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25 June 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Extradited and given 12 years' imprisonment

Extradited back to his native Uzbekistan from Kazakhstan in March, against the express wishes of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, 38-year-old Muslim Khayrullo Tursunov was sentenced in early June to a long prison term - thought to be 12 years - for alleged "extremist" religious activity. Relatives outside Uzbekistan complained to Forum 18 News Service that the case had been "fabricated" to punish him for exercising his freedom of religion or belief. In a separate case, Dilbar Turabayeva and other parents of 13 young Muslim men from Namangan in eastern Uzbekistan given long prison terms in 2010 for learning how to read the Koran and to pray the namaz in a private home have lamented their failure to have their sons freed or the case re-examined. They note that the Investigator – who they claim threatened witnesses and dictated statements - and the Judge have both been removed on corruption charges. "The fact that Turabayeva wrote complaints does not mean that she will receive a positive response," Senator Svetlana Artikova – one of the many recipients of their complaints - told Forum 18.

12 June 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Criminal trial for atheist writer imminent, pastor still in prison, new criminal case

The criminal trial of 62-year-old atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov on charges of "inciting religious hatred" – which he rejects - is set to begin in Ridder this month. He has been held for three months in prison and psychiatric detention, mostly in cellars, and has lost 20 kilograms in weight, his partner Marina Kaplunskaya told Forum 18 News Service. Asked who had suffered because of what Kharlamov had written on religion, Ridder's Prosecutor Vitaly Shaber told Forum 18: "This Criminal Code Article does not need victims – if there had been any, a completely different Article would have been used." Astana Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18 a criminal case on the same charges was launched in March in connection with the activity of the city's Grace Protestant Church. The church's 66-year-old pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev is already in prison facing separate criminal charges of harming health, which he rejects. The alleged victim says her health has not been harmed.

10 June 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: "Double punishment" of fines and exit bans

Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law describes the ban on leaving Kazakhstan for Baptists who refuse to pay fines imposed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief as "double punishment". But a senior Justice Ministry official claimed to Forum 18 News Service that "it isn't double punishment - it's a limitation on their actions until they pay their fines". Ever more individuals of a variety of faiths are being fined for meeting for worship without state permission, or for sharing their faith with others. Council of Churches Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses and members of the Muslim Tabligh Jamaat missionary movement are particular targets. Zhovtis is also concerned that the travel ban "isn't governed by any law". "Officials .. simply take the decision and individuals don't have the proper opportunity to challenge this in court," Zhovtis told Forum 18. Several Baptists banned from travelling told Forum 18 they were not told of the court hearings where the travel bans were confirmed.

20 May 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Pentecostal jailed for 2 months pre-trial, Baptist gets 3-days jail, atheist still in psychiatric hospital

A Protestant pastor in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, was arrested on criminal charges of harming health on 17 May, Forum 18 News Service has learned. On 19 May he was ordered to be held for two months' pre-trial detention on unclear charges, apparently including praying and singing. And Baptist leader Aleksei Asetov was jailed for three days in early May, for refusing to pay a fine equivalent to a year and a half's average local wages. The fine was imposed for meeting for worship without state permission. He told Forum 18 he will not pay the fine, as he should not be punished for meeting for worship with his friends. Imprisoned atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov remains under investigation in a psychiatric hospital in the commercial capital Almaty. Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law stated that "the case is even more urgent as the man is not only in pre-trial detention, but now undergoing forcible psychiatric examination".

8 May 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Why was Muslim prisoner of conscience extradited to Uzbekistan?

Kenes Zhusupov, Kazakh lawyer for Uzbek Muslim prisoner of conscience Khayrullo Tursunov, has told Forum 18 News Service that "I am outraged - Kazakhstan should have refused to extradite him". He commented that "the Uzbeks wanted him back as part of their campaign against Muslims who read the Koran and pray". The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law appealed for the extradition not to happen, as did on 28 February the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT). Yet on 13 March Tursunov was extradited to Uzbekistan. Forum 18 has been unable to get any official to explain why Kazakhstan defied the UN's request and broke both its international obligations and domestic law. The CAT is also investigating the fate of 29 Muslims extradited by Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan. "As the representative of the victims, I urge the Committee against Torture to be firm regarding Kazakhstan and request strong measures", Christine Laroque of Action des Chrétiens pour l'Abolition de la Torture (ACAT) told Forum 18. She suggested that the Committee "set up a mission with members of the CAT or independent experts to visit the complainants still detained and who are alleged to have been tortured in Uzbek jails".

