NOVEMBER 13, 2014
In a surprising turn of events, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov amnestied eight of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were imprisoned in Turkmenistan for practicing their faith. They were among other prisoners who were released on October 22, 2014. Six of the Witnesses had been imprisoned for their conscientious objection to military service and two on fabricated charges for religious activity.
The conscientious objectors, young men between the ages of 18 and 23, were imprisoned in the Seydi Labor Colony, located in the Turkmen desert. Four of the men were in the general regime camp, but Matkarim Aminov and Dovran Matyakubov were in the more punitive strict regime camp, as they had been reconvicted as “repeat offenders.” While in prison, these young men endured abusive treatment and deplorable living conditions.
The two Witnesses imprisoned under fabricated charges, 35-year-old Aibek Salayev and 42-year-old Bahram Shamuradov, were also in the general regime camp at Seydi. Both were serving four-year prison sentences because of their religious beliefs and activities. They suffered severe mistreatment while in detention, in addition to the injustice of false imprisonment based on planted evidence.
Only one Witness, Ruslan Narkuliev, remains imprisoned in Turkmenistan. He was sentenced as a conscientious objector to military service only a few weeks prior to the amnesty, and his name may not have been known to the Presidential Administration when the amnesty was announced. His legal representatives are working with the Turkmen authorities to secure his release.
President Berdimuhamedov took commendable and decisive action when he amnestied these eight imprisoned men of faith. Those who cherish religious freedom hope that this is a harbinger of change in Turkmenistan, a change that will allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to live in harmony with their conscience without fear of persecution or imprisonment.