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20 March 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious freedom survey, March 2014

Before the 2014 UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Kazakhstan, and the 26 March – 6 April visit of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, Forum 18 News Service's religious freedom survey notes continuing violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights. Violations include: making the exercise of human rights conditional upon state permission; systematically increasing the range of possible "offences" people can be punished for if they exercise freedom of religion or belief and related human rights; officials routinely violating the rule of law with impunity; closing down independent mosques, and continuing to seek to close other smaller religious communities; censorship of religious literature and objects, including severe limitations on the numbers of premises where such literature and objects can be distributed; the misuse of psychiatry against people the authorities dislike; and exit bans and jailings imposed on those refusing to pay fines for exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission.

13 March 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: 87-year-old fined, two new five-day prison terms

Yegor Prokopenko – a religious prisoner of conscience in the 1970s and 1980s – has again been fined for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Now aged 87 and three months, Forum 18 News Service believes him to be the oldest victim of Kazakhstan's policy of fining those who conduct religious activity without state permission. Two five-day prison terms were handed down in March on those refusing to pay fines imposed for exercising religious freedom. In the first 10 weeks of 2014, nearly 50 administrative fines (one or two months' average wages) are known to have been handed down. In this period, seven individuals were imprisoned for between one and 10 days for refusing to pay earlier fines.

17 February 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Criminal conviction, large "moral damages" - and new criminal case?

Retired Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev was this afternoon (17 February) given a four-year suspended prison term in Kazakhstan's capital Astana. He was convicted of harming the health of a church member, even though that church member has repeatedly insisted to state authorities that her health was not harmed. He also has to pay the representative of his alleged "victim" large "moral damages" of 2 Million Tenge (about 65,800 Norwegian Kroner, 7,900 Euros or 10,800 US Dollars). "In my experience as a lawyer, this is one of the strangest cases I have seen in terms of legality", Pastor Kashkumbayev's lawyer Nurlan Beysekeyev told Forum 18 News Service after the verdict was handed down orally. "It was not just strange, but from the standpoint of the law, all types of violations occurred, when the case was opened, when it was being investigated and during the trial." Kashkumbayev will appeal against the verdict. Other violations of freedom of religion or belief continue, including ongoing raids on meetings for worship without state permission.

5 February 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: "We're liquidating the [mosque] community"

Kazakhstan's Din-Muhammad Tatar-Bashkir Mosque, built in 1852, is being forcibly closed. Yesterday evening (4 February), three officials of a Liquidation Commission appointed by a court to dissolve the community arrived at the Mosque in Petropavl to prepare an inventory of all its possessions. "The mosque is to be handed over to another religious organisation", Marat Zhamaliyev, deputy head of the regional Finance Department, told Forum 18 News Service. He refused to say which religious community the mosque will be given to. Told by Forum 18 that the mosque community still exists, regularly holds the namaz (prayers) in the mosque (including this morning, 5 February) and intends to continue to exist, Zhamaliyev responded: "We're not liquidating the mosque, we're liquidating the community." He insisted that the juridical community had been liquidated by a court and therefore did not exist. The Din-Muhammad Mosque may possibly be the last remaining publicly-accessible mosque independent of the state-backed Muslim Board.

28 January 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Jailed for refusing to pay fines for exercising human rights without state permission

A Baptist in Semey in Kazakhstan is due to complete a 10-day prison term on 30 January, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Maksim Kandyba was jailed for refusing to pay a fine for attending a meeting for worship without state permission. Sentenced on the same day to three days' imprisonment was fellow Baptist Pavel Leonov. These are the third and fourth such known jailings in 2014. Such fines continue to be imposed, recently on Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses. Kandyba and Leonov, like other Council of Churches Baptists, refuse to pay such fines. They point out that neither Kazakhstan's Constitution nor the country's international human rights obligations allow punishments for exercising human rights without state permission. But Aynura Shaimukhambetova of the Prosecutor's Office rejected Forum 18's observation that Kandyba's right to practice his faith freely is protected by international human rights commitments. Elsewhere, New Life Protestant Church members in Arkalyk have faced state interrogations and threats, particularly targeting state employees. The authorities appear to want to close the Church down. A Deputy Prosecutor refused to tell Forum 18 how many had been interrogated, or what he thinks they have done wrong.

