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7 December 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: "There can be no Tatar, Chechen or Tajik mosques"

Among the many religious communities denied the legal right to exist as Kazakhstan completes its compulsory and cumbersome re-registration process are mosques catering to Muslims mainly of one ethnic minority community. Members of Almaty's Azeri Shia community – already liquidated in court – told Forum 18 News Service they fear it may be forced to stop worship. Denied re-registration, the 160-year-old Tatar-Bashkir Din-Muhammad Mosque in the northern city of Petropavl is "on the verge of closure", community members complained. "This would be a blow not only to our religious traditions but also to our culture as a whole," one mosque member told Forum 18. "There are no divisions in Islam based on ethnic identity. There can be no Tatar, Chechen or Tajik mosques," Nurislyam Gabdullin, the religious affairs official who refused to approve the re-registration, told Forum 18. "I have in front of me the Charter of the Community, which calls itself the Tatar-Bashkir Din-Muhammad Religious Community. That is not possible in Kazakhstan."

5 December 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: Government "did the right thing" in allowing wanted Uzbek pastor to leave

Uzbek Protestant pastor Makset Djabbarbergenov was released from prison in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty yesterday (4 December), reunited with his wife and four children and taken to the airport. They boarded a flight for Germany in the early hours of today (5 December), arriving safely in Europe, his friends told Forum 18 News Service. Facilitating the release and asylum in Europe was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Uzbekistan has been seeking to extradite Djabbarbergenov on charges which carry a maximum 15 year prison term to punish him for leading an unregistered Protestant community. His friends in Almaty told Forum 18 "we need to thank the Kazakh government – they did the right thing". Meanwhile, the Kazakh government – condemned by the United Nations Committee Against Torture for sending back to Uzbekistan 29 Muslim asylum seekers who alleged they would face torture – has insisted to the UN that they have checked that none was tortured in prison in Uzbekistan.

22 November 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: Muslim Board Islamic monopoly, Catholic exemption

Kazakhstan's Muslim and Catholic communities have been given different treatment to other communities in state decisions on whether they are allowed to exist, Forum 18 News Service has found. All Muslim communities must be part of the state-backed Muslim Board. No independent mosques or Shia Muslim communities have been given state permission to exist. Neither have any Ahmadi Muslim communities, all of whom having been forcibly closed by the state. The Ahmadis have only applied for re-registration for one of their communities, in Almaty. The Muslim Board's spokesperson told Forum 18 that all Islamic communities "must be Hanafi Sunni Muslim". "We don't have other sorts of Muslims here", he added. Asked about Shia mosques or mosques of other schools of Sunni Islam, he replied: "There aren't any." Explaining different treatment for Catholics under an Agreement with the Holy See, a Justice Ministry official stated that international agreements override the Religion Law. But he did not explain why this reasoning does not also apply to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, whose provisions would abolish most of the Religion Law including its provisions on compulsory state registration to exercise human rights.

21 November 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: "Complex", "arbitrary", "unnecessary" and "expensive" re-registration process

Many religious communities in Kazakhstan have complained to Forum 18 News Service of what they variously describe as the "complex", "burdensome", "arbitrary", "unnecessary" and "expensive" compulsory re-registration process – which breaks the country's international human rights obligations. Few were prepared to give their names, for fear of state reprisals. One community denied re-registration was the Kostanai congregation of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. "ARA officials told us that as we don't have a place of worship there to meet in we couldn't apply for re-registration," Fr Gennadi Subbotin told Forum 18. Not having a place of worship has not prevented others from gaining re-registration. Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) spokesperson Svetlana Penkova told Forum 18 that those failing to gain re-registration "can still meet until they have been liquidated through the courts". And in an apparently co-ordinated move, Russian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Won Buddhist, Catholic, Baptist and Pentecostal leaders have written to President Nursultan Nazarbaev praising him for ensuring what they claim is "religious tolerance" in Kazakhstan. All their communities have been re-registered.

5 November 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: "What difference does it make whether you are registered or not?"

Kazakhstan continues to attempt to make exercising freedom of religion or belief dependent on state permission, Forum 18 News Service has found. Council of Churches Baptists face possible confiscation of their homes if they continue to meet, Pastor Dmitry Yantsen asking rhetorically "What difference does it make whether you are registered or not?". Pastor Yantsen also noted that raids are continuing against both registered and unregistered communities. An independent mosque has been threatened with demolition with a bulldozer, Imam Kinayat Ismailov noting to Forum 18 that he thinks criminal allegations against him are to "create the grounds for his firing or closing the Mosque". Other independent mosques are being pressured into joining the state-backed Muslim Board. And the state Agency of Religious Affairs continues to find a variety of excuses to refuse to re-register churches belonging to Grace Presbyterian Church.

