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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!"

26 July 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Atheist and Pastor still detained with little evidence to convict either

Imprisoned atheist writer and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksandr Kharlamov and Presbyterian pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev are both still being detained by Kazakhstan, Forum 18 News Service has found. Kharlamov has been in detention since his 14 March arrest for "inciting religious hatred". Kuat Rakhimberdin of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law told Forum 18 that "If there were any Judge in Ridder with a minimum degree of honesty and independence, the indictment would be rejected as absurd and unfounded, and Kharlamov be acquitted." Kashkumbayev was arrested on criminal charges of "harming health" on 17 May. He is still detained although the only person whose heath the state claims was harmed told Forum 18 that Kashkumbayev is "totally innocent and has not harmed my health at all". She herself was subjected to forcible psychiatric treatment by the state. Asked whether the use of psychiatry in the cases of Kharlamov and Kashkumbayev may be a return to Soviet-era misuse of psychiatry, a Prosecutor claimed to Forum 18 that the Criminal Procedure Code "necessitates such assessment in order to determine whether the suspects can be answerable for serious crimes".

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".

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