26 November 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Police raid, torture, steal and plant drugs

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Police in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent raided a Protestant worship meeting on 8 November, detaining and torturing members of the group and their nursing children, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Police also stole money and confiscated a large amount of Christian literature, as well as personal property including computers and other electronic devices. Jehovah's Witnesses in the central Samarkand Region have also been raided and fined, some also being put on 2 years' probation on fabricated drugs charges, for meeting together for worship. Police also confiscated religious literature and the private property, including computers and mobile phones, of some present. Female Witnesses were threatened with rape and tortured. Contrary to Uzbekistan's international human rights obligations, the police torturers were apparently neither arrested nor prosecuted for their actions. Instead, the police's victims were convicted of exercising freedom of religion or belief and fined. The human rights Ombudsperson's Office has said it cannot investigate these human rights violations. [read more...]

24 November 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Sixth Muslim in secret police pre-trial imprisonment

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Murat Takaumov became the sixth Muslim to be arrested by the secret police in Kazakhstan's capital Astana and held at the city's KNB secret police Investigation Prison. On 23 November a Judge ordered his pre-trial imprisonment for two months while he is investigated on charges of participating in the activity of a banned religious organisation, the Judge's assistant told Forum 18 News Service. The same Judge ordered the five others – arrested in September – to be held at the same Investigation Prison for a further month. They face up to six years' imprisonment if convicted of organising the activity of a banned religious organisation. During the September arrest of one, the man's wife went into premature labour "out of fear", Vitaly Ponomarev of Memorial human rights organisation told Forum 18. No officer of Astana KNB was prepared to discuss with Forum 18 why it had brought criminal charges against the Muslims and against a recently convicted Seventh-day Adventist. All six Muslims are allegedly connected to the banned Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat. Fifteen other alleged members have already been convicted since late 2014, with the harshest sentence a prison term of nearly five years. [read more...]

19 November 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Conscientious objector (again) one of 20 current prisoners of conscience

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Kamran Shikhaliyev, a 20-year-old conscientious objector to compulsory military service, is serving a one-year sentence in a military disciplinary unit in Salyan Region south of Azerbaijan's capital Baku. He failed to overturn his conviction – the second on the same charges – at Baku Appeal Court on 12 November, court officials told Forum 18 News Service. He is one of 20 known prisoners of conscience punished by the Azerbaijani authorities for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Of these, 17 have been convicted and are serving prison terms, while three are in pre-trial secret police imprisonment. One of the three, 55-year-old disabled widow Irina Zakharchenko, was transferred to hospital on 26 October. "The many months of imprisonment have taken a serious toll on her health," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. [read more...]

18 November 2015

UZBEKISTAN: New fines, Bible destructions follow UN concern over religious censorship

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

In late September a Judge in Karshi fined ten members of a Baptist church up to 50 times the minimum monthly wage each for meeting for worship without state permission. In a regular practice for Uzbekistan, the Judge ordered that confiscated personal Bibles and song books be destroyed. Officers asked the community in August why it was still meeting after being warned in an April raid that it was "illegal". Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service of more than 75 fines of up to 20 times the minimum monthly wage between January and September 2015 after raids and literature seizures. Seven were twice stopped after making a 1,000-kilometre (620 mile) round trip from Karshi to the one registered Jehovah's Witness community in Chirchik. The United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern in July over religious censorship, as well as torture, prison sentences, detentions and fines to punish individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. It called on Uzbekistan to change its laws and practices. [read more...]

17 November 2015

TURKEY: Will schools respect parents' and pupils' freedom of religion or belief?

by Mine Yildirim, Norwegian Helsinki Ctte <http://www.inancozgurlugugirisimi.org>

Turkey has twice, in 2007 and 2014, lost cases concerning its compulsory Religious Culture and Knowledge of Ethics (RCKE) classes at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as they do not respect parents', guardians', and pupils' freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. In September 2014 the ECtHR stated that "Turkey had to remedy the situation without delay", yet the only action so far has been the Education Ministry preparing an action plan involving wide consultation with civil society on the RCKE courses. This is awaiting government approval after the elections. Another systemic violation of freedom of religion or belief in the education system are optional lessons in Islam, which many have found are in reality "compulsory optional". Fear of discrimination and harassment from teachers and other pupils, as well as the slowness of the legal system, are the main reasons many people have not taken legal action to protect their rights. Unless effective protection of freedom of religion or belief in education is implemented, the state will continue to lose such cases before the ECtHR. [read more...]

12 November 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Police torture one Muslim, 10 more short-term prisoners of conscience

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Police in Azerbaijan's capital Baku detained and tortured Shia Muslim theologian and former prisoner of conscience Imam Taleh Bagirov, head of the Muslim Unity Movement, when he began to pray in the police station, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Two days later, police elsewhere in Baku imprisoned his deputy Elchin Qasimli, imam of Hazrat Abbas Mosque, and a colleague. Eight Muslims who demonstrated outside the Baku police station where Qasimli was initially held were also arrested. A total of 10 prisoners of conscience, including Qasimli, were given prison terms of up to one month. The torture of Imam Bagirov was just a week before the 11 and 12 November consideration of Azerbaijan's record under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) at the UN Committee Against Torture. And the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations is preparing Religion Law changes banning religious leaders without state approval from leading religious meetings for worship, as well as street religious ceremonies. [read more...]

9 November 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Seven years' restricted freedom for discussing faith

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

In a case brought by the KNB secret police, Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov was today (9 November) sentenced to seven years' restricted freedom by a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana. He was found guilty of spreading "religious discord" by discussing his faith with a group of students who invited him to a flat rented by one of them. "My father's religious liberties and basic human rights were violated by the fact that he was kept under arrest without any grounds since 14 August and has now been sentenced," one of his sons Alibek Kabduakasov complained to Forum 18 News Service. The Prosecutor, the Judge and the KNB secret police all refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. Meanwhile, the auction to rent out the Din-Muhammad Mosque of Petropavl's Tatar-Bashkir community was abandoned as fewer than two bidders came forward. Community members welcomed the abandonment of officials' attempts to auction their Mosque to a third party against their wishes. [read more...]

5 November 2015

GEORGIA: State obstructs building new non-Georgian Orthodox places of worship

by Mariam Gavtadze, and
Eka Chitanava, Tolerance and Diversity Institute <http://www.tdi.ge>

Non-Georgian Orthodox Church religious communities repeatedly face obstruction from local municipal councils and national state bodies such as the State Agency for Religious Issues to building new places of worship, Forum 18 News Service notes. Such problems affect communities such as Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics and Protestants. Typically, local Georgian Orthodox clergy and congregation members oppose proposals to build non-Georgian Orthodox places of worship. Then the local council finds excuses to obey Georgian Orthodox demands, even if the demands go against a court decision, often using spurious reasons to deny the building permit application. State authorities also often tell non-Georgian Orthodox communities to stop trying to build a place of worship on their own land and find some other land to build on. Georgian Orthodox hostility has led to extreme physical violence against those they dislike. National state authorities, such as the State Agency, have refused to answer Forum 18's questions on the issues. [read more...]