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NOVEMBER 18, 2013

Remember Those in Prison

“The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” is a fundamental human right, states Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. * In some lands the exercise of this basic human right by Jehovah’s Witnesses results in imprisonment and even cruel mistreatment. Most of those imprisoned are young men who conscientiously object to military service. Others are imprisoned merely for practicing their faith.

The abuses do not break the integrity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the practice of their faith. Rather, the abuses stain the reputation of governments that fail to respect human rights. The table below lists where authorities imprison Jehovah’s Witnesses and how many are detained in each place.





 Korea, South










List of those imprisoned as of November 12, 2013


At last report, 52 of Jehovah’s Witnesses, both men and women, are imprisoned in harsh conditions. Though none have been formally charged or tried, they are detained for conscientious objection, for religious activity, or for undisclosed reasons. Three men, Paulos Eyassu, Isaac Mogos, and Negede Teklemariam, have been in prison for conscientious objection to military service for almost 20 years—since September 24, 1994. Misghina Gebretinsae and Yohannes Haile, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the age of 60, died while imprisoned. Since becoming an independent country in 1993, Eritrea has consistently imprisoned, tortured, and harassed Jehovah’s Witnesses.


At present, 599 young Witness men are each serving 18-month prison terms for conscientious objection to military service. From the Korean War period to the present, South Korea has relentlessly prosecuted young Witness men who refuse military service and has not provided any alternative to resolve the issue. Throughout this time, South Korea has sentenced 17,549 Witnesses to a combined total of 34,100 years in prison for refusing to perform military service. South Korea has failed to abide by its international treaty obligations and has refused to recognize the fundamental rights of conscientious objectors. For more information, see Injustice in South Korea Causes International Outcry.


A 20-year-old Witness man is imprisoned for conscientious objection to military service because Nagorno-Karabakh has no provision for alternative civilian service. On December 30, 2011, he was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment, and on January 29, 2013, his request for parole was rejected. A plea for his release to care for his ongoing health problems has been rejected by the prison administration.


The government of Singapore enforces compulsory military service and does not recognize the rights of conscientious objectors. Determined not to violate their Bible-trained conscience, 18 young men worshipping with Jehovah’s Witnesses are each serving a total of 39 months of imprisonment in the Armed Forces Detention Barracks. Another Witness was released in August 2013 after serving a year in prison for refusing reserve military duty.


Nine male Witnesses are currently in prison in Turkmenistan—eight as conscientious objectors and one under false charges. These men are serving prison sentences of 12 to 24 months and often face merciless beatings by prison guards and soldiers. Upon release, the same individuals have at times been prosecuted again as “repeat offenders” and then placed in a stricter prison regime.

^ par. 2 See also the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18, and the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 9.