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5 January 2006

TURKMENISTAN: Government severely restricts Haj numbers

Turkmenistan continues to limit haj pilgrimage numbers to fewer than five per cent of the potential pilgrims, Forum 18 News Service has found, despite the requirement in Islam for able-bodied Muslims who can afford to do so to make the pilgrimage. This year, the Government is only allowing 188 pilgrims, despite an apparent quota from the Saudi authorities of more than 4,500 pilgrims. Forum 18 has been unable to find out from either the Turkmen Government or the Saudi authorities why the number of haj pilgrims is restricted. But Forum 18 has been told that "all those allowed to go are first checked out, presumably by the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of State Security secret police." At least one law-enforcement officer is said to accompany Turkmen pilgrims to Mecca. Unlike both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, whose government also imposes restrictions, other countries in the region do not restrict pilgrim numbers, but local Muslims often complain about the way the selection process operates.

20 October 2005

KYRGYZSTAN: Uzbek claims and extremism law cause little change

Uzbekistan has made unproven allegations of a link between Kyrgyzstan and the Andijan uprising. Despite the Uzbek claims and the passage of a new Kyrgyz extremism law, Forum 18 News Service has found little change in Kyrgyz government policy towards Muslims. The head of a state school in Osh, which borders Uzbekistan, and the head of the regional Religious Affairs Committee have both told Forum 18 that the only change has been that schools have been asked to note the names of children from devout Muslim families. The Religious Affairs Committee head told Forum 18 that "it's just a preventative measure to ensure that children don't fall into the hands of extremist groups. We are not preventing schoolchildren from attending mosques or observing other religious rituals." A local human rights organisation, Luchi Solomona, told Forum 18 that "it's possible that the authorities simply haven't shaken things up yet."

19 October 2005

KYRGYZSTAN: Wide-ranging extremism law not seen as threat

Kyrgyzstan has recently adopted an extremism law with a wide-ranging definition of extremism, which leaves open the possibility of it being applied to peaceful religious communities. However, most religious communities Forum 18 News Service spoke to – such as Catholics, Presbyterians and Jehovah's Witnesses - had mainly not read the law, and did not see it as a current threat. The former mufti of Kyrgyzstan commented to Forum 18 that "the very fact that the authorities are linking religion with extremism is worrying for educated Muslims. But most believers don't even know that a new law has been adopted. Theoretically the law could pose a danger to believers, but so far at least I have not seen any changes in state religious policy." Kanybek Malabayev, of the Kyrgyz government's Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18 that "we will apply this law only to the Hizb ut-Tahrir party, whose leaflets contain openly anti-Semitic sentiments."

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!"

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