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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.

13 November 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: Legal status applications almost impossible

Although unregistered religious activity in Kyrgyzstan is now banned, against international human rights standards, religious communities also cannot gain legal status, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. However, two mosques do appear to have been registered. The State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) says that religious communities must wait for the Regulations to apply a restrictive new Religion Law, which came into force in January 2009. SCRA officials told Forum 18 that "the Regulations have been prepared but not signed into force." Meanwhile, SCRA officials have contradicted themselves on whether or not existing registered communities need to be re-registered. Officials claim to have made the text of the Regulations available for public discussion, although no-one who Forum 18 has spoken to – apart from officials – has seen the text. For the proposed controversial new Religious Education Law, officials claimed to have invited some named religious communities to a roundtable discussion, although the same religious communities told Forum 18 they were unaware of any invitation. Some Protestant churches have decided to protest at the restrictions in the Religion Law by refusing to apply for registration.

6 November 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: Why is new Religious Education Law being hurried?

State religious affairs officials failed to invite all religious communities to a 21 October roundtable in the capital Bishkek to discuss the controversial proposed new Religious Education Law, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. At a 29 October conference, where the draft Law was briefly discussed, Kanatbek Murzakhalilov, Deputy Head of the State Commission for Religious Affairs, gave religious communities one week to submit comments. Murzakhalilov refused to tell Forum 18 why discussion is being rushed or why his agency is refusing to allow the publication of the legal review of the draft by the OSCE requested by his agency and received in late October. Several directors of medreses (Muslim secondary schools) across Kyrgyzstan were afraid to comment to Forum 18 on the draft Law for fear of reprisals from the authorities.

7 September 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: New Law to introduce sweeping controls on religious education?

The draft text of a proposed new Law on Religious Education and Educational Institutions seen by Forum 18 News Service would impose sweeping controls on who can open religious educational institutions, would ban all but approved and licensed institutions and ban individuals from seeking religious education abroad without state approval. Yet Kanybek Osmonaliev, Head of the State Agency for Religious Affairs, and his deputy, Kanatbek Murzakhalilov, adamantly denied that if adopted it would restrict religious education. "The Law will not be restrictive but promote orderliness in the sphere of religious education," Osmonaliev told Forum 18. Two Muslim leaders declined to comment on the draft, or on Osmonaliev's claims that there are "too many" Islamic schools in Kyrgyzstan and the number needs to be reduced. Baptists, Lutherans, Ahmadiyya Muslims and Baha'is expressed concerns over the draft Law's provisions.

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