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RUSSIA: More Jehovah’s Witnesses jailed as “extremists”

More jailed after “extremist organisation” trials – list

As of 9 June, 20 Jehovah’s Witnesses and 1 Muslim convicted on extremism-related criminal charges are in jail or in detention awaiting appeals. Another Jehovah’s Witness is under house arrest and will be jailed if her appeal fails. Another Muslim who met with others to study Nursi’s works is in detention awaiting deportation after serving his jail term. Twice as many prisoners of conscience are serving sentences or are in detention awaiting appeals for exercising freedom of religion or belief as in November 2020.

By Victoria Arnold

 

Forum 18 (09.06.2021) – https://bit.ly/3vobujp – Since November 2020, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims convicted on extremism-related criminal charges and serving jail terms or awaiting appeals has almost doubled, from 11 to 21. Of these, 20 are Jehovah’s Witnesses and one is a Muslim who met with others to study theologian Said Nursi’s works. All were sentenced to terms in general-regime labour camps (ispravitelniye kolonii, “correctional colonies”).

 

Another Muslim, Yevgeny Kim, who met others to study Nursi’s writings was sentenced to three years and nine months’ imprisonment in June 2017. In January 2019, he was stripped of his Russian citizenship, and was immediately placed in a detention centre for foreign and stateless persons upon his release in April 2019. He has remained there ever since, as his birthplace of Uzbekistan refuses to accept him (see full list of all 24 prisoners of conscience at the end of this article).

 

Another Muslim, Yevgeny Kim, who met others to study Nursi’s writings was sentenced to three years and nine months’ imprisonment in June 2017. In January 2019, he was stripped of his Russian citizenship, and was immediately placed in a detention centre for foreign and stateless persons upon his release in April 2019. He has remained there ever since, as his birthplace of Uzbekistan refuses to accept him (see full list of all 24 prisoners of conscience at the end of this article).

 

Among recent convictions, in February 2021, Abakan City Court jailed 70-year-old Valentina Baranovskaya for two years to punish her for meeting fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses for worship, a verdict her lawyer described as “devoid of all sympathy and compassion”. Her 46-year-old son Roman Baranovsky was jailed for six years. Baranovskaya is the oldest – and first female – Jehovah’s Witness to be sentenced to imprisonment since the 2017 ban on Jehovah’s Witness activity.

 

Recent convictions bring to 29 the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses (and one Muslim who met others to read theologian Said Nursi’s works) sentenced to imprisonment since May 2018 for exercising their right to freedom of religion and belief. All but one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were sentenced as a direct consequence of the Supreme Court’s 2017 liquidation of the Jehovah’s Witness Administrative Centre, and the consequent prohibition of Jehovah’s Witness activities nationwide.

 

In November 2020, 8 Jehovah’s Witnesses and one Muslim who met with others to study Nursi’s works were serving terms in general-regime labour camps, and another two Jehovah’s Witnesses were detained awaiting appeal. Another Muslim who met other Muslims to study Nursi’s writings had been stripped of his Russian citizenship, and was awaiting deportation in a detention centre for foreigners and stateless persons.

 

Currently serving prison terms or detained

Of the 20 Jehovah’s Witnesses (10 more than in November 2020) and two Muslim readers of Nursi’s works currently on 9 June 2021 serving prison terms or in detention:

15 are already serving their terms in general-regime labour camps across the country, usually hundreds or even thousands of kilometres from their home regions;

6 are being held in detention centres while their appeals are pending;  and 1 is awaiting deportation in a detention centre for foreigners and stateless persons.

One other Jehovah’s Witness – Alevtina Bagratyan – remains under house arrest awaiting her appeal. The three Jehovah’s Witnesses convicted with her in Kursk on 3 June are among the six being held in detention centres while their appeals are pending.

 

Deported, released

Two Jehovah’s Witnesses who were previously in prison have been released and deported from Russia to Uzbekistan and Ukraine. They were deprived of their Russian citizenship in 2020 as a direct result of their convictions.

 

Six of the 29 Jehovah’s Witnesses convicted and jailed since May 2018 were released upon (or shortly after) conviction. This was because they had already served equivalent terms in detention while under investigation and on trial.

 

Over 470 under investigation, on trial, or convicted

 

More than 470 Jehovah’s Witnesses remain under investigation, are on trial, or have been convicted for continuing to meet for prayer and Bible study after the 2017 Supreme Court ban. They argue that the ban applies to the activities of the Administrative Centre and its subsidiary local congregations as legal entities, not to Jehovah’s Witness beliefs or their expression by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

No trials are currently underway of Muslims who met to study Nursi’s works, but three people are facing prosecution in the Tatarstan and Dagestan Republics.

