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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.

28 January 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Extradition "would violate our international human rights obligations"

Khabibullo Sulaimanov – who led a mosque in the Uzbek capital Tashkent and is seeking asylum in Kyrgyzstan - is fighting extradition back to Uzbekistan. "If the former imam is handed back to Uzbekistan, he faces torture and conviction on fabricated charges of 'extremism'", insists Vitaly Ponomarev of Memorial, who is among human rights defenders following the case. Sulaimanov was detained by Kyrgyzstan's NSC secret police in October 2012. "I can only see him at court hearings, and we can talk together for no more than five or ten minutes," his wife Albina Karankina told Forum 18 News Service. Tursunbek Akun, Kyrgyzstan's human rights Ombudsperson told Forum 18 that "extraditing Sulaimanov back to Uzbekistan would violate our international human rights obligations. (..) I will use all my authority and influence to prevent Sulaimanov's extradition." In sharp contrast, Kanabek Uzakbayev of Kyrgyzstan's General Prosecutor's Office, asked by Forum 18 about breaking international law by sending an individual back to Uzbekistan where they might face torture, responded: "Let them [the Uzbek authorities] do it. It doesn't bother me at all." The next appeal hearing is due on 5 February in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek.

8 January 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: NSC secret police behind "needed" new religious freedom punishments

Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA), with the help of the National Security Committee (NSC) secret police, formulated proposed new punishments for exercising the right to religious freedom, an NSC official told Forum 18 News Service. The proposed new punishments are included in Justice Ministry amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences, which considerably increase both the range of activities which are punishable and potential penalties. The Committee of Ministers Department, whose approval is necessary before the amendments can reach Parliament, has returned them to the Justice Ministry for more work. Galina Kolodzinskaia of the Inter-religious Council told Forum 18 that religious leaders "without exception were very worried about the amendments". She added that "if adopted, the punishments will definitely be used. We regard them as a way for the authorities to collect money from religious communities." NSC secret police and Interior Ministry officials stressed to Forum 18 that they support introduction of the "needed" new punishments.

19 December 2012

KYRGYZSTAN: Religion Law changes being done "democratically"

Government-backed changes to Kyrgyzstan's Religion Law have begun passage in Parliament, Forum 18 News Service notes. If eventually adopted, they would ban sending students for foreign religious education without state permission, require religious communities to have 200 founders in one locality, and ban all foreigners exercising freedom of religion or belief without a state license. The amendments do not address the long-standing issue of obstructions or denials of burials according to their own rites to deceased Protestants, Baha'is, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees. Mira Karybaeva of the Presidential Administration claimed to Forum 18 that "we're doing all this democratically", insisting that "government and society have reached a consensus". Her claim of "consensus" ignored heavy criticisms by human rights defenders such as the Open Viewpoint Foundation and others, including that the amendments increase the risk of conflict. Meanwhile, Ahmadi Muslims are again challenging state denials of registration and so of permission to exist, and Jehovah's Witnesses have taken state registration denials to the UN Human Rights Committee.

13 December 2012

KYRGYZSTAN: Censorship amendments to Religion Law signed

New censorship amendments to Kyrgyzstan's Religion Law were signed by President Almazbek Atambayev on 7 December, officials have told Forum 18 News Service. They came into force on official publication on 11 December. State officials have refused to explain how the amendments – which increase state control over religious literature and other materials - will be implemented. "This is not censorship," Kanybek Mamataliyev of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) insisted to Forum 18 from Bishkek on 11 December. "Procedures will be adopted to implement this, but I can't say who will adopt them." He was also unable to explain what the censorship categories of "extremism", "separatism", and "fundamentalism" mean. Political analyst Ivan Kamenko of Egalitee told Forum 18 that "implementation is likely to be chaotic, selective and arbitrary". He went on to state that: "No one will check Muslim Board or Russian Orthodox literature, but faiths deemed 'non-traditional' could face problems." Also, a Dutch film "I am gay and Muslim" was banned on 28 September. An appeal against the ban is continuing.

