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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".

14 October 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: "New forms of countering religious activity by non-traditional religious movements"

Nurlan Bizhanov, a Deputy Prosecutor of East Kazakhstan Region, warned local officials in mid-September about the "activity of non-traditional religious movements which is not declining". Bizhanov identified Grace Church, New Life Church, the Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses. He insisted that "new forms and methods of countering religious activity by non-traditional religious movements need to be prepared and implemented, based on the coordination of efforts by all local executive, law-enforcement, special and plenipotentiary state organs, together with civil society institutions". The instruction came in a secret mid-September letter – seen by Forum 18 News Service – though officials categorically denied to Forum 18 that the letter exists. Meanwhile, police in Pavlodar Region appear to be trying to close down a Protestant-run rehabilitation centre which they raided in July. Kazakhstan's human rights record will be scrutinised at the United Nations in Geneva on 30 October.

10 October 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Ten days' imprisonment for "extremist" book

Vyacheslav Cherkasov and Zhasulan Alzhanov began ten-day prison terms in Kazakhstan's Akmola Region on 6 October for offering passers-by on the street a book which a religious "expert analysis" controversially claimed contains "elements inciting religious hatred and discord", Forum 18 News Service has learnt. They were each also fined about four months' average wages. Forum 18 has been unable to find out if the book "Jesus: More than a Prophet" has been banned by a court. In February an Astana court banned as "extremist" a book at least partly written by Salafi Muslim Mohammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab. Such court hearings are unannounced, making it impossible to challenge them. Nor are such bans publicised. Jehovah's Witnesses have failed in all their legal challenges against bans on importing 14 of their publications. Despite official assertions that state-imposed bans are not based on theological assessments, Kazakh and Russian language booklets were banned because they "reject the fundamental teachings of Christianity".

8 October 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Fourteenth known 2014 short-term prison term

Anatoly Stakhnev's 10-day prison term in July and Nikolai Novikov's five-day term in August bring to 14 the number of known short-term prisoners of conscience in 2014 jailed for refusing to pay earlier fines imposed in punishment for refusing to seek state permission to exercise the right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Husband and wife Vladimir and Regina Milintsov were fined two months' average wages each in late September for talking to passers-by on the street about their faith. When prisoners of conscience complained about such administrative penalties to Kazakhstan's presidentially-appointed Human Rights Ombudsperson, Askar Shakirov, his response was "to explain the norms of national legislation on religious activity and the necessity of observing them", he noted in his report for 2013. The government ignored a January request from five United Nations Special Rapporteurs to end punishments for "alleged illegal missionary activity", police raids on religious communities and bans on religious publications.

21 July 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Jailings under Administrative Code continue as new Codes signed

Two new five day prison sentences have been imposed in two separate administrative cases against a Muslim and a Baptist exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. This brings to 12 the number of individuals so far known to have been given such jail terms in 2014. These cases continue as President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed into law a new Code of Administrative Offences and Criminal Code, which mainly take effect on 1 January 2015. Human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis, of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, described the new Codes to Forum 18 as being "like a baton, to use as a threat against those the state does not like". The new Administrative Code mainly replicates the old Codes' punishments of people exercising their freedom of religion or belief but also introduces new police powers, and the new Criminal Implementation Code's restrictions on people in jail mirror restrictions on exercising this human right throughout Kazakhstan.

9 July 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Two criminal cases continue as new Criminal Code signed

Retired Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev and atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov – both in their sixties – are still being investigated on criminal charges, to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Kashkumbayev – who has already been convicted in one criminal case – faces possible further punishment for allegedly harming a second church member's health. Kharlamov faces possible punishment for articles he wrote in defence of atheism. Meanwhile, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed into law Kazakhstan's new Criminal Code. Forum 18 News Service notes that a proposed possible broadening of the "crimes" people might be accused of for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief is not in the final text. But the same "offences" seem likely to be in the new Code of Administrative Offences.

17 June 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Teacher and bookseller fined, imam's fine overturned

Larisa Lange, a teacher, and commercial bookseller Gulnar Sandibayeva have each been fined one month's average wages for exercising their right to freedom of religion and expression. Lange hosts meetings of a Baptist community in her home without state permission, while Sandibayeva had sold Islamic books in her shop without the compulsory state licence for selling religious materials. Kordai District Prosecutor Zhasulan Yelamanov refused to explain to Forum 18 News Service why his officials had brought the case against Lange. Zhilioi District Prosecutor Aslanbek Zholanov defended the prosecution against Sandibayeva. Asked why Kazakhstan imposes censorship on religious literature, Zholanov told Forum 18: "It's not censorship. But religious literature can only be sold in approved places." By contrast, Almaty-based Imam Yerkebulan Nukasov had an earlier fine of two months' average wages for leading an unregistered Muslim Board mosque overturned on appeal.

29 May 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Drink vodka – yes, watch football – yes, praying – no

The leader of a Baptist congregation in Semei in East Kazakhstan Region, which chooses to meet for worship without state permission, began a ten-day prison term on 27 May. Viktor Kandyba had refused to pay a fine handed down in 2013 for leading the church. Prosecutor's Office official Bolzhan Botbayev, who brought both cases to court, struggled to explain why Kandyba has the right to gather friends to drink vodka or watch football on television but not to meet for worship. "The law says they must have registration before they are allowed to meet," he insisted to Forum 18. Kandyba is the tenth known Baptist to be given a short-term prison sentence in 2014 for refusing to pay fines for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. "I can't agree that these imprisonments are a violation of human rights," Rustam Kypshakbayev of the government's Ombudsperson's Office for Human Rights told Forum 18. Those who lead unregistered religious communities will face up to 60 days' imprisonment if the new Criminal Code now in the Senate is adopted in current form.

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