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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.

31 October 2012

TURKMENISTAN: Continuing haj restrictions, increasing raids on Christians, religious freedom prisoners of conscience remain jailed

Turkmenistan continues to allow only 188 pilgrims, including MSS secret police officers, to take part in the annual Muslim haj pilgrimage. The imam of a large mosque, unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 News Service that they were not aware of any Muslims who thought it possible to ask for an increase in permitted haj numbers. In mid-October a school teacher in northern Turkmenistan, also unnamed for fear of state reprisals, was interrogated and threatened by the MSS secret police, Protestants in Turkmenistan have told Forum 18. The MSS wanted to know whether the teacher believes in Jesus, and which Christians they know. The interrogation of and threats to the teacher come at a time of heightened raids and pressure, particularly on Protestant Christians. Five Jehovah's Witnesses and an unknown number of Muslim prisoners of conscience, all jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief, were not included in the latest prisoner amnesty. And former Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Vladimir Nuryllayev's attempt to clear his name has been rejected in a "damaged and opened" official letter, Forum 18 has been told.

2 October 2012

TURKMENISTAN: Multiple fines for unregistered worship meeting

A week after their Sunday worship meeting was raided, eleven Baptists in Turkmenistan's northern city of Dashoguz were each fined two months' average wages, Protestants told Forum 18. One of those fined was a schoolboy aged 17. Two of the judges refused to discuss with Forum 18 why they had punished individuals for meeting for worship. One of the judges also refused to explain why he had imprisoned a Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector in March. Meanwhile, the Turkmen authorities allowed a visiting Protestant Oleg Piyashev to return to his family in Russia after earlier blocking his departure. And it remains unclear whether any Turkmen pilgrims will be allowed to join this year's haj pilgrimage to Mecca, which begins in late October.

27 September 2012

TURKMENISTAN: Raids, fines, exit denial, bloodied hands

Police and other unidentified officials who raided the home of a Baptist family in the northern city of Dashoguz dragged the father of the family, 75-year-old Begjan Shirmedov, from the house by his collar and beat the hands of his 68-year-old wife until they bled, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. About 15 church members were questioned and religious literature seized. The raid came two weeks after a raid on another Protestant meeting in the city, with fines on three participants. One of those fined – Oleg Piyashev – was revisiting his homeland from Russia. A Russian and Turkmen citizen, he was banned from leaving Turkmenistan at Ashgabad airport on 23 September. The Russian Embassy told Forum 18 it is awaiting an explanation from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry.

5 September 2012

TURKMENISTAN: Upsurge in raids, threats, fines

At least five Protestants in Turkmenistan's Lebap Region have been given large fines for religious activity without state approval in three separate trials in late August, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. One of the trials followed a meeting where the Imam, local officials and elders summoned the village population and threatened to expel all the Protestants or ostracise them, and threatened that their children will be kept under close scrutiny in school. Elsewhere, other Protestants have been summoned and threatened, including one whose business was seized. "The situation has got markedly worse since July and we don't know why," one Protestant, who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18. No official was prepared to discuss the raids, threats and fines with Forum 18.

17 August 2012

TURKMENISTAN: Another conscientious objector prisoner of conscience

Five conscientious objectors to Turkmenistan's compulsory military service – all Jehovah's Witnesses - have been sentenced since late May. Four received suspended sentences but the fifth, Juma Nazarov, received an 18-month prison term in July, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. This makes five currently known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their religious freedom. One of them, Aibek Salayev, has been severely beaten up and threatened with more beatings and being raped. Also, "thousands" of people from Mary Region alone are said by an official to be waiting for a place on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca, whose numbers are severely restricted by the government to about 188 pilgrims a year – including MSS secret police. Those who may be selected from Mary Region for 2012 are among those who lodged applications in 2004 or 2005. "We check first to make sure they are still alive," the official told Forum 18.

28 May 2012

TURKMENISTAN: Prisoner of conscience freed, but remains under restrictions

Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Vladimir Nuryllayev was freed from Ovadan-Depe Prison in Turkmenistan on 17 May, Forum 18 News Service has learned. However, he remains under restrictions, having to report to police up to three times a week. Nuryllayev was freed under amnesty, having been originally arrested in November 2011 and in January 2012 sentenced to four years imprisonment. Another Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Sunet Japbarov – a conscientious objector to compulsory military service - has been freed from labour camp at the end of his 18-month sentence. Their release leaves six known Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience, five of them conscientious objectors and one - Aibek Salayev – sentenced like Nuryllayev on charges of "spreading pornography". There are also an unknown number of Muslim prisoners of conscience also jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. Another conscientious objector, Ashgabad-based Juma Nazarov, was arrested on 10 May and faces criminal charges.

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