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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 Although tickets for a Tuesday 12 June expulsion have been withdrawn, officials subsequently stated she will still be deported and this will not be delayed.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.

16 January 2012

KYRGYZSTAN: "Against the Constitution and discriminatory"

Officials continue to enforce Kyrgyzstan's repressive Bakiev-era Religion Law, Forum 18 News Service has found. No progress has been made in dealing with registration applications from – among others - hundreds of mosques, unregistered Protestant churches, and the Hare Krishna community. Unregistered religious activity is – against human rights standards Kyrgyzstan has agreed to implement – banned. One major obstacle to gaining legal status is the Religion Law's requirement that those wishing to found a religious organisation – at least 200 adult permanent resident citizens as founders under the Law – must identify themselves to national and local authorities, which many are afraid to do – even if their community is that large. Human rights defenders Valentina Gritsenko of Justice, a human rights group in Jalal-Abad, and Dmitri Kabak of Open Viewpoint in Bishkek, both describe the Law as "against the Constitution and discriminatory". "Why should communities have to collect 200 signatures to worship or pray together?" Gritsenko asked Forum 18.

21 December 2011

KYRGYZSTAN: "I received it from heaven"

Religious communities in Kyrgyzstan are encountering bans and great difficulties in inviting foreign religious workers to work with them, Forum 18 News Service has found. Many but not all of the problems relate to the harsh 2009 Religion Law being used against communities with foreign contacts. There are moves to strengthen the Law's censorship provisions, but two Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned in 2011 on seven-year prison terms have now been released. Following an application for a foreign religious worker to be re-registered, Ahmadi Muslims were themselves denied re-registration by the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA). The NSC secret police had told the SCRA that Ahmadi Muslims are a "dangerous movement and against traditional Islam". SCRA Head Ormon Sharshenov, asked by Forum 18 how the SCRA concluded that Ahmadi Muslims are dangerous, replied: "I received it from heaven". Ahmadi Muslims told Forum 18 that since July they had stopped meeting for worship in the hope that they will receive state permission to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief. The Grace Presbyterian Church is also facing an SCRA threat to its legal existence. All unregistered religious activity is banned, against international human rights standards.

7 November 2011

UZBEKISTAN: New haj pilgrimage, same old restrictions

The Uzbek authorities have again this year imposed severe restrictions on how many pilgrims could take part in this year's haj pilgrimage, now underway in Saudi Arabia. Only 5,080 out of a potential quota of about 28,000 travelled to Mecca. About as many pilgrims travelled from Kyrgyzstan as from Uzbekistan, more than five times more populous. An official of one Sergeli District mahalla (neighbourhood), with between 3,000 and 7,000 residents, told Forum 18 News Service that "our mahalla will be able to send pilgrims only in 2012. Several people are on the waiting list but maybe only one will go." As before, an "unwritten instruction" banned would-be pilgrims under the age of 45, officials of a local mahalla committee in Tashkent told Forum 18. Pilgrims faced official screening, while secret police officers reportedly accompany the pilgrims. An Imam outside Tashkent, who did not wish to be named for fear of state reprisals, complained that "unofficial payments" more than doubled the cost of the haj. "The number of applicants would be much, much higher if the cost was not so high," he lamented to Forum 18.

24 June 2011

KYRGYZSTAN: Jail terms overturned, but investigation continues

Batken Regional Court in southern Kyrgyzstan has overturned seven-year prison terms imposed on two cousins who are Jehovah's Witnesses, Forum 18 News Service has learned. However, despite this, the Court specifically stated that it rejected the two men's appeal. Instead of being exonerated and freed, the two - Iskandar Kambarov and Jonibek Nosirov - still face possible prosecution and remain in pre-trial detention. "We hope that reason will prevail and they will now be freed," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. The two men had been found guilty of having two discs which police say were from the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamist movement. Kambarov and Nosirov say the discs were not theirs and were planted on them. Batken Regional Court also ordered that "in order to remedy the gaps in the investigation process" the case should be sent for further investigation, and ordered that the two cousins should pay costs. Officials continue to defend the prosecution to Forum 18. Local Jehovah's Witnesses state that the two men remain "in good spirits".

23 May 2011

KYRGYZSTAN: Seven year sentences despite "fabricated evidence" and "procedural violations"

Two cousins – both Jehovah's Witnesses – were sentenced on 18 May to seven years' imprisonment accused of having two DVDs in their private home claimed by the state to be extremist Islamic, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The two young men, Iskandar Kambarov and Jonibek Nosirov, insist the DVD discs must have been planted by police during a 29 January search of their flat at which they were arrested. The two have appealed against their conviction, noting "fabricated evidence" and "procedural violations". The two have been denied religious literature they have requested on the orders of the Judge who sentenced them, Judge Lutfulla Saliev. Forum 18 has been told that the judge's phone is broken. Two anti-terrorism police officers stated that they put the flat under surveillance because the two had been "preaching" and only went out after dark. No warrant was issued authorising the raid that accompanied the arrests. Until 4 February the police denied that the two were in detention, although court documents contradict this claim. No date has been set for the appeal.

16 April 2010

KYRGYZSTAN: "Restore religious freedom at least to the level we had before Bakiev"

Following ex-President of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiev's departure, Forum 18 News Service has found that Protestant, Catholic, Baha'i, Hare Krishna, and Jehovah's Witness communities and civil society human rights groups are critical of the harsh Religion Law brought in by Bakiev, and want it to be abolished or radically changed. No-one from the state-backed Muslim Board was willing to talk. Kanybek Imanaliyev, speaking for the Interim Government led by Roza Otunbaeva, told Forum 18 that "we want to establish freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We will reform the Constitution, the laws as necessary and the Religion Law." Asked whether religious communities will be able to carry on their normal religious activity while the laws are being changed, Imanaliyev said that "no one can answer that question at the moment," but he did not think there would be any conflicts. Tamilla Zeynalova of the Baha'is told Forum 18 that "we want the new government to restore the religious freedoms at least to the level we had before President Bakiev." Many are uncertain what may happen, a Russian Orthodox Church priest commenting that "it is difficult to say what will take place." Commenting on Interim Government promises to change laws for the better, the Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 that "we hope they will keep their promise. We will wait and see."

17 December 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: Religious freedom survey, December 2009

In its survey analysis of freedom of religion or belief in Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service finds that the state continues to violate its commitments to implement freedom of religion or belief for all. Limitations on this fundamental freedom and other human rights have increased – in both law and practice - under President Kurmanbek Bakiev. A harsh new Religion Law was adopted in 2009, despite international protests, and a similarly harsh new Law on Religious Education and Educational Institutions is being drafted. There are also plans for a new Law on Traditional Religions. State actions, including banning unregistered religious activity and raids on meetings for worship, show little sign of either a willingness to implement human rights commitments, or an understanding that genuine security depends on genuine respect for human rights. As a Baha'i put it to Forum 18: "Our country has so many urgent problems - poverty, the lack of medicine, AIDS, crime, corruption. Why don't officials work on these instead of making life harder for religious believers?" Kyrgyzstan faces the UN Universal Periodic Review process in May 2010.

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