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4 November 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: "He was told not to sell religious literature"

The religious affairs official in Kazakhstan's capital Astana who initiated a case against local businessman Pyotr Volkov - which led to a fine for selling religious literature without a state licence – has insisted to Forum 18 News Service that: "He was told not to sell religious literature." But Adiya Romanova denied that this is state censorship. Volkov has tried to gain a state licence, and is appealing against both the fine and the failure to process his licence application. Nine of the fourteen fines known to Forum 18 to have been imposed in 2013 on book sellers are of about two months' average salary. In May, four books confiscated from a bookseller in East Kazakhstan Region – including two with prayers to Russian Orthodox saints Serafim of Sarov and Sergius of Radonezh – were ordered destroyed when the bookseller was fined. If it was carried out, this would be the first known time that a court-ordered religious book destruction has been carried out in Kazakhstan.

30 October 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Baptist faces one year in jail, Hare Krishna community ordered halted for three months

Because Pavel Leonov refused to pay a fine equivalent to about two months' average salary, for leading a religious community without state permission in East Kazakhstan, the Baptist Pastor was jailed for 24 hours, Forum 18 News Service notes. As he still refuses to pay, police on 28 October opened a criminal case against him. He now faces a possible maximum punishment of one year's imprisonment. Pastor Leonov is one of more than 100 people (one of them aged 86) known to have been fined in 2013 for, among other "offences": leading or participating in religious meetings without state permission; sharing their faith with others without being personally registered as "missionaries"; or distributing religious literature away from state-licensed venues. Fines are typically one or two months' average salary, the most recent known fines having been imposed on Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Hare Krishna devotees. Also, the activity of Kostanai's Hare Krishna community was ordered to be stopped for three months. This was subsequently overturned on appeal. A Prosecutor's Office official told Forum 18: "It's not the Soviet system. This is the Kazakh system."

9 October 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Pastor re-arrested within minutes as suspected "extremist"

Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev's son Askar describes as "complete rubbish" the new criminal case against the retired pastor on charges of extremism, which carry a maximum seven-year prison term. "They're trying to turn my father into a terrorist," he complained to Forum 18 News Service. 66-year-old Kashkumbayev was arrested minutes after he was freed from prison in Astana after five months' pre-trial detention on separate criminal charges of harming a church member's health. Police investigator Captain Vyacheslav Glazkov, the Anti-Extremism Police (which is overseeing the case), the KNB secret police and the city Prosecutor's Office all refused to comment. The prison chief where Kashkumbayev is being held dismissed concerns over his health. "People don't die here in my prison," he told Forum 18.

7 October 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Pastor to be transferred from prison to house arrest

After nearly five months' imprisonment, a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana has extended pre-trial detention for 66-year-old Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev until 17 November, but changed the terms from prison to house arrest, according to the court decision seen by Forum 18 News Service. He is expected to be freed from prison tomorrow (8 October). Kashkumbayev will be "banned from associating with anyone apart from close relatives living with him, receiving and sending letters, holding conversations with the use of any communications devices," and will be able to leave his home only for medical appointments. Meanwhile, the criminal investigation of atheist Aleksandr Kharlamov – freed in September after nearly six months' detention – continues. He told Forum 18 he is grateful that doctors who conducted a month-long court-ordered psychiatric assessment were "very correct". One doctor told him after reading his file that they knew he was there "not because you're bad but because you are an inconvenient person for the authorities".

4 October 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Offences a pretext for deportation?

Not only are the authorities deporting from Kazakhstan non-citizens with legal residence to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief, they also appear to be using minor infractions non-citizens may have committed to deport them. Protestant Pastor Vyacheslav Li (whose wife and two young children are Kazakh citizens) was deported after committing eight administrative offences in the eight years he lived legally in Kazakhstan. "They used these administrative offences as a pretext to kick the pastor out of the country," human rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis told Forum 18 News Service. "It is a violation of the principle of proportionality and a misuse of justice." The deputy district police chief denied to Forum 18 that Pastor Li had been singled out because of his religious affiliation. "We'd have done the same had it been a businessperson or whoever." Similarly, attempts were made to deport Russian Orthodox priest Fr Sofrony for alleged violations, but a court appears to have overturned the deportation order.

