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17 April 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: Lenten service raided, other raids, warnings of "illegal activity"

The Russian Orthodox cathedral in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek was raided by a range of state agencies during a service in early Lent. The raid appears to have been part of a series of raids and inspections on religious communities between January and April. The campaign resulted in warnings of "illegal" religious activity to at least one individual, a Russian Orthodox catechist, and seven mosques in Bishkek's Sverdlovsk District. "I cannot give you details of our inspections," a Sverdlovsk District official told Forum 18 News Service. Nearly 700 mosques nationwide were identified as carrying out "illegal" activity because they are unregistered. "The authorities are using these inspections to try to bring religious affairs under greater control," a Russian Orthodox Church member told Forum 18. The secret police warned Protestant Churches to reduce their activity and stop handing out religious literature, a Protestant told Forum 18. Another source said the secret police also questioned Protestant leaders on their attitude to Ukraine's political changes.

8 April 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: 14 year church ownership annulled

More than 14 years after the Church of Jesus Christ in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek bought a Culture House to use as its worship building, a court has annulled the sales contract. The Church's appeal is due on 18 April. "We are not against the Church or its activity but the contract was null and void from the beginning and must be annulled," Aysulu Orozbekova, who represented the State Property Fund in its suit to court, claimed to Forum 18 News Service. She refused to say why the Fund opened the issue 14 years after the contract was signed or if it is linked to a construction company's interest in the property. Asked if, as she insists the contract was illegal, any state officials had been punished, Orozbekova said this was not the Fund's responsibility. "It is not just the Church of Jesus Christ's property under investigation at the moment. Other religious and non-religious buildings are also under question." She refused to identify the other religious communities whose property may now be threatened.

1 April 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: Criminal convictions overturned, but will alternative to military service be for all?

Jehovah's Witnesses have welcomed as "an encouraging sign" the overturning in court of criminal convictions of 13 of their young conscientious objectors to military service. However, the Education Committee of Kyrgyzstan's parliament has rejected draft legal amendments which would – if adopted – allow some conscientious objectors to military service to pay the "alternative service" fee not to the military but to the government. "All five deputies on the Education Committee were categorically against the draft," an aide to one of the draft's initiators told Forum 18 News Service. Parliament's Defence Committee is expected to consider the amendments on 7 or 8 April. "The Defence Committee is the main Committee handling this draft, and we will fight for it." Deputy Defence Minister Zamir Suerkulov defended the proposed restriction of the right to apply to pay the "alternative service" fee only to members of registered pacifist religious organisations.

27 February 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: Freeing belief communities from state interference "a mistake"

A meeting chaired by Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambayev has described as a "mistake" the constitutionally-enshrined "distancing state bodies from regulating processes in the religious sphere". Following the meeting, a presidential Decree prepares the way for increased state control over the Muslim Board. The Decree also announces the preparation of legal changes. One Kyrgyz commentator told Forum 18 News Service that "many of the proposals emerging now contradict the Constitution". The commentator – who asked not to be identified – stated that "many religious communities are afraid that under any new legal changes they will be stripped of state registration." Despite the proposed heavy state controls over various aspects of the Muslim Board, its press secretary Asan Saipov told Forum 18 that "our government doesn't seek to control us". Asked why the Muslim Board could not choose its own leaders and verify their qualifications without state interference, Saipov responded: "The state needs to know who the imams are and where they were educated".

25 February 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: Who can be a conscientious objector?

Changes before Kyrgyzstan's Parliament continue to restrict conscientious objection to "members of registered religious organisations whose beliefs do not allow the use of weapons or service in the Armed Forces". But they change the recipient of the financial penalty - called "alternative service" and equivalent to between one and two months' average wages - paid by conscientious objectors from the Defence Ministry to "the state body which handles social issues". Human rights defender Dmitry Kabak of Open Viewpoint observed to Forum 18 News Service that there could be problems if the state deregisters a community. Temir Kasymov, assistant to Deputy Mairamkul Tlenchiyeva who co-drafted the legal changes, stated that Muslim or Russian Orthodox conscientious objectors, and atheists, would be able to opt out of military service. But asked what would happen if Muslim or Orthodox leaders were asked if their faiths allowed individuals to perform military service, Kasymov appeared unsure. "There haven't been cases when Muslims refused to serve", he told Forum 18. Kasymov pointed out that the proposed amendments are still in draft form, and asked for help in framing them to meet concerns over who will be allowed to be a conscientious objector.