 

A total of 104 people have now received sentences, including 10 fines, 66 suspended sentences (see forthcoming article), and 28 prison terms. Several court decisions have not yet come into force, as appeals are still pending.

Two other Jehovah’s Witnesses have been convicted of “continuing the activities” of the local Jehovah’s Witness religious organisation in Oryol, which was liquidated as “extremist” in 2016, before the nationwide ban. One of them – Danish citizen Dennis Christensen – has been imprisoned.

 

At present, only one Muslim who met with others to read Nursi’s works remains imprisoned – Ilgar Vagif-ogly Aliyev (born 16 February 1977). A court in Dagestan sentenced him in May 2018 to eight years’ imprisonment plus two years of restrictions on freedom for alleged involvement in “Nurdzhular”.

 

Courts in Russia’s illegally annexed territories of Crimea and Sevastopol have also sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims to imprisonment for exercising their freedom of religion and belief.

 

Acquitted, charges dropped

 

n the last four years, only one Jehovah’s Witness – Yury Zalipayev from the Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya – has been acquitted of an extremism-related offence. His case was unconnected to the 2017 ban.

 

Charges against a further nine have been dropped. Eight of them were being prosecuted as a consequence of the 2017 ban, the other on unrelated “extremism” charges.

 

Raids on Jehovah’s Witness homes continue

The Investigative Committee, police, the FSB security service, and National Guard troops continue to raid Jehovah’s Witness homes. Some of the raids have included torture, with no arrests or trials of suspect torturers. The most recent known raids were in Kemerovo Region on 8 June, Khabarovsk Region on 5 June, Lipetsk Region on 1 June, and Altay Region on 27 May. Prosecutions are currently underway in 64 of Russia’s 83 federal subjects.

 

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in May 2020 adopted a wide-ranging Opinion condemning the “ever-growing number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia who have been arrested, detained and charged with criminal activity on the basis of mere exercise of freedom of religion”.

 

Muslims who meet to study the writings of Said Nursi may also be prosecuted under the Extremism Law for organising or participating in the activities of “Nurdzhular”. This organisation was banned as extremist in 2008, but Muslims in Russia deny it ever existed. Typically, such Muslims meet in homes to study Islam, with one or more expounding on Nursi’s works. They also pray, eat, and drink tea together, and do not seek state permission to meet.

 

Prosecutions

 

Despite the similarities in the manifestations of freedom of religion and belief being prosecuted, including meeting in each other’s homes to pray and sing together, study sacred texts, and to discuss shared beliefs, trials have so far ended in a variety of sentences. These have ranged from prison terms of several years, to suspended sentences of varying lengths, to a range of finesone sentence of assigned labour, later changed to a fine.

 

No one prosecuted in cases relating to the 2017 nationwide ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses has been acquitted, though judges have returned some cases to prosecutors who later resubmit them. Defendants have sometimes succeeded in getting sentences reduced, or having cases sent for retrial on appeal, though no conviction has yet been overturned.

 

List of those jailed or detained after “extremism”-related convictions for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Unless otherwise stated, all those named are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Convictions have been under these Criminal Code articles:  Article 282, Part 1 (“Actions directed at the incitement of hatred [nenavist] or enmity [vrazhda], as well as the humiliation of an individual or group of persons on the basis of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, or social group”);  Article 282.2 for “organising” (Part 1), or “participating in” (Part 2), “the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity”. The majority of convictions have been under this Article;

 

– Article 282.2, Part 1.1 (“Inclination, recruitment or other involvement of a person in an extremist organisation”);

– and Article 282.3, Part 1 (“Financing extremist activity”).

 

This list is broken down by category of punishment with regional headings referring to where people were tried, not where they are imprisoned.

 

CURRENT IMPRISONMENTS

 

SENTENCES HAVE ENTERED LEGAL FORCE

– Republic of Dagestan Izberbash City Court 28 May 2018 1) Ilgar Vagif-ogly Aliyev (Muslim – born 16 February 1977)

– 8 years + 2 years’ restrictions on freedom Criminal Code Articles: 282.2, Part 1; 282.2, Part 1.1 Appeal: unsuccessful – 25 July 2018, Supreme Court of the Republic of Dagestan

Prison address: 410086, Saratovskaya oblast, g. Saratov, Peschano-Umetsky trakt, p. Yelshanka, FKU Ispravitelnaya koloniya No. 33 UFSIN Rossii po Saratovskoy oblasti Kemerovo Region Beryozovsky City Court 2 September 2020

 

