05/28/2010, 00.00
TURKMENISTAN

Ashgabat: no amnesty for Jehovah’s Witnesses

Turkmen president issued an amnesty this month, but did include those who refuse compulsory military service on grounds of conscientious objection, like Jehovah’s Witnesses. The latter got two years of hard labour and had their Bible seized.

Ashgabat (AsiaNews/F18) – Refusing to perform compulsory military service on grounds of conscientious objection is so serious a crime in Turkmenistan that offenders do not deserve amnesty. Currently, five Jehovah’s Witnesses are languishing in jail and this for several months, because of their refusal to wear a uniform—four of them have even earned a month of solitary confinement.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov issued a general amnesty on 9 May to commemorate the end of World War 2. A number of Jehovah’s Witnesses, sentenced last December to two years in prison, were not included among those who benefitted from the measure, friends told the Forum 18 news agency.

F18 said that the five Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience are in a hard labour camp near the eastern town of Seydi

In November and December of last year, four of them—Shadurdi Ushotov, Akmurat Egendurdiev and two brothers, Sakhetmurad and Mukhammedmurad Annamamedov—were visited by unidentified officials who asked them some questions. Immediately afterwards, they were sent to punishment cells for three days.

Whilst relatives can visit them, they had their Bibles and all other religious text seized by police.

Two other Witnesses, Zafar Abullaev and Dovrai Kushmanov, were given a two-year suspended sentence for conscientious objection, which limits their activities and movements. They too did not benefit from the amnesty.

Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse military service because their faith rejects war. However, they are willing to perform a non-military service.

Turkmenistan has always rejected calls for an alternative to the draft, which is compulsory for all young men.

Article 219 of the existing Criminal Code punishes refusal to perform peacetime military service with up to two years in jail.

On 10 May, the Turkmen parliament (Mejlis) approved a number of changes to the Criminal Code, but left Article 219 untouched.

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