For the second time since the
beginning of 2012, a Turkmen Jehovah's Witness has received a
four-year labour camp sentence on charges of "distributing
pornography". His fellow-believers have insisted to Forum 18
News Service that the charge was fabricated to punish him for
his faith. The 33-year-old Aibek Salayev was sentenced on 12
April at Dashoguz [Dasoguz] City Court, in the north of the
country, court officials told Forum 18 on 17 May. They added
that a panel of judges at Dashoguz Regional Court rejected an
appeal on 1 May. Salayev's lawyer then lodged an appeal to
Turkmenistan's Supreme Court in the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat]
on 7 May. Jehovah's Witnesses, who wish to remain anonymous for
fear of state reprisals, complain that Salayev was brutally
beaten by police after his arrest. He was also beaten by
Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police officers and
conscript soldiers while being held in pre-trial detention.
On 1 May the same Judge at Dashoguz City Court, Akmurad
Akmuradov, sentenced Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector
Navruz Nasyrlaev to the maximum two-year strict regime labour
camp sentence for this "offence" (see below).
On 6 March the same court, but not the same judge, had sentenced
Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Zafar Abdullaev to the
maximum two-year prison sentence (see F18News 18 April
This brings to seven the number of known sentenced conscientious
objectors, six of them serving sentences of imprisonment.
Another Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector, Juma Nazarov,
has been arrested in Ashgabad and is facing prosecution on the
Judge Akmuradov refused to discuss anything with Forum 18 on 17
May, However, his secretary told Forum 18 from Dashoguz City
Court the same day that Salayev was still being held at the
pre-trial detention facility in the city. "He is due to be sent
to labour camp soon, probably next week," the secretary – who
would not give her name – told Forum 18. The telephone at the
Detention Facility went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on
Salayev is expected to be sent to serve his prison term at the
special labour camp in Karabogaz (formerly Bekdash), a town on
the Caspian Sea in Balkan Region, close to Turkmenistan's
north-western border with Kazakhstan.
Judge Akmuradov's secretary did not discuss Nasyrlaev's case.
The telephone of Gurbanberdy Nursakhatov, Deputy Chair of the
government's Gengesh (Council) for Religious Affairs in Ashgabad,
went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 17 May.
Earlier "distributing pornography" accusations
On 18 January, an Ashgabad court sentenced fellow-Jehovah's
Witness Vladimir Nuryllayev on exactly the same charges to a
four-year labour camp term. Jehovah's Witnesses insisted to
Forum 18 that the charges were fabricated, and that Nuryllayev,
like Salayev, was imprisoned to punish him for his faith (see
F18News 25 January 2012
In early January, as Nuryllayev was awaiting trial, an anonymous
message to Radio Liberty's Turkmen Service – seen by Forum 18 -
claimed that an unnamed Muslim man had been imprisoned "last
year" for distributing religious audio and video discs. The
message said that officials had used the accusation of
"distributing pornography" to imprison the Muslim. It has not
been possible to verify the report (see F18News 25 January 2012
Meeting raided, home searched
Trouble began for Salayev on 7 March, when police raided a
Jehovah's Witness meeting in Dashoguz. All 10 Jehovah's
Witnesses present were detained, fellow Jehovah's Witnesses told
Forum 18. After interrogation at Dashoguz Police Station,
Salayev was arrested.
Police officers went to Salayev's home and demanded that his
mother give them any religious literature he had at home. She
produced several magazines, but police then entered his room and
took all of his publications and his small notebook computer.
The police also told Salayev's brother to help carry the
notebook to the Police Station.
At the Police Station, police seized the computer without – as
the law requires – completing a formal record of confiscation,
recording witnesses for the official seizure, and checking the
content of the computer in the witnesses' presence before
seizing it. Salayev was then accused of distributing
pornography. His relatives have filed complaints about the case.
Between 9 and 11 March, while he was held at Dashoguz Police
Station, Salayev was beaten by police officers, Jehovah's
Witnesses complained to Forum 18.
Salayev was then transferred to Dashoguz's Pre-trial Detention
Facility. Jehovah's Witnesses say he was again brutally treated.
"Aibek was beaten until he lost consciousness," they told Forum
18. "He was beaten in the stomach, on the kidneys and on the
head. As a result his face swelled up and he could not eat."