6 July 2012

KYRGYZSTAN: Prosecutor General preparing new banning suit

Kyrgyzstan's Prosecutor General's Office is preparing a new lawsuit to have the country's Ahmadi Muslim community banned as "extremist", the legal expert of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) told Forum 18 News Service. The attempt comes after the failure on technical grounds of their first attempt. Meanwhile, Jehovah's Witnesses have failed in the Supreme Court in their attempt to challenge the denial of registration to three of their branches. Lack of clarity over how religious communities gain re-registration after the 2009 Religion Law has left many unable to uphold their rights.

29 June 2012

KYRGYZSTAN: Tightened censorship from September?

Kyrgyzstan's parliament is considering amendments to the restrictive Religion Law which would tighten state censorship, Forum 18 News Service notes. The existing censorship – like other parts of the Religion Law – breaks the country's international human rights commitments. Lawyers from various religious communities, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, have told Forum 18 that the amendments would have the effect of imposing total censorship on all religious literature and similar material. Asked why censorship is needed, the main parliamentary backer Deputy Tursunbay Bakir uulu told Forum 18 he was busy in a meeting, and could not comment further.

15 June 2012

KYRGYZSTAN: "We need to protect the rights of the majority"

Kyrgyzstan's law-enforcement and other state agencies are failing to stop or even appear sympathetic to violent attacks on people exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Among recent attacks, a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall in the south-western Jalal-Abad Region has been burnt down twice and five Baptists in Naryn Region were attacked in the home village of one of the Protestants. Local police and Public Prosecutors took no action when they witnessed attackers threatening to destroy the homes of Jehovah's Witnesses and kidnap them. Commenting on threats he witnessed by a mob, a Deputy Prosecutor told Forum 18: "No-one threatened the Jehovah's Witnesses, they just asked them nicely." Asked about these and other physical attacks on religious minorities, the new Head of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA), Abdilatif Zhumabayev, told Forum 18: "We need to protect the rights of the majority." One Jehovah's Witness commented that "failure to prosecute the persons who carried out the mob violence in May 2010 is no doubt the main reason why the mobs felt they could attack our community again in 2012". Forum 18 is aware of similar violent attacks against members of other religious communities.

11 June 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Imminent expulsion for exercising religious freedom?

Despite being born, brought up and living in Uzbekistan, Jehovah's Witness Yelena Tsyngalova and her two teenage sons are facing imminent expulsion to Russia, in apparent punishment for exercising her freedom of religion or belief. As in similar previous cases, Uzbekistan is seeking to expel the family without formally deporting them. "Yelena knows no-one in Russia and has nowhere to go, plus she has a disabled mother here in Tashkent who would be left all alone," her fellow Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 News Service. "She wants to stay here." Uzbek officials refused to discuss the family's expulsion with Forum 18. When Tsyngalova attempted to find out the reasons for her deportation with the head of the Sergeli District Visa Department, Utkir Buzakov, he threatened her with 15 days' imprisonment. When she told officials she had two teenage children and a mother who is an invalid, officials said she would have to take the two children with her. Although tickets for a Tuesday 12 June expulsion have been withdrawn, officials subsequently stated she will still be deported and this will not be delayed. Also, Tereza Rusanova, a Baptist from Uzbekistan who has lived in Kyrgyzstan since 2009, is facing criminal prosecution after she returned to Uzbekistan to renew her passport.

18 January 2012

KYRGYZSTAN: "We have not been able to pray and worship together"

Since July 2011, "we have not been able to pray and worship together", an Ahmadi Muslim complained to Forum 18 News Service. Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) has denied registration – or the right to legally exist - to their communities in four locations, citing a National Security Committee (NSC) secret police claim that Ahmadi Muslims are a "dangerous movement and against traditional Islam". Only 135 communities of the state-backed Muslim Board and three Russian Orthodox have gained registration since the repressive Bakiev-era Religion Law came into force in January 2009. Hundreds of mosques, Protestant churches, Jehovah's Witness and Hare Krishna communities have been left without registration, which requires not only 200 adult citizen founders and SCRA approval but approval from local keneshes (councils). Jehovah's Witnesses failed in their court challenges over three keneshes' refusal to approve their lists of founders. "The deputies do not like the Jehovah's Witnesses, and made a decision to refuse to endorse their list," Ardak Kokotayev, Chair of Naryn city Kenesh, told Forum 18.

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