2) Sergey Alekseyevich Britvin (born 18 August 1965) – 4 years

3) Vadim Anatolyevich Levchuk (born 6 February 1972) – 4 years Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 Appeal: unsuccessful – 19 January 2021, Kemerovo Regional Court Prison address: 630097, Novosibirskaya oblast, g. Novosibirsk, ul. Zvyozdnaya 34, FKU Ispravitelnaya koloniya No. 3 UFSIN Rossii po Novosibirskoy oblasti

 

– Khakasiya Republic

Abakan City Court 24 February 2021

4) Roman Lyubomirovich Baranovsky (born 27 June 1974) – 6 years

5) Valentina Ivanovna Baranovskaya (born 8 April 1951)

– 2 years Criminal Code Articles: 282.2, Part 1 and 282.2, Part 2 respectively Appeal: unsuccessful – 24 May 2021, Supreme Court of the Khakassiya Republic Detention centre address: 655017, Respublika Khakasiya, g. Abakan, kv. Molodyozhniy 22B, FKU Sledstvenniy izolyator No. 1 UFSIN Rossii po Respublike Khakasiya

 

Krasnodar Region Abinsk District Court, Abinsk 10 February 2021

 

6) Aleksandr Yevgenyevich Ivshin (born 21 August 1957) – 7 years and 6 months, plus destruction of Bible (in an edition not banned as “extremist”) Criminal Code Article: 282.2, Part  1 Appeal: unsuccessful – 15 April 2021, Krasnodar Regional Court Prison address: from 1 June 2021 – 390013, Ryazanskaya oblast, g. Ryazan, Pervomaysky prospekt 27b, FKU Sledstvenniy izolyator No. 1 UFSIN Rossii po Ryazanskoy oblasti

(This is Ivshin’s seventh place of detention since his conviction – one in Novorossiysk in his home region of Krasnodar; one each in Rostov-on-Don, Volgograd, and Saratov; two in Samara Region; and now one in Ryazan. It remains unknown where he will serve his sentence.)  Abinsk District Court 30 March 2021

 

7) Oleg Ivanovich Danilov (born 22 April 1974) – 3 years Criminal Code Article: 2 82.2, Part 2 Appeal: unsuccessful – 25 May 2021, Krasnodar Regional Court Prison address: 352680, Krasnodarskiy kray, Apsheronskiy rayon, g. Khadyzhensk, ul. Griboyedova 42, FKU Ispravitelnaya koloniya No. 9 UFSIN Rossii po Krasnodarskomu krayu  –

Novosibirsk Region  Lenin District Court, Novosibirsk 16 December 2020

8) Yury Prokopyevich Savelyov (born 1 January 1954) – 6 years Criminal Code Article: 282.2, Part 1 Appeal: unsuccessful – 5 April 2021, Novosibirsk Regional Court Prison address: 658209, Altaysky kray, g. Rubtsovsk, ul. Traktornaya 23, FKU Ispravitelnaya koloniya No. 5 UFSIN Rossii po Altayskomu krayu  Omsk Region  Pervomaysky District Court, Omsk 30 November 2020

 

9) Sergey Valyeryevich Polyakov (born 28 April 1972) – 3 years Criminal Code Articles: 282.2, Part 1 and 282.3 Part 1 Appeal: unsuccessful – 28 May 2021, Omsk Regional Court Detention centre address: 644007, Omskaya oblast, g. Omsk, ul. Ordzhonikidze 86, FKU Sledstvenniy izolyator No. 1 UFSIN Rossii po Omskoy oblasti Three fellow defendants were tried under Criminal Code Article 282.2 Part 2 and given two-year suspended sentences. Oryol Region Railway District Court, Oryol 6 February 2019.

10) Dennis Ole Christensen (born 18 December 1972 – Danish citizen) – 6 years Criminal Code Article: 282.2, Part 1 Appeal: unsuccessful – 23 May 2019, Oryol Regional Court Prison address: 307754 Kurskaya oblast, g. Lgov, ul. Primakova 23A, FKU Ispravitelnaya koloniya No. 3 UFSIN Rossii po Kurskoy oblasti Christensen has attempted unsuccessfully to gain early release. A court ruling of 23 June 2020, which replaced his remaining term with a fine, was challenged by prosecutors, and Christensen’s request was turned down on re-examination on 26 October 2020 (this decision was upheld at Kursk Regional Court on 10 February 2021)

Saratov Region

Lenin District Court, Saratov
19 September 2019

11) Aleksey Vladimirovich Budenchuk (born 27 July 1982) – 3 years and 6 months

12) Gennady Vasilyevich German (born 12 June 1969) – 2 years and 6 months

13) Roman Aleksandrovich Gridasov (16 September 1978) – 2 years and 6 months

14) Aleksey Petrovich Miretsky (born 14 December 1975) – 2 years and 6 months

 

