25 February 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: "A general unwillingness to properly protect human rights"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Kazakhstan continues to jail people for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Vasiliy Kliver, a Baptist in Aktobe Region was on 5 February given a 5-day jail term for non-payment of a 2008 fine. Judge Saule Spandiyarova ignored an Administrative Code limitation on punishments when jailing Kliver. He told Forum 18 that: "we are not afraid, and are glad to suffer for the Lord." Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association noted after visiting Kazakhstan in January "a general unwillingness to properly protect human rights in the country, and of a sense of impunity by some officials" He also noted state intimidation of those he met. Talgat Rakhimov, Head of West Kazakhstan Region Religious Affairs Department, refused to tell Forum 18 why sports fans can share their views anywhere on the street without state permission, but religious believers need state permission. And a registered Protestant church has been raided by law-enforcement officials and those present forced to write statements. [read more...]

24 February 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Another Mosque forcibly transferred to new leadership

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

The State religious affairs official for Azerbaijan's capital Baku, Anar Kazimov, warned the leaders of a Sunni Mosque in Qobustan that if the leadership did not liquidate itself, hand back documents for the Mosque and allow the Mosque leadership to be replaced, the State Committee would go to court to enforce its liquidation. "Anar sounded threatening," one original community member told Forum 18 News Service. "He said they could easily find 50 new people to constitute the new leadership. They obviously wanted people closer to the authorities." The Mosque leadership complied reluctantly. Kazimov refused to discuss with Forum 18 why the authorities have yet again forcibly transferred a Sunni Muslim mosque to new, Shia-led leadership. Police have refused to explain why they raided the Mosque and seized religious literature weeks after the enforced transfer. In January a Jehovah's Witness was fined more than three months' average wage for discussing his faith on the street, the latest in a series of heavy fines for exercising the right to freedom of religion. [read more...]

23 February 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Latest secret police prisoners – two female Jehovah's Witnesses

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

In a sudden closed hearing on 17 February, a Judge in the Azerbaijani capital Baku ordered two female Jehovah's Witnesses to be held for three months in the National Security Ministry secret police investigation prison, according to the decisions seen by Forum 18 News Service. Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova face up to five years' imprisonment if convicted of offering religious literature without state permission. "Under our laws, spreading religious books is banned," Colonel Isfandiyar Mehbaliyev, head of the District Police in Pirallahi, where the women were initially detained, told Forum 18. He refused to say if this means that the state regards offering religious literature to others as dangerous and a threat to state security. On 18 February a Judge in Sumgait sentenced Sunni Muslim Zohrab Shikhaliyev to six months' imprisonment on weapons charges. His friends insisted to Forum 18 that police planted the weapons to punish him for maintaining a prayer room in his home. Sumgait has no Sunni Muslim mosque. [read more...]

20 February 2015

BELARUS: Slander and obstruction to keep foreigners out

by Olga Glace, Forum 18 News Service

Catholics responded vigorously to accusations by the senior state religious affairs official that foreign Catholic priests working in Belarus often break the law, Forum 18 News Service notes. "They don't like our country, our laws and authorities. In such cases we don't prolong their stay in our country," Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs Leonid Gulyako had declared in presenting his annual report for 2014. He accused unspecified priests of conducting services outside the regions where they had been given state permission to serve, not understanding either of the state languages (Russian and Belarusian) and drunken driving. Both Gulyako and his deputy refused to explain his accusations to Forum 18, which Catholics described as "slander". It was only with difficulty that Polish priest Fr Roman Schulz' permission to remain in his Mogilev parish was extended for a further six months until 20 June 2015, Catholics told Forum 18. A Protestant seminary failed to get permission for foreign religious lecturers. And a court warned two Jehovah's Witnesses that as foreigners they had no right to speak to people about their faith. [read more...]

