17 April 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Baptist facing three years jail for breaking state censorship?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

A Baptist in Kazakhstan, Nikolai Novikov, could face up to three years in jail for refusing to pay a 2013 fine for offering religious literature which has not been censored by the state on the streets, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He has refused to pay that and other fines, as he states they are unjust. Prosecutor Aydin Rashidov insistently claimed that as Novikov’s “crime” was of what he described as “middling seriousness”, if convicted Novikov would not be imprisoned. However, Rashidov stated that he would have to live under restrictions – such as being subject to a curfew every night at his house - for up to three years. Novikov has pointed out that the prosecution is illegal under Kazakhstan's law. Meanwhile, administrative prosecutions to punish individuals for commercially distributing Muslim religious materials without state approval continue. And, apparently for the first time, the General Prosecutor’s Office has published a list of religious and other texts deemed “extremist” and whose production, import or distribution is banned. [read more...]

14 April 2015

UZBEKISTAN: "She fears police brutality during interrogation and administrative arrest"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Nearly three years after losing her job as a teacher for insisting on wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf), Gulchohra Norbayeva has faced police summonses, a house search for religious literature, accusations she was teaching the Koran “illegally”, and pressure to sign statements incriminating Muslim men she did not know. “At the moment they have left me alone. I don’t know if the Police opened a case,” she told Forum 18 News Service. An Anti-Terrorism Police Officer who took part in a raid on Norbayeva’s home insisted to Forum 18 that the search was for religious literature and that the case is now closed. Meanwhile, police have renewed their hunt for Guljahon Kuzebayeva, a Protestant in the southern Kashkadarya Region who has been in hiding since July 2014, for allegedly talking to family members about her Christian faith. “She fears police brutality during interrogation and also possible administrative arrest,” fellow Protestants told Forum 18. The use of informal physical violence and torture, or threats of this, by the authorities is widespread in Uzbekistan. [read more...]

9 April 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Transfer from detention for prisoners of conscience rejected

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

A request by a Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience, Valida Jabrayilova, to be transferred from pre-trial detention in the NSM secret police Investigation Prison to house arrest was refused on 4 April. Asked why she is detained and could face a five-year prison term for offering uncensored religious literature, Judge Elshad Shamayev replied "it's in the Criminal Code" to Forum 18 News Service. He refused to say why the government sees Jabrayilova – and seven other Muslim and Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience awaiting trial for exercising their freedom of religion or belief – as such a danger to the state that they must be detained by the NSM secret police. Asked why he also ordered Muslim prisoners of conscience to be held in pre-trial detention by the NSM, Judge Shamayev responded: "We're not obliged to account for our decisions". People continue to be prosecuted and punished for exercising freedom of religion or belief, for example in February for discussing their faith with others in public. [read more...]

1 April 2015

TAJIKISTAN: Hijab ban and state-written sermons "only a recommendation"?

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Women were being stopped at kindergartens in March to be told that they should not drop off their children while wearing a hijab, one source told Forum 18 News Service. "We have received so many phone calls during the last week from women in various places in Dushanbe and outside that they were stopped on the street by officials and warned that they must not wear the hijab," Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) told Forum 18. Despite this – and statements from Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon against women wearing "uncharacteristic" dress - a State Committee for Religious Affairs official claimed to Forum 18 that "no one ever banned the hijab or spoke against it". The same official denied to Forum 18 that imams were required to read state-produced sermons at Friday prayers, one before parliamentary elections backing the ruling party and one afterwards calling for the IRP to be closed down. Orders to imams to read out such sermons are "not compulsory but only a recommendation", the official also claimed. [read more...]

31 March 2015

RUSSIA: 65 known "extremist" religious literature cases in 2014

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

A total of 65 individuals and religious communities are known to have been prosecuted in 2014 across Russia for possession of allegedly "extremist" banned religious literature which does not appear to incite violence or hatred, Forum 18 News Service notes. Of these, 56 ended up with punishments. The cases were brought under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production and distribution of extremist materials"), and all the cases related to the alleged possession of Muslim or Jehovah's Witness literature by individuals, religious communities, shopkeepers or stall holders. Courts continue in 2015 to rule Muslim and Jehovah's Witness literature "extremist", opening the way for more prosecutions. In 16 of the 65 known 2014 cases, courts ordered the religious literature to be destroyed. Prosecutors may use Article 20.29 convictions to seek to have a religious community forcibly dissolved. These 65 literature-related "extremism" cases are part of a wider pattern of investigations and prosecutions of people exercising their freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]

27 March 2015

CRIMEA: Religious freedom survey, March 2015

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

One year after Russia's March 2014 annexation of Crimea, Forum 18 News Service notes that the forced imposition of Russian restrictions on religion has brought difficulties for those trying to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief. Individuals and religious communities have faced raids, fines, religious literature seizures, government surveillance, expulsions of invited foreign religious leaders, unilateral cancellation of property rental contracts and obstructions to regaining places of worship confiscated in the Soviet period. Only one percent of communities which had state registration under Ukrainian law have succeeded in gaining the compulsory Russian re-registration. Members of a wide range of religious communities are highly cautious about discussing anything that could be interpreted as criticism of Russian rule for fear of possible reprisals. This includes a reluctance to discuss restrictions on freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]

26 March 2015

CRIMEA: Only one percent of religious organisations re-registered

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

All 150 re-registration applications submitted to Crimea's Justice Department ahead of the original 31 December 2014 deadline were initially rejected as they were "very bad", Irina Demetskaya of the Justice Department in the Crimean capital Simferopol told Forum 18 News Service. Even after the extended 1 March deadline, only two centralised religious organisations (one of the Orthodox dioceses and the Muftiate) have been re-registered and only 12 local communities. This represents about one percent of the number that had Ukrainian registration, Forum 18 notes. Two more are awaiting approval from the tax authorities, while 13 are being considered in Moscow. Her office is still considering about 150 more. Without registration under Russian law, religious communities can meet, but cannot enter into contracts to rent property, employ people or invite foreigners. Meanwhile, the Sevastopol authorities have reaffirmed their refusal to return the confiscated St Clement's Catholic Church. The parish has been seeking its return since the 1990s. Vladimir Ryabykh of Sevastopol's Culture Department claimed to Forum 18 that it cannot be returned as the parish has not asked for it back. [read more...]

20 March 2015

RUSSIA: More literature, website and video bans, but one partially overturned

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

A Russian court's 2012 ban of 65 Islamic books, one issue of the Muslim journal Novie Grani (New Boundaries), and two short articles as allegedly "extremist" has been partially overturned, Forum 18 News Service notes. However, 18 of the 68 texts in the original ruling remain banned. Appeals are being prepared against these bans. However, courts continue to rule literature "extremist", opening the way for more prosecutions for their possession or "mass distribution". These include the Google Translate Russian version of a collection of sayings of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, and a video commenting on the attempted seizure by bailiffs of saints' relics from the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church. Also banned as "extremist" have been two Jehovah's Witness texts, with the community being forced to pay for the state's "expert analysis" which contributed to the ban. Analyses and testimony by Jehovah's Witnesses themselves were refused. Despite the term "mass distribution", prosecutors have often brought charges even if only one copy of a text is discovered. No state agency has answered Forum 18's questions on whether it is right that people should be punished for their possession and whether such prosecutions are a sensible use of police and prosecutors' time. [read more...]