On September 17, 2023, employees of the Federal Migration Service, contrary to a court decision, deported Rustam Seidkuliev to Turkmenistan. Earlier, at the initiative of the FSB, his Russian citizenship was revoked due to criminal prosecution for his faith.
Seidkuliev was sentenced to two years and four months to penal colony for participating in worship services and talking about Bible topics. In total, Rustam spent a little more than a year and ten months behind bars. After Seidkuliev’s release from the colony, additional punishment came into force. It was not associated with imprisonment and allowed him to live with his wife and move freely around Saratov, and to communicate with friends and to work.
In January 2020, the Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case against Rustam Seidkuliev. He was accused of extremism for reading and discussing the Bible. Two weeks later, the police arrested him in a shopping center in Adler. He was transported to the city of Saratov and placed under house arrest for seven months. In March 2021, Seidkuliev’s case came to court. Two months later he was found guilty and sentenced to two and a half years in a general regime colony. The regional court reduced this period by two months. The Court of Cassation approved this decision. Seidkuliev served his sentence in Penal Colony-33 in Saratov. During this time, the FSB accomplished the revocation of his Russian citizenship. In April 2023, he was released from the colony, and in September he was deported to Turkmenistan.
According to Seidkuliev himself, FMS officers tried to expel him from the country twice. The first attempt was on September 15, but the flight was delayed, and the believer was returned to the detention center. “The next day, the staff came and said, ‘You have 15 minutes to get ready,'” the believer recalls. “After that, they were taken to Moscow by car, explaining the rush because of the order of the authorities.”
Seidkuliev arrived in Ashgabat at 3 a.m. There he was kept at border control for about 12 hours and released after paperwork was completed.
More than 20 years ago, Rustam’s stepfather was deported from Turkmenistan because he was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is how the Seidkuliev family ended up in Saratov.
Rustam Seidkuliev became the fourth Jehovah’s Witness to be deported from the country by the Russian authorities because of his religion since 2017. Previously, this happened to Dennis Christensen, Feliks Makhammadiev and Konstantin Bazhenov.
At the Warsaw Human Rights Conference organized earlier this month by the OSCE, Jehovah’s Witnesses recommended that Russia:
- annul the April 2017 Supreme Court decision that banned and liquidated the legal entities of the Witnesses
- release all Witnesses in detention
- remove the Witnesses’ religious literature, including the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (the Holy Bible), from the Federal List of Extremist Materials
- return all confiscated property owned or used by the Witnesses
- enforce media standards prohibiting libel and slander
- abide by Russia’s Constitution and respect international law, including the binding judgments of the European Court of Human Rights