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Amnesty urges Turkmenistan to revoke sentences.

Amnesty urges Turkmenistan to revoke sentences.

Amnesty International urged Turkmenistan to revoke suspended sentences handed down to three Jehovah’s Witnesses accused of refusing to serve in the army on religious grounds.

Amnesty said Nuryagdy Gairov, previously jailed for 18 months, was released after a court changed its sentence to a one-year suspended sentence. Two other Jehovah’s Witness members were given two-year suspended sentences, it said.

"Amnesty International calls for the suspended sentences handed down to conscientious objectors ... to be revoked," the organisation said in a statement late on Thursday.

Justice officials in the tightly run Central Asian state were unavailable for comment.

Amnesty called on the authorities "to introduce legislation to ensure that a civilian alternative of non-punitive length is available to all those whose conscientiously held beliefs preclude them from performing military service."

It added that a fourth Jehovah’s Witness, also accused of "evasion of call-up to military service", will stand trial on Aug. 3 facing up to two years’ imprisonment.

Turkmenistan, a former Soviet desert nation bordering Iran, was criticised for cracking down on dissent and religious freedom under the 21-year rule of Saparmurat Niyazov who died in December of a heart attack.

The new leader, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has taken steps to soften some of Niyazov’s policies and dismantle elements of a personality cult that surrounded his predecessor. But the nation remains tightly controlled and isolated.

Reuters July 27, 2007

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