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ERITREA - Jehovah's Witnesses in Eritrea

Website: http://www.jw-media.org/ - HRWF (19.07.2007) - Website: http://www.hrwf.org - Email: info@hrwf.net - Five years after the government of Eritrea closed down all independent religious groups not operating under the umbrella of the four government-sanctioned faiths, Jehovah's Witnesses continue to face stiff opposition. Their worship, even in private homes, is considered to be outside the recognized religious institutions, making the Witnesses subject to arrest, torture, and severe pressure to deny their faith.


Five years after the government of Eritrea closed down all independent religious groups not operating under the umbrella of the four government-sanctioned faiths, Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to face stiff opposition. Their worship, even in private homes, is considered to be outside the recognized religious institutions, making the Witnesses subject to arrest, torture, and severe pressure to deny their faith.

As of April 2007, 24 of Jehovah’s Witnesses were still in prison for their religious beliefs. Some were arrested while attending Christian meetings, others while they were sharing their faith with others in public, and still others for conscientious objection to military service. Three imprisoned Witnesses are 60 years old or older. Two women are currently incarcerated.

Tekle Tesfai, an Eritrean by birth but a citizen of the Netherlands, was arrested and imprisoned on May 27, 2005. He is 73 years old. He is emaciated from malnutrition, and his health is poor. Tesfai’s relatives are working through the Dutch Embassy to try to have him released. Jailed members of Christian religions that have been decreed illegal are required to renounce their faith before they will be released.

In addition, those who remain politically neutral and will not serve in the military for religious reasons are jailed in poor conditions. This is the situation of ten of the Witnesses who are imprisoned. Three of these conscientious objectors have been in prison for well over 12 years, since 1994. Their “crime” is taking literally the Biblical directive not to “learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3)

Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot receive more than an 8th grade education in Eritrea. When students register for high school in 9th grade, they are also required to register for national service. Upon completing the 11th grade, high school students are obliged to go to Sawa military camp to complete their 12th-grade education. The government recently established a school in Sawa, under military supervision, so that the students can finish the 12th grade while they get the military training. While there, the students remain separated from their families for the year. Furthermore, parents are expected to hand over to authorities any child who has registered for high school but is unable to complete his education through the 11th grade. If parents do not hand over a child to the authorities or if they refuse to do so, they are subject to detention or a fine of 50,000 nakfa ($3,333 U.S.) per child. Recently the authorities issued a decree that any male student who is more than 18 years old must leave his studies and report to Assab military camp. Therefore, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not register for a high school education in order not to compromise their religiously motivated stand to refrain from participation in military training or service.

For many years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have attempted to help their Eritrean brothers through visits and appeals to officials at the U.S. Department of State, European foreign ministries, and Eritrean embassies, particularly in Germany, Italy, and the U.S.A. The Witnesses have also made repeated attempts to send a delegation of Jehovah’s Witnesses to Asmara, without success to date.

Some have described the “siege-like” military atmosphere that Eritrea has experienced since 1993 and believe that the 1993 national referendum and the issue of military service are the two principal reasons for the government’s stance toward Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses are known internationally for being politically neutral and for their conscientious objection to military service. Their conviction consistently remains that love of neighbor is a core tenet of true Christianity.— Matthew 22:37-39; John 13:34, 35; 15:19.

Abuses of religious freedom

In 1994, Eritrea’s president decreed that Jehovah’s Witnesses had revoked their citizenship by not participating in the national referendum and not participating in military service. He therefore decreed that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not allowed to work in any government offices; he revoked their business licenses and rescinded their identity cards and travel documents. This mistreatment continues until the present and has created great economic hardship and, in the case of some, long-term imprisonment. Then in May 2002, the government closed down all religious groups not part of the recognized Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim faiths.

Since 1995, approximately 250 families who are Jehovah’s Witnesses have fled Eritrea and sought asylum outside the country because of the hardships. At least 100 Jehovah’s Witnesses lost their employment because of their religion, and this has affected more than 300 persons. Thirty-eight Jehovah’s Witnesses were denied their business licenses. Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be issued national identity cards, and thus they cannot purchase land for homes, legalize their marriages, and receive driver’s licenses, passports, or other travel documents. At least 37 families have been expelled from their homes. And because of societal and governmental pressure, Jehovah’s Witnesses have problems renting homes.

Additionally, since 1998, 31 children who are Jehovah’s Witnesses were expelled from school because they refused to buy a membership ticket of the political party called NUEYS (National Union of Eritrean Youths and Students) and refused to salute the flag.

The national identity card application requires that the applicant identify his religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot write “Jehovah’s Witnesses” because the government has banned their religion. If Jehovah’s Witnesses fill in “Christian,” which correctly characterizes their beliefs since they strive to live as footstep followers of Jesus Christ, the Eritrean authorities reject the application. The authorities accept only Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant religions as “Christian.”

Another requirement that bars Jehovah’s Witnesses from receiving the national identity card is the requirement to complete national service. Since the Witnesses do not train for war, they are denied the identity papers.

Plight of conscientious objectors

The national military service requirement has no regulations or provisions for conscientious objection. To avoid being arrested by the ever-present MPs who patrol the streets, most young men who are Jehovah’s Witnesses between the ages of 18 and 40 are in hiding. If arrested, they are taken to a military camp, where they are detained, severely beaten, and are forced to undergo various other forms of torture.

Three of Jehovah’s Witnesses—Paulos Eyassu, Isaac Mogos, and Negede Teklemariam—have been imprisoned since September 24, 1994. They are in the Sawa prison camp because of their conscientious objection to military service for religious reasons. The usual prison term for such a “crime” is three years. They are denied any visitors, including their families. No charges have been filed against them and they have never been given a trial. If they had been brought to trial and convicted, they would have been long-since freed.

They and the other 21 prisoners shown on the last page of this report wish only to be productive, useful members of their communities, while still having their Christian beliefs and consciences respected.

The UN Commission on Human Rights issued Resolution 1989/59, on March 8, 1989, which stated: “The Commission on Human Rights (1) recognizes the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (2) Appeals to States to enact legislation and to take measures aimed at exemption from military service on the basis of a genuinely held conscientious objection to armed service . . .”

Eritrea’s lawful obligations

International and domestic laws already in place relevant to conditions in Eritrea:

The Eritrean Constitution, adopted in July 1996, guarantees in Article 14 (2): “No person may be discriminated against on account of . . . religion . . . or any other factors.” Article 19 (1) states: “Every person shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief.” Article 19 (4) guarantees: “Every person shall have the freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice.” (These quotes are from the draft text of the Constitution.)

UN Resolution 1466 (2003) (adopted by the Security Council at its 4719th meeting on March 14, 2003) states: “The Security Council . . . reiterating the need for both parties [Eritrea and Ethiopia] to fulfil their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights law . . .”

The Eritrea government considers that Jehovah's Witnesses have no rights since they are considered to have renounced their citizenship by not participating in the national referendum nor in national service. However, notice the emphasis on the rights below guaranteed to all without distinction of having citizenship or not.

Eritrea became a member of the United Nations and accepted the obligations contained in its charter on May 28, 1993. The Charter states in Article 1 (3) that one purpose of the United Nations is to promote and encourage “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees in Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Article 2 states: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as . . . religion . . . or other status.” And Article 18 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

In the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ratified by Eritrea on January 14, 1999), Article 2 guarantees: “Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as . . . religion, . . . or other status.” Article 8 guarantees: “Freedom of conscience, the profession and free practice of religion shall be guaranteed. No one may, subject to law and order, be submitted to measures restricting the exercise of these freedoms.”

The President of Eritrea was among 53 heads of African States who agreed to and adopted the Constitutive Act of the African Union on July 11, 2000. (This Act entered into force on May 26, 2001.) Article 3 states: “The objectives of the Union shall be to . . . 'Encourage international cooperation, taking due account of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; [and] (h) Promote and protect human and peoples' rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.'”


The foregoing shows that a mechanism is already in place internationally and domestically for justice in the form of freedom of worship to exist in Eritrea. Nonetheless, Jehovah's Witness families are still fleeing the country for asylum; severe torture and extreme brutality are even now being reported.

Of the most egregious long-term infractions Eritrea has yet to answer for is the incarceration of Paulos Iyasu, Negede Teklemariam, and Isaac Mogos. All three men are Jehovah's Witnesses who are conscientious objectors to military service. They were imprisoned in September 1994 and are in the notorious Sawa Prison Camp. Eyewitnesses and former inmates of the Sawa Camp describe the harsh prison conditions as those most often associated with a concentration camp. The confinement of these three men is now four times the maximum sentence outlined by Eritrean law for refusing to perform military service. The release of these men is long overdue!