8 April 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Eight raids, two official warnings in three months

Police and secret police officers raided eight meetings for worship of Jehovah's Witnesses in the first three months of 2013, claiming that they were illegal because the communities had no individual registration. Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) also issued two official warnings – seen by Forum 18 News Service - that their communities have broken the law. In four places – including twice in Jalal-Abad – officials have refused even to process their registration applications. Ahmadi Muslims are still challenging in court the SCRA's re-registration denial which has prevented their communities meeting since 2011. "We have freedom of assembly and freedom of religion in Kyrgyzstan," Kubanychbek Abakirov, expert on religious communities in the Presidential Administration, insisted to Forum 18 after reviewing documentation on the warnings to the Jehovah's Witnesses and their latest registration denial.

2 April 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Criminal prosecutions to punish registration applications?

With at least eight raids on their meetings for worship in two regions of Kyrgyzstan since the beginning of 2013, Jehovah's Witnesses believe the criminal cases launched against two of their members are designed to punish the community for their latest registration application. A Jehovah's Witness mother and daughter in Osh are under two-months' house arrest and face up to three years' imprisonment for allegedly conjuring live snakes from eggs and then swindling two old women of their life savings. Jehovah's Witnesses described the accusations to Forum 18 News Service as "bizarre" and "ludicrous". A police investigator in one of the two criminal cases refused to say how police had identified the two women as suspects, but denied to Forum 18 that the NSC secret police had been involved. Meanwhile, the family of Uzbek former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov is hoping a Bishkek court will decisively reject his possible extradition back to Uzbekistan when it re-hears his appeal.

11 March 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Extradition overturned, but new charges and transfer to prison close to Uzbekistan

The appeal in Kyrgyzstan by Uzbek former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov against his extradition back to Uzbekistan has been upheld, Forum 18 News Service notes. The successful appeal followed his being recognised as a refugee by the Bishkek office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – but he was immediately afterwards detained again and sent by the NSC secret police to a prison in Osh, very close to the border with Uzbekistan. "We had to tell the lawyer – no one had told him of the transfer," Sulaimanov's wife Albina Karankina told Forum 18. She complained that no one would tell the family why he was transferred to Osh, where he is being held and what the new accusations against him are. His lawyer Toktogul Abdyev understands that the new charges relate to an alleged illegal border crossing in 2012, but the UNHCR is "waiting for an official confirmation concerning his transfer and charges brought against him". The NSC secret police would not tell Forum 18 what new charges Sulaimanov faces. But officials confirmed that he is in the Osh Region NSC Investigation Prison.

26 February 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Will international law protect Uzbek imam from extradition?

The wife of Uzbek former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov has spoken of her concern for her husband, detained since October 2012 by Kyrgyzstan's NSC secret police. "I'm very worried that they could extradite him back to Uzbekistan," Albina Karankina told Forum 18 News Service. "We want him freed. It is very hard for the children to live without their father." She observed that "they [Kyrgyz authorities] keep delaying the case" in court. Sulaimanov's next appeal hearing against his deportation is due at Bishkek City Court on 1 March. Karankina has been denied access to her husband in detention, and called for the "fight for justice" for him to continue. "We're grateful to all who have shown concern for us," she told Forum 18. Sulaimanov's only "crime" in Uzbekistan was to lead religious communities. The Bishkek office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Forum 18 that Sulaimanov is protected under international human rights law against refoulement, or being sent back to his home country.

6 February 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Imam still faces extradition to Uzbek torture

The legal appeal by former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov against his extradition from Kyrgyzstan back to Uzbekistan resumes on 12 February, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Officials failed to produce Sulaimanov for the first hearing yesterday (5 February). His lawyer argued in court that if Sulaimanov is returned to Uzbekistan, he is likely to face torture. However, Kyrgyzstan's General Prosecutor's Office, which wants to send him back, insisted to Forum 18 – against overwhelming documented evidence - that "the risk or basis to believe that torture would be used against Sulaimanov does not exist". Sulaimanov's wife, Albina Karankina, calls for the proposed extradition of her husband to Uzbekistan to be halted. "We also want him to be freed from the Investigation Prison", she told Forum 18. Human rights defenders continue to condemn the possible extradition, but the General Prosecutor's Office denied to Forum 18 that it had received an appeal letter on the case from Human Rights Watch. The letter in English and in Russian was submitted to the General Prosecutor's Office in hard copy on 1 February, and signed confirmation of receipt was given. Apart from one five minute visit, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has not been allowed access to Sulaimanov, and family members have been refused visits.

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