21 July 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Jailings under Administrative Code continue as new Codes signed

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service, and
Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Two new five day prison sentences have been imposed in two separate administrative cases against a Muslim and a Baptist exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. This brings to 12 the number of individuals so far known to have been given such jail terms in 2014. These case continue as President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed into law a new Code of Administrative Offences and Criminal Code, which mainly take effect on 1 January 2015. Human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis, of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, described the new Codes to Forum 18 as being "like a baton, to use as a threat against those the state does not like". The new Administrative Code mainly replicates the old Codes' punishments of people exercising their freedom of religion or belief, and the new Criminal Implementation Code's restrictions on people in jail mirror restrictions on exercising this human right throughout Kazakhstan. [read more...]

18 July 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: Orthodox Bishop banned

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) on 14 July refused registration as missionary to Bishop Feodosy, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Under the Religion Law, this prevents him from working as a religious worker in Kyrgyzstan. "This is a ban on the Bishop", Orthodox Church spokesperson Yuliya Farbshteyn told Forum 18. The SCRA claimed that the Bishop was denied registration as he "threatens the public security of Kyrgyzstan and sows religious discord among the population". Orthodox believers totally denied these claims to Forum 18. The SCRA also claimed that registration was refused as the Interior Ministry's Anti-terrorism Department was investigating the Bishop. This Department, however, told Forum 18 that it has "nothing against the Church or the Bishop". Sunday school catechist Vakhtang Fyodorov continues to be threatened with deportation. Also, the State Property Fund is again seeking – this time through the Supreme Court - to confiscate the building of the Protestant Church of Jesus Christ in Bishkek. [read more...]

17 July 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: Ahmadis "must not worship together. Otherwise they will be punished"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

On 10 July Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court rejected an appeal against two lower courts' support of the State Commission for Religious Affairs' (SCRA) refusal to give state registration to the Ahmadi Muslim community. Asel Bayastanova, the Ahmadi's defence lawyer, told Forum 18 News Service that "it means that Ahmadi Muslims cannot act like Ahmadi Muslims and organise meetings for worship or any other activity together". An Ahmadi Muslim, who asked to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 that "this is equal to banning us .. If we are found by the NSS secret police, the ordinary police, or any other state agency to be carrying out 'illegal' religious activity, we will be given harsh punishments - maybe even imprisonment." The SCRA's lawyer, Zhanibek Botoyev, claimed to Forum 18 that "we are not going to send them to prisons". He also stated that "they can individually pray or read their books in their homes but they must not worship together. Otherwise they will be punished." He refused to say exactly what punishments will be imposed. [read more...]

9 July 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Two criminal cases continue as new Criminal Code signed

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Retired Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev and atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov – both in their sixties – are still being investigated on criminal charges, to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Kashkumbayev – who has already been convicted in one criminal case – faces possible further punishment for allegedly harming a second church member's health. Kharlamov faces possible punishment for articles he wrote in defence of atheism. Meanwhile, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed into law Kazakhstan's new Criminal Code. Forum 18 News Service notes that a proposed possible broadening of the "crimes" people might be accused of for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief is not in the final text. But the same "offences" seem likely to be in the new Code of Administrative Offences. [read more...]

8 July 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Almost incommunicado in Investigation Prison

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Relatives of Tajik citizen Zuboyd Mirzorakhimov have told Forum 18 News Service that he remains almost incommunicado in an isolation cell in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. A meeting with his wife in January – which would have been the first since his September 2013 arrest – was blocked, the day after his 38th birthday. Although she had travelled from Tajikistan, prison officials refused to explain why she could not meet him. Hopes Mirzorakhimov would be amnestied from a five-year jail sentence appear to have been dashed. His "crime" was to have had Muslim sermons in his mobile phone. Another prisoner given the same term on similar grounds - Zoirjon Mirzayev – has been allowed a visit from relatives in prison in Karshi. And another person accused of entering Uzbekistan with "illegal" religious material in his phone, Uzbek citizen Ikhtiyor Yagmurov, has been punished instead under the Administrative Code with a fine. Serious concerns remain over both the torture of Muslim prisoners of conscience and health of Muslim and Christian prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]

4 July 2014

UZBEKISTAN: "Legally" preventing human rights

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Uzbekistan is formalising harsher restriction than those which formally already exist, Forum 18 News Service notes. A new Prevention Law, which enters into legal force on 15 August, automatically places people convicted by the courts on a Preventive Register, subjecting them to a variety of police "preventative measures" for one year or more. Many agencies are able to initiate placing individuals on the Preventive Register, from health care to nature protection agencies, allowing many possibilities for officials to arbitrarily arrange for people to stay on the Register for many years. The Law also gives mahalla committees wide powers to among other things with police "take measures to prevent the activity of unregistered religious organisations". It also "legalises unofficial informers" a legal expert from Tashkent noted to Forum 18. Heavy punishments continue to be imposed on people exercising freedom of religion or belief, a police officer in a recent raid insisting to Forum 18 that people "are allowed to gather and talk about their religion only in their communities' legally-registered addresses, but not outside those buildings or in private homes". [read more...]

27 June 2014

CRIMEA: Old and new place of worship problems, Greek Catholic clergy restrictions

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Crimean officials deny that a decree which will lead to a substantial rise in the rent the Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church pays on its nearly 20-year-old cathedral in the Crimean capital Simferopol is a targeted move. "There is no discrimination in relation to this particular church," Lyudmila Khorozova of Crimea's Property Fund, which owns the building, claimed to Forum 18 News Service. She was unable to explain why no decrees have been adopted relating to other religious communities. Sevastopol's Roman Catholic community is less optimistic since March about being able to regain its historic church. It lodged a European Court of Human Rights case over earlier denials in 2001. Greek Catholic priests from elsewhere in Ukraine can serve in Crimea only for three months in any four. All 1,546 religious communities with Ukrainian registration will have to re-register under Russian law. [read more...]

26 June 2014

CRIMEA: Raids, violence, threats – but what protection do victims get?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

About 30 armed Russian security agency officers raided a madrassah (Islamic religious school) near the Crimean capital Simferopol on 24 June, Forum 18 News Service notes. The staff and students were from the Crimean Tatar minority. Three weeks earlier, a mob attacked a Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its congregation on a military base in Perevalnoe. The mob then changed the locks on the building to prevent it being used by the congregation. Jehovah's Witnesses have noted "a significant increase in violence" against them since March. One such attack resulted in Nikolai Martsenyuk (who was peacefully sharing his beliefs on the street) being kicked unconscious and needing hospital treatment. "Despite repeated calls on the emergency number, no police officer came to the scene of the offence," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Crimean authorities, including the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor's Office, have refused to tell Forum 18 what action police have taken to protect victims from threats and violence, and to identify and punish attackers. [read more...]