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TURKMENISTAN

Imprisoned for Their Faith

Since 2018, Turkmenistan authorities have imprisoned 25 young men who are Jehovah’s Witnesses for their conscientious objection to military service. Most were prosecuted under Article 219(1) of the Criminal Code for the ‘absence of legal ground for exemption from military service.’ Domestic courts have denied numerous appeals submitted against the sentences. Sixteen of these young Witnesses have been released after serving their one-year sentence.

Two brothers, Sanjarbek and Eldor Saburov, have recently been convicted—now for the second time—for refusing military service. On August 6, 2020, a Turkmen court sentenced them to two years in prison. Prior to this, Sanjarbek was sentenced in 2016 to two years of probation, and Eldor was sentenced in 2017 to two years of correctional labor with 20 percent of his wages garnished by the State. The siblings are 26 and 21 years old respectively.

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

From 2015 through 2019, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) released 13 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 three other complaints against Turkmenistan pending with the CCPR, one of which deals with conscientious objection.

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.

In April 2017, the CCPR repeated its concern about Turkmenistan’s “continued failure to recognize the right to conscientious objection . . . and the repeated prosecution and imprisonment of Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing to perform compulsory military service.” It called on Turkmenistan to “revise its legislation without undue delay” and to “provide for alternative service of a civilian nature outside the military sphere and not under military command for conscientious objectors, and halt all prosecutions of individuals who refuse to perform military service on grounds of conscience and release those who are currently serving prison sentences.” *

In May 2020, a complaint was filed with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of 19 Witnesses—those who are currently imprisoned in the Seydi prison and others who have been released.

Will Turkmenistan Change Its Stance on Conscientious Objection?

Jehovah’s Witnesses are grateful that the government of Turkmenistan has previously freed prisoners to correct injustices. * However, in recent amnesties, the government has overlooked Witness conscientious objectors. President Berdimuhamedov pardoned 2,028 prisoners in March 2019, 764 prisoners in May 2019, and 528 prisoners in December 2019, but no Witnesses were among those amnestied. This failure to pardon, along with the increased number of call-ups and sentencing of young Witnesses, demonstrates that Turkmenistan is ignoring international calls to respect the rights of conscientious objectors. The Witnesses hope that the government will implement the CCPR rulings and show greater respect for human rights in general, and specifically for the right to freedom of conscience, religion, and belief.

Time Line

  1. November 17, 2020

    Total of nine Witnesses imprisoned.

  2. October 3, 2020

    Selim Taganov is released from prison after serving his one-year term.

  3. September 30, 2020

    David Petrosov is released from prison after serving his one-year term.

  4. August 6, 2020

    Sanjarbek and Eldor Saburov are convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to two years in prison. This is the second time that they have been convicted under the same charge.

  5. June 26, 2020

    Mekan Annayev is released from prison after serving his two-year term.

  6. May 20, 2020

    Complaint is filed with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of the nine Witnesses currently imprisoned.

  7. March 19, 2020

    Muhammedali Saparmuradov is released from prison after serving his one-year term.

  8. February 17, 2020

    Vepa Matyakubov is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to two years in prison.

  9. January 13, 2020

    Kamiljan Ergashov is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to two years in prison.

  10. November 12, 2019

    Serdar Dovletov is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to three years in prison under Article 219(2) of the Criminal Code.

  11. October 3, 2019

    Selim Taganov is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to one year in prison.

  12. September 30, 2019

    David Petrosov is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to one year in prison.

  13. July 31, 2019

    Azat Ashirov is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to two years in prison.

  14. July 15, 2019

    Bahtiyar Atahanov is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to four years in prison.

  15. March 19, 2019

    Muhammedali Saparmuradov is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to one year in prison.

  16. February 13, 2019

    Bahram Hemdemov is released from prison after serving a four-year sentence for religious activity.

  17. December 19, 2018

    Eziz Atabayev is convicted for conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to two years in prison.

  18. September 2018

    In anticipation of the presidential amnesty on September 24, prison officials tell Kerven Kakabayev, Mekan Annayev, and Veniamin Genjiyev that they would be granted amnesty and released. Even though their names were on the publicly announced list of prisoners to be amnestied, these men were not among the 1,722 released on September 25.

  19. June 26, 2018

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

  20. July 14 and 15, 2016

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

  21. October 29, 2015

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

  22. 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.

  23. March 25, 2015

    CCPR adopts a favorable decision involving a Witness who had been prosecuted for conscientious objection to military service.

  24. October 22, 2014

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

  25. September 2, 2014

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

  26. August 18, 2014

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

  27. August 29, 2013

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

  28. May 1, 2013

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

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. August 21, 2008

    Jehovah’s Witnesses apply for state registration in Turkmenistan.

^ par. 7 UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Turkmenistan, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/TKM/CO/2, (April 20, 2017), paras. 40, 41.