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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: Five conscientious objectors jailed in two days

Five conscientious objectors to compulsory military service who had already served sentences were jailed again in trials on 18 and 19 January. Courts gave all five two-year terms in strict regime labour camp, bringing to six the number jailed so far in 2021. All had offered to perform an alternative civilian service, but Turkmenistan does not offer this. Nine of the 14 known jailed conscientious objectors – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses – are serving second sentences.

UZBEKISTAN: Five years jail for defending Muslims' freedom of religion and belief

After repeatedly defending Muslims' freedom of religion and belief, including demonstrating outside President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's residence, Tulkun Astanov has been jailed for five years. A state report accused him of following "sources of biased news such as Radio Free Europe", and publishing "unsubstantiated and exaggerated" information. Prisoner of conscience Astanov is being banned in jail from reading the Koran and praying the namaz.

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.

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.

UZBEKISTAN: Registration applications denied, officials refuse to explain why

Shia Muslim, Jehovah's Witness, and Protestant religious communities have all had recent applications to exist refused. In many cases the excuse used has been refusals by local authorities to provide documents as part of the complex, time-consuming and expensive application process. In some cases registration applications have led to reprisals, such as police demands that Protestant Christians renounce their faith.

KAZAKHSTAN: Court rejects seriously-ill prisoner's release plea

Despite serious heart problems, 42-year-old Muslim prisoner of conscience Zhuldyzbek Taurbekov has failed to gain early release from prison. On 26 November, North Kazakhstan Regional Court rejected his appeal against an earlier denial. "I believe the Regional Court took the wrong decision," his lawyer Farkhat Guliyev told Forum 18. "The court should have freed Taurbekov as his illness is on the list of illnesses for which prisoners should be freed."

TAJIKISTAN: Conscientious objector freed, but another jailed

Rustamjon Norov, a 22-year-old Jehovah's Witness from Dushanbe, is in Khujand Investigation Prison facing prosecution for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. He faces two to five years' imprisonment if convicted. He denies accusations of falsifying his medical history to evade military service. On 1 November, conscientious objector Jovidon Bobojonov was freed under presidential prisoner amnesty after serving nine months of his two-year jail term.

UZBEKISTAN: Trial postponed, home raided to pressure human rights defender

The criminal trial of surgeon and human rights defender Doctor Alimardon Sultonov continues but has been postponed to 24 November, and his home was raided after the second hearing as human rights defender Solmaz Akhmedova of the Human Rights Alliance was present. Police confirmed to Forum 18 that this was the reason for the raid.

UZBEKISTAN: "The draft Religion Law is only an advertisement"

A Venice Commission and OSCE ODIHR opinion on the draft Religion Law has been welcomed by human rights defenders and members of religious and belief communities. Officials have not explained why a draft which they knew seriously failed to implement human rights was sent for review. "We need to understand that the draft Law is only an advertisement for Uzbekistan aimed at international organisations and foreign states," one Muslim noted to Forum 18. "If the authorities wanted real freedom for the people, then the draft Law would have been very different."