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LEGAL DEVELOPMENTS | Will Turkmenistan Implement the UN Human Rights Committee Decisions?

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Turkmenistan’s government is called upon to honor its commitments to protect human rights, including freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Turkmenbashi City Court jailed 19-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Mekan Annayev for the maximum two years for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. Five others have already been jailed in 2018, one in an apparent show trial. Two more young men face trial in August.
      The city court in Turkmenbashi in western Turkmenistan has handed down the longest known prison sentence so far in 2018 to punish refusal to conduct compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. At the request of the prosecutor, Judge Myrat Garayev handed 19-year-old Jehovah's Witness Mekan Annayev the maximum two-year jail term, he told Forum 18 from the court on 23 July.

      During one meeting at the city's military conscription office in October 2017, officials had called in the city's chief imam to conduct "explanatory work" with Annayev in an apparent attempt to pressure him to undertake military service, even though Annayev is not a Muslim (see below).

      In all five other known jailings of conscientious objectors in 2018, courts handed down one-year jail terms. All those sentenced were – like Annayev – Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 30 July 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2400).

      Two more Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors face trial in August. The trial of Isa Sayaev was due to have begun on 9 August in the northern Dashoguz Region. The trial of Ruslan Artykmuradov is due to begin in Lebap Region on 13 August (see below).

      Prosecutor's Offices are considering similar criminal cases against other Jehovah's Witness young men for refusing military service on grounds of conscience, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

      The trial of one of those jailed in July was held in the District Military Conscription Office. It remains unknown if this was to show other local young men the punishment for failing to abide by call-up notices (see below).

      Forum 18 wished to ask the Human Rights Ombudsperson Yazdursun Gurbannazarova, who was named by the government-appointed parliament, why individuals who cannot do military service on grounds of conscience cannot undertake alternative, civilian service and why they are jailed. However, her telephone went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 10 August.

      No conscientious objection, no alternative service

      Turkmenistan offers no alternative to its compulsory military service. Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years. Article 58 of the 2016 Constitution describes defence as a "sacred duty" of everyone and states that military service is compulsory for men. Turkmenistan ignored the recommendation of a July 2016 legal review of the draft Constitution by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation that it should include a provision for alternative, civilian service (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).

      Young men who refuse military service on grounds of conscience face prosecution under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. This punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces in peacetime with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or two years' corrective labour (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2244).

      In March 2017, at the end of its review of Turkmenistan's record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee again called on the authorities to end punishments for those unable to perform military service on grounds of conscience and introduce an alternative, civilian service (CCPR/C/TKM/CO/2).

      "The State party should revise its legislation without undue delay with a view to clearly recognizing the right to conscientious objection to military service," the Committee declared, "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."

      Officials refused to explain to Forum 18 why they did not implement the UN recommendation. With the two jailings in January 2018, less than a year after the UN report was issued, Turkmenistan began imprisoning conscientious objectors again after a break of four years (see F18News 23 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2363).

      Turkmenbashi: maximum 2-year jail term

      The Conscription Office in Turkmenbashi, a port city on the Caspian Sea, summoned Jehovah's Witness Mekan Orazdurdiyevich Annayev (born 22 June 1999) to Balkan Regional Conscription Office for military service in June 2017 (when he reached the age of 18). The Conscription Office summoned him twice in October 2017 and again in March 2018 and twice in April 2018, according to the indictment seen by Forum 18.

      In response to two of the summonses, Annayev went to the city Conscription Office, telling officers that he could not conduct military service on grounds of conscience. The indictment records that he quoted Jesus' words from the Gospel of Matthew: "Put away your sword, for all who live by the sword shall die by the sword."

      On 26 October 2017, the indictment notes, Annayev "arrived at the military conscription office with his parents and brother. Explanatory work was conducted with him with the participation of the Chief Imam of Turkmenbashi." Annayev repeated his refusal to perform military service on grounds of conscience.

      Curiously, the indictment notes that Annayev is not a member of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, the country's ruling party.

      On 4 June 2018, after establishing that Annayev was medically and psychologically fit for military service, had no criminal record and was not on the register of alcoholics or drug addicts, Trainee Assistant to Turkmenbashi Prosecutor L. Saltykova brought charges against him under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. Annayev's trial was held at Turkmenbashi City Court on 26 June, four days after his 19th birthday.

      During Annayev's trial, the court's chief judge Rustam Atajanov came to the courtroom and interrupted Judge Garayev, who was presiding over the hearing. "Atajanov began rudely questioning Mekan Annayev and accusing him and all Jehovah's Witnesses of being traitors," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "He even demanded, loudly screaming, to throw two attendees out simply for whispering." After Judge Atajanov left, the hearing continued.

      At the end of the trial, the state prosecutor asked the court to sentence Annayev to two years' imprisonment. "In most other cases, state prosecutors usually ask to sentence young Jehovah's Witnesses to one year of imprisonment," Jehovah's Witnesses noted.

      Judge Garayev acceded to the prosecutor's request and sentenced Annayev to two years' imprisonment in an ordinary regime labour camp. As Annayev had not been under arrest before the trial he was arrested after the verdict was handed down and taken away to begin his sentence.

      Judge Garayev refused to explain to Forum 18 on 23 July why he had punished Annayev for refusing military service on grounds of conscience or why he had given him the maximum penalty. He also refused to discuss the conduct of the trial, including why the chief judge had interrupted proceedings.

      Annayev did not appeal against his conviction to Balkan Regional Court, the court told Forum 18 on 23 July.

      August trials

      Two more Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors face trial in August under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1 after refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience.

      The trial of Isa Sayaev was due to have begun on 9 August at Koneurgench City Court in the northern Dashoguz Region. Forum 18 was unable to reach the court on 10 August to find out if the trial took place as scheduled.

      The trial of Ruslan Artykmuradov is due to begin in Lebap Region on 13 August, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

      Was July trial a show trial?

      Three Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors are known to have been jailed in July under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. Each was given a one-year ordinary regime labour camp sentence. One of the three, Ikhlosbek Valijon oglu Rozmetov (born 26 November 1997), was convicted on 11 July at Gurbansoltan eje District Court in Dashoguz Region (see F18News 30 July 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2400).

      According to the verdict seen by Forum 18, Judge Sh. Almazov of Gurbansoltan eje District Court held the trial in the conference hall of the District Military Conscription Office. It added that the trial was open. The verdict gives no reason for the decision to hold the trial there.

      Forum 18 was unable to reach Gurbansoltan eje District Court or the Military Conscription Office to find out who had attended the trial apart from the accused, prosecutors, lawyers and witnesses and whether the trial was meant to send a signal to local young men of what happens to those who refuse compulsory military service.

      The verdict notes that Rozmetov had not been under arrest in the run-up to the trial (he had been required to sign a declaration not to leave the area). He was arrested in the courtroom after the verdict was delivered to be taken away to begin his sentence.

      Imminent transfer to Seydi Labour Camp?

      The latest jailed conscientious objectors are likely to be sent to serve their sentences at the ordinary regime labour camp LB-K/12 in the desert near Seydi, in Lebap Region. Many other prisoners of conscience jailed to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief have been held in the camp.

      The two imprisoned Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors - Arslan Begenchov and Kerven Kakabayev – were sent there after their January convictions (see F18News 23 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2363).

      Also held at Seydi Labour Camp is fellow Jehovah's Witness Bahram Hemdemov. He was arrested during a March 2015 raid on his home, after which he was tortured. He is serving a four year prison term from 19 May 2015 on charges of allegedly inciting religious hatred, which he strongly denies, but his real "crime" seems to have been hosting a meeting for worship (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).

      The address of the Seydi Labour Camp is:

      746222 Lebap velayat

      Seydi

      uchr. LB-K/12

      Turkmenistan

      (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2402
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Turkmenistan has ignored some questions by the UN Committee Against Torture about tortured Muslim and Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience, but provided details of a Sunni Muslim prisoner's three trials. The country also continues to deny the right to conscientious objection to military service.
      Young Muslim leader Bahram Saparov serving a 15-year-prison term in Turkmenistan's isolated top-security Ovadan-Depe Prison, in the Karakum Desert 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat], has been tried and sentenced three times, a delegation from Turkmenistan's government claimed to the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (CAT). The most recent trial, the government claimed, was in June.

      The government delegation completely ignored the Committee's questions as to why prisoner of conscience Saparov – and other prisoners – are being held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners, and why his three trials were not in open court (see below). 

      The government delegation also did not mention the approximately 20 people sentenced with prisoner of conscience Saparov at his original trial, as well as the serious physical torture inflicted on him (see below).

      The government delegation also did not reply to questions from the Committee Against Torture about why prisoner of conscience Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov had been tortured, including by severe beatings and injections with unknown drugs. It also ignored Committee questions about the torture of the other current Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Bahram Hemdemov, and of Jehovah's Witness former prisoners of conscience Mahmud Hudaybergenov and Ahmet Hudaybergenov (see below).

      Committee Against Torture questions about whether independent investigations of torture complaints were carried out were also ignored by the government. Under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Turkmenistan is obliged to arrest and try under criminal law any person suspected on good grounds of having committed torture (see below).

      Turkmenistan's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Atageldi Haljanov, also denied the internationally recognised right to conscientiously object to compulsory military service, as Turkmenistan has repeatedly done at the UN. Six conscientious objectors – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses – are known to have been convicted and sentenced in Turkmenistan so far in 2016. A full review of the country's record by the UN Human Rights Committee is due to take place in March 2017 (see below).

      No time to discuss cases?

      The Committee Against Torture's Co-rapporteurs on Turkmenistan had raised the cases of prisoners of conscience Saparov, Masharipov and Hemdemov at the first 2016 hearing on Turkmenistan's record before the Committee in Geneva on 21 November. The Co-rapporteurs also reminded the seven-member government delegation of questions on other cases it had failed to answer in the government's 22 August written responses ahead of the hearings.

      Ambassador Haljanov of Turkmenistan's Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva gave the partial responses of the government delegation on named individuals during the 22 November session. However, he claimed to the Committee that he did not have time to discuss the cases of prisoners of conscience Saparov and Masharipov, and that the government delegation would submit its responses in writing. It did so on 24 November.

      No reply

      Forum 18 tried to reach Ambassador Haljanov at Turkmenistan's Mission to the UN in Geneva. The woman who answered the phone on 5 December refused to put Forum 18 through to Ambassador Haljanov because "I do not know you". She asked Forum 18 to send written questions.

      Forum 18 asked Ambassador Haljanov in writing mid-morning Geneva time on 5 December about his delegation's responses to the Committee Against Torture on prisoners of conscience Saparov and Masharipov.

      On Saparov, Forum 18 asked why the government delegation's response did not explain why he is being held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners, and why the government did not explain why Saparov had not been tried in open court where the evidence against him could be heard. Forum 18 asked for copies of the three verdicts against him. Saparov led a Hanafi Sunni Muslim community in Turkmenabad. He and about 20 members of his group were given long prison sentences in May 2013. He and at least two others were transferred to Ovadan-Depe Prison, where torture is frequent and prisoners are held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners (see F18News 26 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2218).

