Turkmenistan: Conscientious objector jailed after second conviction

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Author(s)
Felix Corley, Forum 18

 

A Dashoguz Region court jailed Jehovah's Witness Vepa Matyakubov for two years on 17 February, his second criminal conviction for refusing military service on grounds of conscience. He had offered to do an alternative civilian service but Turkmenistan does not offer this. He is likely to join nine other jailed conscientious objectors in Seydi labour camp, known for harsh conditions and torture.

On 17 February, a court in Dashoguz Region of northern Turkmenistan jailed 21-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Vepa Matyakubov for two years for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. This is his second criminal conviction on the same charges.

Matyakubov is the second conscientious objector to military service known to have been jailed so far in 2020. His is the 21st known criminal conviction for conscientious objection since January 2018.

Matyakubov is appealing against his conviction to Dashoguz Regional Court, though courts and prisons often obstruct such appeals.

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.

The sentence handed down to Matyakubov brings to 10 the number of conscientious objectors to compulsory military service known to be serving sentences. All of them are Jehovah's Witnesses (see full list below).

Including two who have been serving jail terms since 2018, 10 Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors are known - as of 25 February 2020 - to be serving jail terms of between one and four years. Nine of them are imprisoned at the Labour Camp at Seydi in the eastern Lebap Region (see full list below).

Matyakubov is still being held at the pre-trial detention prison in the city of Dashoguz, 450 kms (280 miles) north of the capital Ashgabat. He is expected to be transferred to the labour camp at Seydi, where the other nine jailed conscientious objectors are all being held.

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 man who answered the phone of the deputy head of Dashoguz Region's Military Prosecutor's Office put the phone down when Forum 18 began to ask about Matyakubov's prosecution.

Forum 18 could not immediately reach any other officials to find out why Matyakubov was jailed and the regime is not willing to introduce a civilian alternative service.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has published 13 Decisions in favour of 15 conscientious objectors from Turkmenistan, all of them Jehovah's Witnesses.

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.

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.

The right to conscientious objection is not recognised

Turkmenistan offers no alternative to its compulsory military service. Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years. Article 58 of the 2016 Constitution describes defence as a "sacred duty" of everyone and states that military service is compulsory for men.

Young men who refuse military service on grounds of conscience generally face prosecution 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.

From 2014, courts punished conscientious objectors with corrective labour or suspended prison terms, rather than imprisonment. However, jailings resumed in January 2018.

Courts jailed 12 conscientious objectors in 2018, two of them for two years and 10 for one year. Courts jailed 7 conscientious objectors in 2019, one of them for four years, one for three years, one for two years and four for one year.

List of known jailed conscientious objectors

Ten conscientious objectors to compulsory military service (listed below) – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses – are known to be serving prison sentences. Seven were jailed under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1 ("Rejecting call-up to military service"), Ashirov and Dovletov under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 2, and Atahanov under Criminal Code Article 344, Part 2:

1) Mekan Orazdurdiyevich Annayev; born 22 June 1999; sentenced 26 June 2018 Turkmenbashi City Court under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1; no appeal to Balkan Region Court; two years' ordinary regime labour camp.

2) Eziz Dovletmuradovich Atabayev; born 15 March 1998; sentenced 19 December 2018 Dashoguz City Court under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1; appeal rejected 15 January 2019 Dashoguz Regional Court; two years' ordinary regime labour camp.

3) Muhammetali Charygeldiyevich Saparmyradov; born 11 November 1995; sentenced 19 March 2019 Bayramaly City Court under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1; no appeal to Mary Regional Court; one year ordinary regime labour camp.

4) Bahtiyar Amirjanovich Atahanov; born 17 June 2000; sentenced 15 July 2019 Tejen City Court under Criminal Code Article 344, Part 2; appeal rejected 20 August 2019 Ahal Regional Court; four years' ordinary regime labour camp.

5) Azat Gurbanmuhammedovich Ashirov, born 7 January 1999; sentenced 31 July 2019 Abadan District Court under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 2; appeal rejected 3 September 2019 Ashgabat City Court; two years' ordinary regime labour camp.

6) David Andronikovich Petrosov, born 15 May 2001; sentenced 30 September 2019 Ashgabat's Kopetdag District Court under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1; appeal rejected 29 October 2019 Ashgabat City Court; one year ordinary regime labour camp.

7) Selim Yolamanovich Taganov, born 22 March 2001; sentenced 3 October 2019 Ashgabat's Berkararlyk District Court under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1; appeal rejected 29 October 2019 Ashgabat City Court; one year ordinary regime labour camp.

8) Serdar Nurmuhammedovich Dovletov, born 2 December 1993; sentenced 12 November 2019 Bayramali City Court under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 2; appealed rejected 3 December 2019 Mary Regional Court; three years' ordinary regime labour camp.

9) Kamiljan Ergeshovich Ergashov, born 27 June 2001; sentenced 13 January 2020 Niyazov District Court under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1; appeal rejected Dashoguz Regional Court; two years' ordinary regime labour camp.

10) Vepa Bahromovich Matyakubov, born 19 August 1998; sentenced 17 February 2020 Boldumsaz District Court under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1; appeal lodged to Dashoguz Regional Court; two years' ordinary regime labour camp.

Author information

This is a shortened version of an article by Felix Corley, first published on Forum 18 on 25 February 2020. You can read the full article here.

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About the authors

This is a shortened version of an article by Felix Corley, first published on Forum 18 on 25 February 2020. You can read the full article here.