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24 February 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Threats, raids and violence against religious believers

Three members of the unregistered Greater Grace Protestant Church have been given heavy fines in Samarkand in central Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The fines followed a police raid on a private home, after which children and teenagers were illegally interrogated without their parents being present. A church member was also threatened with jail unless he confessed that he taught the Bible, which would have rendered him liable to prosecution for teaching religious doctrines without the permission of the state and a registered religious organisation. The church has been unsuccessfully seeking state registration since 2000. Church members also complained that the NSS secret police has been closely watching them recently. A Muslim refugee has also complained to the BBC of NSS attempts to recruit him as an informer. In a separate case, two Protestant women in eastern Uzbekistan are facing charges after a raid, and one of the women was beaten up when she refused to confess to missionary activity, a criminal offence in Uzbekistan.

10 February 2010

KAZAKHSTAN: Government proposes retaining punishments for exercising religious freedom

Kazakhstan's proposed new Administrative Code continues current penalties for exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. The state-approved version being considered by Parliament continues existing fines and bans punishing individuals and religious communities operating without state-granted legal status or who conduct unregistered "missionary activity". Those classified as foreigners who conduct unapproved "missionary activity" are set to continue to face fines and deportation, as is currently being threatened in the case of a Kazakh-born Baptist. Also, a new offence of inciting an undefined "religious superiority" is included in the government draft. A Baptist jailed for three days in 2009 for unregistered worship told Forum 18: "What we want is simple: to be left alone to pray to God and to speak to others of God without any obstruction. We don't want any privileges or any discrimination in our favour." He said that in the 1990s they could worship freely, "but since 2000 this has been banned and that has been banned." Also, Kazakhstan has for the first time denied an Ahmadi Muslim missionary registration and a visa to work in the country. Government departments "send us to each other and no one wants to resolve this problem," the Ahmadis complained to Forum 18.

8 February 2010

KAZAKHSTAN: Women's prayers lead to massive fine – and more?

Kazakhstan has fined Zhanna-Tereza Raudovich 100 times the minimum monthly wage for hosting a Sunday morning worship service in her home, attended by local Baptist women and their children, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Police who raided Raudovich's home drew up an official record that "they had discovered an illegally functioning religious community", local Baptists complained to Forum 18. An appeal is due to be heard on 11 February. It remains unclear how Raudovich could pay the fine, as she has six children and does not have paid work. She has been warned that she will face criminal charges if she does not pay the fine. Meanwhile, Kazakh police have told Forum 18 that Kazakh-born Baptist Viktor Leven will be deported for "illegal missionary activity" unless an appeal to Kazakhstan's Supreme Court against his conviction is successful. As the Supreme Court has refused to even consider an appeal, it is unclear what will happen to Leven. "I just want to be able to remain here," Leven told Forum 18. "I don't want to go anywhere else."

23 December 2009

KAZAKHSTAN: "There is no persecution in Kazakhstan"

As Kazakhstan is about to begin the role of 2010 Chairperson-in-Office for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the country continues to violate its OSCE human rights commitments. One Protestant pastor is facing criminal charges for "causing severe damage to health due to negligence" because he prayed with a woman about her health, at her request. The KNB secret police declined to explain why a pastor praying for people attending his church should be a matter for criminal charges. Asked whether Pastor Kim is being targeted for his faith, a KNB officer told Forum 18 News Service that: "There is no persecution in Kazakhstan". The authorities also continue to throughout Kazakhstan close Christian-run rehabilitation centres for people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. And a Muslim secondary school teacher has been warned not to wear a hijab to school, although she continues to be able to do this. The cases are part of a pattern of systematic violations of freedom of religion or belief and other fundamental freedoms in Kazakhstan.

1 December 2009

KAZAKHSTAN: "I could now be deported at any time"

Kazakh-born Viktor Leven, who holds a German passport, is once again due for deportation to punish him for leading worship of a Council of Churches Baptist congregation in Akmola Region. On 26 November, the collegium of the Regional Court reinstated the initial court decision that he had successfully overturned on appeal. "I could now be deported at any time," Leven told Forum 18 News Service. Deportation would separate him from his wife and their six children, the youngest just three weeks old. The case came as local papers reproduced a hostile article by state-funded "anti-cult" activist Gulnara Orazbayeva, accusing Baptists of spreading the H1N1 virus, accusing Leven's brother David of causing the death of one of his children because of his faith and accusing Baptists of not reading newspapers or watching television. One newspaper wrote that material for the article was provided by the KNB secret police, but the KNB and Orazbayeva denied it to Forum 18, as did the newspaper's editor. Told that the Baptists complained that the article stirred up inter-religious hatred of them, the editor laughed.