      On Masharipov, Forum 18 asked why the government delegation's response did not say anything about the torture he endured (severe beatings, injections with unknown drugs in a drug rehabilitation centre) and why it did not explain why he is being punished for exercising his rights to freedom of religion or belief. Police raided Jehovah's Witness Masharipov's home in Dashoguz in July 2014, confiscated (subsequently destroyed) religious literature, severely tortured him, injected him in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre (from which he escaped) with unknown drugs. He was jailed after June 2016 arrest for one year (see F18News 21 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2217).

      Although Ambassador Haljanov rejected suggestions during the hearing that the Turkmen government is "closed" and insisted that it cooperates with foreign and local media, Forum 18 had received no response to its questions to him by the end of the working day in Geneva on 6 December.

      Another member of the government delegation to the Committee Against Torture hearings, Pirnazar Hudainazarov, Chair of the Mejlis (Parliament) Legislative Committee, refused to speak to Forum 18. Reached on 6 December, he told Forum 18 to address its questions to the Foreign Ministry before it was able to ask any questions. He then put the phone down.

      Prisoner of conscience Saparov: Sentenced 3 times, repeated severe torture

      The 34-year-old prisoner of conscience Saparov – who is married with three children - led a Hanafi Sunni Muslim community in the eastern city of Turkmenabad [Turkmenabat] (formerly Charjew) in Lebap Region until his imprisonment in March 2013.

      Saparov organised meetings in homes from 2007 to study the five pillars of Islam and the attitude of Islam to the family and neighbours. Up to 10 young people initially joined the group, but it later grew to about 60 people in two groups.

      Saparov and members of his group soon came to the attention of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police. In 2008 and 2009, MSS officers frequently summoned them individually for interrogation. Officers tortured some of the group.

      The police and MSS secret police arrested Saparov and about 20 others on 9 March 2013 and all were convicted at a mass, closed trial in May 2013. After his conviction, Saparov was initially imprisoned at the labour camp in Tejen, south-east of the capital Ashgabad. He was transferred to the top-security Ovadan-Depe prison in October 2014.

      An individual who saw prisoner of conscience Saparov in the prison in late 2014 – the last time he is known to have been alive – barely recognised him. "Bahram's face – and the faces of the other prisoners in the block – were unrecognisable because of the beatings," one source told Forum 18. "Officers in uniform came weekly from Ashgabad in helmets and riot gear and beat the prisoners." Two others known to have been sentenced with him - Adylbek and Meylis (last names unknown) - were also seen alive in the prison about the same time (see F18News 26 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2218).

      After the arrest of Saparov and the 20 or so others, police and MSS secret police are believed to have arrested further group members. Forum 18 has been unable to find out what happened to them.

      Prisoner of conscience Saparov: Serious charges

      In its 24 November information to the Committee Against Torture on Saparov's case, the government delegation claimed that the Muslim leader had been sentenced on 22 May 2013 at Lebap Regional Court to 15 years' imprisonment under a range of serious charges.

      According to the government delegation, Saparov was sentenced under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Conspiracy to seize power"), Article 175, Part 2 ("Calls to violent change of the constitutional order"), Article 177, Part 3 ("Incitement of social, ethnic or religious hatred"), Article 275, Parts 1 and 2 ("Creation of an organised group, criminal association or other criminal structures or participation in their activity") and Article 291 ("Theft of extortion of weapons, military materiel, explosive substances and explosive devices"). This last charge was subject to Article 14, which covers cases where an individual did not manage to carry out the crime through circumstances that did not depend on themselves.

      Under Criminal Code Article 63, Part 1, which covers how to aggregate punishments when more than one crime is involved, Saparov was given a punishment under each Article separately.

      The government delegation claimed that on 4 July 2014 – while already imprisoned – prisoner of conscience Saparov was tried and punished again on the basis of alleged "the appearance of new facts (testimonies against him)" relating to an earlier period. The government delegation did not reveal where this trial took place, but it may have been in Tejen Prison where he was then being held.

      Prisoner of conscience Saparov was again sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. He was again convicted under Criminal Code Article 275, Part 2 ("Creation of an organised group, criminal association or other criminal structures or participation in their activity"), as well as Article 227, Part 4 ("Theft"). This time Article 63, Part 5 was used, under which a previous criminal sentence is subsumed into the punishment given in the latest case.

      The third trial took place on 7 June 2016, the government delegation told the Committee Against Torture. Again it took place on the basis of an alleged "appearance of new facts (testimonies against him)" relating to an earlier period. Again the government delegation did not reveal where this trial took place, but this may have been in Ovadan-Depe Prison where, according to the government delegation, he is still being held.

      At this third trial, prisoner of conscience Saparov was given a further 15 year prison term again under Criminal Code Article 227, Part 4 ("Theft"), as well as Article 231, Part 2 ("Robbery"). Article 63, Part 5 was again used, subsuming the two earlier punishments into the latest 15-year sentence.

      Prisoner of conscience Saparov: Closed trials, held incommunicado

      The government delegation claimed in its response to the Committee Against Torture that Saparov's relatives have been able to hand in 55 food parcels for him. The government delegation did not mention any meetings with relatives.

      Human rights defenders told Forum 18 that it is highly unlikely that any food parcels have been allowed since Saparov's transfer to Ovadan-Depe. They point out that the prison is isolated, closed and kept under strict secrecy. Many prisoners sent there have not been heard of for many years and may have died there, possibly under torture.

      Human rights defenders note that prisoners in ordinary labour camps, such as Tejen, can receive visits and food parcels, though prison staff often demand bribes for this. Prison conditions are harsh and include the torture of prisoners (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1676).

      The government delegation completely ignored the Co-rapporteurs' questions on why many prisoners in Turkmenistan – including Saparov – are held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners, and why trials are closed.

      Saparov's prison address:

      Ahal velayat

      Upravlenie politsii Ahalskogo velayata

      uchr. AH-T/2

      Saparovu, Bahramu

      Prisoner of conscience Masharipov: No reply on torture

      The 32-year-old Masharipov, an ethnic Uzbek Jehovah's Witness from the northern city of Dashoguz, was sentenced to one year's imprisonment on 18 August in his home city for allegedly assaulting a police officer back in July 2014, charges he denies. Following his 2014 arrest, he was tortured. He escaped from a Drug Rehabilitation Centre where he was being injected with unknown drugs that harmed his health. He was re-arrested in Ashgabad in June 2016 before being transferred back to Dashoguz for trial (see F18News 21 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2217).

      Evidence of torture inflicted on prisoner of conscience Masharipov was in 2014 submitted to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (see F18News 1 August 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1981).

      Despite being asked both in advance and by Committee Against Torture Co-rapporteurs during the first day of hearings before the Committee on 21 November, the government delegation failed to say whether any independent investigation had been conducted into the torture of Masharipov.

      Under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Turkmenistan is obliged to arrest and try under criminal law any person suspected on good grounds of having committed torture (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1676).

      In its 24 November written submission to the Committee, the government delegation merely recounted the known details of prisoner of conscience Masharipov's imprisonment and adding that he is an "adherent" of the unregistered Jehovah's Witnesses. (Religious communities without registration are not allowed to exist, in dfince of Turkmenistan's international human rights obligations - see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1676.) The government delegation then noted that Masharipov is being held in Seydi Labour Camp.

      The government delegation claimed Masharipov receives "regular" visits in prison from relatives. It said a short visit had taken place on 3 November and a longer visit from his brother Ulugbek on 19 November. It added that Masharipov had been allowed food parcels on 23 August and 22 September.

      Prisoner of conscience Hemdemov: No reply on torture

      Similarly, the government delegation failed to answer repeated questions about reports that fellow-Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Hemdemov had been tortured in pre-trial detention.

      Police arrested Hemdemov during a March 2015 raid on his home, following which they tortured him. The 53-year-old Jehovah's Witness is serving a four-year sentence handed down in May 2015 on charges of inciting religious hatred, charges he denies. He is being held in the general regime section of the Seydi Labour Camp (see F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).

      In its 22 August written submission to the Committee Against Torture, the government delegation claimed that Hemdemov, "with a view to the promotion and incitement of religious enmity .. engaged in his home with members of this group in propaganda activities, thereby inciting religious discord and enmity towards another religion".

      During the November Committee hearings, the government delegation did not even mention Hemdemov, despite a repeated request from the Co-rapporteurs for information on whether any independent investigation had taken place into the torture of him.

      Prisoners of conscience Masharipov and Hemdemov's address in prison is:

      Turkmenistan

      746222 Lebap velayat

      Seydi

      uchr. LB-K/12

      Prisoners of conscience Hudaybergenovs: Still no reply on torture

      In advance of the hearings, the Committee Against Torture also asked the government delegation about the torture of two Jehovah's Witness former prisoners of conscience, the brothers Mahmud Hudaybergenov and Ahmet Hudaybergenov.

      In March and October 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of four young men by imprisoning them for refusing compulsory religious service on grounds of religious conscience. The Committee also ruled that beatings and other maltreatment of the Hudaybergenov brothers, as well as of Zafar Abdullayev and Sunnet Japparov represented torture. Turkmenistan has failed to recompense these victims of human rights violations or change laws and procedures to prevent such violations recurring (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).

      The 22 August written response from the government delegation failed to even mention the Hudaybergenov brothers and the torture they had undergone.

      Five Muslim prisoners: No response on torture reports

      Ahead of the November hearings, the Committee Against Torture asked the government delegation if any investigation had been undertaken into an incident in February 2015 in which five Muslim prisoners at Seydi labour camp were allegedly subjected to severe beating by prison guards.

      Five Muslim men imprisoned on charges of religious extremism, who arrived in Seydi strict regime labour camp in February 2015, were severely physically tortured on arrival. Forum 18 was unable to establish if they – and a group of about 10 Muslim men transferred from that labour camp to the top-security Ovadan-Depe prison in December 2014 – are prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freeom of religion and belief (see F18News 18 February 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2039).

      In its 22 August response to the Committee, the government delegation claimed: "There is no information concerning the incident". Reminded by the Committee of the allegations of torture against the five Muslim men during the November hearings, the government delegation did not reply.

      Harsh prison conditions, torture

      Prisoners generally have to endure harsh conditions, especially for those unable or unwilling to pay bribes to secure access to reasonable living quarters, food or washing facilities. Although the general regime Seydi Labour Camp (where those imprisoned for exercising freedom of religion and belief are often held) has its own prison mosque, prisoners are afraid to attend, according to a former prisoner in the camp. "The mosque is open to any prisoner, but Muslim prisoners won't go for fear of being branded a ‘Wahhabi'," the former prisoner told Forum 18. "So at Friday prayers there are usually only about four or five people." The former prisoner added that the prison library – which prisoners make good use of - has no religious literature (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).

      The term "Wahhabi" is widely used in Central Asia for any devout Muslim, regardless of whether they do or do not commit or espouse violence or are Wahhabis.