18 February 2015

TURKMENISTAN: Two amnestied prisoners, conscientious objector in hospital, beaten "Wahhabis"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Umid Gojayev, imprisoned on charges of hooliganism which local Protestants insist were brought disproportionately because of his religious beliefs, and Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Ruslan Narkuliyev were freed yesterday (17 February), Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Both were released under amnesty from the same labour camp in Seydi in eastern Turkmenistan. "Narkuliyev's release means that there are no longer any Jehovah's Witnesses convicted and imprisoned in Turkmenistan as conscientious objectors," one Jehovah's Witness told Forum 18. However, Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Soyunmurat Korov is being held "against his will" in military hospital in Ashgabad. Meanwhile, five Muslim men imprisoned on charges of religious extremism, were severely beaten on arrival in Seydi strict regime labour camp in early February. One suffered a broken hand, another a broken rib and damage to his lung. Forum 18 has been unable to establish if they were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or for committing crimes. [read more...]

16 February 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Nakhichevan detentions without trial, beatings and attempted kidnapping

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Three Muslims who read the works of the late Turkish theologian Said Nursi were freed from prison on 11 February in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan. Two were seized in Nakhichevan and the third in Baku and transferred to the exclave. All three were held without any court approval. They were beaten to force them to "confess" to a "crime" (distributing anti-government leaflets) one of their friends insisted to Forum 18 News Service they had nothing to do with. Police have confiscated passports from all three to prevent them leaving the exclave. A fourth fled to Turkey to evade possible arrest, though Azerbaijani police tried to kidnap him there. The Head of Nakhichevan's Department for Work with Religious Organisations Vuqar Babayev declined to discuss the cases with Forum 18. About six of the 200 or so Muslims arrested in November 2014 are still in detention, Yafez Akramoglu of Radio Free Europe told Forum 18. Several are being investigated on treason charges. Most of the 50 Nakhichevan mosques forcibly closed in November 2014 have reopened, but under new leadership "closer to the authorities". [read more...]

12 February 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Five years' imprisonment for "normal Muslims" who "simply conduct prayers"?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Five Sunni Muslims who attended a religious meeting in a home in the Azerbaijani capital Baku raided by armed and masked police in April 2014 could be imprisoned for up to five years each if convicted. "These are normal Muslims who are not involved in politics and simply conduct prayers," the lawyer for four of the five men Asabali Mustafayev told Forum 18 News Service. Their trial is likely to last two more months. Three of the five - Eldeniz Hajiyev, Ismayil Mammadov and Revan Sabzaliyev – have lodged cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over the months they spent in secret police detention in 2014. A verdict is likely to be handed down in Sumgait on 18 February to Zohrab Shikhaliyev, to punish him for maintaining a Sunni Muslim prayer room in his home. He faces up to three years' imprisonment on charges of illegal weapons, which his friends vehemently deny. And Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Kamran Shikhaliyev (no relation) was finally transferred to a military disciplinary unit 14 months after being seized. He is supposed to be serving a one-year sentence. [read more...]

11 February 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Detention, fine, literature confiscation was "hospitality we got for bringing mandarins"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Forced to remain under restrictions in Uzbekistan for more than two months at their own cost after two Muslim books and Islamic recordings were found on mobile phones as they entered the country, two Russian lorry drivers were eventually deported on 5 February, one of them told Forum 18 News Service. One was fined in Karakalpakstan 50 times the minimum monthly wage for "smuggling". The phones were ordered destroyed and the books confiscated. Two Muslims were fined in 2014 in Karakalpakstan for importing Islamic books from neighbouring Kazakhstan (one of them was subjected to an "anti-terror" raid on his home). Nurullo Zhamolov of Karakalpakstan's Religious Affairs Department claimed to Forum 18 that "no-one should be fined or punished" for importing a Koran, Bible or other "legally allowed" religious literature into Uzbekistan. He was unable to say why the two lorry drivers from Russia or the two local Muslims had been punished. [read more...]