22 May 2015

KYRGYZSTAN: Will state officials obey the law?

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Officials are refusing to follow a Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court decision legally removing two major obstacles to the registration of religious or belief communities. "We are observing the present Religion Law until the Constitutional Chamber's decision is integrated into it," Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) Deputy Head told Forum 18. "You need to ask Parliament about changes to the Law." However, Judge Mukambet Kasymaliyev, Chair of the Constitutional Chamber, told Forum 18: "Everyone must abide by the Court's decisions as they become part of the law immediately after they are passed." Asked what he thinks of local officials and the SCRA ignoring this, Judge Kasymaliyev replied, "I cannot evaluate the actions of those officials. But it seems to me that they do not know Kyrgyzstan's laws and must study them." Also, two Jehovah's Witnesses, Nadezhda Sergienko and Oksana Koryakina, under house arrest for two years, still face prosecution, despite a describing the case as "fabricated". And the July 2011 ban on Ahmadi Muslims still continues. [read more...]

21 May 2015

TURKMENISTAN: Torture and jail for one 4 year and 14 short-term prisoners of conscience

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Jehovah's Witness Bahram Hemdemov has been tortured and given a four-year prison term on 19 May in Turkmenistan's eastern city of Turkmenabad, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Prisoner of conscience Hemdemov was accused of allegedly inciting religious hatred, which his fellow Jehovah's Witnesses deny. His real "crime" seems to have been hosting a meeting for worship. Along with Hemdemov and many of the latest 2015 short-term prisoners of conscience, Hemdemov's son Serdar was jailed for 15 days as a prisoner of conscience and tortured. A total of 14 Jehovah's Witnesses have since February been short-term prisoners of conscience, with one of these still today (21 May) being detained. About 30 others have been fined. Tortures used include beatings with bottles of water and electrocution threats. The children of Protestants and their parents have been subjected to public bullying in schools and pressure to sign statements renouncing their faith. Protestant teachers have been fired from their jobs and summer camps for children cancelled. [read more...]

15 May 2015

RUSSIA: Increased fines for "extremist" texts, one jailing so far in 2015

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Russian people and religious organisations charged with distributing banned "extremist" texts face sharply increased fines after May changes to Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code. Confiscations of religious texts from both Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses, mostly during raids or detentions, frequently result in prosecutions of people, Forum 18 News Service notes. Convictions have led to liquidation, or threats of liquidation, against Jehovah's Witness or Muslim communities they belong to. This has most recently happened in April, after a Jehovah's Witness was convicted of distributing texts on the street. Tikhoretsk Inter-District Prosecutor’s Office warned the local Jehovah's Witness congregation about the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" and stated that if it is not heeded "the question of liquidating the above organisation may be considered". In March a Perm Region resident was jailed for five days for posting a banned video on the VKontakte social network, entitled "The Wonders of the Koran". Other recent convictions have taken place after the Islamic texts concerned have been ordered to be taken off the Federal List. [read more...]

14 May 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Prisoners of consciences' detention extended, criminal cases imminent

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Two Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan, Valida Jabrayilova and Irina Zakharchenko, have had their NSM secret police pre-trial detention extended, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Five Sunni Muslim prisoners of conscience – Imam Mubariz Qarayev, Habibulla Omarov, Salim Qasimov, Eyvaz (last name unknown) and Azad Qafarov - also in NSM pre-trial detention are apparently about to face criminal trial. All seven prisoners of conscience were arrested for allegedly distributing religious literature that has not passed state censorship. The eighth prisoner of conscience in NSM pre-trial detention, Shia Muslim theologian Jeyhun Jafarov held for alleged treason, continues to be imprisoned. The trial of another group of five Sunni Muslims, who were in 2014 held in the NSM prison, continues in the capital Baku. Elsewhere, Shia Muslim prisoner of conscience Taleh Bagirov is challenging his transfer to Qobustan Prison where torture has been documented. All these prisoners of conscience are being denied visits by relatives and friends, as well as religious literature. [read more...]