6 May 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Freedom of religion and belief to suffer in "anti-extremism" programme?

"Uncover and halt the activity of illegally functioning places of worship"; "Uncover and halt the distribution of religious literature and informational materials of religious content in non-approved locations"; "Uncover and halt the carrying out on the territory of the country of illegal missionary activity." These are three of 74 measures in a draft Plan to implement Kazakhstan's proposed new State Programme to Counter Religious Extremism and Terrorism for 2013-2017, in its final stages of preparation and seen by Forum 18 News Service. The State Programme with its Implementation Plan would require video-cameras in all places of worship and teaching on so-called "traditional religions" to become a compulsory school subject. The General Prosecutor's Office in the capital Astana – which is preparing the State Programme – refused to discuss it with Forum 18. "Freedom of religion and belief across the board will be more and more restricted," one member of a smaller vulnerable religious group told Forum 18.

1 May 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Devout Muslim "may receive up to 15 years" in jail

Uzbekistan is prosecuting Muslim prisoner of conscience Khayrullo Tursunov for exercising his freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He was extradited from Kazakhstan – in violation of that country's international human rights obligations – and immediately arrested by Uzbekistan's NSS secret police, the Interior Ministry, the ordinary police, and the Prosecutor General's Office. His trial was due to begin on 15 April, but has not yet happened. Tursunov "may receive up to 15 years" in jail, police Colonel Isameddin Irisov told Forum 18. "Tursunov is a devout follower of Islam, and in Uzbekistan he peacefully practiced his faith outside state-controlled Islam", exiled human rights defender Mutabar Tadjibayeva of the Fiery Hearts Club told Forum 18. Some relatives suspect that the authorities may have sought Tursunov in revenge for his wife's escape from Uzbekistan. Nodira Buriyeva fled Uzbekistan after being interrogated and threatened with rape before a relative was jailed for being a devout Muslim. Tursunov had fled to Kazakhstan to practice his faith and join his wife and their children, but now faces being tortured in Uzbekistan.

26 April 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious free speech "doesn't exist"

Kazakhstan's National Library in Almaty has had its religious books checked, its General Director Gulisa Balabekova told Forum 18 News Service, but "there were no problems". The check was part of the compulsory prior censorship of all printed and imported religious literature and controls on where religious literature can be sold or distributed. In other religious free speech restrictions, who can lead or address worship services is restricted, while discussing faith with other people in public is banned – with punishments for those who ignore these bans. "Unfortunately the right to freedom of speech in the area of religion doesn't exist in Kazakhstan," independent journalist Sergei Duvanov told Forum 18.

22 April 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Four raids, heart attack, eight fines – amid presidential claims of religious freedom

Within 48 hours of a claim by Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev that "religious freedom is fully secured", seven members of a small Pentecostal Church – four of them in their sixties – were given heavy fines for meeting for Easter Sunday worship. The leader, Aleksandr Balaev, was fined the equivalent of six months of his pension, he told Forum 18 News Service. Galina Gileva, who is 73, complained that during the raid police "brought me to such a position of stress that I suffered a heart attack". The raid on the Church in Zhaskent was one of four recent raids on religious worship. Lt-Colonel Nikolai Narkhov, head of Karabalyk Police in Kostanai Region, refused absolutely to answer Forum 18's questions as to why about 15 police officers and officials raided a Jehovah's Witness meeting, seizing religious literature.

18 April 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Imprisoned atheist mad, bad, or neither?

Imprisoned atheist Aleksandr Kharlamov is due to undergo a second officially-ordered psychiatric examination since his 14 March arrest, as Kazakhstan's prosecutors seek to jail him on criminal charges of "inciting religious hatred". He rejects the accusation, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years' jail. "No-one suffered from what he wrote on religion", police Captain Alikhat Turakpayev admitted to Forum 18 News Service. Kuat Rakhimberdin of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law told Forum 18 that "Kharlamov is involved in many types of activity, but he annoyed the police and this appears to have been what triggered the case". Rakhimberdin added that "his writings on religion are just the excuse. But in any case, this is a violation of his right to freedom of speech and religion." Captain Turakpayev refused to discuss whether the prosecution was motivated by the police's annoyance with Kharlamov. He also refused to explain to Forum 18 on what, if any, medically-relevant evidence he ordered two psychiatric examinations of Kharlamov.

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