      Torture of prisoners is widespread. Prisoners branded as "Wahhabis" are given harsh treatment and are often confined in special sections of prisons. In February 2015 in the strict regime Seydi Labour Camp, Muslim prisoners convicted of alleged "Wahhabism" were subjected to brutal torture through physical attack. One man suffered a broken hand, while another suffered a broken rib and damage to his lung (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).

      In 2011 the UN Committee Against Torture found that, in Turkmenistan "persons deprived of their liberty are tortured, ill-treated and threatened by public officers, especially at the moment of apprehension and during pretrial detention, to extract confessions and as an additional punishment after the confession" (see UN reference CAT/C/TKM/CO/1 http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4ef0540f2.html).

      In March and October 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of four further Jehovah's Witness young men by imprisoning them for refusing compulsory religious service on grounds of religious conscience. The Committee also ruled that beatings and other maltreatment (such as a head being repeatedly bashed against a wall) of Zafar Abdullayev, Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Ahmet Hudaybergenov and Sunnet Japparov is torture and the government needs to provide reparations (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).

      The UN Human Rights Committee adopted five further decisions in July 2016 that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of five more Jehovah's Witness former prisoners of conscience, including by the use of torture against them (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).

      Latest rejection of conscientious objection to military service

      Ambassador Haljanov also denied individuals' internationally recognised right to conscientiously object to compulsory military service. Turkmenistan has repeatedly denied this right to the UN, for example the Human Human Rights Committee (see eg. F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196). "Unfortunately there are citizens in our society who refuse their constitutional duty towards their homeland," he told the Committee Against Torture at the 22 November hearing.

      Six conscientious objectors – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses – are known to have been convicted and sentenced in Turkmenistan so far in 2016 to punish them for refusing to perform compulsory military service on religious grounds. Five received two-year suspended sentences. The sixth received a one-year corrective labour sentence, where he lives at home under restrictions and a fifth of his wages are confiscated.

      All six young men were sentenced under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. This punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces in peacetime with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or two years' corrective labour (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).

      No conscientious objection, no alternative service

      Ambassador Haljanov told the UN Committee Against Torture in November 2016 that before bringing to court individuals who refuse military service on grounds of conscience, "complex measures are undertaken by a range of organisations in Turkmenistan, including youth organisations, local authorities, parents and elders to explain to them their constitutional duty".

      Turkmenistan offers no alternative to its compulsory military service. Article 58 of the new 2016 Constitution describes defence as a "sacred duty" of everyone and states that military service is compulsory for men. Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220). A proposed Alternative Service Law was reportedly drafted in 2013, but officials have been unable to tell ForumF18News 29 September 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2002).

      Turkmenistan has repeatedly, for example between 2012 and 2015, rejected UN Human Human Rights Committee calls for the country to allow conscientious objection to military service, along with other manifestations of freedom of religion and belief (see eg. F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196). In July 2016 the Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan violated the rights of five further Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These decisions bring to 9 the number of such findings by the Committee against Turkmenistan in conscientious objection-related cases. The Committee also adopted a list of issues for consideration of Turkmenistan's record under the ICCPR (UN reference CCPR/C/TKM/Q/2 http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2FC%2FTKM%2FQ%2F2&Lang=en). A full review of the country's record by the Human Rights Committee is due to take place in Geneva in March 2017 (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).

      President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov signed a new Constitution into law on 14 September. It ignored recommendations in a July 2016 legal review of the proposed Constitution by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Among other human rights and freedom of religion and belief concerns, the review recommended that the Constitution should make explicit mention of the right to opt for an alternative to military service (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).

      The latest April 2016 Religion Law also repeated the ban on conscientious objection to military service. Members of several religious communities complained that "no religion" is allowed during military service (see F18News 18 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2169). The latest revision of the Religion Law totally ignores a 2010 OSCE legal review of the then Religion Law, which criticised many of its provisions for violating international human rights standards. The Review called for many changes, including to allow conscientious objection to compulsory military service, as well as an end to the ban on the exercise of freedom of religion and belief without state permission, and the ban on private teaching of beliefs (see F18News 20 December 2010 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1523). (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2236
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      "The Orthodox Church wants a diocese and resident bishop in Turkmenistan," an Orthodox told Forum 18. "But it hasn't yet happened." The Deanery Secretary, a Russian priest, was forced to leave. And the Armenian Apostolic Church is still unable to regain a former church.
      The Russian Orthodox Church appears no nearer to achieving its goal of a fully-fledged diocese in Turkmenistan, despite an early November visit by two foreign-based hierarchs. "The Orthodox Church wants a diocese and resident bishop in Turkmenistan," a lay Orthodox Christian from the country, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18. "This was raised officially by current [Moscow Patriarchate] Metropolitan Kirill when he visited Ashgabad in 2008, before he became Patriarch. But it hasn't yet happened."

      Fr Grigory Bochurov, a Russian citizen who has served from 2012 in Turkmenistan as Secretary of the Patriarchal Deanery and senior priest of Ashgabad's St Nikolai Church, was forced to leave by the authorities in June 2016 (see below).

      Turkemnistan, in defiance of its international human rights obligations, has a long-term policy of isolating belief communities from their co-believers outside the country (see below).

      And despite repeated attempts, the Armenian Apostolic Church has still not regained its former church in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), despite a November 2012 promise by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to return it (see below).

      Restricted visits

      Archbishop Feofilakt (Kuryanov), the Russian-based "temporary" administrator of the Turkmen parishes on behalf of the Moscow Patriarchate, and Metropolitan Vikenty (Morar) of Tashkent, who lives in the Uzbek capital and is head of the Central Asian Metropolitan Area, were allowed a four-day visit to the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] from 3 to 6 November 2016.

      Fr Mikhail Stolyarov, spokesperson for the Moscow Patriarchate's Uzbek Diocese, explained that Metropolitan Vikenty had travelled alone to Turkmenistan, as often happens on his pastoral visits. "I wasn't there," he told Forum 18 from the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 29 November. "But as far as I know, no meetings were held with officials during the visit. At least, the Metropolitan didn't mention any. So nothing could have been discussed with them."

      Archbishop Feofilakt is allowed to visit Turkmenistan on short visits several times a year, including earlier in 2016. However, this was the first visit Metropolitan Vikenty has been allowed to make to Turkmenistan since 2013 (see F18News 23 May 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1840). "The Church tried to invite Metropolitan Vikenty once a year, without much success," a lay Orthodox Christian noted (see below).

      No serving Russian Orthodox Patriarch has ever visited Turkmenistan.

      Isolating belief communities

      The Turkmen government's policy of isolating its citizens (including belief communities from their fellow-believers in other countries), together with tight restrictions on which religious communities are allowed legally to exist, means religious communities have only highly limited opportunities to invite foreign religious figures.

      Only registered religious communities have the right to apply to invite foreigners for religious purposes, though such applications are rarely successful (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676).

      Any one registered community can generally only invite one foreigner or small group of foreigners (such as a husband and wife) per year, religious community members told Forum 18 from Ashgabad. "In addition, there is always a time limit," one community member explained. "A guest is usually allowed to stay for three days, maximum five days, never more."

      At least two Protestant communities were able to have such brief visits in 2016, Protestants told Forum 18. In the past, other registered Protestant churches, as well as the Baha'i and Hare Krishna communities have been able to have such short, rare visits by foreign citizens.

      The state-controlled Sunni Muftiate (Muslim Spiritual Administration) - the only form of the majority religion Islam permitted – appears only to invite foreigners on very rare occasions. Islamic communities outside the framework of the Muftiate are not allowed to exist, and therefore (like Jehovah's Witnesses and many Protestant churches) cannot invite foreign citizens (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676).

      Registered religious communities are generally not able to invite foreign citizens to live and serve in Turkmenistan. The enforced departure from Turkmenistan in spring 2015 of Fr Grigory Bocharov, the Secretary of the Patriarchal Deanery who had arrived from Russia (see below), appears to leaves only one Russian Orthodox priest from Russia remaining, Forum 18 notes.

      The one exception is for the small Catholic community, which is served by foreign priests resident in Ashgabad. However, these priests have diplomatic status as staff of the Holy See's Nunciature (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676).

      Religious communities which might want to invite pastoral leaders or qualified religious teachers to live and serve in Turkmenistan are thus unable to do so.

      Similarly, the only institution allowed to train clergy of any faith in the country, the small Muslim Theological Section in the History Faculty of Magtymguly Turkmen State University in Ashgabad, is not allowed to have any foreign staff (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676).

      No Russian Orthodox diocese for Turkmenistan

      The dozen or so Russian Orthodox parishes in Turkmenistan were transferred by the Church's Holy Synod in October 2007 from the jurisdiction of the then Central Asian Diocese based in the Uzbek capital Tashkent after heavy pressure from the Turkmen authorities. They were formed into a Deanery directly subject to the Patriarch (see F18News 19 October 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1037).

      On behalf of the Patriarch, the Turkmen Deanery has been led since October 2008 by the "temporary administrator", Bishop Feofilakt (Kuryanov). He has retained his responsibility for "temporarily" overseeing the Deanery over more than eight years, despite having episcopal responsibilities in Russia, first as assistant bishop in the Moscow diocese, then bishop of Smolensk and, finally, bishop of Pyatigorsk from March 2011. Feofilakt became an Archbishop in 2014.

      The Russian Orthodox Holy Synod established individual dioceses for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – led by their own resident bishops – in July 2011.

      While the dozen or so parishes in Turkmenistan would form a small diocese, it would still be bigger than the Tajikistan diocese, which has just six parishes (one of them on a Russian military base). Similarly, the Azerbaijan diocese has fewer parishes than in Turkmenistan.

      OSCE obligations

      As a participating State of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Turkmenistan has an obligation to respect and facilitate everyone's freedom of religion or belief and linked fundamental freedoms.

      The Concluding Document of the Vienna Meeting 1986 of Representatives of the Participating States of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe commits participating states to "respect the right" of religious communities to "organize themselves according to their own hierarchical and institutional structure".

      It also commits participating States to respect their right to "select, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their respective requirements and standards as well as with any freely accepted arrangement between them and their State" (see Forum 18's compilation of OSCE commitments on freedom of religion or belief http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1351).

      What or who is delaying establishing Orthodox diocese?

      Forum 18 was unable to reach any Turkmen officials to find out whether the state is preventing the Russian Orthodox Church from structuring itself in the country as it chooses and naming a resident leader of its choice.

      The telephone of Mekan Akyev, head of the government's Commission for Work with Religious Organisations and Expert Analysis of Resources Containing Religious Information, Published and Printed Production, went unanswered each time Forum 18 called between 28 and 30 November. The telephone of one of the Deputy Chairs, Gurbanberdy Nursakhatov, also went unanswered, though local people told Forum 18 he was out of the country.

      Forum 18 asked a spokesperson for the Moscow Patriarchate about what is delaying the establishment of a diocese in Turkmenistan, and whether the Deanery is likely to be turned into a Diocese soon. He chose his words very carefully in his response. "What exists exists," he told Forum 18 from Moscow on 28 November. "If something changes, a new structure might be required."