(Name of Prisoner, Age, Gender, Prison, Date of Imprisonment, Reason for Arrest)

Paulos Eyassu, 35, male, Sawa Camp, September 24, 1994, Conscientious objection

Negede Teklemariam, 34, male, Sawa Camp, September 24, 1994, Conscientious objection

Isaac Mogos, 32, male, Sawa Camp, September 24, 1994, Conscientious objection

Aron Abraha, 34, male, Sawa Camp, May 9, 2001, Conscientious objection

Mussie Fessehaye, 36, male, Sawa Camp, June 2003, Conscientious objection

Asmerom Beraki, 52, male, Mai Serwa, January 24, 2004, Religious meeting

Tsegabirhan Berhe, 43, male, Sawa Camp, January 24, 2004, Religious meeting

Yemane Tsegay, 43, male, Mai Serwa, January 24, 2004, Religious meeting

Rebka Ghebretinsaye, 41, female, Mai Serwa, January 24, 2004, Religious meeting

Akberet Ghebremichael, 32, female, Mai Serwa, January 24, 2004, Religious meeting

Ambakom Tsegezab, 32, male, Sawa Camp, February 2004, Conscientious objection

Tekle Kebede, 56, male, Mai Serwa, June 2004, Father of escapee

Hagos Woldemichael, 54, male, Mai Serwa, June 2004, Visited family of escapee

Fesseha Ghebrezadik, 23, male, Sembel Prison Asmara, June 2004, Religious teaching (4-year sentence)

Bemnet Fessehaye, 37, male, Sawa Camp, February 2005, Conscientious objection

Henok Ghebru, 24, male, Sawa Camp, February 2005, Conscientious objection

Worede Kiros, 51, male, Sawa Camp, May 4, 2005, Religious teaching

Tekle Tesfai, 73, male, Sembel Prison Asmara, May 27, 2005, Religious teaching (5-year sentence)

Yonathan Yonas, 22, male, Sawa Camp, November 12, 2005, Religious teaching

Ghebrenigus Habte, 60, male, Mai Serwa, December 12, 2005, Religious teaching

Kibreab Fessehaye, 30, male, Sawa Camp, December 27, 2005, Conscientious objection

Bereket Abraha Oqbagabir, 40, male, Sawa Camp, January 1, 2006, Conscientious objection

Ghebru Birhane, 57, male, Mai Serwa, March 5, 2006, Religious teaching

Tekleab Tesfamichael, 76, male, Mai Serwa, July 4, 2006, Religious teaching

Country Report Prepared by:
Jehovah's Witnesses Office of Public Information
25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York 11201-2483
Fax: (718) 560-5619

SERBIA - Arbitrary legal status denial continue

By Drasko Djenovic

Serbian religious communities are still being denied legal status, Forum
18 News Service has found. Under the controversial 2006 Religion Law, any "non-traditional" community that previously had legal status lost this unless they submitted a new registration application by 7 May 2007 lost their legal status.

Without legal status, it is legally impossible for religious communities to carry out activities such as running bank accounts, inviting foreign religious workers to work with them, owning property, paying tax, buying or selling anything, publishing literature and having employees.

At least five religious communities were refused registration in July - Baptists, Pentecostals, Old Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement (which is separate from the Seventh-day Adventist Church), Forum 18 has learnt. Since the Law came into force, many communities have complained that they are being arbitrarily denied registration by the Religion Ministry. The only communities exempted from applying for registration were the seven so-called "traditional" communities, which the Law gave automatic legal status to.
These are: the Serbian Orthodox Church; the Catholic Church; the Slovak Lutheran Church; the Reformed Church; the Evangelical-Christian Church (another Lutheran Church); and the Islamic and Jewish communities.

The Romanian Orthodox Church in the Banat - under the Serbian Orthodox Church - later gained "automatic" legal status as did to both the Greek and Latin-rite Catholic Churches, registered as one church.

Only six of Serbia's so-called "non-traditional" religious communities have been registered since the Religion Law entered into force over a year
ago: These are: the Seventh-day Adventist Church; the United Methodist Church; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the Mormons); the Evangelical Church of Serbia; the Church of Christ's Love; Christ's Spiritual Church (UPC).

The status of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) is still unclear. This is because the Ministry is demanding proof of how, internally, the church has designated its leader.

Milan Radulovic was Religion Minister until 15 May 2007, and was responsible for drafting the Religion Law and its implementation. Although no longer Minister, having being replaced by Radomir Naumov, Radulovic is still a special consultant in the Religion Ministry and is still responsible for the registration of communities. Many in Serbia think that Radulovic is still the person with effective power in the Religion Ministry, and that new Religion Minister Naumov has little power over the Ministry's activities.

Questioned in person by Forum 18 on 1 August, Radulovic insisted that "the problems [caused to religious communities by the state] are caused by people by themselves interpreting the Law." Confusingly - and contrary to what the new Law actually says - Radulovic then immediately claimed that "all religious communities who had legal status before the new Religion Law do not need to register under this Law. They can continue to work on the basis of the old regulations, or to work without any registration. If anyone experiences any problem, our doors are always open to them".

Radulovic still insists that smaller communities could register as Citizens Associations, despite the strong refutations of his idea by the State Administration and Local Self Government Ministry. Refusing to address these legally based refutations, or the problems his attitude has caused religious communities, Radulovic asked Forum 18 "Why shouldn't people be able to associate on religious base? That would be even better for the Hare Krisna and similar communities." Radulovic also insisted to Forum 18 that the Hare Krishna community is "more philosophical than religious," which the State Administration Ministry and the community themselves both dispute.

The Religion Ministry is still refusing to answer questions from or provide registration for communities such as the Hare Krishna community and Seventh-day Baptists, both of which Radulovic insists should register as Citizens' Associations. Raduloic declined to answer Forum 18's questions on these cases.

Radulovic's other unsupported statements - for example that communities can continue to operate on the basis of the old regulations - do not influence the officials religious communities have contact with. One example is the Evangelical Protestant Church in Leskovac, a Pentecostal church. On 9 July, the church received a final decision refusing registration, signed by Religion Minister Naumov. The church then received a letter from the town council of Vranje, asking the church to prove it has legal status under the 2006 Religion Law - which it cannot legally do under the Religion Law drafted by Milan Radulovic. On 31 July, Stefan Stankovic from the church told Forum 18 that their lawyer is therefore preparing an appeal to the Supreme Court.

When Radulovic was Religion Minister, the Ministry persistently evaded answering questions from Forum 18 about how religious communities could resolve the problems caused them by Radulovic's actions as Minister.
When Forum 18 questioned him in person this month, his only response was to repeat that religious communities should contact the Religion Ministry if they have problems.

One problem that non-registered communities face is that they cannot obtain a tax number, and so cannot legally buy or sell property, run a bank account, or employ anyone. Forum 18 has tried to find out how non-registered communities can therefore run their financial affairs legally. Danijel Apostolovic of the Finance Ministry told Forum 18 on 26 July that this "is a complex question and it is unclear who can answer this, as religious communities are special." Branislav Maricic of the Tax Office told Forum 18 the same day that "only registered entities can obtain a tax number." This is a problem which communities such as the Seventh-day Adventist Reform movement have long complained of, and it also affects whether non-registered communities can receive confiscated property back from the state.

Forum 18 knows of one community which has managed to convince their bank that their old registration is still valid. But that community is uncertain how long the bank will continue to accept this. Similarly, another community has succeeded in buying a building using their old tax code, but it is yet again unclear whether this will be accepted in other cases.

Radulovic has previously suggested that Seventh-day Adventist Reform movement can solve the legal status and tax problem by uniting with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Religion Law denies legal status to religious communities "whose name contains a name or part of the name expressing the identity of a Church, religious community or religious organization which is already entered into the Register,"
which is another source of problems for the Adventist Reform movement.

Confronted with these problems, Radulovic merely repeated his previous suggestion, adding the comment to Forum 18 that "they can unite with the Seventh-day Adventist Church (which is registered) so that the Adventist Reform movement has a separate legal entity but is registered as one church as part of the Adventists." Radulovic was unable to explain how the legal implications of his suggestion, for example for property ownership, can be reconciled with Serbian law.

After the Religion Law was passed, Radulovic illegally increased the number of adult Serbian citizens required for a religious community to be registered, from the "at least 0.001 percent of adult citizens" (i.e. 75
citizens) the Religion Law specifies to 100 citizens. The Ministry repeatedly refused to say why it did this. Questioned by Forum 18 on 1 August about this, Radulovic claimed that, "it is true that according to the 2002 official census we have about 7.5 million people, but in Kosovo there are between 2 to 2.5 million people. This gives a total of 10 million people who live in Serbia."

Under the Religion Law, if a religious community receives no answer from the Ministry of Religion within the legal deadline of 60 days, this means it is automatically recognised. Smaller religious communities, such as the Hare Krishna community, have frequently complained to Forum 18 that the Religion Ministry has ignored this part of the Law. Like the Evangelical Protestant Church in Leskovac, the Jehovah's Witnesses decided to appeal to the Supreme Court. This was because the Jehovah's Witnesses had neither received a decision nor registration 60 days after they lodged a registration application with the Religion Ministry.

Damir Porobic of the Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 23 July that the Supreme Court asked whether the Witnesses had given the Ministry an extra seven days to reply. This is a common provision of other Serbian laws, and it is common for courts to ask for this, but it does not apply in the case of the Religion Law. Their lawyers wrote to the Supreme Court explaining this on 18 May. No reply has been received.

The Baptist Union have launched a case at the Constitutional Court. They have decided not to apply for registration, but to challenge the Religion Law itself as they argue that it breaks both the Serbian Constitution and international law. Serbian president Boris Tadic has himself stated that the Law breaks the the European Convention on Human Rights and asked the the Law be changed. If the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court cases fail, appeals will almost certainly be made to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The Baptist Constitutional Court case has made no progress as the Court has no President. The previous postholder was legally obliged to retire and no successor has been named. Another complicating factor is that a new Serbian Constitution came into force in November 2006, almost six months after the Religion Law was passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by the Serbian President.

