TURKMENISTAN: Jehovah's Witness Family Loses Supreme Court Appeal.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 4 October 2001

The threat of eviction of Jehovah's Witness Maria Segzekov, her husband Amangaly (who is not a Jehovah's Witness) and their two children from their rented home in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad has loomed closer after they lost their appeal in the Supreme Court against earlier court rulings that they be evicted for using their home for Jehovah's Witness meetings (see KNS 1 August 2001). 'Thus far the authorities have not taken any steps actually to evict the family,' Jehovah's Witness sources told Keston News Service on 3 October. 'They have not been removed from their home yet,' an official of the Ashgabad office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed the same day. 'They intend to appeal against the Supreme Court decision and according to the law they cannot be evicted while this is continuing.'

Amangaly Segzekov had argued in an earlier hearing that any punishment for holding religious meetings at home violates the Constitution and the religion law. 'My provision of my rented living quarters for friendly meetings to my acquaintances for the discussion of Biblical questions represents the realisation of my right to freedom of conscience.' He also pointed to the suffering the couple's two young children would face if they are evicted.

The 24 September Supreme Court ruling rejecting the Segzekov family's appeal against eviction, signed by the court's deputy chairman R. Cherkezov (of which Keston has received a copy), described the district court and city court's rulings as 'legal and well-founded'. It accepted the claims of the khyakimlik (local administration) that 'neighbours living near the building where M. Segzekov lives told the khyakimlik that people are meeting in the apartment and conducting services of a religious nature, thereby using a state apartment for these purposes. During investigations, it was established that M.E. Segzekov does not work and continues to gather unsanctioned meetings of a religious nature in the apartment despite warnings, for which she was subjected to administrative penalty.'

The supreme court agreed with the khyakimlik that holding such unregistered religious meetings in a private home violated the terms of use of the flat, declaring that eviction from their home without provision of another was the right punishment for those who 'systematically do not use a place of residence according to its purpose - that is, not for residence but for conducting gatherings of a religious nature - as well as systematically violate rules of community living, making it impossible for others to live with them in one building'.

The Jehovah's Witnesses - like all non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox faiths - have been refused registration under Turkmenistan's highly restrictive religion law and cannot thus acquire places of worship.

The original campaign to evict the family was initiated by Maksat Yazmuradov, head of the special commission of the Niyazov district khyakimlik, the same official who closed the city's Baptist church earlier this year (see KNS 2 March 2001). The move is part of a wider campaign to evict believers of a variety of faiths who use their homes for religious meetings. A number of Protestant families have already been deprived of their homes so far this year.

Ambassador Istvan Venczel, head of the OSCE Ashgabad office told Keston in August that everyone in Turkmenistan should have the right to conduct small-scale religious meetings with family and friends in their own home. 'This is their right under international human rights standards and the laws of Turkmenistan. Expressing religious faith is a simple freedom of the human being.' The OSCE office told Keston on 3 October that it is continuing to follow the case. 'We have reported the latest development and are in the process of submitting a communication to the authorities. We are hoping for a response.'

Raids on religious meetings in private homes have continued. Jehovah's Witness sources report that police raided a meeting in a house on Gobshudov (Shaumyan) street in central Ashgabad on 16 September. Twelve of those present were each fined 1,000,000 manats (190 US dollars at the official exchange rate, 45 US dollars at the street rate) under Article 178 part 2 of the Administrative Code.

Jehovah's Witness young men who refuse military service on grounds of conscience are subject to imprisonment, as Turkmenistan offers no alternative to compulsory military service (see KNS 20 February 2001). The latest Jehovah's Witness to be imprisoned is Ilya Osipov, who was sentenced by a court in Ashgabad on 30 July to one year's imprisonment under Article 219 part 1 of the Criminal Code, which punishes 'refusal of the call-up to military service without a constitutional basis for refusal' with a term of imprisonment of up to two years. (END)