USCIRF Welcomes Amnesty of Jehovah’s Witness Prisoners in Turkmenistan

May 11, 2021

USCIRF Welcomes Amnesty of Jehovah’s Witness Prisoners in Turkmenistan

Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the presidential pardon of all 16 Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors previously imprisoned in Turkmenistan.

USCIRF applauds this long overdue decision by the government of Turkmenistan,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins. “The release of these conscientious objectors is something we have specifically advocated for through both public and private channels. We are hopeful that this move represents a change in policy and eager to assist the government of Turkmenistan to promote further religious freedom reform.”

The amnestied prisoners were all young men facing terms of between one to four years for their conscientious objection to military service as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Ten of the 16 had previously served sentences for the same offense and were imprisoned after being re-conscripted. Although the presidential amnesty was intended to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, no Muslim prisoners of conscience were known to be among those pardoned.

“We encourage the government of Turkmenistan to provide a civilian alternative to military service, so that no more Jehovah’s Witnesses will have to endure prison for their peaceful religious practice,” said USCIRF Commissioner Nury Turkel. “These young men are not enemies of the state. They simply want to serve their country in a peaceful manner—and they deserve the opportunity to do so.”

In its 2021 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the U.S. government designate Turkmenistan as a County of Particular Concern (CPC) for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, and urge the government of Turkmenistan to provide a civilian alternative to military service and to release all those convicted for conscientious objection. USCIRF also released in the past year reports on The Global Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Religious Prisoners in Turkmenistan’s Gulag which described the difficult conditions faced by young Witnesses in Turkmenistan.

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The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov.