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16 March 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious books banned as "extremist", but Prosecutor "can't remember" why

On 15 February a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana upheld the Prosecutor's suit to ban four further Christian books as "extremist", according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The books were among 47 items seized when Christian prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov was arrested. Prosecutor Temirlan Adilkhanov, who led the case in court, told Forum 18 he "can't remember" in what ways the books might have caused harm to anyone. "I knew nothing about the case until the court decision came into force on 15 March," one of the authors, Pastor Manarbek Baieke, complained to Forum 18. "They concocted all this out of thin air." He fears the ban might provide the authorities with a reason to arrest him. Religious believers have expressed concern over a list of 254 "radical" religious books, including Muslim, Ahmadi Muslim, Christian, Hare Krishna and Jehovah's Witness items. Shortandy District Administration said that Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department gave them the list in late 2015 for publication. Asked the status of books on the list, an official of Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department explained to Forum 18: "If it is on the list it is banned."

9 March 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Crossword books, but no religious literature in prison

Prisoners are allowed to have crossword books, but no religious literature, a relative of one of the five Sunni Muslim prisoners of conscience held in Kazakhstan's capital Astana complained to Forum 18 News Service. "I asked the guards if I could bring a Koran. They said religious books, as well as political books, are not allowed." The relative also complained that the men had their beards shaved off and their religious head coverings taken from them. The duty officer at Astana's Interior Ministry Investigation Prison, where the five are held, claimed to Forum 18 that religious books are allowed, provided they are checked and stamped by the KNB secret police. A relative of another Sunni Muslim prisoner of conscience, Saken Tulbayev, complained to Forum 18 of restrictions in labour camp in Pavlodar. "If he prays they beat him. He can only pray to himself without anyone observing."

25 February 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Now 13 Sunni Muslim prisoners of conscience, 12 restricted freedom sentences over 15 months

Six more Sunni Muslims accused of membership of the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement were convicted in two separate trials in Kazakhstan in February. Five men – who have been in secret police detention for five months – were given prison terms of up to two and a half years in the capital Astana on 18 February. The judge still has not issued the written verdicts, relatives complained to Forum 18 News Service. Two of the men have never seen their youngest children, born since their arrests. Another alleged Tabligh Jamaat member was given a term of two years' restricted freedom in nearby Akmola Region. The convictions bring to 25 the number of alleged members known to have been convicted since December 2015. Three more are on trial in Karaganda and one more in pre-trial detention in Astana.

8 February 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: "What were they afraid of? We didn't take anyone away"

Anti-"Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism" police Lieutenant Colonel Rashid Kuandikov, who led a January raid on a Protestant meeting in Aktau in Kazakhstan, has dismissed witness statements that officers deliberately insulted and intimidated people, including children. "What were they afraid of? We didn't take anyone away," he told Forum 18 News Service. He also denied that police pressure on an Indian and two Azerbaijanis present was racism. And in December 2015, two female Jehovah's Witnesses failed to overturn large fines for talking to a passer-by on the streets about their faith. One of those fined, Nadezhda Chesnokova, was a 74-year-old pensioner. Two booksellers are known to have been fined in the southern city of Kyzylorda in 2015 for selling the Koran and other books on Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Farabi Uzakov of Kyzylorda Prosecutor's Office, asked how punishing people for exercising their freedoms of expression and of religion or belief accord with Kazakhstan's international human obligations, replied: "I don't understand what obligations you are talking about".

2 February 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Nine Sunni Muslims on trial, another awaiting trial

In criminal prosecutions brought by the KNB secret police, nine Sunni Muslims are on trial in Astana, Karaganda and Akmola Region on charges of belonging to the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat, which is banned as "extremist" in Kazakhstan. If convicted, they face possible imprisonment of up to seven years. Eight of the nine have already spent months in secret police Investigation Prison, Forum 18 News Service notes. A tenth is awaiting trial on the same charges, also in secret police Investigation Prison. KNB secret police investigator Nurlan Belesov – who brought the cases against seven of the men, as well as against Seventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov, who has been transferred to labour camp in Pavlodar – refused to discuss anything with Forum 18 on 1 February. An individual close to the five Astana Sunni Muslim defendants insisted to Forum 18 that they met "simply to help people, visit the sick in hospital, help those in need and feed the hungry".