5 November 2009

KAZAKHSTAN: "They can meet and pray to God, but the Law says they have to register"

Two brothers from Kazakhstan, both Baptists, have been prosecuted for religious worship without state registration, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Both were prosecuted under articles of the Administrative Code which violate international human rights commitments, and which the government is set to retain almost intact in a revision of the Code. An Internal Policy Department official defended the fine, telling Forum 18 that "they can meet and pray to God, but the Law says they have to register." In a case from another region, a member of New Life Church also convicted under one of the Administrative Code articles set to be retained, has lost her appeal against deportation and a fine, and has been deported to Uzbekistan. Her "offence" was giving a 12-year-old girl a Christian children's magazine. The deportation cuts her off from her four grown-up children.

26 October 2009

KAZAKHSTAN: "This is not persecution on religious grounds – the law demands this"

Kazakhstan-born Baptist Viktor Leven, who holds German citizenship, will be deported if a Kazakh court upholds a decision punishing him for "unregistered missionary activity", local prosecutor Kairat Ramazanov told Forum 18 News Service. "This is not persecution on religious grounds – the law demands this," he insisted, claiming that preaching at a church service represented missionary activity and was thus illegal without state approval. Constitutional guarantees of freedom to practice a faith or none are not, Ramazanov claimed, infringed by the restrictions on religious activity imposed in the Religion Law. Leven, who along with his family was born in Kazakhstan, insisted to Forum 18 that he is not a missionary. "This is where I live and all five of our children were born here," he stated. Leven also told Forum 18 that the family are in the process of renouncing German citizenship – which many people born in the former Soviet Union have received – to claim Kazakh citizenship. Also, President Nursultan Nazarbaev has announced a need for a new state body to oversee religion.

8 October 2009

KAZAKHSTAN: Restrictive laws recycled

Kazakhstan's proposed new Administrative Code – which continues existing punishments for exercising freedom of religion or belief – has reached the country's Parliament today (8 October), Forum 18 News Service has found. Also, the new National Human Rights Action Plan has revealed the authorities' intent to introduce in 2011 a Law "on the introduction of amendments and additions to legislation on the guarantee of freedom of thought, conscience and religion". This is a similar title to a highly restrictive 2008-9 draft Law condemned by many Kazakh and international human rights defenders, and an OSCE Legal Opinion. Ninel Fokina of the Almaty Helsinki Committee told Forum 18 that "I believe they will draw on the previous text – this text is not dead, it's just sleeping at the moment." Vera Tkachenko of the Legal Policy Research Centre told Forum 18 that it was important for civil society to monitor the Government's legislative plans and engage in constructive dialogue.

6 October 2009

KAZAKHSTAN: Why do the authorities want to close a rehabilitation centre?

Kazakhstan has ordered that a rehabilitation centre for people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction be permanently closed, and has fined its Protestant Christian founder, Sergei Mironov, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The Centre, whose residents attended it voluntarily and could leave when they wished, was raided by 25 officials carrying sub-machine guns from the ordinary police, KNB secret police, and the Sanitary-Epidemiological Service. During the raid one resident was found by police handcuffed in a cellar, and both administrative and criminal charges were brought. Mironov, as well as then current and visiting former residents during the raid, strongly dispute that the resident was handcuffed and placed in the cellar by the Centre. They state that "literally minutes before the police came to our building" the man had breakfast with residents. Despite the seriousness of the criminal charge - "deprivation of liberty" - brought against Mironov, an official of the Regional Prosecutor's Office played down the seriousness of the case. "Mironov may be just fined, and go free," he told Forum 18.

29 September 2009

KAZAKHSTAN: Officials who raid religious communities "merely fulfilling their duty"

Murad Ashkhayanov, an officer of the Police's Department for the Struggle with Terrorism in Semey, defended the police raid on the town's Ahmadi Muslim community in which he participated. However, he refused to tell Forum 18 News Service why the community was twice raided, and members asked when and why they joined the community and how their beliefs differ from those of other Muslims. Likewise officials who took part in raiding two Baptist churches in Kostanai Region rejected suggestions these were raids, despite police questioning of participants, filming against their wishes, searches of the premises and pressure to write statements. Talgat Nagumanov of the Kostanai Regional Justice Department told Forum 18 he and his colleagues "were merely fulfilling their duty". One of the pastors was today (29 September) fined the equivalent of two months' average wages locally "if you didn't spend anything on food or clothes for your family".

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