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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.

17 May 2012

TURKMENISTAN: Another prisoner of conscience jailed on false charges?

For the second time in 2012, a Jehovah's Witness in Turkmenistan has been sentenced to four years in a labour camp for allegedly "distributing pornography". His fellow-believers insist to Forum 18 News Service that – like the first such prisoner Vladimir Nuryllayev - the charge against Aibek Salayev is fabricated to punish him for his faith. Salayev was sentenced on 12 April by the same Judge at Dashoguz City Court, Akmurad Akmuradov, who sentenced Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Navruz Nasyrlayev to the maximum two-year strict regime labour camp sentence for this "offence". Salayev was brutally beaten by the ordinary police and MSS secret police "in the stomach, on the kidneys and on the head. As a result his face swelled up and he could not eat", local Jehovah's Witnesses who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. Another conscientious objector, Juma Nazarov, has been arrested, and there are six other known Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector prisoners of conscience. There are also an unknown number of Muslim prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. One other Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector is on a suspended sentence.

18 April 2012

TURKMENISTAN: Maximum prison sentence for latest conscientious objector

Zafar Abdullaev, a 24-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector, is the latest prisoner of conscience to be given a prison sentence for refusing Turkmenistan's military service, which is compulsory for all young men. He was given the maximum two-year prison term on 6 March at Dashoguz City Court, the court chancellery told Forum 18 News Service. He had already served a two-year suspended sentence on the same charges. Four other Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector prisoners of conscience are serving prison sentences, while a sixth objector is serving a suspended sentence. Another Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience is in jail for charges unrelated to compulsory military service. Abdullaev's imprisonment came the same month that the UN Human Rights Committee called on Turkmenistan to free imprisoned conscientious objectors, end their prosecution and introduce an alternative service. It also called among other things for an end to restrictions on exercising freedom of religion and belief without state permission, religious education and the import of religious literature.

27 March 2012

TURKMENISTAN: Four fines for Bibles, prisoner transferred

After the local police officer in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabad found Bibles in the possessions of three guests at a local Protestant's home, all four were taken to the government's Council for Religious Affairs for questioning, then held for an hour in an overcrowded detention cell, before being taken to court, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Although the judge refused to try them without proper documentation, they were brought back and fined by the same judge a week later for "violation of the law on religious organisations". Meanwhile, in the wake of his four year prison sentence handed down in February, Jehovah's Witness Vladimir Nuryllayev has been transferred to the isolated desert prison of Ovadan-Depe, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. But he is not in the high-security unit but the manual labour section, mainly working in the kitchens. His fellow Jehovah's Witnesses – who insist he has been punished because of his faith - hope he will be included in the amnesty likely to be called for Constitution Day on 18 May.

8 March 2012

TURKMENISTAN: Religious freedom survey, March 2012

Ahead of the examination of Turkmenistan's record at the UN Human Rights Committee, Forum 18 News Service notes that freedom of religion or belief in Turkmenistan, and other intertwined human rights, remain highly restricted. Among systematic violations noted in Forum 18's religious freedom survey are: prisoners of conscience including conscientious objectors jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief, who face beatings and other maltreatment; prisoners' severely limited religious freedom; lack of fair trials and due legal process; state control of religious leaders and communities; racial discrimination; severe restrictions on religious education and sharing beliefs, including banning women from studying academic theology in the country; a registration system apparently designed to impose state control; a ban on unregistered religious activity, and great difficulty in those who want it acquiring registration; raids on both registered and unregistered groups; MSS secret police informer recruitment; restrictions on having a place of worship, even for registered groups; fear of openly discussing human rights violations; severe haj restrictions, an exit blacklist and other freedom of movement restrictions; and censorship of religious literature and other material. The interlocking nature of Turkmenistan's human rights violations appear designed to impose total state control of all of society.

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