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22 May 2007

TURKMENISTAN: Second Baptist arrested in Turkmenbashi crackdown

Days after a Baptist prisoner of conscience was sentenced to three years in a labour camp another Baptist, Yevgeny Potolov, from the same city was arrested by the MSS secret police on 19 May, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. No charges have been brought against him and the MSS is refusing to tell his wife Nadezhda why he has been held. Also, as well as jailing Vyacheslav Kalataevsky in a labour camp, the authorities are seizing two armchairs from his family after his wife Valentina refused to pay a fine for holding worship services in her home. "Had I been fined for committing a crime, that would have been fair," she told Forum 18. "But it's not right to be fined for worshipping God." Meanwhile, Merdan Shirmedov, a Protestant barred from leaving Turkmenistan to join his wife Wendy Lucas in the USA, missed the birth of their first child, a girl, on 18 May. "It was very very emotional not having Merdan there – he was so looking forward to being present at the birth," Lucas told Forum 18.

14 May 2007

TURKMENISTAN: Baptist prisoner of conscience jailed for three years

Turkmenistan has today (14 May) jailed a Baptist, Vyacheslav Kalataevsky, for three years in a labour camp, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The official reason for the jail sentence is illegally crossing the border, after being deported for "establishing a prayer house and by organising meetings of Christian Baptists". Before and during this month's trial, Turkmen authorities asked many questions about Kalataevsky's Baptist congregation, such as how many people attend, who they are and how many of them are children. While Kalataevsky's trial took place, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, was visiting Turkmenistan. "President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov told Louise Arbour that all conventions and human rights principles are respected," the family told Forum 18. "Our lawyer spoke up in court asking why, if this is so, Vyacheslav's case was now in court." Meanwhile, Merdan Shirmedov, who is also a Baptist, is still being denied permission to leave Turkmenistan to join his pregnant wife in the USA. The family's first child is due to be born on 25 May.

11 May 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: "Economic war" to crush Baptists?

Homes, cars, washing machines and even pigs have all been confiscated or subject to bailiff's orders as Council of Churches Baptists refuse to pay fines imposed in retaliation for conducting worship services without registration. Now courts are ordering the money to be automatically deducted from wages. "We can't do anything about it if they just take the money," Andrei Penner – who spent 24 hours in prison in March for leading his unregistered congregation - told Forum 18 News Service from Karaganda after officials ordered his pay to be docked. "Of course it's war, economic war," Dmitri Jantsen of a Baptist congregation in Temirtau near the capital Astana told Forum 18. "They want to subject our churches to state control." No religious affairs official was available to explain to Forum 18 why Council of Churches Baptists are being harassed simply because they wish to worship without state registration and why state officials are pressuring the Baptists to subject themselves to the intrusive reporting procedures which all registered faiths have to endure.

4 May 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: Hare Krishna demolitions held off – for now

Even though a Hare Krishna commune was told by phone today (4 May) that court executors were on their way to re-start demolitions of Hare Krishna-owned homes, none had arrived by late afternoon today, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The latest demolition threat repeated an official warning given yesterday. This morning, the electricity supply to the commune's homes was cut off – but was then restored after 30 minutes. The only official who spoke to Forum 18, in the Justice Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee, refused to give his name and insisted that the dispute is economic and not religious discrimination. Asked why a range of religious minority communities in Kazakhstan face official intolerance - including raids, official bans on their activity, fines, detentions, arbitrary denial of legal status and denigration in official publications - the unnamed official responded: "This is disinformation. We have no information about such occurrences. Accusations of discrimination are challengeable in law." The unnamed official insisted to Forum 18 that "no violations of international standards" take place in Kazakhstan.

3 May 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: Hare Krishna commune demolition to restart on Friday?

The Hare Krishna community in Kazakhstan is expecting bulldozing of its embattled commune near Almaty to re-start tomorrow, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Court executors phoned Viktor Golous, the leader of the commune, today to tell him that demolition will take place tomorrow morning (Friday 4 May) at 10 am (Kazakh time). Golous was told to tell the threatened homeowners this, as the court executors claimed that they "could not find them." Golous rang the national General Prosecutor's Office, the state Religious Affairs Committee, and Karasai District Court officials to try to stop the demolition. But they told him that the demolitions would go ahead. Kazakh officials routinely deny responsibility for the state's actions. The country's Human Rights Ombudsperson, before witnesses at an OSCE conference, claimed that the Hare Krishna community's problems will be solved by the Presidential Administration, later announcing to Kazakh media a claimed solution. But when Kazakh Hare Krishna devotees contacted the Ombudsperson, he completely denied his own earlier claims. A Hare Krishna source, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, commented to Forum 18 on this that "the government is sending signals to the world that the issue is being dealt with in order to secure its OSCE bid."

