US government urged to impose sanctions against Turkmen officials for violations of the right to freedom of religion

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released its latest annual report . on the situation with observance of the rights of citizens to freedom of religion in different countries of the world in 2021 and presented a number of recommendations to the US government.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, stand-alone advisory body to the US government, separate from the State Department. Created by Congress on a bipartisan basis, the Commission monitors religious freedom around the world and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.

The authors of the report categorized Turkmenistan as country of particular concern and noted that over the past year, conditions for respect for religious freedom in the country remained among the worst in the world.

The government appoints clerics and tightly controls the implementation of religious practices, persecutes followers of non-traditional religions, whom it subjects to imprisonment, torture and harassment.

Due to the closed nature of the state, it is difficult to document all cases of violation of freedom of religious belief, and there are obviously more cases of violations than are described in a few sources. But even the available data paints a grim picture.

The government maintains a large staff of whistleblowers who monitor the activities of independent religious groups inside and outside the country.

Those accused of religious crimes are often tried behind closed doors, and the verdict is not publicly announced. Convicts often disappear in prisons, they are forbidden contact with the outside world.

In connection with the introduction of anti-virus restrictions, the country's mosques were closed to visitors, but this did not prevent a memorial ceremony after the death of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov 's father 's father .

As a positive development, the report notes that in May 2021, Berdymukhammedov Sr. pardoned all 16 Jehovah's Witnesses who were serving time for conscientious objection to military service.

USCIRF recommends that the US government:

• leave Turkmenistan in the category of countries of particular concern due to egregious and systematic violations of citizens' right to freedom of religion;

• Limit security support to the country for the worst cases of violation of religious freedoms;

• introduce targeted sanctions against government departments and officials responsible for gross violations of citizens' right to freedom of religion, restricting their entry into the United States and freezing their assets;

• call on the government of Turkmenistan to introduce alternative civilian service and stop criminal prosecutions of conscientious objectors (those who refuse military service on religious grounds).

Source: Chronicles of Turkmenistan