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2 November 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Last days for embattled mosque?

Without informing the community that regained the half-ruined building and restored it as a mosque in 1999, and continues to worship there, North Kazakhstan Region authorities have offered for tender the Din-Muhammad Tatar-Bashkir Mosque in Petropavl, according to the rental tender seen by Forum 18 News Service. The only eligible bidder is Kazakhstan's state-backed Muslim Board, to which the community does not belong. "An elderly lady in the community came running to us to say her son had found the announcement on the internet," community chair Ibragim Akhmedjanov told Forum 18. "She was shocked, and so is the whole community." But Kaziza Mukhamediyeva of the Regional Finance Department, which is putting up the building for auction, rejects any complaints. "It's not the property of that community," she told Forum 18. "Their praying there is illegal." Meanwhile a year after the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Kazakhstan had violated the human rights of Viktor Leven, a Baptist, by punishing him for participating in a religious meeting, the authorities have rejected his attempts to have them abide by their obligations.

13 October 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: KNB secret police-inspired criminal prosecutions

The trial of Seventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov continues in Kazakhstan's capital Astana tomorrow (14 October). He faces between five and 10 years' imprisonment if convicted of spreading "religious discord", charges fellow church members denied to Forum 18 News Service. The secret police had monitored him for a year before they arrested him in August 2015, appear to have rented the flat to which four students invited him for religious discussions, appear to have organised the secret filming of the meetings with at least two hidden cameras, and prepared the prosecution case. Secret police Investigator Nurlan Belesov, who prepared the case, refused to discuss it with Forum 18. The secret police similarly initiated many, and possibly all, of the criminal prosecutions of at least 15 alleged members of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat since December 2014. One, like Kabduakasov, remains in a secret police Investigation Prison. Five more are in pre-trial imprisonment.

7 October 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Wave of prosecutions against "extremist" Muslims

In September alone in three different cities of Kazakhstan, at least four alleged members of the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement were convicted and five more imprisoned as prisoners of conscience in pre-trial detention for two months, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In Temirtau, Orazbek Apakashev received a term of three years' imprisonment. A court in the capital Astana imprisoned five alleged members for two months' pre-trial detention at the KNB secret police's request. Forum 18 tried to reach the head of Astana KNB, Kurman Yelyubayev, or any of his deputies. "We're such an organisation that we can't answer your questions," Yelyubayev's assistant said to explain her refusal to transfer the call. Davlet Tlemisov, who led the prosecution in court in Shymkent of three alleged Tabligh Jamaat members, defended the sentences of one year's restricted freedom each. "These are dangerous people," he told Forum 18. He then admitted that they had not set off bombs, nor murdered anyone, nor incited anyone to commit crimes. "They hold meetings and discussions directed at violating the constitutional system," he claimed, but refused to explain.

20 August 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Two-month KNB secret police detention – prosecution to follow?

Kazakhstan's KNB secret police arrested Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov on the evening of 14 August after searching his home in the capital Astana and confiscating religious books. Also searched the same day was the Adventist church where he worships. On 15 August an Astana court ordered he be held in two-month pre-trial detention at the secret police Investigation Prison, the court chancellery told Forum 18 News Service. Prisoner of conscience Kabduakasov is challenging this detention at a hearing tomorrow morning (21 August), his lawyer Gulmira Shaldykova told Forum 18. The secret police claim he was spreading "religious discord" when discussing his faith with and offering Christian books to others. KNB secret police Investigator Diyar Idrishov refused to discuss Kabduakasov's case. "I was merely a witness to his arrest and am not involved in the investigation," he told Forum 18. He said Investigator Nurlan Belesov was leading the criminal case (with a possible five to 10 year prison sentence), but the man who answered his phone repeatedly hung up when Forum 18 asked about the case.

17 August 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Why do authorities close public prayer rooms?

Muslims who used the prayer room at a Shymkent market were "of course" unhappy when Shymkent City Administration and the local National Security Committee (KNB) secret police closed it in early July, a source at the market told Forum 18 News Service. Officials gave the Muslims no reasons for the enforced closure. Kanat Kalybekov of the Internal Policy Department of the City Administration claimed to Forum 18 that "there was no prayer room in the market officially". Shymkent KNB denied any involvement in its closure. Officials have closed prayer rooms in many public buildings – including colleges, prisons, hospitals and airports – since the harsh 2011 Religion Law was adopted. Prayer rooms at Aktau and Atyrau Airports were closed in 2014. Students at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan's capital Astana are banned from exercising freedom of religion or belief. "There are no prayer rooms in the University, and we warn new students at admission that if they want to pray they can only do so in their dormitory room alone," Askhad Bekzhanov, Chief of the University's Department of Student Affairs, told Forum 18.