The Belgrade Baptist Church has a separate identity from the Baptist Union and decided to apply for legal status. But not even the Supreme Court has been able to persuade the Religion Ministry to grant the church legal status. "The Supreme Court told the Religion Ministry two months ago to legally decide on Belgrade Baptist Church's application," Dane Vidovic of the church (who is also now Secretary of the Serbian Baptist Union) told Forum 18 on 23 July.

Whilst their Supreme Court case is continuing, the Jehovah's Witnesses made a second application for legal status, on 3 May 2007. On 29 June new Religion Minister Naumov refused the second application, claiming in writing that the reason was that "Article 4 of the Jehovah's Witness'
Statute is against article 2 of the Religion Law."

Article 4 of the Statutes, to which Minister Naumov objects, outlines the purpose of the Jehovah's Witnesses, that they are part of a worldwide body, and then describes a variety of peaceful religious activities, similar to those carried out by many other religious communities. These include publicly sharing their beliefs, establishing schools and organising meetings, importing and publishing literature, establishing congregations, and selecting training and inviting religious workers. The Article specifically states that sharing beliefs may only take place with those who wish to hear what the Jehovah's Witnesses have to say: "benevolently teaching Bible truths to people who are willing to listen."

Article 2 of the Religion Law states that: "No-one may be subjected to such compulsion as might endanger their freedom of religious expression, nor may they be compelled to make statements expressing their religious orientation and religious convictions or the non-existence thereof. No-one may be disturbed, discriminated against or privileged because of their religious convictions, their affiliation or non-affiliation with a religious community, their participation or non-participation in worship and religious ceremonies and their use or non-use of guaranteed religious liberties or rights. There is no state religion."

Religion Minister Naumov did not explain his reasoning behind the alleged conflict of the Jehovah's Witness Statute with the Law's Article 2, but Radulovic claimed to Forum 18 that the reason is that, in door-to-door sharing of their beliefs, "Jehovah's Witnesses do not identify themselves, so people who do not know who they are and that their magazines are from the Jehovah's Witnesses." Forum 18 is not aware of any Jehovah's Witness publication in Serbia which does not clearly identify in Serbian who the publisher is.

Porobic of the Jehovah's Witnesses was present at a meeting with Radulovic on 18 July. He told Forum 18 on 21 July that Radulovic had stated that "we can continue to work on the basis of the old laws." He also stated that, "if we face any problem we can always contact the Religion Ministry."
Reiner Scholz of the Jehovah's Witnesses told a public meeting in Belgrade on 12 August that they "up to now do not face practical problems and have been free to worship and import literature."

In Serbian law, only registered communities have the legal right to apply an official stamp to documents. However, both Vladimir Majersky of the Brethren Church in Serbia and Dusan Bera from the Novi Sad Christian Community told Forum 18 on July 26 that the Religion Ministry asked them to apply an official stamp to their registration applications. Both expressed surprise to the Ministry that they were being asked to commit a technically illegal action. One Religion Ministry official commented to Majersky on the way registration applications are handled in the Ministry that "those who are doing registrations usually have their own standard."

Serbian religious minorities remain "not optimistic" that they can gain legal status, as Bera from the Novi Sad Christian Community put it.

The situation may be changed by a proposed Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Law, due to be presented to the National Assembly in Autumn 2007. Former Religion Minister Radulovic told Forum 18 that "Minister Naumov and I will do our best to ensure that religious communities can register under this Law as Citizens Associations." However, current drafts of the proposed NGO Law strictly forbid religious communities from registering as Citizens Associations.

A Restitution Law governing the return of confiscated property to registered communities was passed in 2006. Only communities with this legal status can reclaim their property, and Radulovic did not comment on whether he thought that Citizen's Associations could reclaim property. Restitution of religious property confiscated in communist times is also plagued by problems of very slow official implementation and the difficulty of communities supplying the legal documents the Law requires.

Source: http://www.forum18.org

TURKMENISTAN - Jehovah's Witness jailed, Baptist family threatened with deportation

By Geraldine Fagan

Forum 18 (15.08.2007)/ HRWF (15.08.2007) - Website: http://www.hrwf.org - Email: info@hrwf.net - Jehovah's Witness Suleiman Udaev has been handed down an 18-month sentence for refusing military service on religious grounds, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Currently detained at the regional prison in Mary (365km or 230 miles south-east of Ashgabad), the 24-year-old is "OK, healthy - but it is hard there, of course", his father Annageldy told Forum 18 from the Turkmen capital on 14 August.

Mary District Court found Suleiman Udaev guilty of evading military service (Article 219, Part 1 of the Criminal Code) on 7 August. Present at
the trial, Annageldy Udaev told Forum 18 that his son explained to the court that he rejects military service due to his religious beliefs. "He
said that God forbids the taking up of arms to kill a person and the swearing of oaths. That we are Jehovah's Witnesses, and we cannot cause harm to another human being under to God's law." According to Annageldy Udaev, the judge then suggested that God's law might not be complete, "that He might issue another law to fight, to serve the motherland, and have forgotten about war." Although Suleiman replied that "God isn't a person, he decides everything once and for all and cannot make a mistake by forgetting something," the judge took no notice of his arguments and sentenced him to one-and-a-half years in prison, his father confirmed to Forum 18. Annageldy Udaev also said that his son appeared without a defence lawyer, because he did not believe one would help his case.

Detained since his trial in a 15 square metre (17 square yard) cell with 19 other prisoners, Suleiman Udaev is permitted one visit a month by his mother, according to his father. She visited him on 13 August but was only able to see him through a window and speak via a telephone, said Annageldy Udaev, "we can't give him anything".

Suleiman Udaev's father also told Forum 18 that his son is currently in debt after being fined the "huge sum" of 1,250,000 Turkmen Manat (1,425 Norwegian Kroner, 178 Euros or 240 US Dollars at the official bank rate, approximately 2,965 Norwegian Kroner, 370 Euros or 500 US Dollars at the unofficial bazaar rate) approximately one month ago for preaching. Threatened with the confiscation of his property, Suleiman borrowed money to pay the fine, according to his father. He did not know any further details about the fine.

The authorities have not yet made any move to prosecute up to ten other Jehovah's Witnesses - including Ilya Osipov and Mansur Masharipov - for refusing military service, Bayram Ashirgeldyyev told Forum 18 from Ashgabad on 14 August. 20-year-old Ashirgeldyyev and a fellow Jehovah's Witness, 27-year-old Aleksandr Zuyev, were handed down two-year suspended sentences in separate trials in the Turkmen capital in mid-July. On 23 July, less than a week after being given an 18-month labour camp term for likewise refusing compulsory military service on grounds of religious conscience, 27-year-old Jehovah's Witness Nuryagdy Gayyrov had his punishment reduced to a one-year suspended sentence.

Bayram Ashirgeldyyev also told Forum 18 that he has been unable to obtain work since May 2006, when the local military commission refused to stamp his medical certificate attesting that he has heart problems. This would have confirmed to employers that he was exempt from military service and should be engaged in work taking into account his heart condition. When Ashirgeldyyev obtained the certificate at the request of the military commission, he told Forum 18, it drew up its own diagnosis insisting that he is psychiatrically ill, but he refuses to accept this. Ashirgeldyyev believes that he will be amnestied in a couple of months, "but then they will find a new charge - I was warned in court that they would put me away for 11 years." While abiding by the conditions of his suspended sentence - the 20-year-old cannot travel outside Ashgabad and must be back each evening by 8pm - he told Forum 18 that this is so far not being enforced by police.

Jehovah's Witness young men insist they are ready to do alternative non-military service, but none is offered in Turkmenistan. Forum 18 has
been unable to reach any officials who could explain why those unable to do military service on grounds of religious conscience cannot be offered alternative non-military service. The telephone of Aygozel Hezretova, head of the Legal Information Centre at the Adalat (Justice) Ministry, went unanswered on 15 August. So did that of Shemshat Atajanova of the presidential National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.

Baptist prisoner of conscience Vyacheslav Kalataevsky has not been released, remaining in a labour camp with harsh conditions. The 49-year-old Ukrainian citizen is serving a three-year sentence handed down on 14 May 2007 as a consequence of his religious activity. A fellow Baptist pastor arrested with Kalataevsky, Russian citizen Yevgeny Potolov was expelled from Turkmenistan in early July.

Potolov's wife and children have now been threatened with deportation, the Baptist Council of Churches stated today (15 August). During a 12 August evening raid on home worship by its congregation in the western port city of Turkmenbashi, two local officials and the city imam declared the gathering illegal, demanded identification documents from all present and told Nadezhda Potolov that they would deport her as she holds a residency permit rather than Turkmen citizenship. A Visa Department official and two employees of the Foreign Citizen State Registration Service reportedly arrived soon afterwards, but - apparently unaware that the congregation is Baptist - they drew up a protocol referring to "an illegal mob of Jehovah's Witnesses".

Forum 18 has again been unable to reach any officials who were willing to discuss the case.

The Potolov family moved to Turkmenbashi in 1998. Both Yevgeny Potolov and Vyacheslav Kalataevsky had their residency permits stripped from them in June 2001 on orders of the local administration chief in punishment for their religious activity in the city.

