26 August 2014

CRIMEA: First known Russian religious literature "extremism" prosecution

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Esadullakh Bairov, a deputy head of Crimea's Muftiate, became the first individual since the Russian annexation of Crimea in March to be prosecuted for "extremist" religious literature seized during a raid on a madrassah (Islamic religious school). Dzhankoi District Court in northern Crimea today (26 August) fined him 2,000 Russian Roubles, the court told Forum 18 News Service. Prosecutor Andrei Oliyar, who brought the administrative case, described the raid on the madrassah as an "inspection". He refused to say what confiscated books had been the basis for the prosecution. "It was such a long list," he told Forum 18. "Just to read it would take 15 or 20 minutes." At least seven Crimean madrassahs, as well as mosques, private homes and the Muftiate itself have been raided in the hunt for religious literature controversially banned as "extremist" by Russian courts. [read more...]

25 August 2014

TURKMENISTAN: Eleven-year wait on haj pilgrimage list?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Turkmenistan's government sought and received approval from the Saudi Arabian authorities for just 650 Muslims to travel on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca in October, a Saudi consular official told Forum 18 News Service from the capital Ashgabad. Although an increase on the usual 188 in the state-sponsored group, this is just under a seventh of the haj quota allocated by the Saudi authorities. "Turkmenistan is one of the governments not doing all it can to help pilgrims," the Saudi official noted. "We're trying to help them." Muslims in one of the country's six administrative divisions have to wait up to eleven years to reach the top of the haj waiting list, an official of Balkan Region Religious Affairs office told Forum 18. He said that 21 pilgrims from his Region are due to be selected soon to travel this year, the same number as in 2013. He claimed that Shia Muslims are not obstructed from joining the haj. The Turkmen government has never explained why it severely restricts haj numbers. [read more...]

20 August 2014

TURKMENISTAN: Same court, same judge, same four-year prison sentence, different victim

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Less than seven weeks after he had imprisoned a Jehovah's Witness on what his fellow believers insist were fabricated charges, Judge Gaigysyz Orazmuradov of Dashoguz City Court in northern Turkmenistan sentenced another Jehovah's Witness. 33-year-old Bibi Rahmanova was given a four-year prison sentence for assaulting a police officer and two train station employees, charges she vigorously denied. "This decision is particularly shocking considering that Bibi is the mother of a four-year-old boy and was clearly the victim of police abuse," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. Rahmanova and her husband were both charged after they were detained for collecting religious literature from the train station. Secret police, ordinary police and a state religious affairs official detained them. Neither the religious affairs official Hudainazar Artykov nor Judge Orazmuradov would discuss the case with Forum 18. Meanwhile, Jehovah's Witness Merdan Amanov became the sixth known imprisoned conscientious objector when given a one-year sentence in July. [read more...]

19 August 2014

RUSSIA: Suspended prison terms and fines and criminal records for meeting for worship

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Seven Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog in southern European Russia will have criminal records unless their appeals against their 30 July convictions for "extremism" are upheld. They may not change their places of work, study or residence without notifying the authorities and must also show that they have "corrected" their behaviour, Forum 18 News Service notes. Four of the seven were given suspended prison terms of at least five years, while all seven were fined (though these were waived). The defendants - all members of the community declared "extremist" in 2009 – were punished for continuing to meet for prayer and Bible study. Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 they fear that "their determination to continue religious activity means that they might be subject to more severe punishments as recidivists". Samara's Jehovah's Witness community has similarly been ruled "extremist" and dissolved. The criminal trial of two Muslims, Yelena Gerasimova and Tatyana Guzenko, in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on "extremism"-related charges is expected to begin soon. [read more...]

14 August 2014

AZERBAIJAN: Four months' extra prison term because "they gave him too little"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Imprisoned Islamic preacher and theologian Taleh Bagirov was given an extra four months' imprisonment at a new trial in Baku. He "categorically denied" in court the charge of possessing an illegal mobile phone in his cell, his lawyer Javad Javadov told Forum 18 News Service. He insists that the phone was planted. Judge Suleyman Agayev claimed to Forum 18 that Bagirov had "half admitted" the accusation. Bagirov is already serving a two-year strict regime sentence on drugs charges which his supporters insist were similarly fabricated. Baku Old City officials confirmed to Forum 18 that the Lezgin Mosque – one of very few remaining specifically Sunni mosques in Azerbaijan – is to be closed for renovation. They refused to say if the Mosque will be returned to the same community after renovation. Also, increased Criminal Code punishments for exercising freedom of religion or belief are planned. Maximum prison terms under Article 168 – for which three Muslims are under investigation in NSM secret police detention – seem set to more than double to eight years. [read more...]

11 August 2014

AZERBAIJAN: "They don't want a Sunni mosque in the Old City"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Samir Nuriyev, director of Baku's Icherisheher (Old City) State Historical-Architectural Reserve, summoned the leader of the Lezgin Mosque community in mid-July and told him verbally that it must voluntarily leave the building in advance of full renovation, community leader Faiq Mustafa and Reserve official Emil Huseynli separately told Forum 18 News Service. Mustafa fears this might be an attempt to oust the community, in line with earlier moves against other Sunni communities. Reserve spokesperson Narmin Azadgil has not responded to Forum 18's questions on why no document on the proposed renovation has been given to the community and whether the community will be able to resume use of its Mosque once any renovation is complete. Despite the consistent closures of specifically Sunni mosques, Sarkhan Halilov of Azerbaijan's State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations insisted that the government "has nothing against Sunni mosques". But he admitted to Forum 18 that Baku's (Sunni) Martyrs' Mosque – closed by the state in 2009 - will never be reopened. [read more...]

7 August 2014

AZERBAIJAN: NSM secret police detentions extended, conscientious objector's appeal fails

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Two Muslim prisoners of conscience detained since April, Eldeniz Hajiyev and Ismayil Mammadov, had their pre-trial detention in the hands of Azerbaijan's NSM secret police extended for a further two months today (7 August), Forum 18 News Service has been told. Pre-trial detention for a third prisoner of conscience, Revan Farzaliyev who was detained in May, was extended three days earlier. If convicted, the three men face up to three years' imprisonment for participating in a meeting which was raided by armed police and the NSM secret police. The men had met with other Muslims to discuss their faith with the help of the writings of Islamic theologian Said Nursi. The rulings come after an appeal court in southern Azerbaijan rejected the appeal of Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Kamran Shikhaliyev against a one-year sentence in a military disciplinary unit. In all these cases Forum 18 has been told that violence has been used by officials against those in their power. There are also continuing administrative fines of people for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]

5 August 2014

RUSSIA: European Court repeats calls for Religion Law change

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled against Russia in two freedom of religion or belief cases, Forum 18 News Service notes. Jehovah's Witnesses detained during a police raid on a meeting for worship in Moscow, and a Pentecostal centre in Chuvashia liquidated for alleged violations of educational, fire and sanitary regulations both won their cases. Liquidation as a registered religious organisation is not a complete ban, but makes it difficult to do much more than privately meet for worship and to study texts. The ECtHR also ruled that Russia must bring the Religion Law into line with both the country's international obligations and with the case-law of the Russian Supreme and Constitutional Courts. One ECtHR judge stated that "any additional delay would be unforgivable". Current changes to the Religion Law now in the Duma appear to have stalled. The proposed changes removed the 15-year registration waiting period, but human rights defenders have expressed concern about an apparent attempt to make registration of all religious groups compulsory. [read more...]