      Asked how much the Moscow Patriarchate is pushing the Turkmen authorities to be allowed a diocese, the official – who did not give his name – responded: "The structure is important for us, but carrying out religious services is the most important thing." Asked about the current state of negotiations, he added: "I'm not saying if there are or aren't discussions in the Moscow Patriarchate on this, but if there were we wouldn't discuss it publicly."

      Asked why the Russian-based Archbishop Feofilakt is still the administrator of the Patriarchal Deanery, the Moscow Patriarchate official noted that he had been "temporary" administrator for some years. He did not explain why this provisional status has remained unchanged for more than eight years.

      Will synod be able to meet in Ashgabad?

      The Turkmen Deanery is part of the Russian Orthodox Central Asian Metropolitan Area, led by Metropolitan Vikenty (Morar), who is based in Tashkent. The Metropolitan Area is made up of the dioceses of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, together with the Patriarchal Deanery in Turkmenistan.

      Unlike the Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan dioceses, which he has been able to visit at least once a year, Metropolitan Vikenty has found it more difficult to visit the parishes in Turkmenistan. He first visited the Turkmen parishes in November 2012, then again in April 2013. However, his next visit did not take place until November 2016.

      Fr Stolyarov, spokesperson for the Uzbek diocese, insisted that Metropolitan Vikenty faces no obstruction visiting Turkmenistan when required. "If we submit a request for such a visit, that request will be met," he told Forum 18.

      The synod of the Central Asian Metropolitan Area – with the bishops of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as Archbishop Feofilakt representing the Turkmen Deanery – has met in Tashkent and the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. Although Archbishop Feofilakt expressed the hope at the March 2015 synod that the next meeting could be held "in sunny Ashgabad", this did not happen.

      Deanery Secretary forced out

      Fr Grigory Bochurov, a Russian citizen from Pyatigorsk diocese, served from 2012 in Turkmenistan as Secretary of the Patriarchal Deanery and senior priest of Ashgabad's St Nikolai Church. Bishop Feofilakt named him to both posts in September 2012.

      In a December 2014 meeting in Ashgabad with Charygeldi Seryaev, head of the government's then Gengesh (Council) for Religious Affairs, Archbishop Feofilakt praised Fr Bochurov's "constructive work" in coordinating the work of the parishes in Turkmenistan. Fr Bochurov was also present at the meeting.

      However, in spring 2015 the Turkmen authorities refused to extend Fr Bochurov's permission to remain in Turkmenistan, the lay Orthodox Christian told Forum 18. The priest was forced to leave Turkmenistan and return to Russia, where he resumed duties in the Pyatigorsk diocese. It appears the Church tried to appeal to the Turkmen authorities to overturn the enforced departure, but with no success.

      Finally bowing to the inevitable, Archbishop Feofilakt issued a decree on 20 June 2016, removing Fr Bochurov from his post as senior priest at Ashgabad's St Nikolai Church and also from his post as Secretary to the Patriarchal Deanery in Turkmenistan.

      "No changes" for Armenian Apostolic Church

      Despite repeated attempts, the Armenian Apostolic Church has so far been unable to regain its former church in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), confiscated during the Soviet period and partially destroyed in the mid-2000s. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's November 2012 promise to return what remains of the church and allow it to be restored and reopened for worship have never been fulfilled (see F18News 23 May 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1840).

      On 12 September 2016, the exiled news website Chrono-tm.org published photographs of the exterior and interior of the half-ruined church in Turkmenbashi. Outside stands a notice "Old Armenian Gregorian church. Historical-Cultural Monument, Registered by the State BN6 10-211".

      "No changes have occurred," a spokesperson for the Moscow-based Armenian Apostolic Diocese (which includes Central Asia) lamented to Forum 18 on 29 November. The spokesperson added that Archbishop Yezras Nersisyan is planning to visit Central Asia soon, "we hope in December". Asked if the Archbishop will finally be able to visit Turkmenistan and try to restart the Church's activity there, the spokesperson responded: "We'll see."

      The Armenian Apostolic Church has parishes in Samarkand and Tashkent in Uzbekistan and Almaty in Kazakhstan. The church in Turkmenbashi is the only surviving church building in Turkmenistan.

      The Armenian ambassador to Turkmenistan tried to arrange an invitation for a priest to visit in 2015, but was unsuccessful, an Ashgabad-based Christian told Forum 18. The last time an Armenian priest is known to have visited was in 1999, when he was only able to hold services and conduct baptisms on Armenian diplomatic territory (see F18News 26 October 2004 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=439). (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2234
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Courts have sentenced five Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors in 2016 to two-year suspended prison terms for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. A sixth received a one-year corrective labour sentence. Turkmenistan ignored OSCE calls for the new Constitution to recognise conscientious objection.
      Six conscientious objectors – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses – are now known to have been convicted and sentenced in Turkmenistan so far in 2016 to punish them for refusing to perform compulsory military service on religious grounds. Five received two-year suspended sentences. The sixth received a one-year corrective labour sentence, where he lives at home under restrictions and a fifth of his wages are seized.

      All six young men were sentenced under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. This punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces in peacetime with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or two years' corrective labour.

      No conscientious objectors to military service are known currently to be imprisoned. Over many years, Jehovah's Witness young men have routinely been convicted for refusing compulsory military service on religious grounds. Although in earlier years some were given non-custodial sentences, most were imprisoned. The last known imprisoned conscientious objector, Ruslan Narkuliyev, was freed under amnesty in February 2015 (see F18News 18 February 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2039).

      Five young Jehovah's Witnesses are known to have been convicted for refusing compulsory military service and given corrective labour sentences in 2014 and 2015 (see F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).

      Turkmenistan offers no alternative to its compulsory military service. Article 58 of the new Constitution describes defence as a "sacred duty" of everyone and states that military service is compulsory for men. Turkmenistan ignored a call from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to recognise the right in the Constitution (see below).

      Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years. A proposed Alternative Service Law was reportedly drafted in 2013, but officials have been unable to tell Forum 18 if and when it might be adopted (see F18News 29 September 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2002).

      No comment

      No official was prepared to discuss with Forum 18 why young men continue to be convicted for refusing military service on religious grounds and why Turkmenistan has ignored calls by the United Nations (UN) and OSCE for a civilian alternative to compulsory military service to be introduced.

      Following his usual response, Pirnazar Hudainazarov, Chair of the Mejlis (Parliament) Legislative Committee, refused absolutely to discuss anything. "Don't call here," he told Forum 18 from the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] on 3 October. "Ring the Foreign Ministry." He then put the phone down.

      Telephones at the Foreign Ministry went unanswered on 3 October. Forum 18 was unable to reach Shemshat Atajanova, a department head at the government's Turkmen National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights in Ashgabad. A colleague refused to put Forum 18 through to her on 3 October and also refused to answer any questions himself.

      Dashoguz: two-year suspended sentence

      Jehovah's Witness Sanjarbek Saburov, from the northern city of Dashoguz, refused military service during the spring call-up. On 17 July he was placed in preventive detention while awaiting trial, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. A complaint regarding the detention was filed with the Presidential Administration, the General Prosecutor's Office, the Interior Ministry and the Turkmen National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.

      On 10 August, Dashoguz Regional Prosecutor's Office responded to Saburov, stating that they would readdress his complaint to Dashoguz City Prosecutor's Office. The response from Dashoguz City Prosecutor's Office is still pending.

      Saburov was tried under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. On 9 August, a Judge handed him a two-year suspended sentence. He was released in the courtroom after more than three weeks' detention.

      Seydi: two-year suspended sentence

      Jehovah's Witness Artur Yangibayev, from Seydi in the eastern Lebap Region, refused military service during the spring call-up. On 2 and 11 May, he sent a written petition to the Military Conscription Office, explaining his conscientious objection to military service.

      On 16 June, two representatives of the Conscription Office, along with the local police officer, went to his home and took him to the Prosecutor's Office, where he was threatened with 15 years' imprisonment. "The officers applied severe psychological pressure and forced him to write a letter retracting his earlier written petition for alternative service as a conscientious objector," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18.

      A complaint about the coercion to which Yangibayev was subjected was filed with the Presidential Administration and the General Prosecutor's Office.

      Yangibayev was charged under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. On 8 August, he was placed in pre-trial preventive detention. On 30 August, a Judge handed Yangibayev a two-year suspended sentence. He was released in the courtroom after more than three weeks' detention.

      Ashgabad: Four sentences in 2016

      Four Jehovah's Witness young men from Ashgabad are known to have been convicted in 2016 under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1 for refusing military service on grounds of religious faith.

      The first was Dayanch Jumayev, sentenced in Ashgabad in February to one year of corrective labour. He was ordered to live at home under restrictions, with one fifth of his wages being seized by the state (see F18News 5 July 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).

      Three others were subsequently sentenced on the same charges between February and August. Merdan Ochanov, Konstantin Sivkov and Ruslan Rahmetulov each received two-year suspended sentences, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

      An official of the chancellery of Ashgabad City Court refused to say if any of the four appealed against their sentences. "We don't give any information by telephone," she told Forum 18 before putting the phone down.

      Further United Nations findings against Turkmenistan

      The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee has found that Turkmenistan violated the rights of five further Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The five latest decisions – issued on 15 and 16 July – bring to 9 the number of such findings by the Committee against Turkmenistan in conscientious objection-related cases.

      In the July decisions, the Committee found violations in the cases of Navruz Nasyrlayev, Matkarim Aminov, Dovran Matyakubov and Shadurdy Uchetov (all of whom had served prison terms), as well as Akmurad Nurjanov (who had received a suspended prison term). All five had lodged their appeals to the UN Human Rights Committee on 7 September 2012.

      In March and October 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of four further Jehovah's Witness young men by imprisoning them for refusing compulsory military service on religious grounds. The Committee also ruled that beatings and other maltreatment (such as a head being repeatedly bashed against a wall) of Zafar Abdullayev, Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Ahmet Hudaybergenov and Sunnet Japparov is torture and the government needs to provide reparations (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).

      In all nine decisions, the Committee found the convictions and sentences for refusal of compulsory military service to be an infringement of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, in breach of ICCPR Article 18, Part 1. In each case, the Committee also determined that the authorities' treatment of the men violated the ICCPR Article 7 guarantee that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

      In addition, the Committee concluded that what Jehovah's Witnesses describe as the "deplorable living conditions" violated the right of detainees to be treated "with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person," under ICCPR Article 10. 

      Turkmenistan has not yet implemented the Committee's views, Jehovah's Witnesses lamented to Forum 18.

      The UN Human Rights Committee is still considering the appeals by five more Jehovah's Witness former imprisoned conscientious objectors: Akmurat Egendurdiev, Arslan Dovletov, Juma Nazarov, Yadgarbek Sharipov and Atamurat Suvkhanov. Also awaiting a decision is Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Danatar Durdyyev, who was fined. These appeals were lodged in 2012 and 2013 (see F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).