The Baptist Council of Churches, to which the two pastors are affiliated, rejects state registration in all the former Soviet republics where it
operates. It believes that registration leads to unwarranted state interference in the internal life of congregations and unacceptable restrictions on their activities. Protestants within Turkmenistan have told Forum 18 of numerous unwritten controls on registered communities, including forced co-operation with the MSS secret police. Many communities are therefore reluctant to apply for registration.

Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, the former Chief Mufti and Chairman until January 2003 of the Council (Gengeshi) for Religious Affairs has been reappointed to the Gengeshi. The Altyn Asyr state television channel broadcast him on 13 August thanking President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov for his pardon and announcing that he has already been appointed as a "leading specialist" at the Gengeshi. "With all my strength, day and night, I will serve the Great Almighty Allah, my motherland, my people and my esteemed president," he stated. Three years into a 22-year sentence - on charges the government refused to make public - he was freed from prison on 9 August.

The Gengeshi has a key role in monitoring and suppressing Turkmen citizens who exercise their right to religious freedom. Since Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov became President in early 2007, raids, fines, public threats, imprisonment and other violations of freedom of thought, conscience and belief have significantly increased.

Source: http://www.forum18.org


TURKMENISTAN - Fifth Jehovah's Witness sentenced in three months

by Felix Corley

Forum 18 News Service (13.09.2007) / HRWF (17.09.2007) - Website: http://www.hrwf.org - Email: info@hrwf.net - Yesterday (12 September), Begench Shakhmuradov became the fifth Jehovah's Witness to be sentenced in Turkmenistan in the past three months for refusing to perform compulsory military service on grounds of religious faith. After several postponements of his trial, he was given a two-year suspended sentence at Azatlyk District Court in the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat]. However, as Shakhmuradov told Forum 18 News Service in the wake of the trial, he does not yet know the conditions that will be imposed on him. "They still haven't informed me. But it's likely to include regular reporting to the police, a ban on leaving the house at night and a requirement to get permission if I want to leave the city."

Shakhmuradov said he does not agree with the verdict, though he has not yet decided whether to appeal. "I believe I have the right to freedom of thought and religion and the court should have respected this," he insisted to Forum 18. "God gave me these rights and they are also enshrined in Turkmenistan's Constitution. If the Constitution recognises these rights the law should also back them up. Before God I can't fulfill laws which go against my conscience."

Turkmenistan does not offer a civilian alternative to compulsory military service, making young men who cannot serve in the armed forces on grounds of conscience liable to punishment. All five of the Jehovah's Witness young men sentenced this year, including Shakhmuradov, were prosecuted under Article 219, Part 1 of the Criminal Code, which punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment.

Shakhmuradov has already served one sentence on the same charges. He was given one year's imprisonment in February 2005, but was among several Jehovah's Witnesses freed early from their sentences in April 2005 in the wake of a presidential decree.

Shakhmuradov was called up for military service again in May 2007 despite suffering from tuberculosis contracted during his imprisonment.

"I told the court I am of course prepared to do any alternative service," Shakhmuradov told Forum 18. "I told the authorities this two years ago when they first sentenced me. It would be just if a civilian alternative to military service existed." He said that without such an alternative, other Jehovah's Witness young men will "certainly" be sentenced.

Forum 18 has been unable to find out from officials why they are not prepared to consider introducing an alternative civilian service, why five Jehovah's Witnesses have been sentenced for refusing military service in the past three months and why the Baptist pastor Vyacheslav Kalataevsky has been imprisoned.

Reached on 13 September at his office at the Gengeshi (Committee) for Religious Affairs in Ashgabad, deputy chair Nurmukhamed Gurbanov refused to answer any questions. "I don't answer to you," he told Forum 18. "Your questions don't appeal to me." Asked again about the recent cases he responded: "No religion is oppressed here – everyone can practice their faith freely." He then referred Forum 18 to the Foreign Ministry, although it does not have competence in internal affairs, before putting the phone down.

Forum 18 was unable to reach Shirin Akhmedova, director of the government's National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, between 10 and 13 September. Her secretary told Forum 18 that she was out at meetings. The secretary said each time that no-one else at the institute was present, even though it is reputed to have about fifty staff. On other occasions the phone went unanswered.

Meanwhile, fellow Jehovah's Witness Suleiman Udaev was suddenly freed from imprisonment on 12 September, family members told Forum 18 that evening. His 18-month term of imprisonment for refusing military service on grounds of religious conscience was commuted to a two-year suspended sentence with compulsory labour. They told Forum 18 he is back at his home in a village 100 km (60 miles) from the south-eastern town of Mary. However, they said Udaev must pay twenty percent of his wages to the state, he will not be able to leave his home village without permission and other restrictions will be imposed. He is likely to be assigned to work in the local collective farm.

Udaev, who was sentenced by Mary District Court on 7 August, had been held at the labour camp in the town. On 13 August his parents filed a complaint against his sentence to the Supreme Court, which was accepted only when they sent it by mail. Udaev's family was able to pass on food parcels and medicine to him only after paying the prison guards.

The three other Jehovah's Witnesses - Aleksandr Zuyev, Bayram Ashirgeldyyev and Nuryagdy Gayyrov - were given suspended sentences in July.

Meanwhile, Baptist pastor Kalataevsky remains in labour camp in the eastern town of Seydi. A Baptist leader from the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi [Türkmenbashy, formerly Krasnovodsk], he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment on 14 May for illegally crossing the border six years earlier. His family has insisted to Forum 18 that the sentence was imposed to punish him for his activity with the unregistered Baptist congregation in Turkmenbashi. A family visit to him in labour camp on 14 August was cut to just 40 minutes.

Kalataevsky's wife Valentina said she intends to travel to Seydi for the next scheduled labour camp visit on 18 September. "We were so upset last time that the visit was so short," she told Forum 18 from Turkmenbashi on 12 September.

She said she does not know if her husband will be included in the prisoner amnesty due in October to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The government has said that more than 9,000 prisoners are due to benefit from the amnesty this year.

Kalataevsky's family have again written appeals in September to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and other officials asking for his case to be reviewed. "So far we have had no response to these latest appeals," family members told Forum 18.

Source: http://www.forum18.org

SOUTH KOREA - State decides to allow alternative service for conscientious objectors

The Associated Press / International Herald Tribune (18.09.2007) / HRWF Int. (19.09.2007) – Email: info@hrwf.net – Website: http://www.hrwf.net - South Korea said Tuesday it has decided to allow conscientious objectors to perform social service instead of mandatory military stints, and approved a proposal to drastically shorten the service term for ordinary conscripts.

The moves immediately prompted concerns from many conservatives in South Korea, who argue they will undermine the country's conscription system aimed at deterring aggression from communist North Korea.

On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry said it plans hold public hearings and opinion polls before revising laws governing the military service for conscientious objectors by the end of next year, and the revision is subject to the legislature's approval.

The decision — expected to take effect as early as January 2009 if approved — "is not to recognize the right to refuse the military duty but to permit an alternative service as part of social service on the premise of public consensus," the ministry said in a statement.

More than 3,760 young South Korean men, mostly followers of the Jehovah's Witnesses Christian denomination, have refused to perform military service in the past five years, and nearly 95 percent of them served more than 17 months in prison.

The ministry said it plans to require conscientious objectors to reside and work in special hospitals and care for senior citizens, as well as the disabled, lepers and mental patients.

The Korea Veterans Association criticized the ministry plan for lowering the morale of ordinary conscripts, thus posing a threat to the national security.

"Allowing alternative service is a dangerous idea that provides opportunistic conscription rejectors with a chance to dodge their military service. It will do harm to national security and stoke social conflicts," the association said in a statement.

Later Tuesday, the Cabinet approved a proposal by the Defense Ministry to reduce the compulsory service term for ordinary conscripts by six months by 2014. Under the current law, all physically fit South Korean men ages 18 to 30 must serve at least two years in the military.

The proposal is key to the Defense Ministry's push to streamline and modernize its 680,000-member military, the world's sixth largest, and resolve long-running complaints by young draftees that they have to stop school or interrupt careers due to the military service.

The plan has stoked security concerns in South Korea, which is still technically in a state of war with North Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice. Some South Koreans worry that the reduced number of boots on the ground would eventually weaken South Korea's war capability against North Korea.

The new service term would take effect if and after President Roh Moo-hyun signs it, a ministry official said, on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

HRWF Int'l Analysis

This is an interesting move in the right direction. In fact, it is the Ministry of Defense, who in the past has always opposed the idea of alternative service, who today is saying this it is now agreeable to that idea. However, there is no specific draft law on the table. In its news release the Ministry of Defense stated that it planned to hold public hearings and opinion polls before submitting a draft revision to the legislation. Thus there is still a long way from having a definite draft law being submitted to the National Assembly. Considering that the problem has been going on for nearly 60 years, we doubt that there will be a quick fix. There are also elections coming up which may impact on the problem.

At this time, nobody knows exactly what the law on alternative service will be and whether it will take into account the specificities of the conscientious objection of Jehovah's Witnesses.

It is also noteworthy that the statement of the Ministry of Defense comes at a time when the Government of Korea is obligated to respond to the UN Human Rights Committee and explain what it is doing to correct the violation of article 18 of the ICCPR it was found guilty of in the two cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses who were conscientious objectors. While it is true that the UN Human Rights Committee is not a formal court with powers to execute its decisions, it is powerful enough to incite a country to respect its decisions.

