Turkmen amnesty excludes Protestant and Jehovah's Witnesses

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan - The amnesty decreed by Turkmenistan on February 18 last continues to be applied to 9 prisoners of conscience in Turkmenistan known, 8 Jehovah's Witnesses and a Protestant minister. Jehovah's Witnesses are detained for refusing military service.

Forum 18 news agency says that in December 2010 another Jehovah's Witness, 19 year old Matkarim Aminov, was sentenced to 18 months in jail on charges of absence without leave for military service. The other seven are being held for the same reason, with sentences from 18 months to two years, some are in prison since May 2009. Other believers have had convictions with suspended sentences and Akmural Egendurdiev was released in January 2011 after serving a sentence of 18 months. No prisoner of conscience has been released under the amnesty decreed by President Kurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on February 18, a National holiday, "based on the principles of mercy, justice and humanity."

Two years of military service is compulsory in Turkmenistan and there are no alternative services. Conscientious objection is punishable by art. 219 of the Criminal Code with up to 2 years in prison. The maximum penalty is often applied to the Jehovah's Witnesses, conscientious objectors for religious reasons. They are often subjected to forced labour in camps. This offense is considered very serious, as had already been excluded in the amnesty of May 2010 (see the AsiaNews 05/28/2010, Ashgabat: no amnesty for Jehovah’s Witnesses).

On February 12 Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief for the United Nations, and El Hadj Malick Sow, president of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, sent an "urgent appeal" to the Turkmen government on the systematic detention of Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors. Article. 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes the right of everyone to be conscientious objectors and charges the States to establish a civilian alternative to mandatory military service. After one year, the UN confirmed to F18 that they have not received a reply from Ashgabat.

Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev (pictured), leader of the Church Light of the World, who was arrested in August 2010 in the city of Mary, east of Ashgabat is also still in prison. He was sentenced to four years in prison for fraud, but the faithful say the accusation is false and the witnesses are not credible. Nurliev has been prevented from appealing (see the AsiaNews 16.11.2010, Appeal denied for Ilmurad Nurliev, Pentecostal pastor convicted by false evidence). F18 suggests that the arrest aimed to distract attention from the almost simultaneous arrest of the Chief Mufti of the region of Mary, Nurmukhamed Gurbanov, on unclear charges of sexual abuse of boys in the local madrassa. The scandal has engulfed several senior officials of the Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs office.

According to F18 sources, Nurliev will be pardoned if he pleads guilty. He is subjected to abuse in prison: he is not allowed to have a bible and his wife was only able to see him once in January, with a subsequent refusal of permission to see him or send him food or other items.