30 October 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: Contradictory court decisions, arbitrary official actions

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Some officials in Kyrgyzstan appear unwilling to act on their domestic and international legal obligations, Forum 18 News Service notes. Commenting on a UN Human Rights Council recommendation to "remove all restrictions incompatible with article 18 of the Covenant [of Civil and Political Rights]", State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) lawyer Zhanibek Botoyev told Forum 18 News Service that ""Go and bring some order to your own countries and Norway. We are a sovereign country here, and you cannot command us what to do or what not to do". In relation to a Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling on where a religious organisation may operate, in a case brought by Jehovah's Witnesses, Botoyev claimed that the ruling did not mean what it clearly states it does. The SCRA has also forced a Russian Orthodox Church catechist, Vakhtang Fyodorov, to leave the country and with the State Property Fund continues to try to confiscate a Protestant church's building. [read more...]

29 October 2014

CRIMEA: Guns, weapons, drugs – and religious literature

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Crimea's acting Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov has ordered a moratorium on raids, searches and literature confiscations until 1 January 2015. Before it there were many raids on libraries, schools, political organisations, Muslim homes, mosques and madrassahs, and Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Halls, Forum 18 News Service notes. Fines for possession of Islamic and Jehovah's Witness literature were also imposed. There do not seem to have been any raids and religious literature seizures since the moratorium. The government-appointed human rights Ombudsperson's office told Forum 18 that no action would be taken on the raids and literature seizures. Crimea's Education, Science and Youth Ministry has ordered education departments and educational institutions to remove and destroy any such literature. The Ministry official who drafted the order told Forum 18 that officials "should recycle them, use the paper again". Asked why some Islamic and Jehovah's Witness books should be destroyed, she replied: "I understand you, but the law is the law. I will answer for my role before God." [read more...]

28 October 2014

TURKMENISTAN: Eight prisoners of conscience amnestied

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

On 22 October eight of Turkmenistan's nine known imprisoned prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief were released under presidential amnesty, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. All were being held in a harsh labour camp in eastern Turkmenistan. Six were conscientious objectors to military service and two had been imprisoned on fabricated charges to punish them for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. One newly-sentenced conscientious objector, Ruslan Narkuliyev, was not released (possibly as his name was left off a list), and nor was a Protestant, Umid Gojayev, imprisoned on what his friends say were disproportionate charges brought because of his beliefs. Two Jehovah's Witnesses serving suspended sentences also appear not to have been amnestied. There are also an unknown number of Muslim prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, as well as prisoners of conscience jailed for other reasons. Jehovah's Witnesses hope the prisoner releases may lead to recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military service. [read more...]

24 October 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: "Draconian" proposed Religion Law and Administrative Code changes

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Kyrgyzstan is proposing to harshen its Religion Law and give even more power to the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA). The proposals that have attracted most criticism so far from human rights defenders and religious and belief communities include: increasing the number of founders required for registered religious organisations to be founded from 200 to 500 and all such organisations to be re-registered; requiring anyone working in any capacity in any religious organisation to have an annually renewed SCRA license; and requiring every institution offering religious education to have an SCRA license. It is also proposed that existing punishments in the Administrative Code for exercising freedom of religion or belief be increased to up to the rough equivalent of 14 months average salary. The proposals go directly against the UN Human Rights Committee's March recommendation that planned changes to the Religion Law should "remove all restrictions incompatible with article 18 of the Covenant [of Civil and Political Rights]". [read more...]

22 October 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Prison death result of accident, illness, torture, neglect?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service, and
Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Nearly three years into a ten-year prison term, Nilufar Rahimjanova died on 13 September aged 37 in the women's labour camp near Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. Relatives say the mother of four was imprisoned to punish her Iran-based husband and her Tajikistan-based father, both Muslim theologians the Uzbek authorities do not like. Rahimjanova's body was handed not to her husband or father, but to her brother in Tashkent. He was told to bury it quickly in Uzbekistan without conducting a post-mortem examination. Erkin Bobokulov, Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry's Chief Directorate for the Enforcement of Punishments, declined to talk about Rahimjanova's death in labour camp over the phone. "I don't know the details exactly," he told Forum 18 News Service. Asked whether the prison authorities took steps to save Rahimjanova's life, Bobokulov did not respond. [read more...]

14 October 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: "New forms of countering religious activity by non-traditional religious movements"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Nurlan Bizhanov, a Deputy Prosecutor of East Kazakhstan Region, warned local officials in mid-September about the "activity of non-traditional religious movements which is not declining". Bizhanov identified Grace Church, New Life Church, the Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses. He insisted that "new forms and methods of countering religious activity by non-traditional religious movements need to be prepared and implemented, based on the coordination of efforts by all local executive, law-enforcement, special and plenipotentiary state organs, together with civil society institutions". The instruction came in a secret mid-September letter – seen by Forum 18 News Service – though officials categorically denied to Forum 18 that the letter exists. Meanwhile, police in Pavlodar Region appear to be trying to close down a Protestant-run rehabilitation centre which they raided in July. Kazakhstan's human rights record will be scrutinised at the United Nations in Geneva on 30 October. [read more...]

10 October 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Ten days' imprisonment for "extremist" book

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Vyacheslav Cherkasov and Zhasulan Alzhanov began ten-day prison terms in Kazakhstan's Akmola Region on 6 October for offering passers-by on the street a book which a religious "expert analysis" controversially claimed contains "elements inciting religious hatred and discord", Forum 18 News Service has learnt. They were each also fined about four months' average wages. Forum 18 has been unable to find out if the book "Jesus: More than a Prophet" has been banned by a court. In February an Astana court banned as "extremist" a book at least partly written by Salafi Muslim Mohammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab. Such court hearings are unannounced, making it impossible to challenge them. Nor are such bans publicised. Jehovah's Witnesses have failed in all their legal challenges against bans on importing 14 of their publications. Despite official assertions that state-imposed bans are not based on theological assessments, Kazakh and Russian language booklets were banned because they "reject the fundamental teachings of Christianity". [read more...]

8 October 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Fourteenth known 2014 short-term prison term

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Anatoly Stakhnev's 10-day prison term in July and Nikolai Novikov's five-day term in August bring to 14 the number of known individuals in 2014 imprisoned for refusing to pay earlier fines imposed in punishment for refusing to seek state permission to exercise the right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Husband and wife Vladimir and Regina Milintsov were fined two months' average wages each in late September for talking to passers-by on the street about their faith. When individuals complained about such administrative penalties to Kazakhstan's presidentially-appointed Human Rights Ombudsperson, Askar Shakirov, his response was "to explain the norms of national legislation on religious activity and the necessity of observing them", he noted in his report for 2013. The government ignored a January request from five United Nations Special Rapporteurs to end punishments for "alleged illegal missionary activity", police raids on religious communities and bans on religious publications. [read more...]