ARMENIA - 82 Religious prisoners of conscience is new record

By Felix Corley

Forum 18 News Service (26.09.2007) / HRWF Int. (28.09.2007) - Website: http://www.hrwf.net - Email: info@hrwf.net - When Aghan Vartanyan was sentenced to two years' imprisonment by the court of Yerevan's Shengavit District on 29 August, he became the 73rd Jehovah's Witness currently serving a prison sentence for refusing military service on grounds of religious conscience. A further nine were arrested in August and are in prison awaiting trial, Lyova Markaryan of the Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service from Yerevan on 24 September. This brought the total imprisoned to a record 82. Seven of the nine are due to be tried on 15 October. Another Jehovah's Witness is serving a two year suspended sentence. Markaryan fears the number of prisoners will only rise as the autumn call-up begins next month.

Armenia has violated its commitment to the Council of Europe to bring in a fully civilian alternative to military service. It has also been criticized by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (see F18News 2 May 2007).

Markaryan complained that the most recent prisoner amnesty was not applied to Jehovah's Witnesses. "Nor are Jehovah's Witnesses released from prison after serving one third of their imprisonment," he told Forum 18. He said he believes Jehovah's Witness young men would be ready to do a genuinely civilian alternative service, though he insisted the decision is up to each individual member.

"No-one here in Armenia wants to change the system," Vahan Ishkhanian, a journalist from ArmeniaNow.com who has long followed the cases of imprisoned conscientious objectors, told Forum 18 on 25 September. "They say we already have a law that meets European standards. I believe any change depends on the Council of Europe." He reports that no young men are now doing the alternative service.

On 23 January 2007, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1532, which declared: "The Assembly urges the Armenian authorities to revise the law on alternative service in accordance with the recommendations made by the Council of Europe experts currently studying this issue and, in the meantime, to pardon the young conscientious objectors currently serving prison sentences."

Twenty-two Jehovah's Witnesses have lodged cases at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over their prosecution for refusing to serve in the armed forces or perform military-controlled alternative service. One of those who has brought his case to Strasbourg, Haik Bukharatyan, was told by a prosecutor: "People like you should be destroyed. Hitler was right when he tried to exterminate you!"

Armen Harutyunyan, Armenia's Human Rights Ombudsperson, told Forum 18 there has been "no progress" towards meeting the country's obligation to introduce a genuinely civilian alternative service or to reduce the length of time alternative service lasts. "Alternative service is under the control of the Defence Ministry - I believe this should not be the case," he told Forum 18 from Yerevan on 26 September. "Members of various religious groups have complained about this."

Harutyunyan said that if there is no progress he will include the failure to introduce a genuine civilian service into his next annual report to parliament. "Parliament is already informed about this issue and it must amend the law."

But Artur Agabekyan, a parliamentary deputy from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation party who chairs the parliamentary Defence Committee, rejects Harutyunyan's assessment. "There is alternative military service and alternative civilian service," he told Forum 18 from Yerevan on 26 September. "The alternative civilian service has no connection with the Defence Ministry." He said the only connection is that conscripts are initially called up through local military conscription offices.

The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Molokans reject such assertions, insisting that those conducting the alternative "civilian" service are supervised by the Military Police under regulations laid down by the Defence Ministry. They are ordered to wear uniform provided by the military and fed by the military. All breaches of orders or regulations are dealt with by the Military Prosecutor's Office.

Order No. 142, issued by the then Deputy Defence Minister Mikael Harutyunyan on 20 December 2004, ordered the Military Commissariat and the Military Police to ensure that there is weekly military supervision of everyone performing "civilian" alternative service. Monthly written reports were ordered to be submitted to the Chief of the General Staff, and the military was ordered to search for anyone who attempts to evade the "civilian" alternative service. The Head of the Mobilisation Administration of the General Staff was given the responsibility of ensuring that Order No. 142 is obeyed (see F18News 22 February 2006).

Agabekyan of the parliamentary Defence Committee rejected this, insisting that this decree must have been superseded. He promised to find out and tell Forum 18. "Some mistakes were made by the Defence Ministry," he conceded. "They don't have the right to control alternative civilian service." He maintained that the Social Care and Health Ministries are in charge of those doing alternative service.

Forum 18 has been unable to find out why the Defence Ministry controls a service that is supposed to be civilian. Col. Sedrak Sedrakyan of the Ministry's Legal Department was not in his office on 25 and 26 September and questions submitted to Lt Suren Aloyan of the press office early on 25 September had not been answered by the end of the working day on 26 September.

No one in the administration of President Robert Kocharyan was available to explain to Forum 18 on 26 September to explain what steps - if any – the president intends to take to bring Armenia's position into line with its Council of Europe commitments, which should have been enacted by January 2004. Also unavailable when Forum 18 called were Justice Minister Kevork Danielyan and parliamentary speaker Tigran Torosyan.

Despite the current alternative service being under Ministry of Defence control, Armenian officials have repeated to Forum 18 their insistence that they are meeting their obligations. "Our law did introduce an alternative service," Tigran Samvelyan, who heads the Council of Europe Department at the Foreign Ministry, told Forum 18 from Yerevan on 25 September. "I can't see any failure in fulfilling our commitments to the Council of Europe."

Told that the alternative service is under military control, thus violating Council of Europe requirements and making the alternative service unacceptable to those whose conscience does not allow them to support the military, Samvelyan brushed these concerns aside. "The law was adopted by parliament, not the Foreign Ministry," he maintained. Told that more than 80 Jehovah's Witnesses are currently in prison for refusing military and alternative service he insisted this is not his ministry's responsibility.

All but one of the 73 sentenced Jehovah's Witnesses were prosecuted under Article 327 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, which punishes evasion of the call-up to military or alternative service. The maximum sentence under this article was increased to three years' imprisonment in December 2005. The Jehovah's Witness prisoners are serving sentences of between 18 and 36 months' imprisonment.

Markaryan of the Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 that in six recent cases where sentences were at the lower end of the range, prosecutors successfully appealed and had the sentences lengthened.

As well as the hundreds of Jehovah's Witness prisoners in recent years, a young Molokan Pavel Karavanov was freed from prison in summer 2006 after serving a sentence for refusing military and alternative service on grounds of religious conscience. Molokans are a Russian Protestant church, established in the 17th century and known for their pacifism. There are about 4,000 Molokans in Armenia.

A member of Yerevan's Molokan community confirmed to Forum 18 on 25 September that no Molokan young men are currently imprisoned for refusing military service. Other religious communities where pacifism has a long tradition - such as the Seventh-day Adventists and the Pentecostal Churches - confirmed to Forum 18 from Yerevan that their young men are prepared to serve in the Armenian armed forces.

Ishkhanian, the journalist, reports some flexibility within the armed forces to meet concerns on grounds of conscience. "Some young men serve within the military but without handling weapons," he told Forum 18.

Mamikon Kazaryan, bishop of a Pentecostal denomination with links to the Church led in Russia by Bishop Ivan Fedotov, said that about forty young men in their congregations across Armenia are now doing military service. "Some of them won't swear the military oath on grounds of conscience, but are allowed instead to give their word," he told Forum 18 from Yerevan on 25 September. "In recent years none of our young men have been punished in relation to their service and they are treated well."

Source: http://www.forum18.org


TURKMENISTAN - Four prisoners amnestied, one to be deported?

By Felix Corley

Four of the six religious prisoners of conscience in Turkmenistan have been amnestied, but one of the four - 49-year-old Baptist pastor Vyacheslav Kalataevsky - remains in police custody as the authorities decide whether to deport him. "We're worried as there is only a small hope that he will be allowed to stay here," members of Kalataevsky's family told Forum 18 News Service from the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] on 9 October. "The family and the Church want him to stay - and he wants to stay." They say the Ukrainian embassy has also appealed to the Turkmen authorities for Kalataevsky - a Ukrainian citizen - to be allowed to remain with his family in Turkmenistan.

No officials were immediately available to explain to Forum 18 why two of the religious prisoners were not amnestied, why Kalataevsky cannot return to his family and why some of the amnestied prisoners had to swear an oath of loyalty on the Koran and the Ruhnama (Book of the Soul), the two-volume work attributed to the late president Saparmurat Niyazov.

Kalataevsky's family report that he was transferred on 8 October from the labour camp in Seydi to a police holding centre in Arzuv on the north-eastern edge of Ashgabad. "Thirty men are held in one cell," they told Forum 18. "Mattresses are given out only at night and in the day the prisoners have to sit or lie on the cold concrete floor. They are held in unhygienic conditions with no possibility to wash."

Kalataevsky's wife Valentina and one of their daughters was able to have a five-minute meeting with him that evening. "It was only with difficulty that they were able to pass on some bread," family members told Forum 18. "But he was healthy and strong and holds to God."

Family members report that they asked the authorities if they could bring Kalataevsky to stay with them in Ashgabad while a decision is taken on his future. "But they refused. We have been everywhere trying to find out what will happen to him. The Migration Service told us that his case is being handled by the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry. But they won't give us any concrete information."

Kalataevsky leads an independent Baptist congregation in the Caspian Sea port of Turkmenbashi [Türkmenbashy, formerly Krasnovodsk], the town where he was born. He was arrested by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police on 12 March. He was found guilty of "illegally crossing the border" and on 14 May was given a three-year labour camp sentence, which he was sent to serve in Seydi.

