24 June 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
21 August 2009
Some religious communities in Kyrgyzstan are facing problems in registering as they cannot get a certificate from the State Agency for Architecture and Buildings, Forum 18 News Service has been told. In some cases religious communities are told that, on the instructions of the State Agency for Religious Affairs, their building must be 1,000 metres [1,090 yards] away from any school building, and 10,000 metres [10,900 yards] away from any mosque. In another case, an organisation was asked to build an electricity substation to obtain a certificate. Officials have evaded answering Forum 18's questions about these problems. Problems in registering are also facing religious organisations which are not communities. An example of this is the Bible Society, which is facing demands that it must register as a religious organisation. The Religion Law requires all religious organisations to have no less than 200 members, yet as Valentina An, Chair of the Bible Society, explained to Forum 18 "we have only 3 employees."
19 August 2009
Kyrgyzstan has established a state Coordinating Council on the Struggle against Religious Extremism, Forum 18 News Service notes. The execution of Council decisions will be obligatory for the different parts of the government, but officials are unclear when asked by Forum 18 what they mean by religious extremism and what the Council will do. It will be led by the State Agency for Religious Affairs, the Interior Ministry and the NSS secret police, and will have members from other parts of the government, the Muslim Board, and the Russian Orthodox Church. Civil society and religious organisations have reacted with concern, Raya Kadyrova of the Foundation for Tolerance International pointing out that "unfortunately our laws give a very wide definition of religious radicalism and extremism." She suggested that the Collective Security Treaty Organisation might be a reason for the Council. The Jehovah's Witnesses said they needed to wait and see what it would do. They noted that some officials have previously described them as "a destructive movement," but "hoped" the Council would not listen to such opinions. One Protestant asked why there was a need for the Council, given the other responsible state organisations.
13 August 2009
Unregistered communities of Protestant Christians, Hare Krishna devotees and Ahmadiya Muslims in many parts of Kyrgyzstan have been ordered by the authorities to stop meeting for worship, Forum 18 News Service has found. In some cases, communities have been told that state registration in the capital Bishkek does not allow religious activity elsewhere. One Protestant church in the north-west told Forum 18 that they had been unsuccessfully trying for two years to register, but that they "would not be registered unless they had 200 signatures. How can we collect 200 signatures if we are not allowed to function normally?" Asked what would happen to religious communities who have fewer than 200 members, and so cannot be registered, an official of the State Agency for Religious Affairs told Forum 18 that "there is a Law, and we will deal with them accordingly." An employee of the State Agency recently told a person known to Forum 18, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, that after the July presidential elections there would be "a massive campaign against religious groups meeting illegally."
28 May 2009
Since the entry into force of Kyrgyzstan's new Religion Law in January, officials of the Prosecutor's Office, Police, National Security Service secret police, local Executive Authorities and the State Agency for Religious Affairs have checked up on many religious communities, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Jehovah's Witnesses in Maili-Suu faced raids and summonses in April. "The Police told our members that in the light of the new Law they have no rights to distribute or to keep any religious literature at their homes," their lawyer Mikhail Kokhanovsky told Forum 18. Police told Forum 18 they had to confiscate the literature to check if it is "legally permitted". Officials have checked up on whether Protestant churches have been involved in sharing their faith and whether children are involved in religious activity. One foreign Protestant was forced to leave the country in early May. Bishkek's Hare Krishna community – which has been told a "secret instruction" bans it from registering – fears it will never be able to gain legal status.
27 May 2009
Officials have claimed to Forum 18 News Service that they have formed a Commission of government and religious representatives to resolve three controversial provisions of the restrictive new Religion Law signed by President Kurmanbek Bakiev in January 2009. Kanatbek Murzakhalilov of the State Agency for Religious Affairs identified the three provisions as restrictions on sharing faith and distributing religious literature, and the high threshold of members required before religious communities can register and thus function legally. However, he refused to give a timetable for any decisions or to say if these restrictive provisions will be removed. He said only afterwards would regulations enacting the Law be prepared. Kyrgyzstan's Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Pentecostals and other Protestants are expected to lodge a joint challenge to the new Law in Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court on 4 June. Aleksandr Shumilin, Chair of Kyrgyzstan's Baptist Union, told Forum 18 this is because the Law is "very anti-democratic".