Submission to the 102nd Session of the Human Rights Committee: July 2011
for the attention of the Country Report Task Force on
Conscientious objection to military service and related issues
prepared April 2011
The particular concerns of CPTI (Conscience and Peace Tax International) are:
the non-recognition of conscientious objection to military service
imprisonment and repeated imprisonment of conscientious objectors
pressure to change religion or belief
conditions of imprisonment for, and mistreatment of, conscientious objectors
the age of military recruitment
the use of military conscripts to provide forced labour in the civilian economy
Non-recognition of conscientious objection to military service
Under Article 38 of the Constitution, all men are obliged to perform “general military service”. This principle has been given practical effect in Acts on Conscription and Military Service, with intermittent modification by presidential decree. The Conscription and Military Service Act of 1993 stipulated that men aged between 18 and 30 were liable to conscription, and reduced the duration of obligatory military service from the 24 months which had applied in Soviet times to 18 months. It also introduced a category of voluntary “contractual” military service, which was however reportedly abolished by presidential decree in 2001.The 1993 Act was amended in 1998, then replaced by a new Act on 25th March 2002. The 2002 Act, the provisions of which are detailed in Turkmenistan's initial report under the ICCPR1 re-established the 24 months period of service.
The only reference to conscientious objection in the Report is an oblique one:
“No one may fail to fulfil his/her legal obligation on the grounds of his/her religious persuasion. Replacing fulfilment of an obligation with the fulfilment of another on the grounds of religious persuasion is permitted only in the cases provided for by the law.”2
As is made clear in the account of the Military Obligations and Service Act, which appears in the section dealing with forced labour (Article 8), there is in fact no legal provision for conscientious objection to military service, and indeed even unarmed service within the military is unavailable..
It is reported that a new Law on Military Obligation and Military Service was adopted by the
Mejlis (Parliament) on 25 September.2010, but that this continues to make no provision for
alternative service for conscientious objectors. 3
Imprisonment and repeated imprisonment of conscientious objectors
In Turkmenistan, those who express a conscientious objection and refuse to perform military service are liable to prosecution for “evading” such service under Article 219(1) of the Criminal Code, under which the penalty is up to two years of either corrective labour or imprisonment. Those who have served such a penalty remain subject to call-up and if they persist in their refusal may be sentenced for a second time; as this is seen as a repeat offence, such persons may be subject to a stricter prison or work-camp regime. Article 16(3) of the Conscription and Military Service Act stipulates that those who have served two sentences for evasion are thereafter exempt from military service.
At least 27 conscientious objectors have been sentenced under Article 219(1) since 1999. Details are given in the appended table, to which reference should be made for the background on any named cases. All those listed have been from the Jehovah's Witnesses community. (One, Nasyrlaev, is recorded as being “the son of a baptised Jehovah's Witness who has not yet himself
CPTI is not aware of any instance where a conscientious objector has been sentenced for a third time, in breach of Article 16.3. The fact that convictions do eventually discharge the obligation to perform military service must be acknowledged as a positive feature, but with the reservation that no imprisonment and no repeated conviction of conscientious objectors can be considered acceptable.
It may also be noted that although thousands of prisoners in Turkmenistan are released in presidential amnesties marking various national and religious festivals, the last conscientious objector to benefited from such an amnesty was released from a suspended sentence in February 2008.
Pressure to change religion or belief
There have been disturbing reports that prisoners detained in Turkmenistan come under pressure to swear on the Koran an oath of allegiance to President and State. As far as Jehovah’s Witnesses are concerned, this is a double violation of their freedom of thought, conscience and religion; they do not accept the Koran as a sacred text; but in any event they have a conscientious objection, based on biblical authority, to the taking of oaths in any form and under any circumstances.
Zakirov was allegedly not been released at the end of his first sentence in 2000 when he refused to take such an oath. An earlier offer of a pardon had been subject to the same condition. Nasyrov and Matveyev were allegedly beaten on April 14th 2004 for refusing to take an oath of allegiance.
Some of the prisoners released in an October 2007 amnesty were shown on television swearing an oath of allegiance on the Koran. However, it does not appear that on this occasion any Jehovah’s Witnesses were asked to do so.