All four also have 1 year’s restrictions on freedom + 5-year ban on holding leadership positions in any public organisation. They were convicted alongside Konstantin Bazhenov and Feliks Makhammadiyev, who have since been released and deported. Some of the six have been tortured. No suspect torturer is known to have been arrested or put on criminal trial.Criminal Code Article: 282.2, Part 1 Appeal: unsuccessful  20 December 2019, Saratov Regional Court Prison address: 460026, g. Orenburg, Krymsky pereulok 119, FKU Ispravitelnaya koloniya No. 1 UFSIN Rossii po Orenburgskoy oblasti Gridasov, Miretsky, German, and Budenchuk applied for early release and the replacement of their remaining terms with fines. Central District Court in Orenburg refused all four requests (Gridasov on 10 December 2020 (unsuccessful appeal on 24 February 2021), Miretsky on 15 December 2020 (unsuccessful appeal on 26 February 2021), German on 18 January 2021, Budenchuk on 19 February 2021). (Bazhenov in Saratov should not be confused with fellow Jehovah’s Witness Konstantin Aleksandrovich Bazhenov from Kamchatka, given a two-year suspended sentence in September 2020.) Tomsk Region October District Court, Tomsk 5 November 2019 15) Sergey Gennadyevich Klimov (born 26 March 1970) – 6 years + 1 year’s restriction on freedom; 5-year ban on any educational activity and posting material on the internet. Criminal Code Article: 282.2, Part 1 Appeal: unsuccessful – 20 February 2020, Tomsk Regional Court Prison address: 414044 Astrakhanskaya oblast, g. Astrakhan, ul. Sovetskoy Gvardii 50, FKU Ispravitelnaya koloniya No. 8 UFSIN Rossii po Astrakhanskoy oblasti

 

SENTENCED TO IMPRISONMENT – DETAINED OR UNDER HOUSE ARREST AWAITING APPEAL

 

– Krasnodar Region Abinsk District Court 6 April 2021 1) Aleksandr Anatolyevich Shcherbina (born 11 March 1976) – 3 years Criminal Code Article: 282.2, Part 2 Appeal: due on 16 June 2021 at Krasnodar Regional Court Detention centre address: 353905, Krasnodarskiy kray, g. Novorossiysk, ul. Parkhomenko 33, FKU Sledstvenniy izolyator No. 3 UFSIN Rossii po Krasnodarskomu krayu Krasnoyarsk Region Railway District Court, Krasnoyarsk 3 June 2021 2) Andrey Garafetanovich Stupnikov (born 17 September 1973) – 6 years Criminal Code Article: 282.2, Part 1 Appeal: unknown
Detention centre address: 660075, Krasnoyarskiy kray, g. Krasnoyarsk, ul. Respubliki 72, FKU Sledstvenniy izolyator No. 1 UFSIN Rossii po Krasnoyarskomu krayu Kursk Region Promyshlenny District Court, Kursk 3 June 2021 3) Andrey Leonidovich Andreyev (born 12 October 1976) – 4 years and 6 months; Criminal Code: Article 282.2, Part 1

4) Andrey Vladimirovich Ryshkov (born 6 May 1987) – 3 years;

5) Artyom Babkenovich Bagratyan (born 9 May 1972) – 2 years and 6 months;

6) Alevtina Mikhailovna Bagratyan (born 25 July 1977) – 2 years; Criminal Code Article: 282.2, Part 2 Tried alongside Aleksandr Vospitanyuk, who received a two-year suspended sentence Appeal: unknown Detention centre address: 305016, Kurskaya oblast, g. Kursk, ul. Pirogova 1, FKU Sledstvenniy izolyator No. 1 UFSIN Rossii po Kurskoy oblasti (for Andreyev, Ryshkov, and Artyom Bagratyan).

Alevtina Bagratyan will remain under house arrest until the ruling comes into force.

 

Saratov Region Lenin District Court, Saratov 20 May 2021

7) Rustam Atayevich Seidkuliyev (born 17 July 1977) – 2 years and 6 months, plus 1 year of restrictions on freedom Criminal Code Article: 282.2, Part 2 Appeal: unknow Detention centre address: unknown

 

DETAINED AWAITING POSSIBLE DEPORTATION

 

– Khabarovsk Region Blagoveshchensk City Court 19 June 2017

1) Yevgeny Lvovich Kim (Muslim – born 5 October 1974) – 3 years and 9 months Criminal Code Articles: 282.2, Part 1, and 282, Part 1 Tortured while in pre-trial detention in 2015; no suspect torturer known to have been arrested or put on criminal trial. Immediately Kim was released deprived of Russian citizenship and left stateless.