      UN Human Rights Committee questions

      At its July session in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Committee adopted a list of issues for the consideration of Turkmenistan's record under the ICCPR (CCPR/C/TKM/Q/2). The full review is due to take place in Geneva in March 2017.

      In its list of issues, the Committee reminded Turkmenistan's government that it had already called on it in 2012 to introduce a civilian alternative service (CCPR/C/TKM/CO/1). It told the government "please indicate what steps have been taken to: (a) amend the relevant legislation to recognize the right to conscientious objection to compulsory military service and introduce alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors; and (b) halt all prosecutions of individuals who refuse to perform military service on grounds of conscience and release those individuals who are currently serving prison sentences for such a refusal".

      The UN Human Rights Committee also asked Turkmenistan's government to "explain how the restrictions imposed on the exercise of freedom of religion, particularly by the Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations Act, including mandatory registration of religious organizations and prohibition of activities of unregistered religious organizations, prohibition of worship in private homes, restrictions on religious education and the importing, publication and distribution of religious literature, and the administrative penalties for violations of the legislation in question are compatible with the State party's obligations under article 18 of the Covenant [ICCPR]".

      Turkmenistan ignores OSCE on lack of alternative service in new Constitution

      President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov signed into law a new Constitution on 14 September. Despite government claims, it ignored recommendations prepared by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) that the text should make explicit mention of the right to opt for an alternative to military service.

      Article 58 of the new Constitution declares: "The defence of Turkmenistan is the sacred duty of every citizen. For male citizens of Turkmenistan, universal military obligation has been established." The wording of this Article was identical to the wording of Article 38 of the previous Constitution.

      The OSCE comments on the then draft Constitution were completed on 21 July and published on 1 September (http://legislationline.org/download/action/download/id/6321/file/288_CONST-TKM_21Jul2016_en.pdf). The OSCE recommended Turkmenistan "to include in Article 58 of the Draft Constitution an exception to the compulsory character of military service where such service cannot be reconciled with an individual's religion or beliefs (and to include references to possible alternatives of a non-combatant or civilian nature)".

      Other OSCE concerns on new Constitution ignored

      In its review the OSCE also recommended that the new Constitution make explicit reference "to the right of each individual to give and receive religious education in the language of their choice, and to the right to cultural expression in the field of religion, with specific reference to the rights of members of registered and unregistered religious groups to freely exercise their religion and culture, while ensuring that religious organizations are not precluded from taking part in public affairs". Turkmenistan ignored these recommendations.

      "Under international human rights law," the OSCE review noted, "religious or belief communities should not be obliged to acquire legal personality if they do not wish to do so; the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief must not depend on whether a group has sought and acquired legal personality status."

      In Article 18, which bans religious organisations from interfering in the affairs of state, the OSCE recommended that this be "re-considered or clarified", otherwise it could "misinterpreted" to prevent religious organisations from getting involved in public affairs. The OSCE also questioned why a similar ban on the interference by the state in the affairs of religious organisations was not included. These recommendations were ignored.

      Similarly ignored was the OSCE recommendation for the ban on religious-based political parties to be removed from Article 44 of the new Constitution.

      2010 OSCE review of Religion Law similarly ignored

      The OSCE had earlier urged Turkmenistan to introduce a civilian alternative to military service, including in a review of the then Religion Law made public in December 2010 (see F18News 20 December 2010 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1523). (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Felix Corley, Forum 18
      Police raided Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov's home in Dashoguz in July 2014, seized religious literature (subsequently destroyed), beat him, placed him in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre where he was injected with unknown drugs (from which he fled). Arrested in June 2016, he was imprisoned for one year.
      Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov has appealed against a one-year prison term handed down on 18 August in the northern city of Dashoguz for allegedly assaulting a police officer back in July 2014. Police subsequently destroyed Bibles and other religious literature seized from him during a raid on his home, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18. His fellow-Jehovah's Witnesses insist the 32-year-old Masharipov is innocent of any wrongdoing and was targeted for his faith.

      Masharipov had fled in July 2014 from forcible detention in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre in Dashoguz, where he was injected with harmful unknown drugs, "out of fear for my life and my health". He was arrested in the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] on 30 June 2016 and was transferred to Investigation Prison in Dashoguz ahead of his trial.

      Other prisoners of conscience

      Masharipov is one of two known Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience. The 53-year-old Bahram Hemdemov is serving a four-year sentence on charges of inciting religious hatred, charges he denies (see F18News 5 July 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).

      An unknown number of Muslims are also believed to be imprisoned to punish them for exercising freedom of religion or belief. One of those apparently being held incommunicado in Turkmenistan's high-security Ovadan-Depe prison in the desert north of Ashgabad is Bahram Saparov, a fellow Muslim told Forum 18. He had led a Hanafi Sunni Muslim community in the eastern city of Turkmenabad [Turkmenabat] (formerly Charjew) until his imprisonment in late 2013. About 20 others were sentenced to long prison terms with him. Their fate remains unknown (see forthcoming F18News article).

      Another Muslim reportedly imprisoned for exercising freedom of religion or belief died in labour camp near Turkmenabad in 2013. Artur Atayev, who used the first name Ali, was imam of an unregistered Sunni Muslim mosque in the Khitrovka district of Ashgabad, someone familiar with his work told Forum 18. His body was never returned to relatives for a funeral. Imam Atayev was arrested in September 2008 soon after an armed clash between a local gang and security forces. The individual familiar with his work insisted he had not been involved in the gang (see forthcoming F18News article).

      In addition to those imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, the authorities regularly hand down corrective labour sentences to those unable to perform compulsory military service on grounds of religious conscience. The men must live at home under restrictions and a fifth of their wages are seized by the state. The most recent such known corrective labour sentence was handed down to Jehovah's Witness Dayanch Jumayev in Ashgabad in February 2016. He was sentenced to one year of corrective labour (see F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).

      Ashgabad arrest

      Masharipov – who is unmarried – is an ethnic Uzbek who lived in Dashoguz until he moved away from the city in 2014 to avoid arrest. In May 2004 he was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of his religious faith. He was among four Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors freed from prison under amnesty in April 2005 (see F18News 22 April 2005 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=548).

      Police officers arrested Jehovah's Witness Masharipov on 30 June 2016 in a park in Ashgabad, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. He was then transferred back to his home city of Dashoguz, where he was held in the city's Interior Ministry's Investigation Prison (DZD/7).

      Police had been hunting for Masharipov since summer 2014 to punish him for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. On the morning of 3 July 2014, six police officers and officials had come to his home in Dashoguz as part of "preventive measures" because of his "adherence to the Jehovah's Witness religion", the August 2016 court verdict notes.

      One of those raiding Masharipov's home was Hudainazar Artykov, an official of the Religious Affairs Department of the Regional Hyakimlik (administration)

      The police officers asked Masharipov to hand over all his literature about religion. He "voluntarily" gave them 22 copies of the New Testament and other books, 15 religious leaflets, 42 religious discs, 7 exercise books with religious notes, 304 pages of religious notes, a religious calendar and a computer notebook containing six or seven Jehovah's Witness films. Masharipov told the officers he had been given these items by an unknown individual on a visit to Uzbekistan. Officers also seized his mobile phone.

      The officers then demanded that Masharipov go with them to the police station for – in the words of the verdict - "explanatory work" and "preventive measures in connection with his adherence to the Jehovah's Witness movement", but he refused.

      Police officer Gurban Khanov claimed that once outside the block of flats, Masharipov tried to run away. Officers then grabbed him by the arm to try to put him in the police car. Khanov claimed Masharipov tore the lower button and left epaulette from his police uniform before they managed to get him into the car.

      Masharipov was charged under Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1 with assaulting a police officer, "although it was the police officers who had subjected him to rough physical mistreatment," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "Mansur Masharipov has previously endured abuse, even torture, for his peaceful religious activities."

      Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1 punishes "The threat of murder or use of violence not dangerous to life or health in relation to a law-enforcement or military officer or those close to them in connection with the carrying out of their duties in protecting law and order". Punishment is corrective labour or a prison term of up to two years.

      Did police assault and lodge false charges against Masharipov?

      Masharipov's fellow Jehovah's Witnesses gave Forum 18 in late July 2014 a different account of what happened on the day he was detained (see F18News 1 August 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1981).

      Once the search was complete, one of the plain-clothed police officers grabbed Masharipov from behind by the neck, "choking him so he could not breathe, and then dragged him into a waiting vehicle". Once in the vehicle, the officers "began to beat him repeatedly on his head and on his body above his kidneys".

      At 12 noon the police took Masharipov to Dashoguz City Police Station, where he was again beaten. From there he was taken to a supervisor's office where the police began to openly discuss what pretext they would use to justify placing him in detention. They brought in police officer Ruslan Jumaniyazov (who had been present during the raid), who said he would claim that Masharipov had ripped off his shoulder insignia while resisting arrest.

      At 1 pm Masharipov was returned to Dashoguz City Police Station, where he was again beaten. "The police threatened they would place him in a 'harem' cell with male prisoners where he would be raped," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 back in July 2014.

      The police gave Masharipov a document in Turkmen, which he does not understand, and forced him to sign it. They claimed the document contained a report that they had seized religious books during the search of his flat. The officials included three officers from the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police and one representative of the religious affairs department of the Regional Hyakimlik.

      Police again threatened that they would charge Masharipov with ripping off the insignia of a police officer. Local policeman Merdan Khanov (also present during the raid) stated that he would testify to this effect.

      In the afternoon, the police took Masharipov to Dashoguz City Prosecutor's Office. The prosecutor took a statement from Masharipov and he was then returned to Dashoguz City Police Station and again beaten.

      Some of the same police officers in Dashoguz were also involved in accusing another local Jehovah's Witness of tearing off the insignia from an officer's uniform. The same Artykov from the regional religious affairs department testified that Bibi Rahmanova had assaulted the officer in July 2014 within days of Masharipov's detention. She received a four-year prison term the following month, but had her sentence suspended on appeal in September. This meant she was ordered to serve the rest of her sentence at home under travel restrictions (see F18News 28 October 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2009).

      The duty officer at Dashoguz City Police refused to discuss with Forum 18 in August 2014 the treatment of Masharipov by its officers.

      Tortured with drugs

      At 6 pm on 3 July 2014, police took Masharipov to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre in Dashoguz. "This was done as a pretext to justify his detention," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "The medical staff administered four injections to Mansur Masharipov, one in each buttock and two below his shoulder blades." His arms and legs became paralysed and he vomited throughout that evening and the following day. He also began to suffer a high fever and severe headaches.

      Fearing further torture, Masharipov escaped from the Drug Rehabilitation Centre on 5 July 2014 and fled from Dashoguz.

      Dashoguz sentence

      Following the arrest of Masharipov in Ashgabad on 30 June 2016, police and prosecutors revived the criminal case against him. As well as accusing him under Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1, Dashoguz City Prosecutors' Office also considered accusations under Criminal Code Article 177 ("Incitement of social, ethnic or religious hatred"). However, on 1 August Prosecutors abandoned charges under this Article.

