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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.

25 February 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: "A general unwillingness to properly protect human rights"

Kazakhstan continues to jail people for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Vasiliy Kliver, a Baptist in Aktobe Region was on 5 February given a 5-day jail term for non-payment of a 2008 fine. Judge Saule Spandiyarova ignored an Administrative Code limitation on punishments when jailing Kliver. He told Forum 18 that: "we are not afraid, and are glad to suffer for the Lord." Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association noted after visiting Kazakhstan in January "a general unwillingness to properly protect human rights in the country, and of a sense of impunity by some officials" He also noted state intimidation of those he met. Talgat Rakhimov, Head of West Kazakhstan Region Religious Affairs Department, refused to tell Forum 18 why sports fans can share their views anywhere on the street without state permission, but religious believers need state permission. And a registered Protestant church has been raided by law-enforcement officials and those present forced to write statements.

2 February 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Former rehab centre residents "scared and tired of police pressure"

After attempts lasting five years, the authorities in Pavlodar Region of north-eastern Kazakhstan finally succeeded in closing down for three months a Protestant-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in the village of Sychevka. They also fined the Centre and its director Yuri Morozov three months' average wages. "We've given our decision, and you can read what's in there," Judge Lyudmila Klimashina of Pavlodar Regional Court – who upheld one of the fines - told Forum 18 News Service. Natalya Fesenko of Pavlodar Regional Religious Affairs Department described the Centre in court as "bearing a destructive character" and – although she is not a medical specialist - claimed it had "harmed the psychological and physical health" of those who had chosen to live there. She alleged that the Centre "zombified" its residents. Morozov told Forum 18 that eight of the 14 rehabilitants left the Centre after a March 2014 police raid and repeated questioning. "They were scared and tired of the police pressure," he lamented. "We have seen only one of the eight who left us, and we understood that he was back into drinking again."

14 January 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Four 20-month prison terms, one 18-month term

Four alleged members of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat – Bakyt Nurmanbetov, Aykhan Kurmangaliyev, Sagyndyk Tatubayev and Kairat Esmukhambetov – were sentenced today (14 January) to 20-months' imprisonment each, human rights defender Aliya Akhmediyeva of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law told Forum 18 News Service. Judge Sara Zhanbyrbayeva of Taldykorgan City Court sentenced the fifth - Ruslan Kairanov – to 18-months' imprisonment. Like a December 2014 Tabligh Jamaat–related criminal trial, this too was largely held in secret. Akhmediyeva saw transcripts of talks at religious meetings held in Nurmanbetov's home – apparently recorded by the KNB secret police. "I could find nothing inflammatory or inciting crime in these transcripts," she told Forum 18.

12 January 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: "Social justice" the Kazakh way

Nikolai Novikov has been fined three times in two years, jailed for five days, placed on Kazakhstan's exit ban list (with a restraining order placed on his car) and now faces his garage being confiscated. The Baptist from West Kazakhstan Region refuses to pay any of the fines imposed for meeting for worship without state permission. Also in December, Aset Doskeyev of Almaty's Religious Affairs Department wrote to local registered religious communities that holding meetings for worship away from state registered places of worship is an offence. He refused to discuss his letter with Forum 18 News Service. And another Baptist, Maksim Volikov, was fined the equivalent of one month's average salary for talking to people about his faith and offering them religious literature without state permission. Jehovah's Witnesses are also prosecuted for committing this "offence". Judge Nurlan Nuralin ordered Volikov's books to be confiscated and the fine imposed "for the restitution of social justice". And the criminal trial of five alleged members of the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement is due to conclude soon.

19 December 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: No freedom of religion or belief "unless they have registration", Anti-Terrorism Police claim

Kazakhstan – in defiance of its binding international legal obligations – demands that groups of people can exist as a religious community and exercise freedom of religion or belief only if they have state permission. Permission to exist is gained via state registration, yet even this does not stop officials trying to stop people exercise this fundamental human rights, Forum 18 News Service notes. The most recent known examples of communities facing such official obstruction are: the Full Gospel Church in Atyrau where the Anti-Terrorism Police with the Justice Department are bullying people identifying themselves as founders on registration applications, and trying to stop the Church meeting for worship without state permission; the Din-Muhammad Mosque community in Petropavl whose Mosque has been liquidated, but are still struggling against "legal" and extra-legal harassment to try to gain registration; and the registered Hare Krishna community in Kostanai who have been raided by police and their leader fined, and has appealed to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee to be able to exercise freedom of religion or belief without fear of criminal or administration punishment.

12 December 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: One three-year jail term, 5 or 25 more to follow?

Secrecy surrounds Kazakhstan's criminal trials of members of Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat. Mamurzhan Turashov was given a three-year prison term on 2 December, but neither the court, the prosecutor, the Judicial Expertise Institute which conducted "expert analyses" of religious books seized from him, nor his defence lawyer were willing to make the verdict public. All were also unwilling to tell Forum 18 News Service what Turashov had done wrong, apart from Tabligh Jamaat membership. A similar criminal trial began in Taldykurgan on 9 December of five apparent Tabligh Jamaat adherents, and 20 suspected Tabligh Jamaat adherents were detained in Almaty in late November. Officials have refused to discuss any aspect of the cases with Forum 18. Tabligh Jamaat was banned in February 2013, even though the KNB secret police admitted that Tabligh Jamaat literature did not have "extremist, terrorist, or any other calls against Kazakhstan's laws". However, the KNB claimed that "all their activity could be characterised as subversive in the ideological sphere, forming in the population anti-social or anti-civil positions".

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