 

Railway District Court, Khabarovsk 10 April 2019

Fined under Administrative Code Article 18.8, Part 1 for failing to have documentation and ordered deported.

Foreigners’ detention centre address: 680003 Khabarovsky kray, g. Khabarovsk, ul. Repina 3, Tsentr vremennogo soderzhaniya inostrannikh grazhdan

 

On 28 October 2020, Kim applied unsuccessfully for cancellation of his criminal record (snyatiye sudimosti). On 10 November 2020, the Institute for Law and Public Policy lodged an appeal on Kim’s behalf at the Constitutional Court, questioning the constitutionality of Administrative Code Article 18.8, Part 1.1 (“Violation by a foreign citizen or stateless person of the residence regime of the Russian Federation, expressed in the absence of documents confirming the right to reside in the Russian Federation”) and Article 3.10, Part 5, which gives judges the right to detain people before deportation but does not impose any time limit. This was also unsuccessful.

 

SENTENCED TO IMPRISONMENT BUT RELEASED BECAUSE OF TIME IN DETENTION

Bryansk Region Novozybkov City Court 3 September 2020

1) Vladimir Aleksandrovich Khokhlov (born 9 April 1977) – 1 year and 3 months’; 1 year’s restrictions on freedom

2) Tatyana Viktorovna Shamsheva (born 7 June 1977) – 1 year; 6 months’ restrictions on freedom

3) Olga Sergeyevna Silayeva (born 11 May 1988) – 1 year; 6 months’ restrictions on freedom

4) Eduard Vladimirovich Zhinzhikov (born 9 November 1971) – 1 year and 3 months; 1 year’s restrictions on freedom Criminal Code Articles: 282.2, Part 1, 282.3 Part 1 (Khokhlov and Zhinzhikov); 282.2, Part 2 (Shamsheva and Silayeva) Appeal: unsuccessful – 28 October 2020, Bryansk Regional Court

 

None of the four has been imprisoned, as the two women had already served 245 days and the two men 316 days in detention before conviction. They did, however, remain subject to the restrictions on freedom imposed by the judge.

 

-Krasnodar Region Khostinsky District Court, Sochi 18 December 2020

5) Nikolay Nikolayevich Kuzichkin (born 28 February 1951) – 1 year and 1 month;

6) Vyacheslav Alekseyevich Popov (born 19 September 1974) – 1 year and 10 months Criminal Code Article: 282.2, Part 1 Appeal: none Kuzichkin was released from the courtroom, as he had already served 197 days in detention and 240 days under house arrest. Popov remained in detention for another 11 days after conviction, by which time he had spent a total of 446 days in detention.

 

DEPORTED FOLLOWING IMPRISONMENT

 

-Saratov Region Lenin District Court, Saratov 19 September 2019

1) Konstantin Viktorovich Bazhenov (born 10 May 1975) – 3 years and 6 months

2) Feliks Khasanovich Makhammadiyev (born 14 December 1984) – 3 years Criminal Code Article: 282.2, Part 1 Appeal: unsuccessful – 20 December 2019, Saratov Regional Court Tried alongside Aleksey Budenchuk, Gennady German, Roman Gridasov, and Aleksey Miretsky. Bazhenov was released early from Labour Camp No. 3 in Dmitrovgrad (Ulyanovsk Region) on 5 May 2021 and sent to a migration detention centre – deported to Ukraine on 19 May 2021. (Bazhenov in Saratov should not be confused with fellow Jehovah’s Witness Konstantin Aleksandrovich Bazhenov from Kamchatka, given a two-year suspended sentence in September 2020.)

 

Makhammadiyev was released from Labour Camp No. 1 in Orenburg on 31 December 2020 at the end of his sentence and sent to a migration detention centre – deported to Uzbekistan on 21 January 2021.

 

Photo : Yevgeny Kim Copyright Memorial – Forum 18

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website





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UZBEKISTAN: Five years jail for defending Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief

By Mushfig Bayram

Forum18 (22.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/2YeT32OAfter repeatedly defending Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief, including demonstrating outside President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s residence, Tulkun Astanov has been jailed for five years. A state report accused him of following “sources of biased news such as Radio Free Europe”, and publishing “unsubstantiated and exaggerated” information. Prisoner of conscience Astanov is being banned in jail from reading the Koran and praying the namaz.