      On 18 August, Judge V. Amanov of Dashoguz City Court heard the case against Masharipov not in the court, but at a hearing held in the city's Housing Trust. Judge Amanov found Masharipov guilty under Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1. He sentenced him to one year in a general regime labour camp, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18. Masharipov denied the allegations against him in court.

      Police officer Gurban Khanov, described as the "victim", testified in court and called for Masharipov to be punished. The verdict notes that a 5 July 2014 medical report on Gurban Khanov had not found any injuries.

      Also testifying in court was regional religious affairs official Artykov. He told the court that Police had already destroyed the New Testaments and other religious literature confiscated from Masharipov during the raid on his home in July 2014. However, the verdict also quotes an 8 July 2016 letter from the Muftiate representation in Dashoguz Region to say that the confiscated books had been handed over to the government's Commission for Work with Religious Organisations and Expert Analysis of Resources Containing Religious Information, Published and Printed Production before being destroyed.

      Forum 18 has been unable to obtain a copy of the Muftiate letter, which is Page 118 of the case file.

      The Commission was established in summer 2015 to replace the Gengesh (Council) for Religious Affairs, the government body controlling religious communities (see F18News 18 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2169).

      The verdict does not explain why Masharipov's religious literature was destroyed.

      The verdict ordered that his confiscated computer and mobile phone should be transferred to the state.

      The prison term was deemed to run from 30 June, the date of his arrest, with each day in pre-trial detention counting as the equivalent of two days' labour camp.

      Forum 18 was unable to reach Judge Amanov at Dashoguz City Court on 21 September. It was also unable to reach regional religious affairs official Artykov the same day.

      Appeal lodged

      On 30 August, Masharipov lodged an appeal against his conviction – seen by Forum 18 - to Dashoguz Regional Court. He denied the police account that he had used force against them, noting that because of his faith "for me an individual, their worth, life, rights and freedom are of great value". He added that "my religion teaches and helps me to relate to other people with deep respect and love".

      Masharipov recounted the beatings and rape threats from police officers after his 3 July 2014 detention. He added that later that afternoon, when he was brought out of the Prosecutor's Office, he tried in vain to run away. He was then beaten again "right on the street". Beatings continued once officers had taken him back to the police station.

      Masharipov also recounted that at the Drug Rehabilitation Centre, staff gave him four injections "after which I felt sick, I had a headache and a high temperature and it was almost impossible for me to move". "On 5 July 2014, out of fear for my life and my health, and with the aim of preserving them, I fled from the Drug Rehabilitation Centre."

      Masharipov – who says he does not smoke or drink alcohol – questions why he was sent to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre with no court decision. He notes that on 7 July 2014 he sent complaints about the Police conduct to the Interior Ministry and, the following day, to the General Prosecutor's Office. On 30 March 2015 he sent a complaint to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

      In his appeal Masharipov also complained about procedural violations. He said he had not been given the opportunity to acquaint himself with the accusations against him, and that the July 2014 house search had been conducted without a search warrant from the Prosecutor's Office.

      Masharipov insists that the case against him violates the protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief outlined in Turkmenistan's Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkmenistan is a party.

      No-one at Dashoguz Regional Court would confirm to Forum 18 on 21 September whether any appeal hearing has yet been set in Masharipov's case.

      If Masharipov's appeal is rejected, he is likely to be sent to serve his sentence at the general regime labour camp in the desert just outside the eastern town of Seydi in Lebap Region.

      UN appeal

      Jehovah's Witnesses lodged an urgent appeal on 11 July 2014 about Masharipov's case to the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Geneva.

      The appeal – seen by Forum 18 – gives details of the abuses in Masharipov's case and includes photographs of scars on his arms, legs, stomach, back and one cheek which Jehovah's Witnesses say were inflicted on him in police detention.

      The appeal also covered abuses against three other Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 1 August 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1981).

      No charges against police officers

      The verdict in Masharipov's case also reveals that Prosecutors considered criminal cases against two police officers involved in the July 2014 raid. Dashoguz City Prosecutors' Office considered criminal charges against Gurban Khanov and Jumaniyazov under Article 181 ("Misuse of official powers"), Article 182 ("Exceeding official powers") and Article 182-1 ("Torture").

      Dashoguz City Prosecutors' Office dropped these charges on 1 August 2016. The verdict gives no reason for the decision.

      Under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Turkmenistan is obliged to arrest and try under criminal law any person suspected on good grounds of having committed torture. (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2217
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      El 23 de marzo de 2016, un grupo de policías intentó interrumpir la Conmemoración anual de la muerte de Cristo en un apartamento privado de Türkmenabat, donde estaban reunidos veinte testigos de Jehová. Como la policía no pudo entrar, se quedó esperando fuera. Ningún Testigo se atrevió a salir del apartamento, y por eso se quedaron allí toda la noche.
      Al día siguiente, cuatro policías irrumpieron en el apartamento por el balcón. Atacaron a varios Testigos y fueron tan violentos que una mujer embarazada tuvo que ser atendida en el hospital. Llevaron a todos los presentes a la comisaría, donde golpearon a dos de los hombres. El 25 de marzo, se liberó a todos los Testigos excepto a uno, que estuvo en prisión quince días. El 19 de abril, a siete de ellos se les puso una multa de 143 dólares, aunque no se les había juzgado.
      Fuente: https://www.jw.org/es/noticias/legal/legal-por-regi%C3%B3n/legal-turkmenist%C3%A1n/policia-ataca-asistentes-20160503/
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      BY F18NEWS APRIL 6, 2016
      By Felix Corley
      Jehovah’s Witnesses have expressed disappointment that 52-year-old prisoner of conscience Bahram Hemdemov was not included in the prisoner amnesty declared in February, when 1,485 prisoners were reportedly freed. All Hemdemov’s attempts to overturn his sentence on appeal have failed. “Since his imprisonment, officers have pressured him to confess to fabricated violations, subjected him to hard physical labour, and severely beaten him in retaliation for judicial complaints filed by his wife on his behalf,” Jehovah’s Witnesses lamented to Forum 18 News Service. No civilian alternative to compulsory military service has been introduced.
      An appeal on Hemdemov’s behalf is being prepared to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee, Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18.
      Hemdemov is being held in the general regime section of the Seydi Labour Camp, in the desert in the eastern Lebap Region. Many prisoners of conscience have been held there in recent years, including Jehovah’s Witness and Protestants. Many of these have been tortured in the camp in recent years.
      Muslims in the Seydi Labour Camp are too frightened to attend the prison mosque (see below).
      No conscientious objectors to military service are known currently to be imprisoned. The last known imprisoned conscientious objector, Ruslan Narkuliyev, was freed in February 2015.
      UN: rights violated
      In March and October 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of four young men by imprisoning them for refusing compulsory religious service on grounds of religious conscience. The Committee also ruled that beatings and other maltreatment (such as a head being repeatedly bashed against a wall) of Zafar Abdullayev, Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Ahmet Hudaybergenov and Sunnet Japparov is torture and the government needs to provide reparations (see below).
      The government is also under an obligation to arrest those guilty of the torture.
      No one at the Foreign Ministry in the capital Ashgabad was available on 5 April to discuss with Forum 18 what measures – if any – have been put in place to compensate the four young men for the violation of their rights or to prevent others similarly having their rights violated.
      The official who answered the telephone at Turkmenistan’s Mission to the United Nations in Geneva on 5 April told Forum 18 that Ambassador Atageldi Haljanov was unavailable and asked for questions to be sent in writing. The same day Forum 18 wrote to ask what steps the government has taken to recompense these four young men for the violations of their rights and what steps it has taken to prevent the violations (imposition of compulsory military service, torture) happening again. Forum 18 had received no response by the end of the working day in Switzerland.
      New Religion Law, but no alternative service law
      On 26 March, Turkmenistan’s parliament, the Mejlis, adopted a new Religion Law. The text had not been made public by 5 April .
      However, despite the UN Human Rights Committee’s reminder to Turkmenistan that guaranteeing those with conscientious objections to serving in the armed forces requires the provision of a genuine civilian alternative, the country has not adopted an alternative service law or any other civilian alternative to compulsory military service.
      Turkmenistan offers no alternative to its compulsory military service. Article 41 of the Constitution describes defence as a “sacred duty” of everyone and states that military service is compulsory for men. Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years. A proposed Alternative Service Law was reportedly drafted in 2013, but officials have been unable to tell Forum 18 if and when it might be adopted.
      Pirnazar Hudainazarov, Chair of the Mejlis Legislative Committee, refused absolutely to discuss why no civilian alternative service has been introduced. “You shouldn’t call me – you need to speak via the Foreign Ministry,” he insisted to Forum 18 on 5 April. He then put the phone down without explaining why the Foreign Ministry needed to be involved. The telephone of Atamurad Tayliev, Chair of the Mejlis Committee on the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, went unanswered the same day each time Forum 18 called.
      Raid, arrest, torture, prison term
      Police arrested Hemdemov on 14 March 2015 during a raid on a meeting for worship in his home in Turkmenabad [Turkmenabat] (formerly Charjew), following which they tortured him. On 19 May 2015 a Judge at Lebap Regional Court sentenced him to the maximum four year prison term on charges of inciting religious hatred under Criminal Code Article 177, Part 2. The Judge also ruled that Hemdemov’s property should be confiscated.
      “The prison warden refused to allow anyone to visit Bahram Hemdemov in prison – including close relatives – until the time limit for appealing against the verdict had passed,” Jehovah’s Witnesses complained to Forum 18. “The warden thus prevented Bahram or a representative from appealing against the conviction.”
      On 10 June 2015 the authorities transferred Hemdemov from his home town of Turkmenabad to the labour camp in Seydi.
      Hemdemov’s wife, Gulzira Hemdemova, appealed to the Supreme Court in Ashgabad. However, the deputy chair of the Supreme Court found no basis to grant the appeal. In early August 2015, Hemdemov’s lawyer filed a supervisory appeal. On 25 August 2015, the Supreme Court denied the appeal because Hemdemov “propagates the religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses”, fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18.
      Hemdemov’s address in prison is:
      Turkmenistan
      746222 Lebap vilayet
      Seydi
      uchr. LB-K/12
      Afraid to attend prison mosque
      Although the general regime Seydi labour camp has its own prison mosque, prisoners are afraid to attend, according to a former prisoner in the camp. “The mosque is open to any prisoner, but Muslim prisoners won’t go for fear of being branded a ‘Wahhabi’,” the former prisoner told Forum 18. “So at Friday prayers there are usually only about four or five people.” The former prisoner added that the prison library – which prisoners make good use of – has no religious literature.
      The term “Wahhabi” is widely used in Central Asia for any devout Muslim, regardless of whether they do or do not commit or espouse violence.
      Prisoners branded as “Wahhabis” are given harsh treatment and are often confined in special sections of prisons. In February 2015 in the strict regime Seydi Labour Camp, Muslim prisoners convicted of alleged “Wahhabism” were subjected to brutal beatings. One man suffered a broken hand, while another suffered a broken rib and damage to his lung.
      Many imprisoned “Wahhabis” are also held in a closed section of the isolated top-security prison at Ovadan-Depe in the Karakum desert 70 kms (45 miles) north of Ashgabad.
      Forum 18 has been unable to find out if these “Wahhabis” were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief or for committing crimes.
      Authorities frequently use torture
      The authorities frequently use torture and violence, including violence apparently ordered by the government. In 2011 the UN Committee against Torture found that, in Turkmenistan “persons deprived of their liberty are tortured, ill-treated and threatened by public officers, especially at the moment of apprehension and during pretrial detention, to extract confessions and as an additional punishment after the confession”.
      This includes against the relatives and friends of 15 then-current and former conscientious objector prisoners who appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee between September 2012 and August 2013 against their imprisonment and maltreatment. The prisoners of conscience were in Seydi Labour Camp regularly subjected to spells in the punishment cell and some were brutally beaten.
      After the UN sought information from the government about the complaints, the home of a prisoner was raided in January 2013 and individuals were beaten, threatened with rape and fined.
      UN says rights violated
      The four Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors – Abdullayev, Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Ahmet Hudaybergenov and Japparov – all lodged cases against Turkmenistan to the UN Human Rights Committee in September 2012. They complained both about their conviction and punishments for wishing to perform a civilian alternative service in place of the compulsory military service, as well as beatings and other torture they endured while imprisoned. Abdullayev also complained that he had been convicted and punished twice for the same “crime”.
      In a 17 March 2014 response to the UN Human Rights Committee, the Turkmen authorities insisted all four were not eligible for exemption from compulsory military service and that each man’s criminal offence was “determined accurately according to the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan” and had been “considered carefully” by the courts. The response failed to address the issue of why the men had not been offered a civilian alternative to military service or why they had been tortured while imprisoned.
      The UN Human Rights Committee issued its decisions in 2015 (Zafar Abdullayev v. Turkmenistan, 25 March 2015 (CCPR/C/113/D/2218/2012); Mahmud Hudaybergenov v. Turkmenistan, 29 October 2015 (CCPR/C/115/D/2221/2012); Ahmet Hudaybergenov v. Turkmenistan, 29 October 2015 (CCPR/C/115/D/2222/2012); Sunnet Japparow v. Turkmenistan, 29 October 2015 (CCPR/C/115/D/2223/2012)). The UN made public Abdullayev’s decision in May 2015, the other three in December 2015.
      The Committee found in all four cases that the men’s right to freedom of religion or belief under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been violated.
      “The right to conscientious objection to military service inheres in the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” the Committee noted. “It entitles any individual to an exemption from compulsory military service if such service cannot be reconciled with that individual’s religion or beliefs. The right must not be impaired by coercion. A State may, if it wishes, compel the objector to undertake a civilian alternative to military service, outside the military sphere and not under military command. The alternative service must not be of a punitive nature. It must be a real service to the community and compatible with respect for human rights.”
      The Committee found in all four cases that the men’s right to be free from torture under Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been violated.
      “The Committee takes note of the author’s claim that, when he was arrested on 4 September 2010, the police slammed his head against a wall and that, after his conviction, during the first 18 days of his detention he was beaten on four occasions,” the UN ruling in the case of Ahmet Hudaybergenov notes. “The author also claims that upon arrival at the LBK-12 prison on 8 October 2010, he was again beaten and that beatings continued regularly throughout his imprisonment. The State party has not refuted these allegations, nor provided any information in this respect. In the circumstances, due weight must be given to the author’s allegations.”
      In Abdullayev’s case, the Committee found that his right not to be punished twice for the same offence under Article 14, Part 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been violated.
      “Under an obligation” to make reparation
      All four judgments point out that under Article 2, Part 3a of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Turkmenistan’s government is “under an obligation” to provide the victims with an effective remedy. “This requires it to make full reparation to individuals whose Covenant rights have been violated. Accordingly, the State party is also obligated, inter alia, to expunge the author’s criminal record and to provide him with adequate compensation. The State party is under an obligation to avoid similar violations of the Covenant in the future, which includes the adoption of legislative measures guaranteeing the right to conscientious objection.”
      The government has not expunged the criminal convictions of Abdullayev, Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Ahmet Hudaybergenov or Japparow, Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18. Nor has it offered compensation. Nor has it adopted a civilian alternative to compulsory military service.
      The UN Human Rights Committee said it “wishes to receive” from Turkmenistan its response on measures it had taken within 180 days. It also requested Turkmenistan to publish the Committee’s rulings in the cases.
      Forum 18 is not aware that the Turkmen government has responded to the UN Human Rights Committee on Abdullayev’s case. However, it provided “brief” responses on the other three cases and “dialogue” is continuing, Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18.
      Source: http://www.eurasiareview.com/06042016-turkmenistan-no-amnesty-for-prisoner-of-conscience-no-reparations-despite-un-instruction/
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
      Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Bahram Hemdemov was not freed in the February amnesty and an appeal on his behalf is now being prepared to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. Despite rulings from the UN Committee in 2015 that the rights of four imprisoned Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors had been violated (both by their imprisonment and torture during their imprisonment), the Turkmenistan government has failed to expunge their criminal records, offered recompense or taken measures to prevent similar violations in future. No alternative to compulsory military service has been introduced. Pirnazar Hudainazarov, Chair of Parliament's Legislative Committee, refused absolutely to discuss this with Forum 18. At the labour camp at Seydi where Hemdemov is being held, Muslim prisoners are too afraid to attend the prison mosque for fear of being branded "Wahhabis" and sent for harsher punishment, a former prisoner told Forum 18.
      Jehovah's Witnesses have expressed disappointment that 52-year-old prisoner of conscience Bahram Hemdemov was not included in the prisoner amnesty declared in February, when 1,485 prisoners were reportedly freed. All Hemdemov's attempts to overturn his sentence on appeal have failed. "Since his imprisonment, officers have pressured him to confess to fabricated violations, subjected him to hard physical labour, and severely beaten him in retaliation for judicial complaints filed by his wife on his behalf," Jehovah's Witnesses lamented to Forum 18 News Service. No civilian alternative to compulsory military service has been introduced. 

