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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

TURKMENISTAN: Another second-time jailing, four more imminent?

Conscientious objectors increasingly face second prosecutions for continuing to refuse compulsory military service. On 11 January, a court in Lebap Region sentenced 20-year-old Jehovah's Witness Ruslan Artykmuradov to two years in a strict regime labour camp, his second jailing on the same charges. On 30 December 2020, Danev District Prosecutor's Office informed four other Jehovah's Witnesses they face second prosecutions. All had offered to do an alternative, civilian service.

TAJIKISTAN: Three and a half years' jail for "illegal" conscientious objection

Despite his offer to perform alternative civilian service, Khujand Military Court today (7 January) jailed Rustamjon Norov for three and a half years, the longest known sentence. The court claimed the 22-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector falsified his medical history to evade compulsory military service, charges he denies. While held in a military unit in October 2020, he was threatened with torture if he did not put on a military uniform.

TURKMENISTAN: Conscientious objector jailed, awaiting second trial

Arrested in December 2020, 20-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Ruslan Artykmuradov is awaiting trial in Turkmenabat's Pre-Trial Detention Prison for refusing compulsory military service. He offered to do an alternative civilian service, but Turkmenistan does not offer this, despite repeated United Nations calls. Artykmuradov has already served a one-year jail term on the same charges. If convicted, he will become the 25th conscientious objector known to have been jailed since 2018.

BELARUS: Regime allows Archbishop's Christmas return

On 24 December, the regime allowed Belarus' senior Catholic leader, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, to return to his own country after barring him for 16 weeks. He will lead Christmas Masses in Minsk. The return followed a plea from Pope Francis, delivered to Aleksandr Lukashenko by the former Nuncio on 17 December. Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei – who had been present at the meeting – spoke of "a range of negative elements" connected with the Archbishop.

UZBEKISTAN: Extremism charges against Samarkand Shia Muslim?

The Samarkand police "Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism Department" has opened a case against Shia Muslim Rashid Ibrahimov, twice questioning him without a written summons. Officers sent material from his phone, including texts of sermons, to the Religious Affairs Committee for "expert analysis". "Depending on that, they may bring administrative or criminal charges against him," a source told Forum 18. Officials are hostile to Shia Islam. Muslim blogger, Doctor Alimardon Sultonov, is challenging his 14-month restricted freedom sentence.

TAJIKISTAN: Religious freedom survey, December 2020

Tajikistan restricts freedom of religion and belief, along with interlinked freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Forum 18's survey analyses violations including: ban on and punishments for all exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission; severe limitations on numbers of mosques; jailing of Muslim, Jehovah's Witness and Protestant prisoners of conscience on alleged "extremism" charges; impunity for torture; jailing of conscientious objectors; and state censorship of religious materials.

RUSSIA: Raids, investigations, torture

Regional Investigative Committee branches, the FSB security service, and armed police have carried out at least 86 house searches between late October and mid-December alone across 16 regions of Russia as investigations and criminal prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses continue. Some raids involve violence. Three Muslims who met with others to study Islam with the writings of Said Nursi are known to be under criminal investigation in Tatarstan and Dagestan.

RUSSIA: "A fresh bloody wound on his forehead"

During 24 November raids by Investigative Committee officials, Police, FSB and National Guard on Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow, armed officials hit Vardan Zakaryan in the head with a rifle butt, resulting in his two-day hospitalisation. Officers assaulted a neighbour before locating and hitting another targeted Jehovah's Witness. Officials in these and earlier torture cases refused to explain or failed to respond to Forum 18 why the suspected torturers have not been arrested and prosecuted.