6 May 2015

TAJIKISTAN: "My police shave me"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Tajikistan is forcibly shaving many bearded Muslim men throughout the country, local people have told Forum 18 News Service. Independent legal expert Faredun Hodizoda noted that "aren't such actions and bans something that those interested in promoting jihad will use to provoke a reaction?" Deputy Interior Minister Ikrom Umarzoda refused to state who ordered the beard-shaving campaign, which comes soon after President Emomali Rahmon banned women wearing the hijab. Officials have contradicted themselves on whether police will be held responsible. One victim of the beard-shaving, human rights defender and blogger Rustom Gulov, publicly complained to the President and other senior officials about the campaign's lack of legal basis and the need to punish perpetrators. Gulov stated that the official response "will be an indicator of the value of human dignity in Tajikistan". The only formal response has been for him to be questioned about an allegedly "negative comment insulting President Rahmon" left on his blog. Officials demanded this be removed, which has been done. Officials have also imposed more restrictions on the haj pilgrimage, banning under-35s from participating. [read more...]

1 May 2015

RUSSIA: Jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief in public

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Baptist pastor Pavel Pilipchuk was imprisoned for five days in Orel in mid-April for refusing to pay a fine for allegedly organising an open-air meeting for worship without informing the city administration beforehand, church members told Forum 18 News Service. "Christian songs and conversations with people cannot be classified as rallies, pickets, marches and demonstrations," they insist. Religious communities whose beliefs require them to share their beliefs in public, beyond the confines of a place of worship, are particularly vulnerable to prosecution in Russia. Public processions with chanting constitute "one of the main forms of expression of the right of believers to act in accordance with their beliefs and the right to disseminate them", Hare Krishna lawyer Mikhail Frolov explained to Forum 18. Nine Jehovah's Witnesses and four Muslims are known to have been fined since the beginning of 2015 for holding public religious events. [read more...]

24 April 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Short-term jailings, fines and harassment

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Doniyor Akhmedov – a Baptist – was one of three Protestants in Uzbekistan known to have been imprisoned for between seven and 15 days in March and April. He was held after offering a religious leaflet to a passer-by on the street. For the last part of his 15-day imprisonment, Akhmedov "was held in a small cell with more than 10 people, where they were squeezed in and there was barely space to sleep on the floor", fellow Baptists complained to Forum 18 News Service. After he was freed he was summoned to court and fined more than three years' official minimum wage. Laziz Kurbonov, Deputy Chief of Ahangaran Police, refused to discuss Akhmedov's case with Forum 18. "I have hundreds of cases, I don't want to talk about this over the phone." Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses are frequently fined and occasionally given short-term prison sentences, but Muslims who exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief often face much harsher penalties, including long prison terms. [read more...]

21 April 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Baku's pre-Olympic Mosque closure?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Mubariz Qurbanli, Head of Azerbaijan's State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, visited the Lezgin Sunni Mosque in Baku's Old City at evening prayers on Friday 17 April to tell them they had three days to vacate the building. Qurbanli connected the demand to the European Olympic Games, which begin on 12 June. "We want fewer believers", mosque members quoted him to Forum 18 News Service as telling them. "If you don't go within three days we'll remove you by other means". At a meeting the following day, Qurbanli did not repeat the demand to leave immediately, but "openly stated that they want the Mosque to be closed for the European Games", Mosque members told Forum 18. "He didn't want people to be at our Mosque during it, claiming that the sight of bearded men will frighten Europeans". Officials of the State Committee and the Old City Reserve failed to respond to Forum 18's questions as to why officials want the Mosque to close for the Games. Officials of the National Olympic Committee and the Baku 2015 European Games Organising Committee told Forum 18 they had "no knowledge" of such plans. The authorities have long targeted the Lezgin Mosque and other Sunni mosques for enforced closure. [read more...]