TURKMENISTAN: Mother Condemns Renewed Sentence for Jehovah's Witness.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 24 July 2002

Tamara Shelekhova, mother of a Jehovah's Witness sentenced earlier this month for a second time for refusing military service, has condemned the renewed punishment. "It was not a legal decision," she told Keston News Service from the capital Ashgabad on 24 July. "People shouldn't be sentenced a second time for the same thing." Shelekhova reported that her son, Nikolai Shelekhov, lodged an appeal against the sentence to the district court on 8 July, which is due to be passed on to the Ashgabad city court - which will hear the appeal - on 26 July. She said the court is expected to give her the appeal date on 29 July.

Shelekov, who is 20, was sentenced on 2 July after a two-day hearing to one and a half years in prison by the court of the Niyazov district of Ashgabad under Article 219-1 of the Criminal Code, which punishes refusal to perform compulsory military service. The judge, Jeren Aymamedova, ignored Shelekhov's request for alternative civilian service. An official of the Ashgabad office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who had attended the trial, told Keston on 24 July that Shelekhov had represented himself and appeared to be well prepared. Shelekhov had appealed to have the judge removed from the case when she failed to explain his procedural rights, though this was refused. "This was a fair complaint," the official declared.

Shelekhov - who became a Jehovah's Witness in 1998 - was previously imprisoned under the same article. He served his full sentence from December 2000 to December 2001 in a labour camp in Seydi in the north east of the country. "He was pressured to swear the oath of loyalty to the president, but as he refused he was twice sent to the isolation cells for fifteen days in punishment," his mother told Keston. Shelekhova added that her son's health is still suffering from the after-effects of his previous sentence, particularly with kidney problems.

She added that he had not fallen under the amnesty - which saw thousands of prisoners freed across Turkmenistan - because he refused to write a statement recognising his guilt and to swear an oath of loyalty to President Saparmurat Niyazov. "These oaths normally have to be sworn on a copy of the Koran or the Ruhname [a book of Niyazov's writings]," Shelekhova reported.

Both Shelekhova and the OSCE office told Keston that no other Jehovah's Witnesses are currently imprisoned for refusing military service. However, they noted that three others - Oguljan Jumanazarova, Ikhtiyar Khalikov and Kurban Zakirov - are known to be imprisoned on other charges brought to punish them for their religious activity (see KNS 22 March 2002). Shelekhova said that a number of Jehovah's Witnesses who have already served sentences for refusing military service fear they could be re-arrested for refusing any further call-up.

Turkmenistan has the most repressive policy of all the former Soviet republics. Only communities of the state-sanctioned Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church have been allowed to register. The government treats all other faiths - including the Baptists, Pentecostals, Armenian Apostolic Church, Jews, Baha'is, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutherans and Hare Krishna community - as illegal.

Shelekhova confirmed to Keston that the Jehovah's Witnesses still face tight official controls on their activity. "There is a ban on our meetings, but we do meet despite this." (END)