13 August 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: "What right do authorities have to scare our children?"

About 20 police officers, Prosecutor's Office officials and Education Department officials raided a church-run children's summer camp near Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty on 30 July. Officials frightened the children and "behaved like they were detaining some criminals", Pastor Sergei Li of Kapshagai Baptist Church told Forum 18 News Service. Police questioned children without their parents, as well as others, from morning until late in the evening. "One seven-year old girl was frightened and cried, and after that I told them to stop questioning the children", Pastor Li stated. Lieutenant Colonel Bayken Shalkarov, Deputy Head of Kapshagai Police, claimed to Forum 18 that "the Church taught children religion in violation of the Law". He refused to say why police questioned frightened young children without their parents for many hours. He said police are preparing administrative prosecutions, but refused to say for what "offence". Asem Suttibayeva of Kapshagai Education Department told Forum 18 that law-enforcement agencies required educational psychologists from her Department to participate in the raid. Asked why Almaty TV channel and its subsidiary Almaty News attacked the Baptist Church without a right of reply and to the distress of members, Deputy Chief Editor Tatyana Lisitskaya responded: "The authorities gave us the materials for broadcast."

17 July 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Mosque again denied legal status, Imam dies, electricity "temporarily" cut off

Kazakhstan has once more denied legal status to the Din-Muhammad Mosque community in Petropavl and the regional Justice Department has refused to tell the community or Forum 18 News Service what exactly is wrong with their application, despite the authorities claiming it is "not truthful". An official of the Religious Affairs Department stated that the authorities have not stopped the Community using the Mosque as "we do not want to stir up the Tatars and Bashkirs". But a community member stated that "we all know that sooner or later we will be forced out of the building". Muslims think that the death from a heart attack of the community's Imam, Rafael Ryazapov, was caused by heavy state pressure on the mosque and its members. On the first day of Ramadan (and 11 days after Imam Ryazapov's death), Mosque community members could not meet for night prayers as the authorities cut off the electricity supply. Also, three Turkish academics have been deported from a Sufi-named university for Sufi activity, Muslim prisoner of conscience Saken Tulbayev is being kept in "awful" conditions, and a criminal case against Baptist Nikolai Novikov is not yet closed.

8 July 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Muslim prisoner of conscience given nearly 5 years' jail and ban until end 2022 on exercising freedom of religion or belief

Kazakhstan has sentenced Muslim prisoner of conscience Saken Tulbayev to four years eight months jail in a labour camp and banned from exercising freedom of religion or belief from his scheduled December 2019 release until December 2022, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The 46-year-old Tulbayev was jailed despite his family and others insisting that evidence was planted by police and false witnesses produced. The ban on the unclearly phrased "activity directed at meeting the religious needs of believers" would appear, a Kazakh legal expert told Forum 18, to include praying alone or with others, reading the Koran or other religious literature, attending a mosque, or going on pilgrimages. Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law described the three-year ban on Tulbayev's freedom of religion or belief as "another total stupidity and total absurdity". He observed to Forum 18 that "it will be interesting how they will prohibit him from going to mosque and so on".

10 June 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Muslim preacher the latest prisoner of conscience

Kazakhstan's trial of a Muslim prisoner of conscience, Saken Tulbayev, is due to resume sometime after 12 June at an Almaty court, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He has been detained as a prisoner of conscience since 1 April, having been first fined for preaching at a railway station without state permission. A criminal case based on 43 leaflets his family insists were planted during a three-hour police night raid on their home was then opened. Police produced "witnesses" that Tulbayev states he has never met. While in detention he is being denied a Koran and family visits and he faces up to seven years' jail if convicted. But a case against a Baptist, Nikolai Novikov, who refused to pay a fine for exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission seems about to be closed after worldwide protests. "They told me there were so many appeals it seemed that half the world had written", he told Forum 18. The second criminal case against retired Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev appears to have halted. But the case against atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov, who was detained in a psychiatric hospital, continues.

17 April 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Baptist facing three years jail for breaking state censorship?

A Baptist in Kazakhstan, Nikolai Novikov, could face up to three years in jail for refusing to pay a 2013 fine for offering religious literature which has not been censored by the state on the streets, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He has refused to pay that and other fines, as he states they are unjust. Prosecutor Aydin Rashidov insistently claimed that as Novikov's "crime" was of what he described as "middling seriousness", if convicted Novikov would not be imprisoned. However, Rashidov stated that he would have to live under restrictions – such as being subject to a curfew every night at his house - for up to three years. Novikov has pointed out that the prosecution is illegal under Kazakhstan's law. Meanwhile, administrative prosecutions to punish individuals for commercially distributing Muslim religious materials without state approval continue. And, apparently for the first time, the General Prosecutor's Office has published a list of religious and other texts deemed "extremist" and whose production, import or distribution is banned.

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