Felix Corley: 8/02/02

Post from Transitions Online

Tamara Shelekhova, the mother of a Jehovah’s Witness sentenced in Turkmenistan in early July for a second time for refusing military service, has condemned the renewed punishment. "It was not a legal decision," she told the Keston News Service from the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, on 24 July. "People shouldn’t be sentenced a second time for the same thing."

Shelekhova reported that her son, Nikolai Shelekhov, lodged an appeal against the sentence with the district court on 8 July; the appeal is due to be passed on to the Ashgabat city court, which will hear it, on 26 July. She said the court is expected to give her the appeal date on 29 July.

Shelekhov, who is 20, was sentenced on 2 July after a two-day hearing to one and a half years in prison by the court of the Niyazov district of Ashgabat under Article 219-1 of the criminal code, which punishes refusal to perform compulsory military service. The judge, Jeren Aymamedova, ignored Shelekhov’s request for alternative civilian service. An official of the Ashgabat office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who attended the trial, told Keston on 24 July that Shelekhov had represented himself and appeared to be well prepared.

Shelekhov had appealed to have the judge removed from the case when she failed to explain his procedural rights, though this was refused. "That was a fair complaint," the OSCE official said.

Shelekhov - who became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1998 -was previously imprisoned under the same article. He served his full sentence from December 2000 to December 2001 in a labor camp in Seydi in the northeast of the country. "He was pressured to swear an oath of loyalty to the president, but as he refused he was twice sent to isolation cells for 15 days as punishment," his mother told Keston. Shelekhova added that her son’s health is still poor due to the effects of his previous incarceration; he suffers from kidney problems in particular.

She added that he had not fallen under the amnesty -which saw thousands of prisoners freed across Turkmenistan - because he refused to write a statement recognizing his guilt and to swear an oath of loyalty to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. "These oaths normally have to be sworn on a copy of the Koran or the Ruhname [a book of Niyazov’s writings]," Shelekhova reported.

Both Shelekhova and the OSCE office told Keston that no other Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently imprisoned for refusing military service. However, they noted that three others - Oguljan Jumanazarova, Ikhtiyar Khalikov and Kurban Zakirov - are known to be imprisoned on other charges brought to punish them for their religious activity. Shelekhova said that a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have already served sentences for refusing military service fear they could be re-arrested for refusing any further call-up.

Turkmenistan has the most repressive religious policy of all the former Soviet republics. Only communities of the state-sanctioned Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church have been allowed to register. The government treats all other faiths - including Baptist, Pentecostal, Armenian Apostolic Church, Jewish, Baha’i, Jehovah’s Witness, Lutheran, and Hare Krishna - as illegal.

Shelekhova confirmed to Keston that the Jehovah’s Witnesses still face tight official controls on their activity. "There is a ban on our meetings, but we do meet despite this," she said.

©Copyright 2002, Transitions Online (Czech Republic)

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