      An appeal on Hemdemov's behalf is being prepared to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

      Hemdemov is being held in the general regime section of the Seydi Labour Camp, in the desert in the eastern Lebap Region. Many prisoners of conscience have been held there in recent years, including Jehovah's Witness and Protestants. Many of these have been tortured in the camp in recent years (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676).

      Muslims in the Seydi Labour Camp are too frightened to attend the prison mosque (see below).

      No conscientious objectors to military service are known currently to be imprisoned. The last known imprisoned conscientious objector, Ruslan Narkuliyev, was freed in February 2015 (see F18News 18 February 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2039).

      UN: rights violated

      In March and October 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of four young men by imprisoning them for refusing compulsory religious service on grounds of religious conscience. The Committee also ruled that beatings and other maltreatment (such as a head being repeatedly bashed against a wall) of Zafar Abdullayev, Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Ahmet Hudaybergenov and Sunnet Japparov is torture and the government needs to provide reparations (see below).

      The government is also under an obligation to arrest those guilty of the torture.

      No one at the Foreign Ministry in the capital Ashgabad was available on 5 April to discuss with Forum 18 what measures – if any – have been put in place to compensate the four young men for the violation of their rights or to prevent others similarly having their rights violated.

      The official who answered the telephone at Turkmenistan's Mission to the United Nations in Geneva on 5 April told Forum 18 that Ambassador Atageldi Haljanov was unavailable and asked for questions to be sent in writing. The same day Forum 18 wrote to ask what steps the government has taken to recompense these four young men for the violations of their rights and what steps it has taken to prevent the violations (imposition of compulsory military service, torture) happening again. Forum 18 had received no response by the end of the working day in Switzerland.

      New Religion Law, but no alternative service law

      On 26 March, Turkmenistan's parliament, the Mejlis, adopted a new Religion Law. The text had not been made public by 5 April (see forthcoming F18News article).

      However, despite the UN Human Rights Committee's reminder to Turkmenistan that guaranteeing those with conscientious objections to serving in the armed forces requires the provision of a genuine civilian alternative, the country has not adopted an alternative service law or any other civilian alternative to compulsory military service.

      Turkmenistan offers no alternative to its compulsory military service. Article 41 of the Constitution describes defence as a "sacred duty" of everyone and states that military service is compulsory for men. Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years. A proposed Alternative Service Law was reportedly drafted in 2013, but officials have been unable to tell Forum 18 if and when it might be adopted (see F18News 29 September 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2002).

      Pirnazar Hudainazarov, Chair of the Mejlis Legislative Committee, refused absolutely to discuss why no civilian alternative service has been introduced. "You shouldn't call me – you need to speak via the Foreign Ministry," he insisted to Forum 18 on 5 April. He then put the phone down without explaining why the Foreign Ministry needed to be involved. The telephone of Atamurad Tayliev, Chair of the Mejlis Committee on the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, went unanswered the same day each time Forum 18 called.

      Raid, arrest, torture, prison term

      Police arrested Hemdemov on 14 March 2015 during a raid on a meeting for worship in his home in Turkmenabad [Turkmenabat] (formerly Charjew), following which they tortured him. On 19 May 2015 a Judge at Lebap Regional Court sentenced him to the maximum four year prison term on charges of inciting religious hatred under Criminal Code Article 177, Part 2. The Judge also ruled that Hemdemov's property should be confiscated (see F18News 21 May 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2063).

      "The prison warden refused to allow anyone to visit Bahram Hemdemov in prison - including close relatives - until the time limit for appealing against the verdict had passed," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. "The warden thus prevented Bahram or a representative from appealing against the conviction."

      On 10 June 2015 the authorities transferred Hemdemov from his home town of Turkmenabad to the labour camp in Seydi.

      Hemdemov's wife, Gulzira Hemdemova, appealed to the Supreme Court in Ashgabad. However, the deputy chair of the Supreme Court found no basis to grant the appeal. In early August 2015, Hemdemov's lawyer filed a supervisory appeal. On 25 August 2015, the Supreme Court denied the appeal because Hemdemov "propagates the religious beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses", fellow Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

      Hemdemov's address in prison is:

      Turkmenistan

      746222 Lebap vilayet

      Seydi

      uchr. LB-K/12

      Afraid to attend prison mosque

      Although the general regime Seydi labour camp has its own prison mosque, prisoners are afraid to attend, according to a former prisoner in the camp. "The mosque is open to any prisoner, but Muslim prisoners won't go for fear of being branded a ‘Wahhabi'," the former prisoner told Forum 18. "So at Friday prayers there are usually only about four or five people." The former prisoner added that the prison library – which prisoners make good use of - has no religious literature.

      The term "Wahhabi" is widely used in Central Asia for any devout Muslim, regardless of whether they do or do not commit or espouse violence.