The charges related to Kalataevsky's return to Turkmenistan after his summary deportation in 2001. Dumped with no paperwork or money across the border in Kazakhstan, he was obliged to return to his family a week later as he had nowhere to go.

Deported at the same time in 2001 was fellow-Baptist Yevgeny Potolov, a Russian citizen also from Turkmenbashi. He was arrested earlier this year soon after Kalataevsky, but was deported from Turkmenistan in early July.
Potolov's family were subsequently threatened with deportation.

Kalataevsky and three of the other religious prisoners were pardoned under the amnesty announced by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to mark the Muslim Night of Omnipotence, which this year falls on 9 October. A list of nearly 9,000 prisoners to be freed - all local citizens - was published in local newspapers. A further 158 foreign citizens whose names were not published were said to be due for release.

As in previous years at least some of the prisoners being freed were required to swear the oath of loyalty to the president on a copy of the Ruhnama and the Koran. "At least some of those being freed were shown on television repenting and swearing an oath on the Ruhnama and the Koran," Farid Tukhbatullin of the exiled Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights told Forum 18. Such an oath would have been unacceptable to all the religious prisoners.

In addition to Kalataevsky, the three other amnestied religious prisoners are all Jehovah's Witnesses who were serving suspended sentences for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of religious conscience.
Their names appeared in the government list of amnestied prisoners.
Suleiman Udaev was serving a two-year suspended sentence with compulsory labour, Aleksandr Zuyev a suspended two-year sentence and Nuryagdy Gayyrov a suspended one-year sentence.

Not freed under amnesty were Jehovah's Witnesses Bayram Ashirgeldyyev and Begench Shakhmuradov. Both are serving two-year suspended sentences imposed this summer. Those serving suspended sentences cannot travel outside Ashgabad without special permission and must be back home each evening by 8pm. Shakhmuradov, however, told Forum 18 that in his case the authorities have not specified what restrictions have been imposed on his activities.

All five Jehovah's Witnesses were found guilty under Article 219, Part 1 of the Criminal Code, which punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment. Jehovah's Witness young men insist they are ready to do alternative non-military service, but Turkmenistan offers no non-combat alternative to those who cannot serve in the military on grounds of conscience.

Ashirgeldyyev said he had no idea why he and Shakhmuradov were not amnestied while the three other Jehovah's Witnesses were. "We're regarded as criminals, but we're not," he insisted to Forum 18 from Ashgabad on 5 October. "It would have been right if we had been pardoned and would have represented the rule of law. We were sentenced for no valid reason." He said the "lawlessness" of repeated prosecutions of those unable to serve in the armed forces on grounds of religious conscience would continue, despite the amnesty to three of his fellow-Jehovah's Witnesses. "This illegality will carry on until an alternative service law is adopted."

Shakhmuradov too said he did not know why he had not been amnestied. "I don't agree with this, but I won't complain," he told Forum 18 on 5 October. "I have nothing against the authorities. I took my position as a believer and I continue to stick to my convictions." He insisted that it was wrong to imprison those who could not serve in the armed forces because of their religious convictions. He particularly objected that some - like himself - have been sentenced twice for the same "offence".

Ashirgeldyyev complained of continuing government moves against other Jehovah's Witnesses. He cited dismissals from work and the inability of unemployed Jehovah's Witnesses to get work.

The former Chief Mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, who was serving a 22-year sentence on charges the authorities repeatedly refused to make public, was among a group of eleven prisoners freed under presidential amnesty in August. After his release he was assigned to work as a specialist in the government's Gengeshi (Council) for Religious Affairs).

Visitors to the Gengeshi soon after his release told Forum 18 that Nasrullah looked weak and appeared to be suffering from swollen ankles.

Source: http://www.forum18.org


TRANSDNIESTER - Car returned but not Christian magazines

By Felix Corley

Nine days after his car and Christian magazines were seized by the State Security Ministry in his native Transdniester, a breakaway republic in Moldova, Igor Velikanenko today (17 October) managed to retrieve his car.
"The Ministry just called me this morning and to my surprise said I could have my car back," he told Forum 18 News Service from Tiraspol, Transdniester's main city. "But they refused to give back the copies of our Christian magazine they seized on 8 October, despite the fine I have already paid." Transdniester officials have refused to explain to Forum 18 what is illegal about offering Christian magazines to students on the street and why Velikanenko and two colleagues have faced repeated interrogation.

Velikanenko insists they did nothing wrong. "We just aim to talk to students about God," he told Forum 18. "We did nothing wrong - we're law-abiding."

Reached on 16 October, the spokesperson for the State Security Ministry, who gave his name only as Andrei, told Forum 18 that he had no information about the case. After Forum 18 explained what had happened to Velikanenko, Andrei said he would seek further information. Reached on 17 October, he responded immediately: "I can't comment on anything." Asked why Velikanenko's magazines and car were seized he refused to say. "You can publish what you like," he told Forum 18 before putting the phone down.

Likewise the office of Transdniester's Commissioner for Religious Affairs, Pyotr Zalozhkov, refused to comment. The secretary, Natalya Verchenko, said Zalozhkov is away. "I am hearing about the case for the first time from you," she told Forum 18 on 16 October, despite the fact that the local tiras.ru internet news agency reported the confiscations on 12 October. "We have no information on this so I can't tell you anything. Why didn't the people you say were detained come and talk to us? They should have told us first."

Told that the State Security Ministry was questioning Velikanenko and his colleagues, Verchenko responded: "The State Security Ministry informs us about a case if they feel it is necessary."

Velikanenko, who works for the New Life mission, was about to begin distributing copies of the Protestant magazine Boom with colleagues outside Tiraspol's Shevchenko University early on 8 October when two men in civilian clothes pounced on the group. "We didn't even have time to give out one magazine," he told Forum 18. "They took us over to my car, where they found 800 copies of the magazine in the boot." He said the two men presented cards identifying them as State Security officers. "It was all over in three minutes. They must have known in advance that we would be coming, maybe through intercepted phone calls."

The two men ordered Velikanenko and two colleagues to accompany them to the Ministry. "We were held from 9 am to 3 pm that Monday and were summoned back for a further three hours of questioning and threats on the Tuesday and Wednesday," he reported. "We were all interrogated individually. I was summoned again on Friday for yet more questioning."

Velikanenko said that the State Security officers eventually accused him of bringing the magazines into Transdniester "illegally" from the Moldovan capital Chisinau. "I told them the Transdniestran customs had been perfectly happy when I brought them in as I said they were not to be sold but to be given out free of charge," he told Forum 18. "But they insisted they were illegal because they did not include the address of the printing house or an indication of how many copies were printed."

In the hope of resolving the problem Velikanenko said he paid a fine of 1,171.20 Transdniestran Roubles (749 Norwegian Kroner, 97 Euros or 139 US Dollars) to the Customs Service on 15 October. "They gave me a document confirming that I had paid the fine for violating Article 360 of Transdniester's Customs Code, which punishes people for bringing in contraband goods. The document makes clear the Customs Service was acting on information from the State Security Ministry."

Velikanenko rejects accusations of wrongdoing. "Anyone would think I had smuggled in illegal cigarettes, alcohol or drugs," he complained. "But the magazine is only about God and morality. It teaches people about God, and says they should not take drugs or engage in sex before marriage. It is nothing to do with politics."

When Velikanenko asked the State Security officer on 17 October when he could get back the confiscated magazines the officer told him: "You're not going to get them back. I don't decide on that - we've had an order from higher up."

Transdniester - which rejects the authority of the Moldovan government - has a restrictive religious policy that makes religious activity outside approved places of worship difficult. Officials routinely use bureaucratic means to deny legal status to communities they do not like. Communities functioning without legal status are at risk of harassment.

Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 that 200 copies of a magazine were seized in Bendery [Bender] after an individual Jehovah's Witness tried to bring them into Transdniester from Moldova in early October. "Officials say that without fiscal registration our communities are not authorised to import literature," Anatolii Cravciuc told Forum 18 from the Moldovan capital Chisinau on 17 October. "And when people bring in literature individually it can be seized."

Cravciuc added that among other recent cases, about ten magazines were seized from two Jehovah's Witnesses preaching on the street in the village of Krasnogorka on 17 September. "They've not been fined - yet," he added.

Cravciuc reports that only two of their more than 30 congregations in Transdniester have legal status. "The congregations in Grigoriopol and Bendery lodged registration applications back in 2005, but there has been no progress. The religious affairs commissioner keeps saying this is wrong with the application or that, and without his approval they can't pass them on to the Justice Ministry. Both cases have been lingering in court with little progress."

The Jehovah's Witnesses have also been unable to enforce a Supreme Court judgment that religious affairs commissioner Zalozhkov must "accredit" the local Jehovah's Witness leader, a process the Transdniestran authorities insist is necessary before leaders can lead a religious organisation. "We won at Tiraspol court on 4 July and, after Zalozhkov lodged an appeal, won in the Supreme Court on 16 August. Even a letter from the court executor on 2 October has not been enough to make him do this."

Verchenko of the Religious Affairs Commissioner's office refused to discuss the Jehovah's Witnesses' problems with Forum 18 on 17 October.
"These cases are being handled by the courts," she insisted.