Relatives reported that the judge told Ashirgeldiev after his 2007 trial that he would be called up again in two years time and if he repeated his refusal would face imprisonment of between three and five years. The maximum imprisonment reportedly threatened would not appear to be consistent with any provision of Article 219.1. Ashirgeldiev is also in the situation of requiring a stamp from the Military Commissariat on a permit to apply for work. This is repeatedly being refused.
The Annamamedov brothers from the western town of Serdar (formerly Gyzylarbat) were initially in 2008 given suspended sentences. When – in front of the same judge and prosecutor - they refused to change their position when faced with a repeated call-up the following year, this was treated as grounds for enforcing the sentence of imprisonment.
Imprisonment conditions and mistreatment of conscientious objectors
Most conscientious objectors are imprisoned in the general regime labour camp some six kms from Seydi in the desert. One former inmate reported that although it was designed to hold 2,100 prisoners, “. in 2007, when he was imprisoned [...] there were then some 3,500 prisoners in six or seven barracks. He said the temperature in the summer is close to being unbearably hot. He
said prisoners under 50 year of age work ten hour days (with a lunch break)
in the camp's industrial zone, in the brick factory, metalworking plant or
clothing factory. He said food and water is adequate "though not wonderful"4
Most notorious was the treatment of Zakirov. As already reported he was not released at the end of his sentence when he refused to take an oath. Following an incident on that occasion, he was charged with assaulting a member of the security services, and was sentenced to eight years in the high-security corrective labour colony (ITKSR) at Chärjew. Zakirov maintains that the evidence of the alleged assault was concocted by one officer tearing the shoulder straps off his own uniform in the presence of the supposed witnesses.
At a later date, he was transferred to the maximum-security prison in Turkmenbashi. This, to quote the Jehovah’s Witnesses “is known as a place from which prisoners rarely are released in good health. Many die. The cells are plain concrete rooms with one window—without glass or any cover—that is open all year long. In the wintertime the cells are freezing, and in summertime they are extremely hot. The food consists of some kind of slime made of sprat (herring) and macaroni.”5
In the maximum-security prison. Zakirov was entitled to one visitor every six months. When the time came for the visit, however, his visitor was refused access, being told that he was subject to a “special note”. “In January 2003”, the Jehovah’s Witnesses report, “Zakirov was badly beaten by the prison guards and then confined with known homosexual rapists (in the prison-language called harem). Once a prisoner is confined there and labeled as belonging to the harem, it is impossible to change his status in the prison community. Those labeled this way are regarded as the very lowest class among the prisoners and are commonly treated like animals and as having a loathsome disease. Those who knew Zakirov before prison say that this, together with other “treatment,” has had a tremendous impact, ruining his mental and emotional balance.”6 Subsequently, a portrait of Zakirov was displayed in the prison, labelling him an “enemy of the people”, in a clear incitement to mistreatment by the other prisoners. When he was eventually released Zakirov’s arms were covered in needle marks, and his behaviour was such as to suggest that in prison he had been injected with psychotropic drugs. He initially had to be confined in a mental hospital.
It is reported that in November or early December 2009 the four then imprisoned conscientious objectors (Ushotov, Egendurdiev and the Annamamedov brothers) were visited and questioned in Seydi labour camp by officials “who did not identify themselves or say which government agency they represented […] Immediately afterwards [they] were sent to punishment cells for three days, on what Jehovah's Witnesses insist were fabricated accusations. Parents of the four prisoners then lodged complaints to local Prosecutor's Offices and the General Prosecutor's Office in Ashgabad, and sent telegrams to the President. Replies to their complaints insisted that the treatment of the prisoners in labour camp was fair and in accordance with the law. However, soon afterwards an official commission visited the labour camp and the accusations against the four were reportedly withdrawn. [but] after the commission left the labour camp [...] Ushotov, Egendurdiev, Nasyrlaev and Sakhetmurad Annamamedov were each punished again, by being sentenced to one month's detention in the camp isolation punishment cells.”7 The Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the purpose of the punishments was to ensure that the imprisoned conscientious objectors were not eligible for the general amnesties proclaimed in December 2009 and May 2010, respectively.
