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23 June 2005

KYRGYZSTAN: Breakdown of functioning government affects Protestants

Amid the breakdown of functioning government, some Protestants have complained to Forum 18 News Service of pressure against them. The head of a Protestant rehabilitation centre in a village near the capital Bishkek, Akhmed Saipov, told Forum 18 that local Muslims attacked his institution and demanded that it be closed. Saipov told Forum 18 that he has "no confidence" that police will protect the centre "if we are subjected to a pogrom again," but the police officer leading the investigation, Colonel Amangeldy Ishaliev, assured Forum 18 that "the police will protect the centre from hooligans if it is subjected to attacks again." Also, former junior Education Minister Gaisha Ibragimova's was allegedly forced to resign by "Islamic radicals" because she is a Protestant. However, members of a range of Protestant churches in Kyrgyzstan told Forum 18, in mid-June, that they had not heard of other incidents of pressure against religious minorities elsewhere in the country.

16 June 2005

KYRGYZSTAN: Official claims government control of Islam

The Kyrgyz government "controls" 300 students currently studying in Islamic colleges in Egypt and Iran through the muftiate (the official Islamic spiritual leadership), an official has told Forum 18 News Service. Samsabek Zakirov, head of the religious affairs committee for Osh region, also told Forum 18 that "in southern Kyrgyzstan practically all the mosques are registered and are therefore under government control." Zakirov is not satisfied at this level of control and also intends to ensure that travelling Muslim missionaries "only preach with permission from the muftiate," or official Islamic leadership. Kyrgyz law does not require this permission. Local people have told Forum 18 they fear that last month's uprising in Uzbekistan could destabilise the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan and believe the government may tighten its religious policy. But so far there have been "no noticeable significant changes," Sadykjan Kamaluddin, former mufti of Kyrgyzstan, told Forum 18.

16 June 2005

UZBEKISTAN: What is known about Akramia and the uprising?

Akramia was at the centre of May's uprising, but it is still unclear if it is a bona fide peaceful religious group, or if it is violent. Their origins date from the founder, Akram Yuldashev, writing an Islamic theological pamphlet in Uzbek, Yimonga Yul (Path to faith), which he states did not touch on political issues, but rather on general moral themes. Those close to group members have insisted on this point to Forum 18 News Service, as does the Russian-language translation. The only indirect evidence that Akramia was pressing for violence prior to the uprising is a so-called supplement to Yimonga Yul; it is unknown both who wrote the supplement and whose ideas it contains. The main source of Akamia support in the uprising's centre, Andijan, seems to have been their "Islamic socialist" employment practices. Much is unclear about both Akramia and the events leading to the Andijan massacre, but calls for a credible thorough independent investigation have been rejected by the Uzbek government.

23 May 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Religious crackdown follows Andijan crackdown

"Purges are already underway – religious organisations have immediately fallen under suspicion," Protestants in the capital Tashkent who preferred not to be named have told Forum 18 News Service, following the Uzbek government's bloody suppression of a popular uprising in the Fergana Valley. "Local authority and secret police officials are visiting and inspecting churches, and checking up on documentation," Forum 18 was told. Such visits have taken place throughout Uzbekistan, not just in the Fergana Valley. Jehovah's Witnesses say numerous cases against members caught up in coordinated raids in March are now in the courts. "Almost weekly there are new cases of fines or interrogations – this is merely business as usual," Forum 18 was told. The official reason given for the uprising – "Islamic radicalism" - is widely disbelieved, but as long as Islam and other faiths remain highly restricted, fundamentalist Islam is seen as a valid alternative to the current political structure. Some fear the Uzbek crackdown will complicate the stuation in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

13 May 2005

KAZAKHSTAN: "Draconian amendments" approved by Majilis

"The ban on the activity of unregistered religious associations and the draconian amendments to the administrative code significantly limit believers' rights," Aleksandr Klyushev, of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan (AROK) told Forum 18 News Service after 12 May Majilis parliamentary approval of sweeping "national security" amendments to eleven laws. The parliamentary debate had been expected on 18 May, but was suddenly brought forward. Klyushev said to Forum 18 that "deputies discovered that the discussion of the draft would take place on 11 May only on the day of the session. I believe this was done deliberately to prevent deputies from preparing for the consideration of the draft and from submitting amendments." Communist party deputy Yerasyl Abylkasymov told Forum 18 that "in the time of Genghis Khan such ideological saboteurs were hung, drawn and quartered. Alas it is now unfortunately not possible to do this and so we have to defend ourselves by means of laws." Having been approved by the Majilis, the lower house of parliament, the amendments now go to the upper house, the Senate, for approval.