23 January 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Do foreigners have religious freedom?

Courts ordered two further fines and deportations in late 2013 of foreign citizens legally resident in Kazakhstan simply for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Polish cardiologist Robert Panczykowski had preached at a Jehovah's Witness meeting, while Kyrgyz citizen Shamurat Toktoraliyev had discussed his faith in a private flat. A further case is pending. Anti-"Extremism" officer Smayil Konyrbai who raided the meeting singled out Panczykowski because he spoke "with an accent", the court decision notes. "It's not racism, it's my job," Konyrbai insisted to Forum 18. Moscow Imam Shamil Alyautdinov has been blocked from presenting his books in Kazakhstan because the only legally registered Islamic organisation – the Muslim Board – refuses to invite him. Without personal registration as a "missionary", any public appearance would be illegal.

22 January 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Criminal trial begins for 67-year-old pastor

The criminal case launched against retired Presbyterian pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev in July 2011 finally reached a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana today (22 January), Forum 18 News Service notes. The 67-year-old pastor has gone deaf in one ear and suffered heart problems during eight months in prison and psychiatric hospital. He rejects the charges of harming health, inciting hatred, propagating extremism and leading an organisation that harms others. The most serious charge carries a maximum ten-year prison term. The trial will resume after 31 January. Meanwhile, the criminal investigation of atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov in the town of Ridder continues. Deputy Head of East Kazakhstan Police Kadyrbek Nurgaliyev claimed to Forum 18 the criminal case against Kharlamov was suspended until the end of the "religious expert assessment" of his works. "Kharlamov should not worry, we are not intending to put him in prison."

14 January 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: 48-hour jail terms for refusing to pay "unjust" fines

Two Baptists were imprisoned for 48 hours each in Kazakhstan's northern Akmola Region for refusing to pay fines handed down in 2013 to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Vyacheslav Cherkasov and Zhasulan Alzhanov were freed in the evening of 11 January. Cherkasov was held with about ten other prisoners in one cell. Asked about conditions, he laughed grimly. "Not very good," he told Forum 18 News Service. More than 150 such administrative fines to punish individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief are known to have been handed down in 2013. Anatoly Lazarenko, a 79-year-old Council of Churches Baptist from West Kazakhstan Region, became the second-oldest known victim when fined in November 2013. Officials chose to fine Yuri Rudenko on 25 December, the day his congregation celebrated Christmas. He was punished for leading a meeting for worship raided by police. "Police never raid our citizens," Nurdilda Oraz, head of the Interior Ministry press service, claimed to Forum 18.

8 January 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: "We have experts to check icons"

Twelve icons and three Bibles seized from a commercial bookseller in Oral (Uralsk) in West Kazakhstan Region in October 2013 have still not been returned. The bookseller is due to face an administrative court where he may be fined several weeks' average wages and the icons and Bibles might be ordered destroyed. "Everything is OK now – he has agreed not to sell religious materials," Salamat Zhumagulov, the state religious affairs official who seized the items, told Forum 18 News Service. Saktagan Sadvokasov, spokesperson for the government's Agency of Religious Affairs, also defended the seizure. "The Kazakh state must defend our citizens from harmful materials," he told Forum 18. Asked whether he has known icons which are harmful, he responded: "We have experts to check icons." A new draft procedure for acquiring the compulsory religious bookselling licence will require the owner of an applicant's rented business premises to certify that they are happy for religious items to be sold on their property.

6 January 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: Fines for "extremist" books

After raids on a Baptist church and a Christian centre in Kazakhstan's capital Astana in October 2012, a court in December 2013 fined two Protestants the equivalent of nearly four weeks' state-calculated average wage each for having "extremist" materials. Only one of seven confiscated items is known to have been banned as "extremist" through the courts. Protestants have repeatedly rejected to Forum 18 News Service accusations by state bodies that works confiscated from them are "extremist" and deserve to be banned. An Astana court is due to rule on 13 January whether a text by Salafi Muslim Mohammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab is "extremist" and should be banned. Because court hearings to rule whether materials are "extremist" take place unannounced and because no published list of banned books appears to exist, people in Kazakhstan remain unaware of what has and has not been banned. "Extremism" bans are part of a harsh system of state-imposed religious censorship.

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