Tajikistan: Five-year jail term for conscientious objector?

Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18


The criminal trial of 19-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Jovidon Bobojonov for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience may begin at Dushanbe Military Court in early March. One official of the Court told Forum 18 that the criminal case is close to completion.  If convicted, he faces between two and five years in prison. He has become "emotionally and physically exhausted" since he was seized in October 2019, Jehovah's Witnesses say.

In late January, officials transferred Bobojonov from the military unit where he had been confined for nearly four months to Dushanbe's Investigation Prison. Military Prosecutors opened a criminal case against him over his refusal to perform compulsory military service on grounds of conscience.

Jehovah's Witnesses are conscientious objectors to military service and their beliefs do not allow them to 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.

"Jovidon Bobojonov has become emotionally and physically exhausted since the time he was forcefully kidnapped from his home by military officers on 4 October 2019," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 on 25 February.

Asked why the Judge at Dushanbe Military Court ordered Bobojonov to be held in pre-trial detention, her assistant responded: "Because the case is serious and the Judge had all the reasons to give the order."

Asked why Bobojonov faces criminal prosecution for refusing military service on grounds of conscience, Investigator Mekhrubon Ibrahimzoda of Dushanbe's Military Prosecutor's Office claimed that the Defence Ministry gave Bobojonov "the option to serve in a special battalion, where they do not take up arms but do construction work. He refused this, which is why a criminal case was opened." 

In defiance of its international human rights obligations, and despite repeated requests from the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Tajikistan has not introduced a possibility for a genuinely civilian alternative service to the military conscription imposed on young men.

Sodik Shonazarov, Senior Advisor of the Legal Policy Section of the Presidential Administration, refused to explain why – despite government claims - no law introducing alternative civilian service appears to be in preparation. "You can call back tomorrow, what is the hurry?" he told Forum 18. He then refused to answer when Forum 18 asked why Tajikistan was so swift to arrest and prosecute conscientious objectors such as Bobojonov, and so slow to act on repeated Human Rights Committee recommendations in 2004, 2013, and 2019.

No alternative civilian service 

In Tajikistan, military service of two years is compulsory for almost all able-bodied young men between the ages of 16 and 27.

Article 1 of the November 2000 Universal Military Obligation and Military Service Law includes the provision: "In accordance with the law, a citizen has the right to undergo alternative service in place of military service. The procedure for undergoing alternative service is determined by law". However, no law enacting alternative service has ever been adopted.

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This is a shortened version of an article by Mushfig Bayram, first published on Forum 18 on 26th February 2020.

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This is a shortened version of an article by Mushfig Bayram, first published on Forum 18 on 26th February 2020.