04/06/2013, 00.00
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Turkmenistan, another Jehovah's Witness imprisoned because conscientious objector

The government in Ashgabat tightens its grip on young people who refuse to do military service. Religious minorities are the most exposed to government persecution.

Ashgabat (AsiaNews/Forum18) - The 26 year old Atamurat Suvkhanov is the ninth Jehovah's Witness to be punished with imprisonment for his refusal to do military service. Since the beginning of 2012 episodes of this kind at the expense of the religious community have intensified, with 9 members jailed and 4 others pending trial.

The Turkmen Constitution defines military service as a "sacred duty", with no alternative voluntary service program for those who, for political or religious reasons, refuse to take part. Notwithstanding the fact that Article 18 of the religious law guarantees the right to conscientious objection, every Turkmen between eighteen and twenty-seven years must serve in the army for at least two years, under penalty of imprisonment for up to eighteen months.

Suvkhanov had already been in prison for the same offense from December 2004 to April 2005, with a sentence of nine months later reduced to 6. In December 2012, a few months before reaching twenty-seven years which would have exonerated him from service, the young man was again sentenced to one year in prison.

In the weeks prior to the second sentence, Suvkhanov was admitted to hospital in Doshoguz for liver and heart problems. The young man then sent his medical records to both the office of Defense and the regional military Office, hoping that the poor health would justify his non-participation. Neither institution, however, agreed to his being unfit for service, refusing even to give reasons to the Norwegian Human Rights organization Forum 18.

Sources in the Turkmen Jehovah's Witnesses community claim that "from behavior towards Atamurat the, it is obvious that they're putting a lot of pressure on him in prison." The group members read the government's attitudes as a direct reaction to the appeals for United Nations intervention. Since the beginning of 2012, in fact, when the arrests of young conscientious objectors have intensified, some members of the religious community have turned to the Committee for Human Rights. The complaint was directed against the mistreatment of detainees in prison and Seydi labor camp, in addition to the rigid control exercised by the police on the families of detainees.


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