After repeatedly defending the freedom of religion and belief of Muslims, including demonstrating outside President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s residence in the capital Tashkent, a city court has jailed 49-year-old Tulkun Astanov for five years. Tashkent City Criminal Court rejected his appeal on 5 January.

The jail sentence followed an October 2019 five-year suspended prison term for visiting the state-controlled Muslim Board to discuss restrictions on Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief. Deputy Chief Mufti Mansur accused Astanov of being a “hooligan”, and being disrespectful to the Muftiate’s “spiritual leadership”. Astanov was then jailed for 15 days but continued defending Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief (see below).

In November 2020 Astanov left the boundaries of the city of Tashkent, against the terms of his suspended sentence, to visit Muslims in Yangikurgan in Namangan Region and Chinaz in Tashkent Region “who asked him to represent them as a public defender before the authorities”, his lawyer Umid Davvlatov told Forum 18. “He did not agree with his punishment given to him for defending the freedom of religion and belief of Muslims” (see below).

The Agency of Information and Mass Communications under the Presidential Administration (AIMC) on 26 November 2020 produced a report based on social media activity claiming that prisoner of conscience Astanov follows “sources of biased news such as Radio Free Europe”, and published “unsubstantiated and exaggerated” information. No official was prepared to discuss the claims with Forum 18 (see below).

Judge Karimov on 21 January 2021 refused to tell Forum 18 why he imposed a jail term instead of a lesser punishment such as a warning. He was at first hesitant, and then told Forum 18: “Please, understand me correctly, I am not authorised to give you comments on the case. You need to write an official letter to us through the Supreme Court” (see below).

On 1 December prisoner of conscience Astanov was transferred to General Regime Prison No. 1, even though this legally can only follow an appeal hearing. “My client was taken to prison in violation of the law without waiting for the result of the appeal,” lawyer Davlatov told Forum 18 (see below)

Judge Karimov told Forum 18 that “based on the Law they should have waited for the appeal decision, but I do not know all the regulations for the Interior Ministry’s Chief Directorate for the Enforcement of Punishments” (see below).

Prisoner of conscience Astanov is not being allowed to read the Koran or pray the namaz (daily prayers). Such violations of a prisoner’s human rights are not permitted under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules), which the regime routinely ignores (see below).

Prison officials refused on 22 January to Forum 18 why they are violating prisoner of conscience Astanov’s freedom of religion and belief, and told Forum 18 that the head of the prison Farrukh Ismatov “does not want to talk to you” (see below).

Prisoner of conscience Astanov’s wife Mukhayyo Astanova told Forum 18 that “we have several minors in the family with some teenagers. I work as a doctor and take night shifts sometimes in the hospital because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is very difficult for me to deal with all the family problems alone.” She added that “this is so unfair to punish us for only trying to be good Muslims” (see below).

In another case, Doctor Alimardon Sultonov has unsuccessfully challenged a 14-month restricted freedom sentence. On 7 January judges refused his appeal, despite the prosecutor being described as “more emotional, yelling and behaving unprofessionally in a disrespectful manner to the Court and defendant” (see below).

During his restricted freedom sentence, Sultonov will live under restrictions, having to report regularly to Ellikala District Police and having to be at home from 10 pm to 6 am every day. He cannot leave the District without police permission. He will also be banned from using “means of communication”, including the internet. He also cannot participate in public events or festivities (see below).

Probation Officer Khujanazar told Sultonov on 12 January that among other places he cannot attend mosque for Friday prayers (though he is able to go at other times). Khujanazar told Sultonov that mosque prayers are a public event, and he cannot attend public events. Dr Sultonov can work on night shifts, as the Supreme Court of Karakalpakstan on 7 January provided him with a special written permit allowing him to do this (see below).

Probation Officer Khujanazar told Forum 18 on 22 January that he had not told Dr Sultonov that he cannot go to a mosque. “I have not said that to him. I told him that he can attend a mosque, but not a mass event on the street” (see below).

Suspended sentence

On 18 October 2019, Tashkent City Criminal Court gave human rights defender Tulkun Tashmuradovich Astanov (born 25 April 1971) a five-year suspended prison term for visiting the state-controlled Muslim Board to discuss restrictions on Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief. This followed Astanov’s observation of a trial where two Muslim women, Luiza Muminjanova and Nazimakhon Abdukakharova, tried unsuccessfully to challenge the ban on wearing the hijab (Muslim head covering.

