The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has condemned the government of Kazakhstan for imprisoning Teymur Akhmedov and has called for his immediate release. * In its decision published on October 2, 2017, the WGAD concluded that Kazakhstan is guilty of arbitrarily detaining Mr. Akhmedov, who has been imprisoned since January 18, 2017, for peacefully sharing his religious beliefs with others.

Conclusions of the WGAD

In its decision, the WGAD concluded that Mr. Akhmedov’s imprisonment met the criteria for arbitrary detention. It found that the government had deprived him of liberty for exercising his fundamental right to freedom of religion and expression, denied his right to a fair trial, and discriminated against him solely for his religious activity as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The WGAD further denounced Kazakhstan for unjustly arresting and prosecuting Mr. Akhmedov. It cited an earlier decision from the UN Human Rights Committee that criticized Kazakhstan’s “broad formulation of the concepts of ‘extremism’ . . . and the use of such legislation on extremism to unduly restrict freedoms of religion, expression, assembly and association.” The WGAD noted that this legislation “presents a serious threat to the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion in Kazakhstan” and that “the present case of Mr. Akhmedov is a testament to the reality of this threat.”

In contrast, the WGAD repeatedly described the religious activity of Mr. Akhmedov as “entirely peaceful” and stated that his religious discussions with others did not involve incitement to violence or religious hatred. The WGAD stressed that the government “has not provided an example of a single violent action or incitement of others to violence by Mr. Akhmedov” and that the government “has not explained how mere meetings with others and peaceful religious discussions amounted to such a crime.” It further stated that “it is clear to the Working Group that Mr. Akhmedov did nothing more than exercise his right to freedom of religion under article 18 of the Covenant.” *

Additionally, the WGAD connected the government’s treatment of Mr. Akhmedov with other evidence of religious intolerance on the part of the Kazakhstan authorities against Jehovah’s Witnesses. This connection was confirmed when the authorities raided the meeting place of the Witnesses and seized religious literature on the same day as Mr. Akhmedov’s arrest.

“It is clear to the Working Group that Mr. Akhmedov did nothing more than exercise his right to freedom of religion under article 18 of the Covenant.”—Opinion, paragraph 39.

Kazakhstan Authorities Must Take Action

The WGAD requests Kazakhstan to “take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Mr. Akhmedov without delay.” The WGAD states that the appropriate remedy “would be to release Mr. Akhmedov immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations.” The WGAD also asks Kazakhstan to change its laws and practices to harmonize with the government’s international obligations, which would restrain it from repeating the errors in its mistreatment of Mr. Akhmedov.

On October 13, 2017, Mr. Akhmedov’s lawyers filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan, requesting that it implement the WGAD decision, acquit him of the charges, and order his immediate release.

Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide are grateful that Teymur Akhmedov’s case has been internationally recognized as an injustice and that it highlights the need for greater respect for religious freedom in Kazakhstan. They anticipate that the government of Kazakhstan will implement the WGAD decision and release Mr. Akhmedov from prison immediately.