SEPTEMBER 22, 2014
Bibi Rahmanova walked out of prison at 8:00 p.m. on September 2, 2014, free to go but not cleared of charges. Earlier that day, the judges of the Dashoguz Regional Court considered her appeal. Though they did not acquit Bibi of the false charges, they changed her four-year prison sentence to a conditional sentence * and ordered her immediate release from prison. The decision stated that the judges took into account the mitigating circumstances—that Bibi was a woman and the mother of a four-year-old son and that she had no previous criminal record.
Bibi had filed a cassation appeal with the court after her August 18 conviction on fabricated charges of “assaulting a policeman” and “hooliganism.” Police had accosted Bibi and her husband, Vepa, on July 5 at a train station in Dashoguz after they collected their personal luggage, which included some religious literature. The charges against Vepa were later dropped. Bibi, however, was sent to prison on August 8. While imprisoned, Bibi was subjected to severe physical abuse.
Spotlight on Injustices in Turkmenistan
Bibi’s foreign attorney attributes her unexpected release, at least in part, to the international outcry over the injustice of her imprisonment.
Her case is not unique for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Turkmenistan. Witnesses routinely suffer serious violations of their fundamental human rights. Eight Witnesses are serving prison sentences for adhering to their faith—six as conscientious objectors and two under fabricated charges. They live under grim conditions and experience an assortment of abuses.
Commendably, the judges of the Dashoguz Regional Court improved Bibi’s situation, but they failed to correct an injustice. Those who value human dignity hope that Turkmenistan authorities will consider the broader picture and apply international human rights norms to allow for religious freedom in their country.
^ The regional court suspended her four-year prison sentence and imposed a four-year conditional sentence that includes a three-year probation period. During her probation, she must maintain good behavior and not leave or change her city of residence without first obtaining permission from the authorities.