In August 2010, when the parents of Byashimov, were able to have a brief meeting with him in
prison, they allegedly "saw that he had been beaten black and blue," 8
The age of military recruitment
The Conscription and Military Service Act of 2002 (in Para 15) reduced the recruitment age to 17, for those who applied in writing. A Presidential Decree of March 2003 reportedly lowered the minimum age for obligatory recruitment to 17.9 There have been no explicit reports of the repeal of this decree, but the initial report of Turkmenistan to the Committee on the Rights of the Child10 mentioned only voluntary recruitment at the age of 17, although from the ambiguous language it appears that this relates to the early admission to obligatory military service, rather than to any completely voluntary service. This is also the impression given in
The lowering of the recruitment age had been connected with the reduction of the length of schooling from ten years to nine, and was justified in terms of reducing youth unemployment. It is believed that there was considerable family pressure on otherwise unemployed seventeen-year-olds to “volunteer”. A Presidential Decree issued by President Berdymuhammedov in March 2007, the month after he took office, restored the ten year period of education, but it is reported that as of the Autumn call-up of 2007, seventeen-year-old “volunteers” were still accepted.11
It is reported that under the Law on Military Obligation and Military Service adopted in September 2010, the age for conscription will be from 18 to 27.12 It is not however explicitly stated that the provision allowing early voluntary recruitment has been removed.
The use of military conscripts to provide forced labour in the civilian economy
Although often seen by the families of recruits as a welcome alternative to probable involvement in drugs and/or crime, the armed forces are reportedly themselves heavily tainted by both, and conditions for recruits are very poor.
There had long been reports of conscripts being hired out as labour to private employers. During the final years of the Niyazov era large numbers of civilian workers were dismissed and their places taken by conscripts. Payment was left to the agencies employing them, health service, traffic police etc. In practice, conscripts frequently went unpaid, and were reduced to crime or begging on the streets.13
Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council
The reference in the State Report to the to the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (Ms Asma Jahangir) in October 2008 does not mention that one of her principal conclusions concerned the question of conscientious objection to military service:
“During her mission, the Special Rapporteur was very encouraged by the political will expressed by certain of her official interlocutors to address the issue of conscientious objection and to find a suitable solution. She is aware that the authorities have attempted to accommodate conscientious objectors by offering them military positions which do not involve the use of weapons. Although this demonstrates the willingness on the part of the authorities to offer an alternative to these persons, the Special Rapporteur would like to draw the Government’s attention to resolution 1998/77 of the Commission on Human Rights. Accordingly, conscientious objectors should be provided with various forms of alternative service compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection, of a non-combatant or civilian character, in the public interest and not of a punitive nature.”14
Moreover, the Special Rapporteur recommended:
“the Government should ensure that conscientious objectors in Turkmenistan, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse to serve in the army due to their religious beliefs, be offered an
alternative civilian service which is compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection. As such, the Government should also revise the Conscription and Military Service Act which refers to the possibility of being sanctioned twice for the same offence. The Special Rapporteur would like to recall that according to the principle of “ne bis in idem”, as enshrined in article 14 (7) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he or she has already been convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.”15
When in December 2008 Turkmenistan reported to the third Session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group, Slovenia “commended the visit by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, but was concerned about a large number of pending visit requests by special procedures [… and] “enquired about the Government’s recognition of conscientious objection to military service. It recommended that Turkmenistan recognize this and stop prosecuting, imprisoning and repeatedly punishing conscientious objectors.”16
In the report of the Working Group, Turkmenistan undertook to provide its response to this recommendation in time to be included in the Outcome Report17 but in the event no response to that particular recommendation was given. (Later in the cycle the Human Rights Council was to become stricter in requiring a clear response from the State Under Review to every recommendation made). However, at the same Tenth Session of the Human Rights Council, there was an indication from Turkmenistan's intervention in the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief that it was preparing legislation to allow conscientious objectors to perform unarmed military service in, for example the medical or engineering branches of the Ministry of Defence.. Nothing further has been heard of this suggestion.
The lack of arrangements for conscientious objectors has been a continuing concern of the mandate on Freedom of Religion or Belief in its follow-up to the state visit. Moreover, on 12th February 2010 the Special Rapporteur, jointly with the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, made an Urgent Appeal to Turkmenistan regarding the cases of Nasyrlaev, the Annamamedov brothers, Ushotov and Egendurdiev. As of 5th February 2011, no reply had been received. In his first report to the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt reiterated the recommendations of his predecessor, and particularly drew Turkmenistan's attention to Opinion No. 16/2008 of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention18, in which “the Working Group declared arbitrary the imprisonment – including the first term in case of repeated convictions – of a conscientious objector as being in violation of the rights guaranteed by article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”19
Suggestions for the list of issues:
With regard to paragraphs 334 to 337 of the State Party's report, which make no reference to the situation of persons who have conscientious objections to military service, could the State Party please indicate what action it is taking to implement its obligation under Article 18 to accommodate such objections, and to end all persecution of conscientious objectors?
