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  1. By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 Prisoner of conscience Daniil Islamov is preparing to appeal for the last time to Tajikistan's Supreme Court against a six-month jail term for refusing compulsory military service. If this appeal is rejected, he is likely to appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee. Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Daniil Islamov is preparing to appeal for the last time to Tajikistan's Supreme Court against a six-month jail term imposed in October 2017 for refusing compulsory military service (see below). The government and the Supreme Court have not ordered prisoner of conscience Islamov's release, despite the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 5 October publicly stating that Tajikistan should release him "immediately" (see below). If the Supreme Court rejects this final appeal, prisoner of conscience Islamov is likely to file a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee (see below). In Yavan Prison with fellow-prisoner of conscience? Prisoner of conscience Islamov is thought to be being held in Yavan Prison in the south-western Khatlon Region, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 27 February. This is the same prison prisoner of conscience Bakhrom Kholmatov is held in. Protestant Pastor Kholmatov was jailed for three years in July 2017 for allegedly "singing extremist songs in church and so inciting ‘religious hatred'". He decided in November not to continue appealing against his jail term. The government threatened family members, friends, and church members with reprisals if they revealed any details of the case, trial, or jailing (see F18News 5 December 2017
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    ). If prisoner of conscience Islamov is in Yavan Prison, his address is: Tajikistan Yavan Ispravitelno-Trudovaya Koloniya, yas. 3/6 6th otryad Daniilu Ruslanovichu Islamovu Prisoner of conscience's jailing upheld Judges Jamshid Akhmadzoda and Abdugafor Tagozoda of the Military Panel of the Supreme Court on 11 January rejected the appeal of Daniil Ruslanovich Islamov (born 31 January 1999). The Judges "unilaterally rejected Islamov's appeal to acquit him and release him from prison," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 9 February. "Inexplicably, the judges conducted the case in their private chambers without a hearing and upheld Islamov's conviction on the false charge of evading military service." Why? Prisoner of conscience Islamov was forcibly conscripted in April 2017, despite heath problems preventing him doing military service even if he wanted to do it. After refusing to serve in the army, he was detained in a military unit. Colonel Musa Odinazoda, Deputy Chief of the General Staff and Head of the Organisation and Mobilisation Department, told Islamov's mother that he cannot do alternative service because there is no domestic legal provision for this (see F18News 31 August 2017
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    ). Colonel Odinazoda has not answered Forum 18's questions about the case. The UN Human Rights Committee has twice urged Tajikistan to recognise the right to conscientious objection and to provide alternative civilian service. But the government has failed to do this. Human rights defenders in Tajikistan, such as the Office of Civil Freedoms, have also repeatedly called for alternative service to be introduced (see F18News 31 August 2017
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    ). Prisoner of conscience Islamov was charged under Criminal Code Article 376, Part 1 ("Evasion by an enlisted serviceman of fulfilment of military service obligations by way of inflicting on oneself injury (self-mutilation) or evasion by simulation of sickness or by other deception"). Yet Lieutenant Colonel M. Kulmakhmadov, commander of the military unit Islamov was held in, refused to say to Forum 18 what exactly the prisoner of conscience had done which could be said to break this article of the Criminal Code (see F18News 31 August 2017
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    ). On 5 October 2017 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention publicly stated that Tajikistan should release prisoner of conscience Islamov "immediately". The Working Group's Advanced Edited Opinion (A/HRC/WGAD/2017/43) finds that Tajikistan has contravened the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "The Working Group considers that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Islamov immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law" (see
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    ). Yet on 13 October 2017 Qurghonteppa Military Court, in Khatlon Region, sentenced prisoner of conscience Islamov to six months' jail. The 13 October decision noted that sentence started from that date, so his sentence ends on 12 April 2018 (see F18News 20 October 2017
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    ). Prisoner of conscience Islamov appealed against his conviction to the Supreme Court on 23 October 2017. On 28 November, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal, but ruled to send his case back to the first instance Court for "correction of mistakes in the decision". They did not specify what these "mistakes" were (see F18News 5 December 2017
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    ). Final Supreme Court appeal, appeal to UN Human Rights Committee? On 20 February 2018, Islamov's lawyer filed a final cassation appeal to the Supreme Court against its 11 January decision, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 21 February. Judge Akhmadzoda, one of the judges who made the 11 January decision, told Forum 18 on 21 February that the Court will consider the cassation appeal. Forum 18 asked him: why Islamov, who is willing to do alternative service, must suffer because Tajikistan does not offer this; and why the Court regarded him as a military serviceman despite his not taking a military oath. Judge Akhmadzoda replied: "I cannot comment on that." He then refused to talk more to Forum 18. "If the Court rejects this final appeal, Daniil Islamov will have no further legal remedies available within Tajikistan and is likely to file a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee," Jehovah's Witnesses stated. "The will of the people" ? Deputy Murodullo Davlatov, a member of Parliament's Lower Chamber and Deputy Head of its International Relations Committee, claimed to Forum 18 on 15 February that "the people of Tajikistan do not want alternative service, and Parliament represents the will of the people." Tajikistan has never held an election found to be free and fair by Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Election Observation Missions (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey
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    ). Asked whether prisoner of conscience Islamov and human rights defenders do not represent people of Tajikistan, and whether Islamov is entitled to his human rights, Deputy Davlatov replied: "He violated the law, which is why he was arrested". Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in the country, possibly because of their pacifist beliefs and refusal to do compulsory military service (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey
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    ). Concurrent freedom of religion and belief violations Deputy Davlatov has also backed January Religion Law changes allowing the state to restrict freedom of religion or belief on illegitimate grounds, increase religious communities' reporting obligations, require state approval for all imams, and increase state control on religious education. The new restrictions are primarily aimed at Muslims (see F18News 19 February 2018
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    ). Tajikistan has claimed to have closed almost 2,000 mosques in 2017. Officials claimed they were closed at the request of local residents, but have not been able to explain why they only allow mosques with a capacity far below the possible numbers of worshippers (see F18News 26 February 2018
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    ). (END)
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  2. 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
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    ). 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
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    ). 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
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    ). 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
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    ). "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
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    ). 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
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    ). 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
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    ). 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
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    ). 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:
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