09/02/2013, 00.00
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Jehovah's Witness gets 18 months in prison as conscientious objector

At least ten religious believers have been arrested since the start of the year for the same reason. Many of them have appealed to the United Nations, but the authorities continue to carry out raids and arrests. The Baptist community has also been punished for organising a summer camp for children.

Ashgabat (AsiaNews) - The persecution of Christians in Turkmenistan continues. Recently, 22-year-old Amirlan Tolkachev was sentenced to 18 months in prison as a conscientious objector. The young man is the tenth Jehovah's Witnesses to end up behind bars in 2013 for refusing to do his military service.

The Turkmen Constitution defines the military service as a "sacred duty" and does not allow substitute service for those who, for political or religious reasons, refuse to do it.

Although Article 18 of the religious law guarantees the right to conscientious objection, every Turkmen between eighteen and twenty-seven years must serve in the army for at least two years, under penalty of imprisonment for up to eighteen months.

According to local sources, at least 15 conscientious objectors have asked for the intervention of the Commission on Human Rights at the United Nations.

Norway-based Forum 18, a news service committed to documenting violations of religious freedom in Central Asia, reports that the Turkmen authorities have refused to give any explanation about the Tolkachev case.

On 29 August, a few days after Tolkachev's arrest, a similar raid to those launched by Uzbek authorities in Samarkand and Tashkent targeted a children summer camp organised by the Baptist community in the area of Mary.

Like the Uzbek police, government agents in Ashgabat imposed two heavy fines on the community without providing plausible legal arguments.

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