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19 October 2007

TURKMENISTAN: Did government order Orthodox diocese to split?

The Deputy Chair of Turkmenistan's Committee for Religious Affairs has refused to say whether the government pressured the Orthodox Church to split the Church's Central Asian Diocese by putting its Turkmen Deanery under the Patriarch. "I'm not authorised to respond to you," Nurmukhamed Gurbanov told Forum 18 News Service when asked about the split. However, Gurbanov was willing to discuss other matters, claiming for example that Orthodox parishes in the country face no restrictions. Fr Georgi Ryabykh of the Moscow Patriarchate told Forum 18 that they hope the decision will make pastoral oversight easier. "For years the bishop in Tashkent didn't visit this part of the Diocese, and that isn't normal church life." Deceased President Niyazov had asked for the split in 2005, sparking complaints from another priest that Niyazov was trying to build an independent Orthodox Church just as he had done with Islam. Fr Ryabykh, however, said that "It couldn't just be a response or reaction to a demand by a president, as if the president demands and the Church obeys." He added that "some time was necessary to understand the situation and make a decision."

9 March 2007

KYRGYZSTAN: Officials call for police to close embattled Baptist church

After an arson attack on a Baptist church, more than half a year after a violent mob broke into the church, local Baptists have complained to Forum 18 News Service that no-one has been prosecuted for either attack on the Karakulja church in southern Kyrgyzstan. The Religious Affairs Committee states that, as the church had been carrying on unregistered religious activity for many years, it was breaking the law and should be refused registration. It has also called for police to halt the Baptist's "illegal" activities. Pastor Aleksandr Nikitin told Forum 18 that "nothing in Kyrgyz law" says this. "We intend to go to court," he stated. Shamsybek Zakirov of the Religious Affairs Committee, declined to answer a question on whether the Committee had the right to refuse registration and told Forum 18 that officials treat the registration of religious minority organisations in different ways in different places. "If the activity of Christians seems likely to provoke violence by Muslims, then we are against the registration of a religious minority community in that particular place," he said. The police are reluctant to protect Baptists in Karakulja from violent attacks.

7 December 2006

UZBEKISTAN: State bars haj pilgrims from pilgrimage

Uzbekistan is restricting the number of haj pilgrimages – a requirement for all able-bodied adult Muslims who can do so – to some 20 per cent of the country's total possible number of pilgrims, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Controls on pilgrims have been significantly increased, with potential pilgrims having to be approved by local Mahalla committees, district administrations, the NSS secret police and the state-run Haj Commission. "The authorities are deliberately giving a lower quota in regions of Uzbekistan where there are more believers," an Uzbek Muslim told Forum 18. "It would be better if most Uzbek pilgrims were elderly" the state-controlled Muftiate told Forum 18. Turkmenistan imposes the strictest Central Asian controls on haj pilgrims. Apart from Kazakhstan, all the other Central Asian states also ban non-state organised haj pilgrimages. In Kyrgyzstan last year, there were complaints that Kyrgyz places were taken by Chinese Muslims on false passports.

14 November 2006

KAZAKHSTAN: Punished for preaching in mosques

Members of the Tabligh Jama'at international Islamic missionary organisation face increased fines across Kazakhstan for trying to give lectures in mosques without state registration, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Provisions in Kazakh law punish "missionary activity" without special permission. Also punishable is any activity by religious communities that do not have registration, with Baptists and other Protestants so far bearing the brunt of such fines. Secret police official Askar Amerkhanov denied to Forum 18 that the Kazakh authorities now regard Tabligh as extremist: "Tabligh's problem is that its supporters are preaching without having registered with the authorities." Tabligh supporter Murad Mynbaev told Forum 18 in Almaty that the group does not attribute its problems to the central Kazakh authorities but to local authorities "who in their ignorance think we are a political organisation".

27 September 2006

KYRGYZSTAN: Mob goes unpunished as intolerance of religious freedom rises

Intolerance of religious freedom – notably that of Christians – is growing among people in south Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service has found. Two months after a July mob attack on his home in a southern village, in which religious literature including Bibles were burnt, Protestant pastor Zulumbek Sarygulov has told Forum 18 he still fears for the lives of himself and his family. The police chief – three of whose officers witnessed the attack and took no action – denies a hospital report that Sarygulov suffered two broken fingers and was beaten up, as does Shamsybek Zakirov of the state Religious Affairs Committee. Zakirov and the local imam state that Pastor Sarygulov should leave his home and close the church "so as not to provoke the situation". Religion Law amendments are being drafted by a parliamentary deputy, Kamchybek Tashiev, who is hostile to religious freedom. Among proposed new restrictions will be an article punishing those who "offend the feelings of citizens who belong to another religion".