After Orthodox leaders objected to the accreditation system in 2006, an official in Zalozhkov's office vigorously defended the system to Forum 18.
"All religious leaders must be accredited. We need to know who the leader of any religious organisation is," Tamara Kovalchuk told Forum 18 back in

Other Protestants and Muslims have also faced problems in the unrecognised entity. One Protestant told Forum 18 that after a student in Tiraspol joined a Protestant church in 2006 she was warned that if she continued to associate with church members her university marks would suffer.

However, a member of the Council of Churches Baptists told Forum 18 on 17 October that threats to demolish their church in Tiraspol issued seven years ago have now subsided. He added that police occasionally ban young church members from preaching on the streets, but said that in contrast to earlier years street libraries generally are able to function.

Religious Affairs Commissioner Zalozhkov tried to have a new Religion Law introduced in Transdniester in 2004 to replace the 1995 Religion Law, which remains in force. Widely criticised by politicians and religious communities, the planned new Law was abandoned.

Source: http://www.forum18.org


TAJIKISTAN - Jehovah's Witnesses banned

By Felix Corley

Forum 18 (18.10.2007)/ HRWF Int. (19.10.2007) – Email: info@hrwf.net – Website: http://www.hrwf.net - Tajikistan's Jehovah's Witnesses have reacted with concern to the decision by the Ministry of Culture to strip them of their legal status and to ban their activity across the entire country. "Our people were summoned to the Culture Ministry yesterday [17 October] and were handed this document, although the ban was dated 11 October," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 18 October. "Officials just said we were banned and should stop all our activity. They didn't say much. It is very serious to ban us across the whole country. We didn't expect this."

Forum 18 tried to reach Bobodjon Bobokhonov, Tajikistan's Prosecutor General, on 18 October. The official who answered his phone took Forum 18's details. After consulting her boss she then instructed Forum 18 to call back in 20 minutes. When Forum 18 called back the man who answered said he could not hear well and put the phone down. Subsequent calls failed to reach Bobokhonov.

Saidbek Mahmudolloev, the head of the Information Department at the Culture Ministry's Religious Affairs Department, said the authorities' major discontent with the Jehovah's Witnesses is the point in their Charter about refusing service in the armed forces. "There is no alternative service in Tajikistan yet, so everyone ought to obey Tajik laws," he told Forum 18 from Dushanbe on 18 October. Forum 18 pointed out provisions in international human rights covenants respecting the right to conduct alternative, non-combat service, to which Mahmudolloev responded: "Well, they have other violations as well." He complained that they also propagate their faith in public places, "which directly contradicts the law". "The ban is final, though they have the right to complain to a court about the legitimacy of our decision."

Mahbuba Nuriddinova, who chairs the Social Issues Committee of Parliament, told Forum 18 said she was not informed about the ban. Asked whether an organisation does not want its members to serve in the armed forces was enough to close it down, she said everyone ought to respect Tajik laws. Reminded of Tajikistan's international human rights obligations, she responded: "I don't want to have a debate with you over the phone. Let the Jehovah's Witnesses write to us and we can then see what we can do about this situation."

The Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 that they will be writing to President Emomali Rahmon and Prime Minister Okil Okilov to challenge the ban. They state that they meet to study the Bible and preach in all countries, regardless of whether they have legal status or not. "Our people will be watching to see how aggressively the authorities try to impose this ban. We don't know if the security police will begin to break up meetings. But the Constitution guarantees the freedom to meet with others and to share your views."

The Jehovah's Witnesses stress though that lack of legal status will make it difficult to rent premises for worship, run bank accounts and invite foreigners for religious purposes.

A lawyer who works with religious organisations told Forum 18 that Prosecutor's Office and Religious Affairs officials conducted a check-up of every religious community across Tajikistan over a six-month period earlier in 2007. "Religious leaders were invited to their local prosecutor's office and had to present lists of all adult members and all children who attend regularly," the lawyer told Forum 18 from Dushanbe on 18 October. "They had to produce details of all the community's activity, as well as documentation on taxes and even certificates of land use for their places of worship." The lawyer said many mosques were closed down in the wake of the check-up. It is not known if the ban on the Jehovah's Witnesses is related to the check-up, and no other faith is known to have faced problems as a result of the check-up.

Life for religious communities of all faiths in Tajikistan has become steadily more difficult in recent years. Plans are underway to replace the existing make the Religion Law with a harsher Law, which has aroused concern among many faiths. Unapproved mosques were demolished or closed down in the capital Dushanbe during the summer, while Christian churches and the city's synagogue are under threat amid redevelopment plans).

The two-page banning order on the Jehovah's Witnesses, of which Forum 18 has received a copy, was numbered 11/3 and signed by Minister of Culture Mirzoshorukh Asrori. It notes that the Ministry took the decision on the basis of an order to ban the community by the Prosecutor General.

The Ministry claimed that the registration of the Jehovah's Witnesses by the then Religious Affairs Committee in January 1997 had been in violation of the Article 3 of the Religion Law, though it did not specify why. It said that Jehovah's Witness activity violated the country's Constitution as well as the Religion Law.

Article 3 of the 1994 Religion Law then in force speaks of the right of citizens to profess their faith freely and to bring up their children with the attitude to religion they deem appropriate, bans the use of force in matters of religion and restricts religious activity only when it harms national security, health and morals.

"The religious organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses carried out its activity in violation of Republic of Tajikistan legislation by distributing in public places and at the homes of citizens, i.e. among members and followers of other religions, propagandistic books on their religion, which has become a cause of discontent on the part of the people," the order declares. "Many complaints have been received concerning the illegal activity of the religious organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses by the Religious Affairs Committee of the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan, the Ministry of Culture, and the law-enforcement agencies of the country."

Because the Jehovah's Witnesses "regularly committed violations", the order said they had been warned in writing by the then Religious Affairs Committee in October 2000. They were also ordered to bring Article 2.2 of their Statute, which spoke of their practice of spreading their faith, "to bring it into line" with the law. The order said that for "propagandising in public places and at the homes of citizens" the Jehovah's Witnesses were banned for three months in September 2002.

The Ministry ordered that the law-enforcement agencies be informed of the ban. It appointed Deputy Culture Minister Murodullo Davlyatov - until recently the head of the Religious Affairs Committee - to oversee the implementation of the ban.

The Jehovah's Witnesses question why the authorities have suddenly decided to regard the 1997 registration by the Justice Ministry as "illegal". "How could there have been a mistake when the Statute was considered by the Justice Ministry before being approved so long ago?"

The Jehovah's Witnesses say they have about 600 adherents in eight congregations in Tajikistan. They point out the irony that in early October, a few days before the ban was approved, their congregation in the town of Tursunzade [Tursunzoda] west of Dushanbe close to the border with Uzbekistan received approval to use their newly-built Kingdom Hall. This is the only place of worship the Jehovah's Witnesses own in the country. In the capital Dushanbe, where most of their members are based and where they have had registration since 1994, they rent premises for meetings.

The Jehovah's Witnesses complain that a "sudden change" in April 2007 saw the authorities beginning to obstruct their shipments of religious literature from abroad. That month the National Security Committee (NSC) secret police banned the release of a shipment from customs without giving a reason. An NSC officer told the Jehovah's Witnesses in May that the shipment would be destroyed. The Jehovah's Witnesses tried to challenge the ban in court, but have been court up in successive hearings over which court has jurisdiction. A second shipment which arrived subsequently was also banned from being released by customs.

Payam Foroughi, Human Dimension Officer of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) Centre in Dushanbe told Forum 18 on 18 October that "OSCE member States have committed themselves to non-discrimination on the issue of Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion, or Belief for all within their territory, without distinction as to race, gender, language or religion." The OSCE Centre "hopes that the ban on the Jehovah's Witnesses can be amicably resolved."

Foroughi added that "OSCE participating States, including Tajikistan, can only benefit from the existence of a diverse representation of religious beliefs, whether of Islamic, Christian, or other faiths."

The Jehovah's Witnesses note that in neighbouring Uzbekistan almost all their communities are now illegal, while the last remaining registered community - in Chirchik near Tashkent - is threatened with removal of its legal status. None of their communities in Turkmenistan are officially allowed to function because - like many communities of other faiths - they have not been able to gain legal status since 1997.

However, of all the former Soviet republics, only in the breakaway republic of Abkhazia on the Black Sea have the Jehovah's Witnesses specifically been banned. "We were officially banned in Abkhazia in 1995 and technically that continues, but the ban isn't really enforced as it used to be," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "Our people are generally not touched now."

Source: http://www.forum18.org


RUSSIA - Conscientious objector guilty

Udmurt court fines Jehovah’s Witness for refusing alternative service

Interfax (24.10.2007)/ HRWF (26.10.2007) - Website: http://www.hrwf.org - Email: info@hrwf.net - The Lenin regional court of Izhevsk (Udmurt province, RF) sentenced a member of the "Jehovah's Witnesses" sect to a fine for refusing to perform alternative civilian service.

As the prosecutor's office of Udmurtiia reported on Wednesday, the convicted Dmitry Belorybkin had been summoned by the Belokholunitski regional military commissariat of Kirov province and assigned to perform alternative civilian service in the city of Izhevsk in the enterprise "Spetsstroe Rossii.

"The worker was assigned in accordance with his specialty in welding to perform work in the construction of residence and of a railroad station, and in car repair shops," the prosecutor's office explained the essence of the case.

