TURKMENISTAN: Seven Jehovah's Witnesses in Labour Camps for their Faith.

byFelix Corley, Keston News Service, 20 February 2001

Most Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned in Turkmenistan are serving sentences for refusing military service on grounds of conscience but three, including Kurban Zakirov (see separate KNS article), are serving sentences on other charges which local believers say are trumped up. In a disturbing echo of Soviet-era practice, two of these three were given new sentences that arose from their alleged behaviour as they completed earlier sentences. The Jehovah's Witnesses – like all non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox faiths - are denied registration in Turkmenistan and are subject to fines, beatings, deportation and detention.

Those reported by Jehovah's Witness sources to be currently imprisoned in addition to Zakirov are:

Igor Nazarov, a 23-year-old from Ashgabad who became a Jehovah's Witness in November 1995. Arrested on 21 February 2000, he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment on 14 March 2000 for refusing military service. This is his second sentence on the same charges (he received a two-year sentence on 8 June 1996). He is currently being held in the labour camp in Seydy in north eastern Turkmenistan.

Aleksandr Zuyev, a 20-year-old who became a Jehovah's Witness in August 1998. Arrested on 25 May 2000, he was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment in June 2000 for refusing military service, his first such sentence. He is currently being held in the labour camp in Seydy.

Nikolai Shelekhov, a 19-year-old who became a Jehovah's Witness in August 1998. He was sentenced to one year's imprisonment by the first court level on 21 August 2000, a sentence approved by an appeal court on 10 October 2000 for refusing military service, his first such sentence. He is currently being held in the labour camp in Seydy.

Yuri Yeremeyev, an 18-year-old who became a Jehovah's Witness in 1997. Arrested on 8 December 2000, he was sentenced on 19 January of this year to 18 months' imprisonment for refusing military service. His whereabouts are unknown.

Akhmet Muratov, a 20-year-old who had expressed an interest in becoming a Jehovah's Witness. Originally sentenced to 14 months' imprisonment for refusing military service, when the term expired he refused to swear the oath of loyalty to the president and state placing his hand on the Koran. He was therefore sentenced to a further two years' imprisonment in a medium-security labour camp. He is currently serving his sentence in a labour camp in Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), a port city on the Caspian.

Yazmammed Annamammedov, who is from Serdar (formerly Gyzylarbat) and is married with three young children. Arrested in November 1999, he was sentenced on 13 December 1999 to four years in a minimum-security labour camp after being found guilty of having pistol cartridges, gunpowder and explosive material in his home. He and his wife say these items were planted during a search by police and the prosecutor. Previously held in the Bezmein camp that has reportedly now been closed (see KNS 5 January 2001), he has been transferred to the medium security camp in Turkmenbashi for refusing to swear the loyalty oath to the president and state.

It appears that two other Jehovah's Witnesses, Guvanch Ashirov, who was serving an 18 month sentence, and Nuryagdy Gaiyrov, serving a one year sentence, have now been freed on completing their sentences (see KNS 5 January 2001).

Three of the seven imprisoned Jehovah's Witnesses are known to be held in the labour camp in Seydy, where Baptist prisoner Shagildy Atakov was also held until being transferred to a prison hospital in the town of Mary in early February (see KNS 13 February 2001). `The minimum-security camp itself is intended for 500-800 prisoners, but there are from 1,500 up to 2,000 prisoners,' the Jehovah's Witnesses report. `During the last months prior to annual amnesties many already slept on the floor. The diet is poor, with much water, but no salt, meat or tea. The porridge consists of simple crushed wheat with small stones. Clothing and other necessities are the responsibility of each prisoner. Sometimes there is not even a mattress.' Baptist sources report that in the wake of last December's presidential amnesty the camp now contains only about 300 prisoners.

The Jehovah's Witnesses report that their prisoners are sent to the `most severe places of work', currently a brick factory. `All Jehovah's Witnesses are at present under surveillance: from 6 o'clock in the morning until 10 o'clock at night they have to report every two hours to the duty officer. This makes a total of eight to nine check-ups per day. Jehovah's Witness prisoners are often locked in the punishment block for refusing to swear the oath [of loyalty to the president and state], and in general are being monitored for minor offences that are punished by incarceration in the punishment block.'

The address of the Seydy camp, whose commander is Kh. K. Kurbanov:

Turkmenistan,

746222 Lebap vilayet,

Seydy,

uchr. LV-K/12.

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