24 August 2006

KYRGYZSTAN: Imam's killing seen as attack on independent Islam

Muslims in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan see the killing of an imam, by the Kyrgyz NSS secret police, as an attack on Islam that is independent of the state, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Mohammadrafiq Kamalov was imam of one of the largest mosques in south Kyrgyzstan, and was killed by the NSS in circumstances that remain unclear. "My brother was certainly not a terrorist," Sadykjan Kamalov, former mufti of Kyrgyzstan, told Forum 18. "He was a very influential theologian and had enormous authority among the people of south Kyrgyzstan. I can't yet say exactly what happened. People say that officials from Uzbekistan's National Security Service secret police were taking part in an operation led by Kyrgyzstan's NSS secret police when the tragedy occurred. But so far at least there is no clear proof of this." Mohammadrafiq Kamalov had been accused of membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but he had denied this.

18 July 2006

CENTRAL ASIA: Religious intolerance in Central Asia

In June 2006, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held a "Tolerance Implementation Meeting on Promoting Inter-Cultural, Inter-Religious and Inter-Ethnic Understanding," in Kazakhstan. In a paper for the 11 June NGO Preparatory Conference, Igor Rotar of Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org looked at the reality of religious intolerance in Central Asia. This vital issue must be considered by examining the concrete reality of state policy that restricts the rights of believers of one or another confession, and religious intolerance in everyday life. It is sadly impossible to avoid the conclusion that many states in Central Asia deliberately pursue a policy which violates international religious freedom standards - despite the many fine-sounding statements made by these same states at OSCE and other conferences.

12 July 2006

KYRGYZSTAN: New law to restrict religious freedom?

An official of Kyrgyzstan's state Religious Affairs Committee has told Forum 18 News Service that the Religion Law could soon be amended to restrict evangelism or proselytism. "I hope that the new draft of the Law will be as close as possible to international standards," But, "we have to take local reality as our starting point," Shamsybek Zakirov told Forum 18. He expressed concern about anger from local Muslims in southern Kyrgyzstan, directed at the Religious Affairs Committee and local Protestants at Protestant evangelism. Zakirov confirmed statements made by Pentecostal Pastor Dzhanybek Zhakipov to Forum 18 that pressure by the authorities on local Protestants has increased. Government minister Adakhan Madumarov today (12 July) was reported as also indicating that the Religion Law may be tightened. The problem of intolerance of Christians and other religious minorities – leading to violent attacks and even murders – is widespread in Central Asia.

11 April 2006

KYRGYZSTAN: Pressure against schoolgirls wearing hijabs

A village school in southern Kyrgyzstan and a city Education Department are attempting to stop Muslim schoolgirls wearing the hijab, Forum 18 News Service has found. "It is unacceptable to attend lessons at a secular school wearing the hijab," Rozia Tokhtorieva, headteacher of School No. 26 in the village of Distuk, told Forum 18. "We will find ways to make the schoolgirls remove their headscarves." Not all officials in Jalal-Abad region agree with the ban. "There is no law on a single school uniform in Kyrgyzstan," Chyrmash Dooronov of the regional Education Administration told Forum 18, describing the ban as "hasty and ill-conceived." He also noted instances of parents sometimes infringing their children's legal rights. Commenting on officials' imposition of extra-legal demands, Gulnara Nurieva of the Committee for the Defence of Muslim Women noted that "people in Central Asia still have a Soviet outlook," and "follow orders from above rather than the law".

22 March 2006

TAJIKISTAN: Most repressive religion law in Central Asia drafted

Tajikistan's parliament is to debate a proposed Law on Religion which, if passed, would be the most repressive of all the Central Asian religion laws. The draft was prepared by the state Committee for Religious Affairs. Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Jehovah's Witness leaders have all told Forum 18 News Service of their deep concerns over many aspects of the draft Law. Amongst the violations of international human rights standards that the Law proposes are: a ban on unregistered religious activity; the highest threshold in the CIS for numbers of citizens to register a religious community; restricting the numbers of mosques; banning evangelism or proselytism; banning the teaching of religion to all children under 7; state control over who can teach religion within religious communities and their education; state control of organising Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca; and a ban on foreigners – such as Catholic priests – leading religious communities.

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