12 January 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Muslim freedom of religion or belief prisoners of consciences' trials due

The trial of 5 Sunni Muslims for exercising freedom of religion or belief is due to begin in Kazakhstan's capital Astana on the morning of 22 January, officials have told Forum 18 News Service. The 5 prisoners of conscience, for one of whom there are health concerns, have been detained since September 2015 and face up to 6 years' jail. Another alleged member awaits criminal trial in Astana, but his trial date is unknown. Criminal cases against 3 more are expected to be heard in Karaganda later in January. 4 more alleged Tabligh Jamaat members were fined and sentenced to 1 year's restricted freedom for talking about their faith among themselves in December 2015. That same month Christian prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov was jailed for 2 years in a labour camp for talking about his faith with others. Since December 2014, 28 Sunni Muslims are known to have faced criminal charges for alleged membership of the Tabligh Jamaat missionary movement, Forum 18 notes. 8 Muslims have been jailed as prisoners of conscience, 11 Muslims have been sentenced to restricted freedom, and 9 more Muslims are known to be in pre-trial detention. Full lists of these cases are given in this article.

28 December 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Two years' imprisonment for Astana Adventist

The City Court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana today (28 December) increased the punishment handed down to Seventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov in November to two years' imprisonment in a labour camp, Forum 18 News Service notes. The lower court had given the 54-year-old father of eight a seven-year sentence of restricted freedom at home. He was prosecuted for alleged incitement of religious hatred while talking to others of his faith, charges he and his fellow Church members reject. KNB secret police officers seized Kabduakasov at the end of the hearing and took him away to prison. Nurlan Belesov, the same secret police Investigator who prepared Kabduakasov's prosecution, is also leading the criminal cases against six Sunni Muslims accused of membership of the banned Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat. The six prisoners of conscience are being held in Astana's KNB secret police Investigation Prison. The court-ordered period for pre-trial detention for five of them has already expired and appears not to have been extended. Three other Muslim prisoners of conscience accused of Tabligh Jamaat membership have been in pre-trial imprisonment in Karaganda for nearly 12 weeks.

8 December 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: "State prosecutor wants Yklas to serve 7 years in prison!"

State Prosecutor Asylzhan Gabdykaparov is seeking to have Protestant Christian Yklas Kabduakasov's punishment of seven years' restricted freedom turned into an actual seven-year prison sentence, Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Andrei Teteryuk told Forum 18 News Service. The Prosecutor's protest – and Kabduakasov's appeal to have the sentence quashed – are due to be heard on 22 December at Astana City Court. The November verdict ordered that nine Christian books seized by the secret police in the case should be destroyed. "It is barbarism to destroy books," human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis told Forum 18. An Astana-based court bailiff - who has witnessed the destruction of religious books - explained to Forum 18 that bailiffs throw books ordered destroyed – including religious books – into the rubbish bin. "They are normally disposed off at a general rubbish dump outside the city."

24 November 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Sixth Muslim in KNB secret police pre-trial imprisonment

Murat Takaumov became the sixth Muslim to be arrested by the secret police in Kazakhstan's capital Astana and held at the city's KNB secret police Investigation Prison. On 20 November a Judge ordered his pre-trial imprisonment for two months while he is investigated on charges of participating in the activity of a banned religious organisation, the Judge's assistant told Forum 18 News Service. The same Judge ordered the five others – arrested in September – to be held at the same Investigation Prison for a further month. They face up to six years' imprisonment if convicted of organising the activity of a banned religious organisation. During the September arrest of one, the man's wife went into premature labour "out of fear", Vitaly Ponomarev of Memorial human rights organisation told Forum 18. No officer of Astana KNB was prepared to discuss with Forum 18 why it had brought criminal charges against the Muslims and against a recently convicted Seventh-day Adventist. All six Muslims are allegedly connected to the banned Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat. Fifteen other alleged members have already been convicted since late 2014, with the harshest sentence a prison term of nearly five years.

9 November 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Seven years' restricted freedom for discussing faith

In a case brought by the KNB secret police, Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov was today (9 November) sentenced to seven years' restricted freedom by a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana. He was found guilty of spreading "religious discord" by discussing his faith with a group of students who invited him to a flat rented by one of them. "My father's religious liberties and basic human rights were violated by the fact that he was kept under arrest without any grounds since 14 August and has now been sentenced," one of his sons Alibek Kabduakasov complained to Forum 18 News Service. The Prosecutor, the Judge and the KNB secret police all refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. Meanwhile, the auction to rent out the Din-Muhammad Mosque of Petropavl's Tatar-Bashkir community was abandoned as fewer than two bidders came forward. Community members welcomed the abandonment of officials' attempts to auction their Mosque to a third party against their wishes.

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