APRIL 18, 2018
On April 2, 2018, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev pardoned 61-year-old Teymur Akhmedov, who had been imprisoned for over a year on fabricated charges. The pardon cleared his criminal record. Mr. Akhmedov learned of his pardon on April 4 and was released from custody while in the hospital recovering from surgery. He is now reunited with his family and can more easily obtain the crucial medical treatment he needs to battle cancer.
Arrest, Detention, and Unjust Imprisonment
Mr. Akhmedov, who is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was arrested and imprisoned on January 18, 2017, merely for sharing his beliefs with others. For several months prior to his arrest, he had discussed the Bible with men who had feigned interest in the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The men were cooperating with Kazakhstan’s secret police, the National Security Committee (KNB), and they had covertly recorded their conversations with him. Based on these recordings, the KNB arrested Mr. Akhmedov and accused him of “inciting religious discord” and advocating “superiority . . . on grounds of [his] religion” under Article 174(2) of Kazakhstan’s Criminal Code.
After his arrest, police interrogated Mr. Akhmedov and put him in pretrial detention for three months. On May 2, 2017, the court sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment and imposed an additional three-year ban on his religious activity.
Mr. Akhmedov’s attorneys filed numerous appeals for his release, but the courts rejected all of them. Once he had exhausted all of his legal options in Kazakhstan, he turned to international tribunals for relief. He submitted complaints to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and the UN Human Rights Committee.
In October 2017, the WGAD condemned Kazakhstan for imprisoning Mr. Akhmedov and urged the government to release him immediately, since his actions “were entirely peaceful and within the limits of his freedom of religion.” In January 2018, the Human Rights Committee accepted Mr. Akhmedov’s urgent application and directed that as an interim measure, Kazakhstan take immediate steps to ensure that he received adequate medical treatment. The Human Rights Committee also recommended that Kazakhstan consider his permanent release, pending a final decision on his complaint.
During his imprisonment, Mr. Akhmedov’s health continued to deteriorate. Earlier this year, doctors informed him that he had sigmoid colon cancer and that his condition was progressively worsening. As a result of the Human Rights Committee decision on interim measures and of other requests from international bodies, Kazakhstan officials invited Mr. Akhmedov to submit an application to President Nazarbayev, requesting to be pardoned.
He applied for a pardon on March 5, 2018, and asked that his application be considered urgently, since he needed immediate treatment to stop the spread of his cancer. In the meantime, prison officials transferred Mr. Akhmedov to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he underwent surgery on March 27, 2018.
Will Kazakhstan Show More Respect for Freedom of Religion?
Mr. Akhmedov and his wife, Mafiza, and their children are happy that his ordeal has ended. They are also grateful that President Nazarbayev cleared his criminal record. Because of his unlawful criminal conviction, the government had seized his bank account, which created a severe hardship for his wife during his imprisonment.
Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide hope that Mr. Akhmedov’s pardon indicates that State officials in Kazakhstan will now allow the Witnesses greater freedom to carry out their peaceful worship without hindrance.