Can the State Party confirm whether the Law on Military Obligation and Military Service adopted in September 2010 ends the possibility that young men could voluntarily embark on military service before the age of 18?
Is the State Party taking steps to end the practice reported in the past of using conscripts as forced labour in the civilian economy?
Appendix: Imprisonment of Conscientious Objectors in Turkmenistan
Name Date Sentence Place Date of release &
(months) of detention total time served
Kurban Bagdatovitch Zakirov 23.04.1999 pre-trial
(sentenced) 25.05.1999 12 ITKOR
(resentenced) May 2000 96 ITKSR Charjew
(transferred) not known Turkmenbashi HSP 12.06.2004 61
Nuryagdy Gairov 1999 12 ?
(repeated call-up) 14.06.2007 pre-trial (incommunicado)
(sentenced) 18.07.2007 18 09.10.2007 14
Aleksandr Zuev June 2000 18 ?
(repeated call-up) 28.06.2007 24 (suspended) 09.10.2007 18
Nikolai Shelekhov 2001(?) 12
(repeated call-up) 2002 18 02.01.2004 30
Rinat Babadzhanov May 2003 18 IKTOR, Seydi 11.06.2004 13
Shohrat Mitogorov May 2003 18 IKTOR, Seydi 11.06.2004 13
Ruslan Nasyrov May 2003 18 IKTOR, Seydi 11.06.2004 13
Rozymamed Satlykov May 2003 18 IKTOR, Seydi 11.06.2004 13
Aleksandr Matveyev 04.12.2003 24 IKTOR, Seydi 11.06.2004 6
Mansur Masharipov 28.05.2004 18 IKTOR, Seydi 16.04.2005 10
Vepa Tuvakov 03.06.2004 18 IKTOR, Seydi 16.04.2005 10
Atamurat Dadebayevich Suvkhanov 17.12.2004 18 16.04.2005 4
Shakhmuradov Feb. 2005 12 16.04.2005 2
Bayram Ashirgeldiev 20.07.2007 24 (suspended)
Suleiman Udaev 07.08.2007 18 09.10.2007 2
Ashirgeldy Taganov 18.12.2007 18 (suspended) – amnestied Feb 2008 0
Vladimir Golosenko, Feb. 2008 24 (non-custodial forced labour, with 20%
of his salary going to the state)
Sakhetmurad Annamamedov Nov. 2008 24 (suspended)
(suspension revoked) 21.05.2009 “the bullpen in Serdar”
(transferred) 24.05.2009 Turkmenbashi HSP
(transferred) not known IKTOR, Seydi
Mukhammedmurad Annamamedov Nov. 2008 24 (suspended)
(suspension revoked) 21.05.2009 “the bullpen in Serdar”
(transferred) 24.05.2009 Turkmenbashi HSP
(transferred) not known IKTOR, Seydi
Zafar Abdullaev Apr. 2009 24 (suspended)
Dovran Kushmanov Apr. 2009 24 suspended- subject to weekly reporting
Shaduri Ushotov 13.07.2009 24 IKTOR, Seydi
Akmurat Egendurdiev 29.07.2009 18 IKTOR, Seydi
Navruz Nasyrlaev 07.12.2009 24 IKTOR, Seydi
Aziz Roziev 04.08.2010 18 Turkmenabad (formerly Charjew)
Dovleyet Byashimov 12.08.2010 pre-trial
(sentenced) 30.08.2010 18
Ahmet Hudaybergenov (arrested) 07.09.2010 18 IKTOR, Seydi
HSP High Security Prison
ITKOR Minimum Security Corrective Labour Colony
ITKSR High Security Corrective Labour Colony
The information used to compile the above table was derived from the evidence submitted to the OHCHR in March 2005 by the General Counsel of Jehovah’s Witnesses. in response to the questionnaire on “best practices concerning the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service”, and from reports published by Forum 18 News Service <http://www.forum18.org>,