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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.

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.

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