In June and July 2018, Turkmenistan authorities imprisoned four of Jehovah’s Witnesses who are conscientious objectors to military service. Ikhlosbek Rozmetov, Veniamin Genjiyev, and Maksat Jumadurdiyev were sentenced to one year in prison, and Mekan Annayev was sentenced to two years.

These four young men are the latest Witnesses to be imprisoned in Turkmenistan for conscientious objection. In January 2018, authorities convicted two others, Arslan Begenjov and Kerven Kakabayev, for refusing military service and sentenced each to one year in prison. * They were the first Witness men to be imprisoned on this issue since February 2015. Both are in the Seydi prison (LBK-12), where Bahram Hemdemov has been incarcerated for over three years.

Unjust Imprisonment of Bahram Hemdemov

On March 14, 2015, police in Turkmenabad raided a peaceful religious meeting held in Bahram Hemdemov’s private home. Thirty-eight Witnesses were arrested and charged with illegal religious activity. All were mistreated, 30 were fined, and 8 were sentenced to 15-day jail terms. The Lebap Regional Court later sentenced Mr. Hemdemov to four years in prison, and his health has suffered as a result of the infamously bad conditions within the Seydi prison. Until now, he has been overlooked in the amnesties that the president grants several times a year.

Respect for Freedom of Conscience, Religion, and Belief Still At Issue

In 2015 and 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (CCPR) released ten favorable decisions on complaints submitted by Witness men who had been imprisoned in harsh conditions as conscientious objectors to military service. At present, the Witnesses have seven other complaints against Turkmenistan pending with the CCPR.

In an April 2012 report, the CCPR exhorted the government of Turkmenistan to “ensure that its laws and practices relating to the registration of religious organizations respect the rights of persons to freely practice and manifest their religious beliefs as provided for under the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].” The Witnesses applied for registration in 2008, but the government has not acknowledged their application.

Prospects for Improvement?

Jehovah’s Witnesses are grateful that the government of Turkmenistan has previously freed prisoners to correct injustices. * With these latest convictions, however, Turkmenistan is again ignoring international calls to respect the rights of conscientious objectors. The Witnesses look for a positive response from the government to the CCPR rulings—greater respect for human rights in general and specifically for the right to freedom of conscience, religion, and belief.

Time Line

  1. July 17, 2018

    Veniamin Genjiyev and Maksat Jumadurdiyev are convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to one year in prison.

  2. July 11, 2018

    Ikhlosbek Rozmetov is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to one year in prison.

  3. June 26, 2018

    Mekan Annayev is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to two years in prison.

  4. January 29, 2018

    Kerven Kakabayev is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to one year in prison.

  5. January 17, 2018

    Arslan Begenjov is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to one year in prison.

  6. May 12, 2017

    Turkmenistan authorities release Mansur Masharipov, detained since his arrest on June 30, 2016.

  7. August 18, 2016

    Mansur Masharipov is convicted on a fabricated charge and sentenced to one year in prison.

  8. July 2016

    CCPR releases six favorable decisions involving Witnesses who had been prosecuted for conscientious objection to military service.

  9. December 14, 2015

    CCPR releases favorable decisions involving three Witnesses who had been prosecuted for conscientious objection to military service. Another favorable decision was released previously, on May 19, 2015.

  10. May 19, 2015

    Bahram Hemdemov is convicted for religious activity and sentenced to a four-year prison term. He was arrested and put in pretrial detention two months earlier.

  11. February/March 2015

    Two Witnesses imprisoned for conscientious objection to military service are released. CCPR releases a favorable decision involving a Witness who had been prosecuted for conscientious objection to military service.

  12. November 18, 2014

    Total of two Witnesses imprisoned for conscientious objection to military service.

  13. October 22, 2014

    The President of Turkmenistan amnesties eight imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses and they are released.

  14. September 30, 2014

    Nine Witnesses are imprisoned—seven for conscientious objection to military service and two on fabricated charges as punishment for their religious activity.

  15. September 2, 2014

    Turkmenistan authorities release Bibi Rahmanova and change her four-year prison sentence to a conditional one.

  16. August 18, 2014

    Bibi Rahmanova convicted on fabricated charges and sentenced to four years in prison.

  17. July 25, 2014

    Seven Witnesses are in prison—five for conscientious objection to military service and two on fabricated charges as punishment for their religious activity.

  18. April 6, 2014

    Twenty-six Witnesses detained, of whom 13 were arrested without proof of any crime committed. The 13 Witnesses were sentenced to pay a fine.

  19. November 2013

    Nine of Jehovah’s Witnesses remain imprisoned—eight for conscientious objection to military service and one under fabricated charges for religious activity.

  20. August 29, 2013

    Three Witnesses file complaints with the CCPR against Turkmenistan for failure to recognize their right to conscientiously object to military service.

  21. May 1, 2013

    Two Witnesses file complaints with the CCPR against Turkmenistan for failure to recognize their right to conscientiously object to military service.

  22. January 24, 2013

    Thirty police officers raid the home of Navruz Nasyrlayev within weeks after CCPR complaints communicated to Turkmenistan government. The police repeatedly beat the family and guests that were at the home.

  23. September 7, 2012

    Ten Witnesses file complaints with the CCPR against Turkmenistan for failure to recognize their right to conscientiously object to military service. Navruz Nasyrlayev is the lead complainant.

  24. August 21, 2008

    Jehovah’s Witnesses apply for state registration in Turkmenistan.

^ par. 3 Jehovah’s Witnesses who are conscientious objectors are convicted by authorities based on Article 291(1) of the Criminal Code: “Evasion of call-up to military service in the absence of legal grounds for an exemption from this service is punished by corrective work of up to two years or imprisonment of up to two years.”