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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".

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.

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