints by 10 Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors, about 30 police officers raided the lead complainant's family home in the northern city of Dashoguz. Six people were taken to a police station. According to their statements seen by Forum 18 News Service, all six were beaten and tortured, one of them severely. In what Jehovah's Witnesses state was "particularly despicable treatment", one detainee was threatened with being raped on a table in the police station. Three were then fined. The raid, detentions, torture, beatings, threats and fines "were obviously designed to punish and intimidate the Nasyrlayev family for the ten complaints of conscientious objectors to military service filed against Turkmenistan," the lawyer for the conscientious objectors complained to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Such official violence is common in Turkmenistan. No government official was prepared to discuss these human rights violations with Forum 18, including officials of the government's National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights. "No one has the right to beat me, humiliate me or hang me to the point of my passing out", one of the victims stated.

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