29 October 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: 15 years' jail for UNHCR-recognised refugee if deportation to Uzbekistan proceeds?

Uzbekistan is now seeking to extradite detained UNHCR-recognised refugee Makset Djabbarbergenov from Kazakhstan on charges which carry a maximum 15 year jail term. The Protestant who fled to Kazakhstan is being sought by Uzbekistan for exercising freedom of religion or belief in his home town of Nukus. A Kazakh 15 October Almaty court decision, authorised further detention until 5 November. The Kazakh court also claimed that the Uzbek charges – which seek to prosecute exercising freedom of religion or belief – can be equated to terrorism-related charges in Kazakh law. Djabbarbergenov's wife has been stopped by Kazakh authorities from visiting him, she told Forum 18 News Service, as has a human rights defender who found he is being held in "quarantine". The Supreme Court claims it cannot find an appeal he lodged in August. Also, Kazakhstan has yet to reply to a finding of the UN Committee Against Torture that it violated human rights obligations by extraditing to Uzbekistan a group of Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. Kazakhstan's current bid to join the UN Human Rights Council claims it would, if elected, "enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Human Rights Council".

24 October 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: Pressure on founders to deny re-registration?

Shortly before the 25 October re-registration deadline for all of Kazakhstan's religious communities, officials pressured nearly a quarter of the signatories on the re-registration application of Grace Protestant Church in Karaturyk to remove their names. "It seems the authorities especially chose to target those founders who are of Kazakh and Uygur ethnicity," the Church's Pastor Zhursyn Koshkinov told Forum 18 News Service. One of the officials told Forum 18 "we only did what we were asked by the District Internal Policy Department." It in turn told Forum 18 the instruction came from the government's Agency of Religious Affairs. ARA official Zhumagali Alimbekov refused to tell Forum 18 how the authorities can demand that the Grace Church signatories reveal whether or not they are active in the Church or write statements to reveal their beliefs while this is not required by the Religion Law. Jehovah's Witness communities have been raided "to make sure we are registered", while a Protestant church's worship was interrupted by the head of a state-backed "anti-sect" centre.

19 October 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: Criminal investigation, "hallucinogenic" Communion wine, "extremist" books?

Two unrelated Protestant Churches in different parts of Kazakhstan were raided in early October, ostensibly over a criminal case launched 15 months ago. The case follows a complaint by the mother of a member of Astana's Grace Church that it harmed her health, allegations Church members denied to Forum 18 News Service. Masked police searched the Church and seized computers, valuables and religious books they insisted were "extremist" (though they could not explain what was extremist or who had declared them so). Police requested church members to give blood specimens to see if the Church uses "hallucinogenic" substances for Communion. Nine days later the unrelated New Life Church in Oral (Uralsk) was raided in the same case. Asked by Forum 18 why masked police broke into Grace Church in a manner Church members found threatening, Senior Investigator Vyacheslav Glazkov adamantly denied this. "We did not threaten anyone, we just made a search." Members of both Churches fear the authorities will use the case to prevent them gaining the compulsory re-registration for religious communities to be allowed to continue operating after 25 October.

10 September 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: Fears over latest Uzbek extradition case

Makset Djabbarbergenov – a Protestant pastor wanted in his home country of Uzbekistan for "illegal" religious teaching and literature distribution – has been arrested by the authorities of Kazakhstan, where he sought refuge in 2007. He was detained after police held his sister-in-law for two weeks to find his whereabouts, family members told Forum 18 News Service. A court ordered on 7 September Djabbarbergenov be held in detention until Kazakhstan's General Prosecutor's Office decides whether to send him back. "As a person I can say this is not right," Daniyar Zharykbasov of Almaty's Bostandyk District Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18. "But we have to follow the rules." In June the United Nations Committee Against Torture condemned Kazakhstan for sending back 28 Uzbek Muslim refugees and asylum seekers in 2011. They were arrested on their return and at least some received long prison terms.

13 August 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: "Unlawful" fine – but will state do anything about it?

Kazakhstan continues to use property-related legal cases as a way of stopping people exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. Officials have admitted that one fine imposed on the wife of the pastor of a forcibly closed Methodist Church was illegal. But officials have refused to admit that similar fines and bans - for example bans on Ahmadi Muslims meeting - are also illegal. They have also been unwilling to discuss halting future illegalities. In a different case, Kentau's Love Presbyterian Church has been fined and forced to close. Judge Ziyash Klyshbayeva cited alleged violations of fire safety rules in a building it rents. The verdict claimed that the Church asked that the case be heard in its absence, as it agreed with the authorities.

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