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The right to change one’s belief or religion
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TURKMENISTAN: No amnesty for prisoner of conscience, no reparations despite UN instruction

Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Bahram Hemdemov was not freed in the February amnesty and an appeal on his behalf is now being prepared to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. Despite rulings from the UN Committee in 2015 that the rights of four imprisoned Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors had been violated (both by their imprisonment and torture during their imprisonment), the Turkmenistan government has failed to expunge their criminal records, offered recompense or taken measures to prevent similar violations in future. No alternative to compulsory military service has been introduced. Pirnazar Hudainazarov, Chair of Parliament's Legislative Committee, refused absolutely to discuss this with Forum 18. At the labour camp at Seydi where Hemdemov is being held, Muslim prisoners are too afraid to attend the prison mosque for fear of being branded "Wahhabis" and sent for harsher punishment, a former prisoner told Forum 18.

TURKMENISTAN: Torture and jail for one 4 year and 14 short-term prisoners of conscience

Jehovah's Witness Bahram Hemdemov has been tortured and given a four-year prison term on 19 May in Turkmenistan's eastern city of Turkmenabad, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Prisoner of conscience Hemdemov was accused of allegedly inciting religious hatred, which his fellow Jehovah's Witnesses deny. His real "crime" seems to have been hosting a meeting for worship. Along with Hemdemov and many of the latest 2015 short-term prisoners of conscience, Hemdemov's son Serdar was jailed for 15 days as a prisoner of conscience and tortured. A total of 14 Jehovah's Witnesses have since February been short-term prisoners of conscience, with one of these still today (21 May) being detained. About 30 others have been fined. Tortures used include beatings with bottles of water and electrocution threats. The children of Protestants and their parents have been subjected to public bullying in schools and pressure to sign statements renouncing their faith. Protestant teachers have been fired from their jobs and summer camps for children cancelled.

TURKMENISTAN: "Who can forbid us from praying?" Yet raids, fines continue

Narmurad Mominov, a Protestant leader from Galkynysh in Lebap Region of eastern Turkmenistan, was fined two weeks' average local wages in late February after police raided a private home, local Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Many of those present were held until the early hours of the morning, while some were pressured to renounce or change their faith. One who did so was told to "repent" publicly in the mosque. During a search, police had found a copy of the New Testament and blamed Mominov for giving it to the home owner. Local Protestants had feared that he could have been given as much as a 15-day jail term. In March 2014, a court in the same Region handed down 15-day prison terms to ten Jehovah's Witnesses to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of religion. One Baptist home owner in Mary told police intruders who seized four hymnbooks from her guests: "Who can forbid us from praying? Who can forbid us from inviting others as guests?"

TURKMENISTAN: Two amnestied prisoners, conscientious objector in hospital, beaten "Wahhabis"

Umid Gojayev, imprisoned on charges of hooliganism which local Protestants insist were brought disproportionately because of his religious beliefs, and Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Ruslan Narkuliyev were freed yesterday (17 February), Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Both were released under amnesty from the same labour camp in Seydi in eastern Turkmenistan. "Narkuliyev's release means that there are no longer any Jehovah's Witnesses convicted and imprisoned in Turkmenistan as conscientious objectors," one Jehovah's Witness told Forum 18. However, Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Soyunmurat Korov is being held "against his will" in military hospital in Ashgabad. Meanwhile, five Muslim men imprisoned on charges of religious extremism, were severely beaten on arrival in Seydi strict regime labour camp in early February. One suffered a broken hand, another a broken rib and damage to his lung. Forum 18 has been unable to establish if they were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or for committing crimes.

TURKMENISTAN: Eight prisoners of conscience amnestied

On 22 October eight of Turkmenistan's nine known imprisoned prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief were released under presidential amnesty, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. All were being held in a harsh labour camp in eastern Turkmenistan. Six were conscientious objectors to military service and two had been imprisoned on fabricated charges to punish them for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. One newly-sentenced conscientious objector, Ruslan Narkuliyev, was not released (possibly as his name was left off a list), and nor was a Protestant, Umid Gojayev, imprisoned on what his friends say were disproportionate charges brought because of his beliefs. Two Jehovah's Witnesses serving suspended sentences also appear not to have been amnestied. There are also an unknown number of Muslim prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, as well as prisoners of conscience jailed for other reasons. Jehovah's Witnesses hope the prisoner releases may lead to recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military service.