At an 8 April 2019 meeting, Astanov asked Deputy Chief Mufti Abdulaziz Mansur among other things why the hijab is banned, why imams have to be appointed by the state and preach sermons prepared for them by the state, and why the Muftiate does not help Muslims when their freedom of religion and belief is violated. Deputy Chief Mufti Mansur accused Astanov of being a “hooligan”, and being disrespectful to the Muftiate’s alleged “spiritual leadership”. Police were called and later in the day officers arrested Astanov, who was then jailed for 15 days.

Continued defence of Muslim’s freedom of religion and belief

After being released at the end of his short-term jailing, Astanov continued to defend Muslim’s freedom of religion and belief, for example in cases where Muslims who discussed their faith with others were tortured and agent provocateurs used to bring false charges.

In November 2020, Astanov left the boundaries of the city of Tashkent to visit “Muslims in Yangikurgan in Namangan Region and Chinaz in Tashkent Region who asked him to represent them as a public defender before the authorities,” his lawyer Umid Davvlatov told Forum 18 on 20 January 2021. He said that Astanov “asked a probation officer for permission to visit those places, but they refused.”

Astanov still visited the Muslims who asked for his help, breaking the terms of his five-year suspended prison term, “as he did not agree with his punishment given to him for defending the freedom of religion and belief of Muslims.” Lawyer Davlatov said, however, that Astanov did “not violate the curfew hour and he returned home every day on time”.

Mukhayyo Astanova, Astanov’s wife, told Forum 18 on 20 January that the “Uchteppa Police knew of the cases, and Tulkun was officially summoned as a witness to Chinaz Administrative Court to a hearing. The case was brought against some local parents whose daughters attended the secondary schools in hijab.” Astanov and the parents were “successful in cancelling the fines”.

Astanova also told Forum 18 that her husband visited police and Prosecutor’s officials to ask why the parents and daughters were detained and questioned, and why their phones were confiscated, and whether any other cases were opened against them.(…)





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TURKMENISTAN: Another second-time jailing as a conscientious objector

By Felix Corley

Forum 18 (15.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/35SAyoMConscientious objectors increasingly face second prosecutions for continuing to refuse compulsory military service. On 11 January, a court in Lebap Region sentenced 20-year-old Jehovah’s Witness Ruslan Artykmuradov to two years in a strict regime labour camp, his second jailing on the same charges. On 30 December 2020, Danev District Prosecutor’s Office informed four other Jehovah’s Witnesses they face second prosecutions. All had offered to do an alternative, civilian service.

On 11 January, four weeks after his arrest, a court in Turkmenistan’s eastern Lebap Region sentenced 20-year-old Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objector Ruslan Artykmuradov to two years in a strict regime labour camp. He had told the Military Conscription Office that he was prepared to do an alternative, civilian service, but Turkmenistan does not offer this. Turkmenistan has rejected repeated United Nations calls to introduce such a service.

 

 

 

Judge Chemen Berdyeva of Sayat District Court handed down the harsher sentence as this is the second time the court has sentenced Artykmuradov to a jail term for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. He served a one-year ordinary regime jail term from August 2018 to August 2019 (see below).

Also in Lebap Region, Danev District Prosecutor’s Office informed four other Jehovah’s Witnesses on 30 December 2020 that criminal cases had been opened against them for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. All four had already been convicted and served sentences on the same charges. No dates have yet been set for any trials (see below).

Artykmuradov is the 25th conscientious objector to military service known to have been convicted and jailed since Turkmenistan resumed such jailings in January 2018, and one of nine currently jailed (listed at the end of this article). All of them are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Including Bahtiyar Amirjanovich Atahanov (born 17 June 2000), who has been serving a jail term since July 2019, nine Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors are serving jail terms of between one and four years. Eight of them are imprisoned in Seydi Labour Camp in the eastern Lebap Region (see full list below).

An increasing number of conscientious objectors to military service are serving second sentences for the same “crime”. Of the nine current conscientious objector prisoners, the four serving second sentences, including Artykmuradov, are identified in the list at the end of this article (see below).

Officials of Sayat District Court and Sayat District Prosecutor’s Office refused on 14 January to explain to Forum 18 why Artykmuradov was being punished for the second time simply for offering to do an alternative civilian service rather than military service (see below).

 

 

Six Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors were freed from Seydi Labour Camp in 2020 after serving their sentences in full. The most recent was Eziz Dovletmuradovich Atabayev (born 15 March 1998), freed on 19 December 2020.

An official of the regime’s Commission for Work with Religious Organisations and Expert Analysis of Resources Containing Religious Information, Published and Printed Production said chief specialist Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah was not there and put the phone down. An official at the office of the regime-appointed Human Rights Ombudsperson Yazdursun Gurbannazarova put the phone down as soon as Forum 18 asked to speak to her (see below).