Jehovah's Witnesses stated that the beatings were conducted by
MSS secret police officers. "When the MSS got tired, they asked
others present [thought to be conscript soldiers doing
compulsory military service] to continue beating Salayev."
(Conscripts are often used for non-military state duties.) The
MSS secret police officers described him as "spreading another
religion and going against Muslims."
Copying discs – without a disc drive?
Investigators launched a criminal case against Salayev under
Article 164, Part 2 of the Criminal Code. This punishes
"production or distribution of pornographic items" more than
once or by a group of people. The maximum penalty is five years'
An investigator claimed to Salayev's mother that the local
administration had filed a complaint that he was distributing
pornography. However, the investigator refused to show her the
alleged complaint. Salayev's mother told the investigator that
there was no way to insert a CD or DVD disc into her son's small
notebook computer, so it was impossible for him to copy such
Some of the Jehovah's Witnesses initially detained with Salayev
heard police officers, when they brought Salayev's notebook
computer to the Police Station, threatening to plant
pornographic material on the computer.
Pressure on lawyer, family denied access
Local Jehovah's Witnesses helped Salayev's family to find a
lawyer to represent him. On 15 March the lawyer, together with
Salayev's mother and his brother, tried to see Salayev. The
police investigator, Kakajan Piryyev, refused to talk in the
presence of relatives and talked only to the lawyer in private
in his office for about 15 minutes. Then the Investigator
together with the lawyer went to the Chief of investigation,
Babayev (first name unknown). Salyev's relatives were again not
allowed to be present. After talking for about 15 minutes in
Chief Babayev's office, Investigator Piryyev went on his own to
the nearby building of the MSS secret police.
After Piryyev returning from the MSS building, Salayev's
relatives were told that they would not be allowed to see him.
His lawyer then went to the Pre-trial Detention Facility alone.
After he arrived, officers called different offices by telephone
for about an hour discussing the lawyer's arrival. An MSS secret
police officer came to the Detention Facility and stated that he
would be present during the lawyer's meeting with Salayev. The
lawyer insisted that he had the right to talk to his client in
private, which the authorities eventually conceded. At the end
of the meeting the lawyer asked Salayev to read the case file,
and sign it if everything was clear to him.
Local Jehovah's Witnesses state that it is obvious that the
authorities have pressured the lawyer. This is not least because
case files are normally dealt with by the police, and signed
when the case is ready for court.
"Of course the police and the MSS work honestly"
At the 12 April trial which led to Salayev being sentenced to
four years in a general regime labour camp, only two of three
"witnesses" were present to testify. The third gave a written
"The scenario was the same as in Nuryllayev's case. Allegedly,
Aibek offered several religious books to read and when a person
refused to take them he sold him a disc with pornographic
content," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. They state
that the witnesses could not answer questions put by Salayev's
lawyer. These included: with whom did they watch the discs, and
when and at what time the police seized the discs from them. The
Court also ignored the lawyer's arguments that Salayev's
computer could not technically have been used to copy discs.
Judge Akmuradov's secretary insisted to Forum 18 that the trial
had been fair and denied that Salayev had been punished for his
faith. "There was nothing about his faith in the verdict – the
sentence was given because he distributed pornography. He had
such discs when he was arrested." Told that Jehovah's Witnesses
strongly dispute this and complain of maltreatment by the
ordinary police and MSS secret police, the secretary responded:
"Of course the police and the MSS work honestly – why would they
punish an innocent man?"
The secretary claimed to Forum 18 that Salayev's parents,
brothers, neighbours and friends had "violated order" in the
courtroom. "They kept getting up, shouting that the trial was
not fair and swearing. His mother in particular insulted the
Supreme Court appeal for Nuryllayev
An appeal was lodged at the Supreme Court on 15 May on behalf of
Nuryllayev, who was convicted on 17 January of the same offence
as Salayev, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Court officials
say a decision should be made within 20 days, by 4 June.
Telephones at the Supreme Court were on answerphones each time
Forum 18 called on 17 May.
Nuryllayev was transferred in late February to the isolated
top-security prison at Ovadan-Depe in the Karakum desert 70 kms
(45 miles) north of Ashgabad. He is not being held in the
top-security section, but works in the prison's manual labour
section, mainly in the kitchens (see F18News 18 April 2012
Although Nuryllayev can receive parcels, he is not allowed to
receive religious literature. He is said to be healthy, though
he was concerned when one of the other prisoners in the manual
labour section had to be sent off to hospital suffering from
tuberculosis. "We hope neither he nor any of the other prisoners
contracted it," one Jehovah's Witness told Forum 18.
