17 April 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: Lenten service raided, other raids, warnings of "illegal activity"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

The Russian Orthodox cathedral in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek was raided by a range of state agencies during a service in early Lent. The raid appears to have been part of a series of raids and inspections on religious communities between January and April. The campaign resulted in warnings of "illegal" religious activity to at least one individual, a Russian Orthodox catechist, and seven mosques in Bishkek's Sverdlovsk District. "I cannot give you details of our inspections," a Sverdlovsk District official told Forum 18 News Service. Nearly 700 mosques nationwide were identified as carrying out "illegal" activity because they are unregistered. "The authorities are using these inspections to try to bring religious affairs under greater control," a Russian Orthodox Church member told Forum 18. The secret police warned Protestant Churches to reduce their activity and stop handing out religious literature, a Protestant told Forum 18. Another source said the secret police also questioned Protestant leaders on their attitude to Ukraine's political changes. [read more...]

16 April 2014

AZERBAIJAN: Four days incommunicado at secret police – so far

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

The NSM secret police has been holding two Muslims incommunicado since 12 April, including a man who offered his Baku home for a Muslim study session, Muslims who know them told Forum 18 News Service. Eldeniz Hajiyev and fellow Nursi reader Ismayil Mammadov were seized after an armed police raid on the meeting. Forum 18 was unable to reach anyone at the NSM secret police in Baku to find out where the men are being held and why. Nine others present were fined more than three months' average wages each. Fined the same day by the same court was a Shia Muslim theologian who had been teaching his faith in the same Baku district. Azerbaijan has tight government controls on exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Meetings for worship or religious education, or selling religious literature without state permission are banned and punishable. [read more...]

15 April 2014

RUSSIA: European Court request enough to protect Uzbek asylum seeker?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has told the Russian government that Uzbek asylum seeker Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov "should not be expelled or otherwise involuntarily removed from Russia to Uzbekistan or another country" while his case there is considered, according to court documents seen by Forum 18 News Service. The Uzbek government has been seeking his return since 2010 to face criminal charges for participating in an unregistered Muslim community. Although he succeeded in having an extradition order overturned in 2011, his status as a temporary refugee in Russia was not extended in 2013. His challenge failed in a Moscow court in March 2014. "The European Court measures should be enough to protect Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov, as Russia usually abides by such measures," his lawyer Eleonora Davidyan told Forum 18. However, she points to cases when security service officers have abducted asylum seekers in Russia. Irina Blazheyeva of Novosibirsk Region Federal Migration Service dismisses such concerns. "This is in the realm of fantasy," she told Forum 18. [read more...]

10 April 2014

RUSSIA: "Tired of the unjust treatment of the books, ourselves, and our loved ones"

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Amid a crackdown on readers of the late Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi in Naberezhnyye Chelny in Tatarstan, two more were fined for involvement in an "extremist" organisation, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Nakiya Sharifullina and Laura Khapinova are now appealing against their criminal convictions. Naberezhnyye Chelny Court is also hearing a Prosecutor's Office suit to have 17 more of Nursi's books – plus a biography of him – seized during police raids banned as "extremist". The Prosecutor's Office refused to discuss the suit with Forum 18. On 21 March, the Russian government defended its 2010 ban on another Nursi publication in a case brought to the European Court of Human Rights by Krasnoyarsk Spiritual Administration of Muslims. The government response – seen by Forum 18 - insists that the ruling was "necessary". However, Jehovah's Witnesses have finally succeeded in having two of their brochures removed from the Federal List of Extremist Materials. [read more...]

8 April 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: 14 year church ownership annulled

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

More than 14 years after the Church of Jesus Christ in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek bought a Culture House to use as its worship building, a court has annulled the sales contract. The Church's appeal is due on 18 April. "We are not against the Church or its activity but the contract was null and void from the beginning and must be annulled," Aysulu Orozbekova, who represented the State Property Fund in its suit to court, claimed to Forum 18 News Service. She refused to say why the Fund opened the issue 14 years after the contract was signed or if it is linked to a construction company's interest in the property. Asked if, as she insists the contract was illegal, any state officials had been punished, Orozbekova said this was not the Fund's responsibility. "It is not just the Church of Jesus Christ's property under investigation at the moment. Other religious and non-religious buildings are also under question." She refused to identify the other religious communities whose property may now be threatened. [read more...]

1 April 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: Criminal convictions overturned, but will alternative to military service be for all?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Jehovah's Witnesses have welcomed as "an encouraging sign" the overturning in court of criminal convictions of 13 of their young conscientious objectors to military service. However, the Education Committee of Kyrgyzstan's parliament has rejected draft legal amendments which would – if adopted – allow some conscientious objectors to military service to pay the "alternative service" fee not to the military but to the government. "All five deputies on the Education Committee were categorically against the draft," an aide to one of the draft's initiators told Forum 18 News Service. Parliament's Defence Committee is expected to consider the amendments on 7 or 8 April. "The Defence Committee is the main Committee handling this draft, and we will fight for it." Deputy Defence Minister Zamir Suerkulov defended the proposed restriction of the right to apply to pay the "alternative service" fee only to members of registered pacifist religious organisations. [read more...]

26 March 2014

RUSSIA: St Petersburg church liquidated, Rostov and Chelyabinsk drug and alcohol rehabilitation targeted

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

A St Petersburg Pentecostal church has been liquidated this month for alleged illegal educational activity. Protestant-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres in Rostov and Chelyabinsk regions of Russia are also been targeted for closure by the authorities, Forum 18 News Service has found. Harvest Church lawyer Sergei Chugunov of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice stated that the St Petersburg Prosecutor "could simply have demanded an end to the activities they deemed illegal, and taken action in the event of disobedience". But, he told Forum 18, "it was decided to resort immediately to the most extreme measure – liquidation. We pointed out this disparity in court, but the court decided otherwise." The Church continues to meet for worship and intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The three Rostov cases and single Chelyabinsk case have so far followed the same pattern – claims of illegal detention of addicts, an inspection by law enforcement agents, and the removal of residents. [read more...]

25 March 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Detained for religious materials in electronic devices

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Three Tajik transit passengers detained without charge by Uzbek border guards at the same railway station in southern Uzbekistan were freed on 4 February. The border guard who took Tojiddin Latipov off the train told him that an Islamic sermon he had on his mobile phone was in violation of Uzbekistan's Law, Latipov told Forum 18 News Service. Officials questioned him over how long he has been praying and whether he observes fasts. He was freed three days later. A mother and son were held for a month and had their computer seized after officials found a sermon on it. Makhmud (who refused to give his last name), Chief duty customs official at Boldyr station, refused to comment to Forum 18 on why Latipov and the mother and son had been held in custody for having religious materials in electronic devices. Another Tajik citizen is serving a five year sentence for a similar "offence", though his family hopes he will soon be freed under amnesty. [read more...]