TURKMENISTAN: Freed after four weeks, but court "failed to correct an injustice"

After nearly four weeks' imprisonment, during which Bibi Rahmanova suffered "severe physical abuse", she was released from prison in Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan on 2 September. But her conviction on charges she strongly denies of assaulting a police officer still stands, and she can within the next four years only leave her home city with state permission, according to the decision seen by Forum 18 News Service. No action has been taken against officials who assaulted her and her husband and detained her four-year old child. Rahmanova's release from prison leaves nine other individuals known to be in prison because of their faith. Six are conscientious objectors to compulsory military service (all Jehovah's Witnesses). Two other Jehovah's Witnesses are imprisoned on charges their fellow Jehovah's Witnesses insist were fabricated. One Protestant is in prison on charges his fellow Protestants say should not have led to imprisonment. Murad Atabaev of Parliament's Committee on the Protection of Human Rights claimed that a proposed Alternative Service Law had been drafted in 2013 but that he had not seen the text. "When it will be adopted – I don't know," he told Forum 18.

TURKMENISTAN: Eleven-year wait on haj pilgrimage list?

Turkmenistan's government sought and received approval from the Saudi Arabian authorities for just 650 Muslims to travel on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca in October, a Saudi consular official told Forum 18 News Service from the capital Ashgabad. Although an increase on the usual 188 in the state-sponsored group, this is just under a seventh of the haj quota allocated by the Saudi authorities. "Turkmenistan is one of the governments not doing all it can to help pilgrims," the Saudi official noted. "We're trying to help them." Muslims in one of the country's six administrative divisions have to wait up to eleven years to reach the top of the haj waiting list, an official of Balkan Region Religious Affairs office told Forum 18. He said that 21 pilgrims from his Region are due to be selected soon to travel this year, the same number as in 2013. He claimed that Shia Muslims are not obstructed from joining the haj. The Turkmen government has never explained why it severely restricts haj numbers.

TURKMENISTAN: Same court, same judge, same four-year prison sentence, different victim

Less than seven weeks after he had imprisoned a Jehovah's Witness on what his fellow believers insist were fabricated charges, Judge Gaigysyz Orazmuradov of Dashoguz City Court in northern Turkmenistan sentenced another Jehovah's Witness. 33-year-old Bibi Rahmanova was given a four-year prison sentence for assaulting a police officer and two train station employees, charges she vigorously denied. "This decision is particularly shocking considering that Bibi is the mother of a four-year-old boy and was clearly the victim of police abuse," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. Rahmanova and her husband were both charged after they were detained for collecting religious literature from the train station. Secret police, ordinary police and a state religious affairs official detained them. Neither the religious affairs official Hudainazar Artykov nor Judge Orazmuradov would discuss the case with Forum 18. Meanwhile, Jehovah's Witness Merdan Amanov became the sixth known imprisoned conscientious objector when given a one-year sentence in July.

TURKMENISTAN: Police violence, forcible injections, fabricated charges, four years jail for prisoner of conscience

For the third time in three years, a Jehovah's Witness in Turkmenistan has been given a four-year jail term on fabricated criminal charges for exercising his freedom of religion or belief. The latest victim is 42-year-old prisoner of conscience Bahram Shamuradov, sentenced on 2 July in the northern city of Dashoguz. Judge Gaigysyz Orazmuradov refused to tell Forum 18 News Service why he convicted with an apparent absence of verifiable evidence, claiming "it was all done in accordance with the law". In another case, fabricated charges of hooliganism have been lodged against Jehovah's Witness husband and wife Vepa Tuvakov and Bibi Rahmanova who were beaten by police and detained along with their four-year old son. If convicted they could each be jailed for up to five years. Also beaten in police custody in early July was another local Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov. He was injected against his will with an unknown substance which caused partial paralysis, vomiting, fever and headaches. An urgent appeal about all these cases has been made to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

TURKMENISTAN: One-year prison term for latest conscientious objector

A 23-year-old Jehovah's Witness Pavel Paymov became the seventh current known imprisoned conscientious objector when he was given a one-year prison term in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabad on 26 February. He is believed still to be held at the pre-trial detention prison at Yashlyk, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. He is likely to be transferred to the labour camp at Seydi where imprisoned conscientious objectors generally are held. Five more conscientious objectors are serving suspended sentences. Fifteen current and former conscientious objector prisoners have lodged complaints to the United Nations Human Rights Committee over their imprisonment and maltreatment, including brutal beatings.

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.

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.