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Turkmenistan: Pardoning of Conscientious Objectors and Military Service Law Amendments

(Mar. 23, 2015) In February 2015, Forum 18 News Service published a report saying that for the first time for many years, “there are no longer any Jehovah’s Witnesses convicted and imprisoned in Turkmenistan as conscientious objectors.” (Felix Corley, Turkmenistan: Two Amnestied Prisoners, Conscientious Objector in Hospital, Beaten “Wahhabis,” FORUM 18 NEWS SERVICE (Feb. 18, 2015).) This statement was made in regard to the pardoning of a 21-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, who was serving a sentence for dodging the draft, according to the Turkmenistan President’s Decree of February 16, 2015. Presidential pardoning decrees are traditionally announced in Turkmenistan on the eve of national holidays. On February 17, 2015, Turkmenistan celebrated its Flag Day. (President Signed a Pardoning Decree to Commemorate Flag Day, INFOABAD (Feb. 17, 2015) (in Russian).)

Six other Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors had been released from prisons under another amnesty in October 2014. (Corley, supra.) One person who was forcefully drafted against his conscientious objection remains in a military hospital, and it is not clear whether or not he will be prosecuted. (Id.) It is also not clear if followers of other religious denominations who have refused military service in Turkmenistan are imprisoned.

Turkmenistan remains one of a few former Soviet republics where the right to substitute alternate service for military duty is not recognized; such a right is not mentioned in any of the country’s legislative acts. Human rights organizations have regularly reported the prosecution of conscientious objectors who refuse to report for the military draft in Turkmenistan. (See, e.g., U.S. Department of State, Turkmenistan, COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2013 [click on link for pdf].)

Military Duty and Service Law and Its Amendments

At present military service in Turkmenistan is regulated by the Law of Turkmenistan No. 134-IV of September 25, 2010, on Military Duty and Military Service (last amended on Nov. 8, 2014). (Law No. 134-IV (as amended to Nov. 8, 2014), SPINFORM (in Russian).) The Law obligates each male citizen of Turkmenistan to defend the country and provides for mandatory conscription of all male citizens who are between 18 and 27 years of age, if they do not have justifiable reasons for exemptions. (Id. art. 17.) Intentionally avoiding military service is recognized as a crime punishable by two years’ imprisonment under the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan. (Law No. 222-I of June 12, 1997, art. 219 (as last amended Nov. 8, 2014), CIS-LEGISLATION.COM [full text available by paid subscription only].)

The two most recent amendments to the Law on Military Duty and Military Service were passed in 2014. The Law of May 3, 2014, provided for the right of military academy students to continue their education in civilian educational establishments if they are forced to leave military school due to health reasons or as a result of an official reorganization of the military. (Law of Turkmenistan on Amending the Law of Turkmenistan on Military Duty and Military Service of May 3, 2014 (art.1), Turkmenistan government webportal (in Russian).) The amendments of November 8, 2014, extended the length of mandatory military service for university graduates, extending the standard two-year period of military service to all categories of draftees. (Law of Turkmenistan on Amending the Law of Turkmenistan on Military Duty and Military Service of Nov. 8, 2014 (art. 3), Turkmenistan government webportal (in Russian).) Previously, those who finished university studies and passed state graduation exams had to serve for only a year. This one-year exemption was originally introduced in 2010 and replaced the previous 18-month length-of-service exemption for university graduates. (Murad Gurbanov, People with Higher Education Will Serve Two Years, RADIO AZATLYK [Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty] (Nov. 30, 2014) (in Russian).)