2 October 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Threats, fear, and independent mosque closures

Members of the Tatar-Bashkir Din-Muhammad Community in Petropavl in North Kazakhstan Region continue to gather for prayers in their 19th century mosque despite a 12 September court decision rejecting their appeal against compulsory liquidation. The court ordered officials to complete the liquidation quickly. Attendance at prayers has dropped from hundreds to tens because "people are afraid of the authorities", community members told Forum 18 News Service. The imam and members of another independent mosque denied re-registration after intense state pressure – who asked not to be identified – told Forum 18 that when they met to discuss applying for new registration, officials "came out of nowhere" and threatened them with punishment. Baltabay Metezhanov, who oversees work with mosques at the government's Agency of Religious Affairs, refused to explain to Forum 18 what law bans independent mosques.

30 September 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Pastor deported, Orthodox priest to follow?

Baptist pastor Viktor Lim was ordered deported from Kazakhstan for leading a registered religious community and left in mid-August. Lim, a stateless person, had lived in the country for 20 years and his wife and children are Kazakh citizens. The authorities classed his action as "illegal missionary activity" for which punishment is a fine and, for non-citizens, deportation. "The appeal hearing lasted just 10 minutes – it was a pure formality," Pastor Lim complained to Forum 18 News Service. Zhumagul Alimbekov, head of the Religious Affairs Department of Almaty Region, which lodged the suit against Pastor Lim, refused absolutely to discuss his deportation or the moves to deport Russian Orthodox priest Fr Sofrony. "I can't comment on court decisions," he told Forum 18. Asked why foreign citizens or people who have no citizenship cannot exercise their internationally-recognised right to freedom of religion or belief while legally resident in the country he put the phone down.

4 September 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Atheist freed, but criminal case continues; Pastor transferred from psychiatric hospital

Freed from prison today (4 September) in Oskemen in East Kazakhstan Region was 63-year-old atheist and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksandr Kharlamov, after nearly six months' pre-trial detention. However, the case continues against him on charges of "inciting religious hatred" for articles he had written criticising religion. Police investigator Alikhat Turakpayev "told me his writings were being sent for a further 'expert analysis', this time to Astana," Kharlamov's partner Marina Kaplunskaya told Forum 18 News Service. Meanwhile, imprisoned 66-year-old Presbyterian pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev was on 2 September discharged from psychiatric hospital in Almaty after one month's forcible detention. "I observed him for a whole month, and he is alive and well," the chief doctor insisted to Forum 18. However, she said she did not know if he had been transferred back to Almaty's Investigation Prison. Investigator Vyacheslav Glazkov refused to discuss the criminal case against him, or a separate criminal investigation against Astana's Grace Church which the pastor leads.

3 September 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Inviting to religious worship a new offence

In what appears to be a new development under Kazakhstan's harsh controls on religious activity, Jehovah's Witness Zarina Burova was fined in June for illegal "missionary activity" after inviting friends by text message to attend a religious meeting. In a July case, four Jehovah's Witnesses were similarly fined after two or three attendees at a meeting raided by police were guests, according to the court verdicts seen by Forum 18 News Service. The five were among 13 Jehovah's Witnesses fined for illegal "missionary activity" between May and July under Administrative Code Article 375, Part 3. Judge Kuralai Tobelbasova dismissed complaints by one of those she fined that his rights had been violated, arguing that the requirement to have personal state registration as a missionary before sharing his faith "cannot be evaluated as an infringement of religious freedom". On 29 August Jehovah's Witnesses filed a further nine complaints to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee in Geneva on behalf of 15 individuals punished for "missionary activity".

22 August 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Nationwide fines and raids on meetings continue

Kazakhstan continues to very frequently punish the exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service notes. Also, atheist writer and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksandr Kharlamov and Presbyterian pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev are both still in detention. In one of many recent cases, Baptist Vyacheslav Flocha was fined the equivalent of one month's average salary for participating in a meeting for worship without state permission. Judge Nurlan Kurmangaliyev, who upheld the fine, was asked by Forum 18 why he did not take account of the fact that the fine and laws behind it break the Constitution and international human rights standards. He replied that "this is not my duty". In another case, Tatyana Degterenko was fined one month's average salary because her 9-year old son David gave two Christian CDs to his teachers. His mother and father were upset when, at school headteacher Tatyana Lovyagina's invitation, police interrogated David in their absence. Asked why she called police, Lovyagina told Forum 18 that the local administration instructed headteachers to report any religious activity. Asked whether this does not sound like returning to the Soviet-era, she exclaimed "Yes!"

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