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...]

1 October 2014

UZBEKISTAN: No imam? No prayers

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Members of the Toshkuprik Mosque in Samarkand Region's Pakhtachi District were effectively banned from holding Friday prayers from 8 August onwards, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. They were told they could not choose one of their number to lead prayers in the absence of their Muslim Board-appointed Imam and one community member lamented to Radio Free Europe's Uzbek Service that the authorities ban prayers in private homes. Uzbekistan's Deputy Chief Mufti, Abdulaziz Mansurov, insisted to Forum 18: "Please, do not exaggerate - this is not a big problem." In defiance of Uzbekistan's Constitution and published laws, the state enforces a Muslim Board monopoly on all Muslim activity. Mansurov admitted that the Board appoints all Chief Imams of the regions with the consent of the government's Religious Affairs Committee. Meanwhile, secret police and Anti-Terrorism Police officers raided a Baptist community in Andijan as they held a meeting for Sunday worship. They threatened to seize the three children of a widow who lives in the private house where the church was meeting, as well as the house. [read more...]

29 September 2014

TURKMENISTAN: Freed after four weeks, but court "failed to correct an injustice"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

After nearly four weeks' imprisonment, during which Bibi Rahmanova suffered "severe physical abuse", she was released from prison in Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan on 2 September. But her conviction on charges she strongly denies of assaulting a police officer still stands, and she can within the next four years only leave her home city with state permission, according to the decision seen by Forum 18 News Service. No action has been taken against officials who assaulted her and her husband and detained her four-year old child. Rahmanova's release from prison leaves nine other individuals known to be in prison because of their faith. Six are conscientious objectors to compulsory military service (all Jehovah's Witnesses). Two other Jehovah's Witnesses are imprisoned on charges their fellow Jehovah's Witnesses insist were fabricated. One Protestant is in prison on charges his fellow Protestants say should not have led to imprisonment. Murad Atabaev of Parliament's Committee on the Protection of Human Rights claimed that a proposed Alternative Service Law had been drafted in 2013 but that he had not seen the text. "When it will be adopted – I don't know," he told Forum 18. [read more...]

26 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Rehabilitation Centre suspended, leaders under criminal investigation

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

About 20 residents of a Protestant-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent were driven out during a 31 May Police, secret police and Tax Office raid. Officials confiscated religious literature, office equipment and money before sealing Shelter Rehabilitation Centre. An employee who taught metal-working to residents, Pyotr Tikhomirov, was fined for "illegally" storing religious literature "posing a threat to the peace and security of the population". Criminal cases were opened against him and the Centre's founder, Vladislav Sekan, for allegedly not paying taxes on wages, not having a cash-register and exploiting residents by not paying them for clearing up after themselves. "For twelve years of its work, large numbers of drug and alcohol addicts were freed from their harmful habits and restored to normal life in the Rehabilitation Centre," Sekan told Forum 18 News Service. Anti-Terrorism Police Officer Jabbor Rizkulov, who led the May raid, refused to explain to Forum 18 why the Centre had been raided or exactly what charges were brought against Tikhomirov and Sekan. Prosecutor's Office Investigator Sarvar Akhmedov refused to give Forum 18 details of the investigation or say when it will be completed. [read more...]