TURKMENISTAN: Jehovah's Witness prisoners threatened with death
Two of the five Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned in labour camp in the town of Seydi have been threatened with death, reportedly in the second half of April, with the full knowledge of the camp administration, Jehovah's Witnesses report. "We take these threats seriously," one told Forum 18 News Service. They plead for international attention, fearing for the safety of the five - Aleksandr Matveyev, Rinat Babadjanov, Shohrat Mitogorov, Ruslan Nasyrov and Rozymamed Satlykov. Jehovah's Witnesses say the five are regularly beaten, pressured to renounce their faith and adopt Islam, take the oath of allegiance to the president and to agree to do compulsory military service. Family and friends have been unable to visit their prisoners since early April.
Fears have increased as, since early April, the prisoners - Aleksandr Matveyev, Rinat Babadjanov, Shohrat Mitogorov, Ruslan Nasyrov and Rozymamed Satlykov - have been isolated from their families and friends. "There has been no possibility to visit them since then," a Jehovah's Witness told Forum 18. The Jehovah's Witnesses do not know which two prisoners have been singled out for death threats.
Local Jehovah's Witnesses close to the prisoners say that only international attention can protect the five. "In the past it has helped when the names of the prisoners became known around the world."
They say the five have been regularly beaten in the labour camp (see F18News 10 May 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=315 ). "Sometimes the beatings are daily, other times it eases off," one Jehovah's Witness told Forum 18. "The guards conduct the beatings or use other prisoners to do it for them." The source said pressure is relentless on the prisoners to say the compulsory oath of allegiance to the president, to abandon their faith and convert to Islam and to agree to conduct military service.
The Seydi camp was reportedly built for 400 to 500 prisoners, but often holds several thousand at a time. Sometimes up to 20 prisoners have to share a cell designed for ten. Prisoners are often sent to the punishment isolation cell for periods of five to fifteen days.
In addition to the five imprisoned conscientious objectors, a sixth Jehovah's Witness – Kurban Zakirov - is serving an eight-year sentence on what his community insists are trumped-up charges. Forum 18 notes that, together with former chief mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment at a closed trial in the capital Ashgabad on 2 March, these are Turkmenistan's known religious prisoners. It is believed several muftis have been sent into internal exile without trial.
The address of the Seydi camp is:
For more background see Forum 18's latest religious freedom survey at
A printer-friendly map of Turkmenistan is available at
13 May 2004
In his latest attempt to disguise Turkmenistan's de facto criminalisation of religious belief, President Saparmurat Niyazov has today (13 May) revoked the de jure criminalisation of unregistered religious activity. Believers were, before the de jure criminalization, treated as de facto criminals and fined, detained, beaten, threatened, sacked from their jobs, had their homes confiscated, banished to remote parts of the country or deported in retaliation for unregistered religious activity. Niyazov has also cancelled a secret decree requiring registered religious communities to subject themselves to tight financial regulation by the state – but has imposed tight financial regulation in a different way, through an official model statute for religious communities. Forum 18 News Service has obtained a copy of this, and religious leaders in Turkmenistan have told Forum 18 that they find these restrictions unacceptable. Many prefer to continue to exist in the underground.
10 May 2004
As well as continuing to harshly persecute religious believers, Turkmenistan is also refusing to allow religious communities to see requirements the authorities insist communities must follow to be registered. Forum 18 News Service has found that amongst harsh new requirements to be imposed will be: a requirement that any worship service or other event has the prior permission of the Gengeshi (the state body controlling religion); a requirement that the full names of any financial donors be given to the Gengeshi; and a requirement that all non-Muslim religious communities pay 20 per cent of their income to the Gengeshi. Many religious communities are too frightened to lodge applications for state registration. "The last time we applied for registration was five years ago, and they went round persecuting all the people who had signed the registration application," one believer told Forum 18. "We are not prepared to go through this again."
10 May 2004
There is no slackening of religious persecution in Turkmenistan. In the last two months the authorities have, amongst other things, fired a Jehovah's Witness from his job, forced a Hindu to sign a statement renouncing his beliefs, raided religious meetings, confiscated the personal property of Baptists, fined Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses large sums of money, and the police have sexually harassed one female Jehovah's Witness. She has complained to the OSCE office in Ashgabad about the police assault on her.