Conscientious objector sentenced again
The same judge who sentenced Salayev, Akmuradov of Dashoguz City
Court, also sentenced Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector
Navruz Nasyrlaev on 1 May. The court chancellery told Forum 18
on 17 May that Nasyrlaev was given a two-year strict regime
labour camp sentence under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1.
This punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces in peacetime
with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment. It is
believed the strict-regime sentence was imposed rather than a
general-regime sentence because he has already been sentenced on
the same charge.
Turkmenistan's refusal to recognise the right to refuse military
service, which is part of the internationally recognised right
to freedom of religion or belief, breaks the country's
international human rights commitments (see F18News 18 April
Nasyrlaev has appealed against the sentence to Dashoguz Regional
Court and is, like Salayev, being held in the Pre-trial
Detention Facility in Dashoguz, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum
18 on 17 May. The man who answered the phone at the Regional
Court the same day claimed to Forum 18 that Nasyrlaev's appeal
had not yet arrived.
The 21-year-old Nasyrlaev had served a previous two-year
sentence on the same charges from 7 December 2009 (see F18News 3
He was freed from the Labour Camp in Seydi on 7 December 2011 at
the end of his sentence.
Another conscientious objector arrested
In Ashgabad, another Jehovah's Witness, 19-year-old Juma Nazarov,
is facing prosecution after refusing military service on grounds
of religious faith. After he lodged his refusal on 25 April, his
case was handed over to prosecutors, Jehovah's Witnesses told
Forum 18. He was summoned to the Prosecutor's Office on the
evening of 7 May where he was questioned about his refusal.
Nazarov again signed a statement that he was refusing compulsory
military service on grounds of his faith. He was allowed to
return home after two and a half hours.
Prosecutors told Nazarov on 8 May to return on the afternoon of
10 May and report to Kerim Allaberdiyev. Prosecutors later told
Nazarov's mother that he had been ordered held in pre-trial
detention. "When she decided to try to find out from the
Prosecutor why this had been decided, he said she could do what
she liked and could complain wherever she liked, but that it
would not change anything," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.
Nazarov is being held in the pre-trial investigation facility.
Other prisoners of conscience
Five other Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors are already
serving sentences in the Seydi general regime Labour Camp. They
are: Sunet Japbarov, 18 months, Turkmenabad Court, December
2010; Matkarim Aminov, 18 months, Dashoguz Court, December 2010;
Dovran Matyakubov, 18 months, Dashoguz Court, December 2010;
Mahmud Hudaybergenov, 2 years, Dashoguz Court, August 2011; and
Zafar Abdullaev, 2 years, Dashoguz Court, March 2012. The three
who were sentenced in December 2010 are due to complete their
sentences in June 2012. The address of Seydi Labour Camp is:
746222 Lebap vilayet,
The most recent of these prisoners of conscience to reach the
Seydi labour camp was Abdullaev. He was sentenced on 6 March
nearly a year after completing a suspended sentence on exactly
the same charges (see F18News 18 April 2012
On his release under amnesty in February 2012, former Protestant
prisoner of conscience Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev expressed concern
over several Muslim prisoners in Seydi Labour Camp who might
have been imprisoned to punish them for exercising their freedom
of religion or belief. He particularly highlighted the case of
Musa (last name unknown), a young Muslim from Ashgabad who seems
to have been imprisoned for teaching the Koran to children (see
F18News 20 February 2012
One conscientious objector is known to be serving a suspended
prison sentence. Jehovah's Witness Akmurad Nurjanov was given a
one-year suspended sentence in February 2012. Senior school
students were taken to Ashgabad's Azatlyk District Court to
witness his conviction, in what Jehovah's Witnesses described to
Forum 18 as a "show trial" (see F18News 16 February 2012
For a personal commentary by a Protestant within Turkmenistan,
on the fiction - despite government claims - of religious
freedom in the country, and how religious communities and the
international community should respond to this, see
For a personal commentary by another Turkmen Protestant, arguing
that "without freedom to meet for worship it is impossible to
claim that we have freedom of religion or belief," see
More reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in
Turkmenistan can be found at
For more background information see Forum 18's religious freedom
survey of Turkmenistan at
A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in
Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be
A printer-friendly map of Turkmenistan is available at