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TURKMENISTAN: 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses released from prison

« These young men are excited to return home and once again help support their families and local communities, » said a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

 

By Adelle M. Banks

 

Religion News Service (11.05.2021) – https://bit.ly/33F1ozo – Sixteen imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses were released in Turkmenistan along with about 1,000 others following a pardon by the president of the predominantly Muslim country.

 

The unexpected move came on Saturday (May 8) as Muslims observed the “Night of Power,” one of the holiest nights of the Islamic calendar, occurring near the end of Ramadan, a sacred month of prayer and fasting.

 

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said on Sunday the pardons were linked to the religious holiday, reported Radio Free Europe.

 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, ages 18-27, were imprisoned due to their conscientious objection to serving in the military in the central Asian country, said Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for the religious group. Ten of the 16 had been convicted twice.

 

“These young men are excited to return home and once again help support their families and local communities,” he said.

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses, following the dictates of their faith, do not join the military, recite patriotic pledges or sing nationalistic songs.

 

Lopes added that he hopes their release “is a signal that Turkmenistan will no longer imprison Jehovah’s Witnesses and, instead, will soon offer them alternative civilian service that does not conflict with their personal Christian beliefs.”

 

He said the men’s release was a surprise, especially given the recent history of the country’s imprisonment of members of his faith.

 

“In only the first three months of 2021, Turkmen courts imprisoned 8 Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is nearly the same number imprisoned each year since 2018 when the regime reinstituted imprisonment for conscientious objection,” Lopes said.

Since 2018, 32 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned in Turkmenistan for their objection to serving in the military, with many of them getting released after serving one- or two-year terms. At least one had been sentenced to a four-year term after being convicted for that reason.

 

Forum 18 News Service, which monitors religious liberty violations in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, noted others detained for issues related to religious freedom — all of whom are Muslim — who are serving significantly longer terms in jail.

The U.S. State Department has included Turkmenistan since 2014 on its list of “countries of particular concern” that it designates as the most egregious violators of religious freedom.

 

“The Ambassador (Sam Brownback) personally requested that the president pardon all Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned as conscientious objectors,” the State Department’s 2019 international religious freedom report stated. Brownback was the U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom at the time.

 

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has chronicled in reports the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Turkmenistan, applauded the country’s new actions.

 

“We encourage the government of Turkmenistan to provide a civilian alternative to military service, so that no more Jehovah’s Witnesses will have to endure prison for their peaceful religious practice,” said USCIRF Commissioner Nury Turkel. “These young men are not enemies of the state. They simply want to serve their country in a peaceful manner — and they deserve the opportunity to do so.”

 

Photo : Turkmenistan, red, located in central Asia. Map courtesy of Creative Commons





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International Religious Freedom Alliance Launched – 27 Countries

Poland will host the next IRF ministerial in Warsaw this summer

 

 

By Adelle Banks

Religion News Service (07.02.2020) — https://bit.ly/2wd2tRy – The United States has been joined by 26 other countries in a new International Religious Freedom Alliance that seeks to reduce religious persecution across the globe.

 

“Together, we say that freedom of religion or belief is not a Western ideal, but truly the bedrock of societies,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday at a dinner at the US State Department launching the alliance that will involve senior representatives of each government.

 

The alliance’s first meeting fell on the eve of the National Prayer Breakfast, which gathers international religious and diplomatic figures once a year to an event chaired by members of Congress and organized by the International Foundation, a Christian organization also known as The Family or The Fellowship.

 

Poland, one country in the alliance, announced in a joint statement with the State Department that the next Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom will be held July 14–16 in Warsaw.

 

“Building on the successes of the 2018 and 2019 ministerials hosted by the United States, the 2020 ministerial will allow countries to share different approaches, debate varying perspectives in the spirit of coherence and complementarity, and address challenges threatening the freedom of religion or belief,” the statement reads.

 

The two countries said participants at the Warsaw meeting will address “promoting inclusive dialogue to mobilize action and increase awareness regarding the scale of persecution against religion or belief worldwide.”

 

Besides Poland and the United States, the other founding countries of the International Religious Freedom Alliance are: Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Gambia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Togo, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

The State Department issued a list of principles for the alliance that included a commitment to “the right to hold any faith or belief, or none at all, and the freedom to change faith.” The new organization’s priorities include challenging blasphemy laws and the denial of registration to nonreligious and religious groups and advocating for people who are imprisoned or otherwise persecuted due to their religion or beliefs.

 

The principles did not cite specific countries, but Pompeo mentioned the targeting of religious minorities in Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Myanmar.

 

He singled out “the Chinese Communist Party’s hostility to all faiths,” adding, “We know several of you courageously pushed back against Chinese pressure by agreeing to be part of this alliance, and we thank you for that.”

 

Pompeo announced plans for the creation of the alliance at the conclusion of the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July. He and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback have called it a “first-ever” global group to focus on religious freedom.

 

President Donald Trump also cited the alliance at a September event on religious freedom at the United Nations, where he described it as “an alliance of likeminded nations devoted to confronting religious persecution all around the world.”

 

Brownback told reporters on a Jan. 29 conference call that there is “a pretty high bar” for countries included in the group. As of that call, he said 17 had committed to the alliance. Ten more joined over the next week.

 

“We want nations that respect religious freedom in their own country, obviously act that way, and then are willing to push religious freedom in international venues,” he said. “So this is the activist club of countries.”


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