On January 11, 2018, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of Tajikistan unilaterally rejected Daniil Islamov’s appeal to acquit him and release him from prison. Inexplicably, the judges conducted the case in their private chambers without a hearing and upheld Mr. Islamov’s conviction on the false charge of evading military service. He is being held in a detention facility in Kurgan-tyube until his prison term expires in April 2018.

Punished for Government’s Failure to Implement Alternative Civilian Service

Mr. Islamov reported to the local enlistment office for his military call-up in April 2017 and informed the officers on duty that he is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that he could not join the military in good conscience. However, he explained to the officers that he is willing to perform alternative civilian service. The officers rejected his request and put him in the military barracks against his will. While he was in detention, the officers repeatedly tried to force Mr. Islamov to take the military oath and to put on a military uniform, but he refused to do so. On July 31, 2017, he was charged with evasion of military service, and he remained in the military barracks until his trial on October 13, 2017.

While imprisoned, Mr. Islamov filed a complaint with Tajikistan authorities against his unjust detention. The Military Commissariat stated that Mr. Islamov could not opt for alternative civilian service because a law had not been adopted and there are no other provisions available to conscientious objectors. Although alternative civilian service exists for Tajikistan citizens in theory, the government has not put a program in place. The UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) has twice urged Tajikistan to recognize the right to conscientious objection and to provide alternative civilian service, but the government has failed to do so. *

Tajikistan Found Guilty of Arbitrary Detention

Since Mr. Islamov’s imprisonment violates international law, his lawyer filed a complaint with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD). On October 5, 2017, the WGAD released its written opinion, stating that the right to conscientious objection is well-established in international law and that the government is fully aware of this because of the CCPR recommendations. The opinion concluded that Tajikistan is guilty of arbitrarily detaining Mr. Islamov because the government deprived him of his rights and lacked a legal basis for imprisoning him. The opinion further noted that Mr. Islamov is “a victim of discrimination on the basis of his religious belief.” The WGAD urged the government to “take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Mr. Islamov without delay” and to “release Mr. Islamov immediately.”

A Conscientious Objector—Not an “Enlisted Serviceman”

Despite the WGAD’s clear directive and Tajikistan’s own law, on October 13, 2017, the military court convicted Mr. Islamov of “evasion by an enlisted serviceman of fulfillment of military service obligations” and sentenced him to six months in prison. In its ruling, the court not only ignored the WGAD decision and the larger issue of alternative civilian service but incorrectly classified Mr. Islamov as “an enlisted serviceman” and a “military servant.” Neither term applies to him, since he never enlisted in the military, took a military oath, or put on a military uniform.

Mr. Islamov’s attorneys appealed to the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of Tajikistan not only to seek his early release from prison but to acquit him of the false charge of evasion of military service. The appeal drew particular attention to the WGAD decision and asked that the government implement it immediately.

Since the Supreme Court upheld Mr. Islamov’s conviction on January 11, his attorneys are filing a supervisory appeal with the Court, asking for reconsideration. If the Court rejects this final appeal, Mr. Islamov will have no further legal remedies available within Tajikistan and will likely file a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee.

“The right to conscientious objection is well established in international law . . . Without doubt . . . Mr. Islamov’s fate derives directly from his religious expression as a Jehovah’s Witness.”—UN Human Rights Council, Opinions adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its 79th session: No. 43/2017, Tajikistan, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/WGAD/2017/43 (August 21, 2017), par. 34.

Steadfast Stand of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Gregory Allen, Assistant General Counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses, expressed his disappointment with Tajikistan’s treatment of Mr. Islamov. “Daniil is a peace-loving and religious man whose conscience does not permit him to join the military. Since World War II, tens of thousands of Witnesses have been imprisoned for their neutral stand. Like his fellow believers, Daniil will not compromise his conscience before God for his personal convenience. Young men like Daniil should not be punished.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses hope that Tajikistan authorities will implement the WGAD decision and will respect the rights of young Witnesses who—like Daniil Islamov—conscientiously object to military service because of their strong religious conviction.

[FOOTNOTES]

^ par. 5 UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Tajikistan, UN Doc. CCPR/CO/84/TJK, (July 18, 2005), par. 20; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Tajikistan, UN Doc. CCPR/C/TJK/CO/2, (August 22, 2013), par. 21.