The telephones of Yusupgeldi Durdiyev, the Cabinet of Ministers official who chairs the government’s Commission controlling religious communities, and of Yusupguly Eshshayev, the regime-appointed Chair of the Mejlis (Parliament) Human Rights Committee, went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 14 January (see below).

Jehovah’s Witnesses are conscientious objectors to military service and do not undertake any kind of activity supporting any country’s military. But they are willing to undertake an alternative, totally civilian form of service, as is the right of all conscientious objectors to military service under international human rights law.

Turkmenistan has ignored repeated international calls, for example by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, to introduce a genuine civilian alternative to compulsory military service, to stop prosecuting and punishing conscientious objectors, and to compensate those it has punished.

The UN Human Rights Committee has published 13 Decisions in favour of 15 conscientious objectors from Turkmenistan, all of them Jehovah’s Witnesses. In its most recent such Decision, published on 17 September 2019 (C/126/D/2302/2013), it ruled that the right to freedom of religion or belief of former conscientious objectors Juma Nazarov, Yadgarbek Sharipov, and Atamurad Suvhanov had been violated by their jailing (see below).

Asked why the regime is not willing to introduce a civilian alternative service in line with repeated United Nations (UN) recommendations, and why young men continue to be imprisoned, an official of the Foreign Ministry’s International Organisations Department told Forum 18 in August 2020 that Turkmenistan “is dealing with these bodies, including the UN”. He said he did not agree that Turkmenistan was failing to implement UN human rights recommendations (see below).

Another Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objector former prisoner, Arslan Begenchov, lodged a case to the UN Human Rights Committee in 2018 and is awaiting a decision (see below).

Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention In May 2020 on behalf of 19 current or former jailed conscientious objectors. The 19 men include some of those currently imprisoned in Seydi Labour Camp, plus others who have been released after serving earlier sentences.

Other prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief – all of them Muslims – are serving far longer jail terms (see below).

 

Refused military service, ready to do alternative civilian service

Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objector Ruslan Khadynyaz oglu Artykmuradov (born 24 May 2000), who lives in the eastern Lebap Region, filed a written statement on 14 December 2020 with Sayat District Military Conscription Office refusing compulsory military service. He also filed a motion to Sayat District Prosecutor’s Office to terminate the case it had lodged against him under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. This punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces in peacetime with a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment or two years’ corrective labour.

Police arrested Artykmuradov on 15 December 2020 and took him to a police station. Three days later, officers transferred him to the pre-trial detention prison LB-E/9 (known as Abdy-Shukur) in the regional capital Turkmenabat. He was held there until his trial at Sayat District Court.

 

Two-year strict-regime jail term

 

On 11 January Artykmuradov was sentenced, four weeks after his arrest. Judge Chemen Berdyeva of Sayat District Court found him guilty under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. This punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces in peacetime with a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment or two years’ corrective labour.

Judge Berdyeva sentenced Artykmuradov to two years’ strict regime labour camp, Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18. She handed down the harsher sentence as this is the second time the court has sentenced Artykmuradov to a jail term for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience (see below).

On 14 January an official of Sayat District Court claimed to Forum 18 that Judge Berdyeva was not at the court. Asked when she would be available, he responded: “Tomorrow, maybe.” He then put the phone down.

The same day an official of Sayat District Prosecutor’s Office refused to explain to Forum 18 why Artykmuradov was being punished for the second time, simply for offering to do an alternative civilian service rather than military service. The official also refused to identify the prosecutor in the case and put the phone down.

 

No appeal, expected prison transfer

 

Artykmuradov chose not to appeal against his latest conviction, Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18. The sentence will therefore soon enter legal force.

After holding Artykmuradov since 18 December 2020 at the pre-trial detention prison LB-E/9 in Turkmenabat, the prison authorities are expected to transfer him once the sentence is in force to a strict-regime labour camp. The most likely labour camp is at Seydi in Lebap Region, where the strict regime camp LB-E/11 is next to the ordinary regime labour camp LB-E/12 where the eight other jailed conscientious objectors are held (see below).

A prisoner died of coronavirus on 14 August 2020 in strict-regime labour camp LB-E/11, Turkmen.news noted on 24 August 2020. Government officials claim that the country has no coronavirus infections.

Prison authorities could send Artykmuradov to serve his sentence in the strict-regime labour camp MR-E/16 at Bayramali in Mary Region. Camp officials are known for high levels of corruption. After prison visits from relatives were banned in March 2020 because of coronavirus, prison guards began offering prisoners to buy food from them to make up for food parcels earlier brought by prisoners’ relatives, Turkmen.news noted on 19 November 2020.


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