22 March 2005

KYRGYZSTAN: Chinese pressure achieves Falun Gong deregistration

On 25 February, only seven months after it gained registration as a public association, a court in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek revoked the registration of the Falun Gong Centre in the country under pressure from the Chinese embassy, which claimed the spiritual movement "encroaches on human rights and overall poses a threat to society". Judge Jaukhar Baizulayeva, who heard the case, ruled that the group conducts "religious activity that is against public and state interests", though no evidence for this was presented in court. Falun Gong leader's in Kyrgyzstan, Marita Shaikhmetova, complained to Forum 18 News Service that the judge was "prejudiced" against the community before the hearing had even begun and was hostile throughout, shouting at Falun Gong witnesses. The judge declined to talk to Forum 18.

15 February 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Saints and martyrs relics banned

Uzbek authorities have banned the relics of two saints, recognised by the Russian Orthodox Church, from entering the country. The two saints, Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fyodorovna and a lay-sister Varvara, were both nuns martyred by Communists in 1918, by being thrown alive down a mine shaft. The Russian Orthodox diocese of Central Asia told Forum 18 News Service that "we cannot understand why the Uzbek authorities have deprived [Orthodox believers] of the opportunity of venerating the holy relics." The relics have already been brought to eight other former Soviet republics. Shoazim Minovarov, chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs, whose committee was asked to allow the relics to enter, categorically refused to comment to Forum 18 on the ban, saying "You can think what you want! I don't wish to express my opinion on this question. After all, you don't need to receive a comment at a ministerial level every time!"

19 January 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Why does government restrict haj numbers?

It remains unclear why the Uzbek government is limiting the number of adult Muslims who can go on the haj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca that Islam requires. This year, only 4,200 of the more than 6,000 Uzbek citizens who wanted to make the pilgrimage were permitted to go, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The numbers are controlled under an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, by which the Saudis only issue haj visas to Uzbeks whose names are on a list drawn up by representatives of the state Committee for Religious Affairs and the state-controlled muftiate, or Islamic religious leadership. Uzbek state control is further ensured as, unlike in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where haj pilgrims can travel privately, Uzbek Muslims have to travel to Saudi Arabia by air using only the state-run Uzbek Airways. This cost of these flights is prohibitively expensive for most Uzbeks. The minority Shia Muslim community also experiences problems in making the haj with Sunnis.

3 December 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Why were some Tabligh members given lesser jail terms than others?

Six month jail sentences imposed on Muslim Tabligh members were less then the five year jail terms imposed on group members earlier in the year by the same judge, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. This is possibly, a local human rights activist suggested to Forum 18, as a result of the court being visited the previous day by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Tabligh Jama'at movement has been, outside of Uzbekistan, linked with radical Islamists and with Al-Qaeda. But local Uzbek Tabligh members told Forum 18 that the Tabligh emphatically distances itself from politics and is entirely focused on religious missionary work, insisting that they had heard nothing about military training in some foreign affiliates. The Uzbek authorities are highly suspicious of Islamic religious movements and frequently seek to obstruct their activity. However, Tabligh members told Forum 18 that they can freely operate in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. A Kyrgyz government official agreed with this, but told Forum 18 that "so far at least, its activity in the country is minimal."

1 November 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Former chief mufti calls for lifting of restrictions on Islam

Uzbekistan's former chief mufti, Muhammad Yusuf, has called for restrictions on Islam in the country to be lifted. He is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative Muslim theologians of Central Asia, and has a freedom unique in Uzbekistan to publish his views in books, on a website, and via a private radio station. Such media outlets are tightly controlled in Uzbekistan, so such freedom is highly unusual, especially as Muhammad Yusuf is seen as being distant from the authorities. Speaking of the state of religious freedom, he told Forum 18 News Service that "Unfortunately, I can't say the situation is satisfactory." Muhumad Yusuf was in exile from 1993 to late in 2000, but told Forum 18 that "Uzbek theologians began to persuade Islam Karimov that, without my help, it would be hard for him to ensure stability in the republic." He is critical of the authorities' approach to radical Islamic movements, but did not discuss the tight restrictions imposed on the ethnic Iranian Shia Muslim minority, or the lack of religious freedom for non-Muslims.

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