23 April 2007

TURKMENISTAN: May trial for imprisoned Baptist leader?

The criminal trial of imprisoned Baptist leader Vyacheslav Kalataevsky may begin very soon, his wife has told Forum 18 News Service. "The court will not tell me officially when the trial is due to start, but we have indications it could be on 2 or 4 May," Valentina Kalataevskaya told Forum 18. Kalataevsky was arrested at his home by the MSS secret police on charges of illegally crossing the border. His wife is convinced that "although officials don't mention it, I believe there is a religious motivation to the case." In 2001 he was expelled from Turkmenistan, where he was born and lives, during a campaign of expulsions of foreign passport holders engaged in religious activity. Since Kalataevsky's arrest on 12 March, his wife has been denied access to him. There has also been no progress in the case of Merdan Shirmedov, a Protestant denied permission to leave Turkmenistan to join his pregnant wife in the USA. Officials have refused to discuss these cases, and the case of the imprisoned former Chief Mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, with Forum 18.

3 April 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: Officially-inspired intolerance of religious freedom steps up

Kazakhstan's religious minorities have expressed deep concern to Forum 18 News Service about two official documents: the "State Programme of Patriotic Education," approved by a decree of President Nazarbayev; and a Justice Ministry booklet "How not to fall under the influence of religious sects." Yevgeny Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights and the Rule of Law is "shocked" by them and told Forum 18 that they "provide the moral, or more accurately immoral, basis for officials to justify their negative attitudes towards non-traditional religions". Law professor Roman Podoprigora notes that a new development is that official intolerance "was in an official regulatory act – a Presidential Decree." He described the Justice Ministry booklet as "too intolerant and stupid for comments." Aleksandr Klyushev of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan commented that "The worst thing about this booklet is that it has been prepared by the Justice Ministry and is being freely distributed." Amongst the booklet's claims is that "transferring to other religious faiths represents treason to one's country and faith."

20 March 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: Stalled Hare Krishna demolitions to take place "in five days"

Members of Kazakhstan's embattled Hare Krishna commune, where court executors are about to demolish a further five Hare Krishna-owned homes, have told Forum 18 News Service that they vehemently reject court denials that the decision was taken in secret. "The five devotees only found out about the court-ordered demolition yesterday [19 March] although the court says the decision was taken back on 18 January," Maksim Varfolomeyev complained to Forum 18, adding the comment that "the actions of the Karasai District Administration defy due legal process." The demolitions were stopped at the last minute today by a mysterious man in a black Mercedes car, but the Hare Krishna community has heard they will go ahead "in five days". "We don't know who the man was or where he came from," Varfolomeyev explained, "but when he told the men to halt the demolition they did so, making us think he must have been an official." Legal cases have also begun over six more Hare Krishna-owned homes. Officials have refused to discuss the Commune's problems with Forum 18.

20 March 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: Hare Krishna demolition re-started – then halted by "person in a black Mercedes"

Today (20 March), Kazakh authorities resumed the demolition of an embattled Hare Krishna commune, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Demolition re-started this morning, but was suddenly halted on the arrival of "a person in a black Mercedes Benz car," who ordered the demolition to stop. The demolition squad then departed. Official pressure on the Hare Krishna commune has been steadily increasing this year and it remains unclear who stands to benefit from the attacks on the Hare Krishna commune. Some sources have told Forum 18 of "persistent rumours" that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's brother, Bulat Nazarbayev, wants to acquire the Krishna property. Local officials are also suspected of standing to benefit financially. Official hostility to the religious freedom of Hare Krishna devotees, and other religious minorities, is compatible with officials acting from hopes of personally benefiting from the property of the Hare Krishna commune.

13 March 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: Three-day prison term for leading unregistered church

On 7 March an administrative court in the southern city of Shymkent sentenced Pastor Fauzi Gubaidullin to three days in prison for leading an unregistered Baptist church which refuses to abide by a court order banning it for three months. In Aktobe in late February, a washing machine and car were among items confiscated from a Baptist preacher to cover unpaid fines levied in punishment for peaceful religious activity. Shymkent congregation member Yuri Pfafenrot says life for Council of Churches Baptists in Kazakhstan is getting tougher. "First they came and offered us registration, but we refused," he told Forum 18 News Service. "Now they insist that we register, and when we don't they hand down big fines or even launch criminal cases." Backing the Baptists' demands for an end to compulsory registration is the Human Rights Ombudsperson, Bolat Baikadamov, but he insisted to Forum 18 it is up to religious believers to pressure parliamentary deputies to abolish this requirement. However, current plans to amend the Religion Law seek to make it even more restrictive.

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