"Subsequently, having learned that Spetsstroe Rossii is related to the Ministry of Defense, he refused further performance of civilian service," the report says.

"The defendant did not acknowledge his guilt and he explained that his religious faith forbids him to serve in military subdivisions, since he is a member of the 'Jehovah's Witnesses' religious organization. However the prosecutor who participated in the judicial session managed to prove that Belorybkin refused to perform the service," the prosecutor's office's statement emphasized.

The court found D. Belorybkin built and set his punishment as a fine of 10,000 rubles.

FRANCE - Justice agrees with movements suspected of sectarian deviations

Le Monde (23.10.2007)/ HRWF (25.10.2007) - Email: info@hrwf.net - Website: http://www.hrwf.net - The president of the Inter-ministerial Mission for Vigilance and Fight against Sectarian Deviations (MIVILUDES), Jean-Michel Roulet, announced to a gathering of high officials on 17 October that he has been charged with libel after stating, in a televised report, that the sums collected by the organization “Tradition, Family and Property” (TFP) could be “used for anything and everything”. The movement describes itself as a not for profit Catholic association of laymen. According to the last report of the Mission, it constitutes a “risk of being a cult characterized by its opaque functioning and the vagueness of its objectives”. Although they have been the object of administrative and judicial action, “they have never been convicted”, reminded their lawyer Gérard Ducrey.

This indictment which is automatic in a libel case constitutes the latest development in a series of judicial procedures undertaken by movements suspected of sectarian deviations by public authorities, against state representatives, elected officials or anti-cult actors. Mr. Roulet is also an “assisted witness” in a complaint filed by Jehovah’s Wittnesses for libel, after the hearing of the parliamentary commission of inquiry on cults and minors. Nicolas Jacquette, a former member of this movement, and author of a testimonial book “Nicolas, 25 years old, a survivor of Jehovah’s Witnesses” (Ed. Balland), is in the same situation.

In addition, Jean-Pierre Brard, a member of the National Assembly associated with the French Communist Party, who was accused several times and charged once for libel towards Jehovah’s Witnesses, is due to appear shortly before the correctional court of Paris. The vice-president of the study group for cults at the National Assembly is being sued for calling Jehovah’s Witnesses “absolute delinquents” (parfaits délinquants). Mr. Brard who is a “usual target” of these movements remains convinced that “despite all these suits against us, we must not surrender.”

Weakened credibility

This judicial attack is not by accident. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are increasingly forced to use all legal means”, says their lawyer, Philippe Goni. “Since 2000, when the Council of State recognized the movement as an 'association cultuelle' (1), they have been harassed by anti-cult groups. They have decided to react to each attack.”

“Due to the continuous attacks, TFP has also decided that this must stop”, added Attorney Ducrey. And even though, states Attorney Goni, “the image of Jehovah’s Witnesses remains very negative in public opinion” – the number of acts of vandalism against their houses of worship are constantly rising, according to the ministry of the interior -, the latest court decisions have been rather favorable to them.

So, in July, Catherine Picard, the president of UNADFI (The National Union of Associations for the Defense of Family and Individuals) (2), was sentenced for libel against Jehovah’s Witnesses. In an interview she stated that the group was “structured as a pyramid, like all criminal organizations.”

In March, the judiciary decided in favor of the movement, to whom the city of Lyon had refused to rent one of its municipal halls. In September, the decision of a hospital director that had forbidden a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses to visit a patient was annulled by the Administrative Court of Caen.

According to Mr. Roulet, “the judicial harassment and intimidation constitute precisely one of the criteria of cult-like tendencies” of a movement. Other observers think that the multiplication of these court decisions could weaken the credibility of the anti-cult fight as it is conducted in France.

Stéphanie Le Bars – Le Monde – 23.10.2007

HRWF Footnotes

(1) Official status granted to religious associations by public authorities on the basis of a number of criteria; the "associations cultuelles" are thereby entitled to fiscal advantages

(2) Anticult movement financed by public authorities


10 January 1996

A parliamentary commission of inquiry listed 172 dangerous groups qualifying as sects with an estimated 250.000 regular or occasional followers. An observatory for cults was created.


This observatory was replaced by the InterMinisterial Mission for Fight Against Cults (MILS), placed under the authority of the Prime Minister, and presided by Alain Vivien, author of a report on cults in 1982.


The MILS recommended the dissolving of the Church of Scientology.


Mr. Vivien resigned. MILS became MIVILUDES (Interministerial Mission for Vigilance and Fight against Cults), presided by Jean-Louis Langlais. He was replaced in 2005 by Jean-Michel Roulet.

FRANCE - A CoE Publication echoes criticisms against Miviludes by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

HRWF (25.10.2007) – Website: http://www.hrwf.net – Email: info@hrwf.net - In August 2007, the Council of Europe published a book in the series "Europeans and their rights" entitled "Freedom of religion in European constitutional and international case law" (ISBN 978-92-871-5867-3) by Renata Uitz. In the section "Enquete commissions and sect observatories" (pp 170-178), a specific paragraph echoes an assessment of Miviludes by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

“According to its founding instrument, the tasks of Miviludes include the duty to promote, while respecting fundamental rights, the co-ordination of preventive and repressive action by the authorities to deal with such behaviour (Article 1.3) and to inform the general public about the risks, and in some cases the dangers, to which it is exposed by sectarian aberrations (Article 1.5). One of Miviludes’ controversial attempts to provide information on sects was a guide issue in January 2005 informing public servants about how to identify and combat dangerous sects. In one instance which might be regarded as highly problematic from the freedom of religion perspective, the guide not only informs public servants about Jehovah’s Witnesses’ conviction in refusing blood transfusion, but also explains in explicit terms that doctors who provide life-saving blood transfusion to patients against their consent are not likely to face negative legal consequences [1][425]. Reflecting on these developments, Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief warned that the monitoring activities of the French government have led to the undue limitations of rights of religious minorities in France, noting (p. 109) that ‘the government policy may have contributed to a climate of general suspicion and intolerance towards those communities on the list created by the National Assembly in 1996, of movements and groups classified as sectes.’[2][426]”


[1][425] Guide de l’agent public face aux dérives sectaires, p. 95.

[2][426] “Civil and political rights, including the question of religious intolerance”, Report submitted by Asma Hahangir, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Addendum 2, Mission to France (18-29 September 2005). E/CN.4/2006/5/Add.4, 8 March 2006.


FRANCE - A court decision grants a Jehovah’s Witness the right to be visited by a religious minister in a home for elderly people

The report of the national assembly enquiry commission on sects once more denied any juridical value by a court

Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (05.11.2007) - Email: info@hrwf.net - Website: http://www.hrwf.net - On 18 September 2007, the administrative court of Caen ruled that a Jehovah’s Witness could not be deprived of the visit of a minister of his religion at the home for elderly people where he is living on the alleged ground that it had been qualified a sectarian movement by a parliamentary commission.

In 2005, Mr. Michel P., a 78-year old Jehovah’s Witness, was denied the visit of a religious minister of the congregation of the city of Lisieux by the manager of the hospital in charge of the local home for elderly people. Mr. P. had asked to be visited once a week for an hour.

The court decision acknowledges that the manager of the hospital has violated the right of the plaintiffs – the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Lisieux and two persons – “to visit Mr. Michel P. and to talk about religious or spiritual themes with him.” It also says that “a report drafted by an inquiry commission of the National Assembly considering the Jehovah’s Witness a sect has no juridical value.”

The hospital has been condemned to pay 500 EUR to the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Lisieux.

See the text of the judgment on the website of Coordiap:



RUSSIA - Conscientious objectors in Eastern Russia: four Baptists and a Jehovah's Witness chose alternative service

IA Regnum (25.10.2007)/ HRWF (07.11.2007) - Website: http://www.hrwf.org - Email: info@hrwf.net - In the Altai territory, five draftees will be sent this autumn, because of their religious belief, to perform alternative civilian service. Four of them are Baptists and one is a Jehovah's Witness. This was reported today, 25 October, to a correspondent of IA REGNUM by the military commissar of the region, Alexander Generalov.

Four residents of the Slavgorod region and one from Khabarovsk region selected alternative service. One young man will work as an orderly in the Berdsk rest home for veterans of labor, and a second as a stoker for an industrial hearth in the Baturin nursing home for the elderly and invalids in Smolensk province. A third is assigned to work as a mason in construction directorate No. 806 in the Udmurt republic.

Yet another alternative service worker will be a reindeer herdsman in the "Odugen" municipal enterprise in the republic of Tyva where five other draftees also work, only as hunters. "In Altai territory many young people wish to perform alternative civilian service, but when they learn that it is necessary to serve longer and they still have to work far from home, they decline. And in the end there remain only those draftees whose faith will not permit them to bear arms," Generalov emphasized.

According to the military commissar, the term for alternative civilian service in 2007 is 31.5 months. For those who serve in the armed forces, this term equals 27 months and for citizens who have higher education it is 21 months. Beginning in January 2008 the term for alternative service will be reduced to 21 months and for service in the armed forces, to 18 months.

As IA REGNUM reported previously, it is expected that for the autumn the plan for the draft in Altai territory will remain unchanged and will amount to 2,500 persons. Among the innovations of this draft campaign, thirty Altai conscripts will serve in the presidential regiment.


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