      Prisoners branded as "Wahhabis" are given harsh treatment and are often confined in special sections of prisons. In February 2015 in the strict regime Seydi Labour Camp, Muslim prisoners convicted of alleged "Wahhabism" were subjected to brutal beatings. One man suffered a broken hand, while another suffered a broken rib and damage to his lung.

      Many imprisoned "Wahhabis" are also held in a closed section of the isolated top-security prison at Ovadan-Depe in the Karakum desert 70 kms (45 miles) north of Ashgabad (see F18News 18 February 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2039). 

      Forum 18 has been unable to find out if these "Wahhabis" were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief or for committing crimes.

      Authorities frequently use torture

      The authorities frequently use torture and violence, including violence apparently ordered by the government. In 2011 the UN Committee against Torture found that, in Turkmenistan "persons deprived of their liberty are tortured, ill-treated and threatened by public officers, especially at the moment of apprehension and during pretrial detention, to extract confessions and as an additional punishment after the confession" (see UN reference CAT/C/TKM/CO/1 http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4ef0540f2.html).

      This includes against the relatives and friends of 15 then-current and former conscientious objector prisoners who appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee between September 2012 and August 2013 against their imprisonment and maltreatment. The prisoners of conscience were in Seydi Labour Camp regularly subjected to spells in the punishment cell and some were brutally beaten (see F18News 21 March 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1940).

      After the UN sought information from the government about the complaints, the home of a prisoner was raided in January 2013 and individuals were beaten, threatened with rape and fined (see F18News 14 February 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1801).

      UN says rights violated

      The four Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors - Abdullayev, Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Ahmet Hudaybergenov and Japparov - all lodged cases against Turkmenistan to the UN Human Rights Committee in September 2012. They complained both about their conviction and punishments for wishing to perform a civilian alternative service in place of the compulsory military service, as well as beatings and other torture they endured while imprisoned. Abdullayev also complained that he had been convicted and punished twice for the same "crime".

      In a 17 March 2014 response to the UN Human Rights Committee, the Turkmen authorities insisted all four were not eligible for exemption from compulsory military service and that each man's criminal offence was "determined accurately according to the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan" and had been "considered carefully" by the courts. The response failed to address the issue of why the men had not been offered a civilian alternative to military service or why they had been tortured while imprisoned.

      The UN Human Rights Committee issued its decisions in 2015 (Zafar Abdullayev v. Turkmenistan, 25 March 2015 (CCPR/C/113/D/2218/2012); Mahmud Hudaybergenov v. Turkmenistan, 29 October 2015 (CCPR/C/115/D/2221/2012); Ahmet Hudaybergenov v. Turkmenistan, 29 October 2015 (CCPR/C/115/D/2222/2012); Sunnet Japparow v. Turkmenistan, 29 October 2015 (CCPR/C/115/D/2223/2012)). The UN made public Abdullayev's decision in May 2015, the other three in December 2015.

      The Committee found in all four cases that the men's right to freedom of religion or belief under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been violated.

      "The right to conscientious objection to military service inheres in the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion," the Committee noted. "It entitles any individual to an exemption from compulsory military service if such service cannot be reconciled with that individual's religion or beliefs. The right must not be impaired by coercion. A State may, if it wishes, compel the objector to undertake a civilian alternative to military service, outside the military sphere and not under military command. The alternative service must not be of a punitive nature. It must be a real service to the community and compatible with respect for human rights."

      The Committee found in all four cases that the men's right to be free from torture under Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been violated.

      "The Committee takes note of the author's claim that, when he was arrested on 4 September 2010, the police slammed his head against a wall and that, after his conviction, during the first 18 days of his detention he was beaten on four occasions," the UN ruling in the case of Ahmet Hudaybergenov notes. "The author also claims that upon arrival at the LBK-12 prison on 8 October 2010, he was again beaten and that beatings continued regularly throughout his imprisonment. The State party has not refuted these allegations, nor provided any information in this respect. In the circumstances, due weight must be given to the author's allegations."

      In Abdullayev's case, the Committee found that his right not to be punished twice for the same offence under Article 14, Part 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been violated.

      "Under an obligation" to make reparation

      All four judgments point out that under Article 2, Part 3a of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Turkmenistan's government is "under an obligation" to provide the victims with an effective remedy. "This requires it to make full reparation to individuals whose Covenant rights have been violated. Accordingly, the State party is also obligated, inter alia, to expunge the author's criminal record and to provide him with adequate compensation. The State party is under an obligation to avoid similar violations of the Covenant in the future, which includes the adoption of legislative measures guaranteeing the right to conscientious objection."

      The government has not expunged the criminal convictions of Abdullayev, Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Ahmet Hudaybergenov or Japparow, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Nor has it offered compensation. Nor has it adopted a civilian alternative to compulsory military service.

      The UN Human Rights Committee said it "wishes to receive" from Turkmenistan its response on measures it had taken within 180 days. It also requested Turkmenistan to publish the Committee's rulings in the cases.

      Forum 18 is not aware that the Turkmen government has responded to the UN Human Rights Committee on Abdullayev's case. However, it provided "brief" responses on the other three cases and "dialogue" is continuing, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. (END)

      Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      El Comité de Derechos Humanos de la ONU concluyó en sus cuatro últimas decisiones que el gobierno de Turkmenistán había condenado injustamente a algunos hombres por su objeción de conciencia al servicio militar. * Asimismo, determinó que las lamentables condiciones de la prisión violaban otros derechos que están garantizados en el Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos. Las decisiones del Comité obligan a Turkmenistán a corregir las violaciones que ha cometido contra las normas internacionales de los derechos humanos.
      Lo condenan en dos ocasiones por negarse a apoyar actividades militares
      En marzo de 2015, el Comité revisó el caso de Zafar Abdullayev, un ciudadano turcomano que es testigo de Jehová. Las autoridades lo condenaron dos veces debido a su objeción de conciencia. Cuando el Tribunal de la Ciudad de Dashoguz juzgó el caso en abril de 2009, Zafar testificó que había aprendido lo que enseña la Biblia y que, desde entonces, se negaba a tomar las armas, aprender a combatir o apoyar de alguna otra manera una actividad militar. También dijo que estaba dispuesto a realizar un servicio civil sustitutorio. Sin embargo, el tribunal lo sentenció a veinticuatro meses de condena condicional por “eludir el servicio militar”. *
      Once meses después de cumplir la condena, Zafar se encontró ante el mismo tribunal debido a un nuevo llamamiento a filas. Él se mantuvo firme en su postura, y el tribunal lo condenó a veinticuatro meses de cárcel.
      El Comité concluyó que condenarlo dos veces por negarse a realizar el servicio militar violaba la siguiente garantía: “Nadie podrá ser juzgado ni sancionado por un delito por el cual haya sido ya condenado” (vea el artículo 14, párrafo 7, del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos). Básicamente, el Comité concluyó que ambas condenas estaban en contra “del derecho a la libertad de pensamiento, de conciencia y de religión” (vea el artículo 18, párrafo 1, del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos).
      “El derecho de objeción de conciencia al servicio militar es inherente al derecho a la libertad de pensamiento, de conciencia y de religión, y [...] entraña el derecho de toda persona a quedar exenta del servicio militar obligatorio si no se puede conciliar ese servicio con la religión o las creencias de la persona” (Comité de Derechos Humanos de la ONU)
      La vida en la cárcel
      Nada más llegar a la prisión LBK-12 de Seydi, la administración del centro puso en aislamiento a Zafar durante diez días. Mientras estaba allí, los guardias lo golpearon y lo maltrataron.
      Entre el 2010 y el 2011, otros tres Testigos, Ahmet Hudaybergenov, Mahmud Hudaybergenov y Sunnet Japparow, fueron encarcelados por su objeción de conciencia al servicio militar. Ellos contaron que también los habían maltratado al entrar en la prisión de Seydi y que recibieron constantes palizas durante su detención.
      Zafar Abdullayev
      Los cuatro Testigos dieron versiones similares sobre las condiciones en las que estaban encarcelados. Unos cuarenta presos vivían amontonados en celdas que no disponían de las condiciones básicas de higiene ni de un lugar donde sentarse aparte del suelo de cemento. Para dormir, solo les dieron unas mantas sucias, y ni siquiera había suficientes para todos los prisioneros.
      En octubre de 2015, el Comité se pronunció sobre los casos de Ahmet, Mahmud y Sunnet. Como sucedió en el caso de Zafar, el Comité determinó que el trato que las autoridades dieron a estos hombres violaba la garantía que dice que “nadie será sometido a torturas ni a penas o tratos crueles, inhumanos o degradantes” (vea el artículo 7 del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos). El Comité concluyó asimismo que, dadas las pésimas condiciones de vida de los presos, se estaba violando su derecho a ser tratados “humanamente y con el respeto debido a la dignidad inherente al ser humano” (vea el artículo 10 del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos).
      Obligados a corregir las violaciones de los derechos humanos
      El Comité de Derechos Humanos de la ONU reconoció que la ley de Turkmenistán obliga a los hombres a alistarse en el ejército. Sin embargo, el Comité sostiene que el Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos garantiza la exención del servicio militar obligatorio si la objeción se debe a firmes creencias religiosas. Por lo tanto, condenar a alguien e imponerle una pena sobre esta base está en conflicto con el derecho fundamental a la “libertad de pensamiento, de conciencia y de religión”.
      Las decisiones del Comité obligan al gobierno de Turkmenistán a adoptar “medidas legales que garanticen el derecho a la objeción de conciencia”; realizar una investigación rigurosa de las denuncias de “trato cruel, inhumano o degradante”, y juzgar a cualquiera que sea culpable de maltrato. El Comité también exige al gobierno que indemnice debidamente a los hombres que han sufrido estas violaciones de sus derechos y que elimine las condenas por objeción de conciencia de sus antecedentes penales.
      Hacen faltan más cambios
      El gobierno de Turkmenistán ha mejorado su trato hacia los objetores de conciencia al servicio militar. En marzo de 2015, liberó al último Testigo que permanecía preso por haber ejercido este derecho.
      Sin embargo, Turkmenistán sigue teniendo prisioneros encarcelados por otros motivos de conciencia. Bahram Hemdemov, un padre de familia que es testigo de Jehová, continúa en prisión. El 14 de marzo de 2015, la policía llevó a cabo una redada en la que interrumpió las actividades religiosas que se estaban celebrando en su casa, y las autoridades lo pusieron bajo custodia. Un tribunal lo condenó a cuatro años de cárcel por su actividad religiosa. Actualmente, Bahram Hemdemov se enfrenta a maltratos y a unas condiciones de vida deplorables en el campo de trabajo de Seydi.
      Los testigos de Jehová y todos los ciudadanos turcomanos desean que el gobierno cumpla con sus compromisos internacionales de respetar los derechos humanos, lo que incluye el derecho fundamental a la libertad de pensamiento, de conciencia y de religión.
      Fuente: https://www.jw.org/es/noticias/legal/legal-por-regi%C3%B3n/legal-turkmenist%C3%A1n/obligados-remediar-violaciones-derechos-humanos/

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