20 November 2014

RUSSIA: "Extremism" charges for possessing Muslim books, Jehovah's Witness community ban confirmed

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

The criminal trial of six Russian Muslims accused of "extremism" for alleged involvement in "Nurdzhular", an organisation which Muslims deny exists, began in Perm on 16 October, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Two women facing the same charges in Krasnoyarsk will go on trial on 27 November, and another man in Rostov-on-Don is likely to be tried soon after. Four more people are soon to be brought to court on similar charges. Another Muslim from Perm, who reads the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, was given a suspended prison sentence in June. Also, the Jehovah's Witness community in Samara – forcibly liquidated on charges of "extremism" – has been unable to overturn the liquidation ruling on 12 November in the Supreme Court. In Taganrog a similar 2009 liquidation also upheld by the Supreme Court has been used to justify banning all Jehovah's Witness activity. Subsequently, seven Jehovah's Witnesses were found guilty of "extremism" in August 2014 for continuing to meet together for prayer and Bible study. [read more...]

18 November 2014

AZERBAIJAN: Imprisoned for pistol or prayer room?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Nine Sunni Muslims arriving for lunchtime prayers on 13 November at a prayer room in a Sumgait home were detained by plain clothes police, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Masked, armed police then stormed the home and searched it, claiming to find weapons. The nine were beaten and humiliated by police officers before release that evening, several confirmed to local news agencies. The home owner, Zohrab Shikhaliyev, was arrested elsewhere in Sumgait that day. On 15 November a court in Azerbaijan's capital Baku ordered him held in two months' pre-trial detention as a criminal case is investigated. Although Shikhaliyev's prayer room has functioned for two years, about six months ago officials started accusing him of "illegally" providing a space where Sunni Muslims might worship, Gamet Suleymanov, imam of Baku's closed Abu Bekr Sunni mosque, told Forum 18. Meanwhile, the criminal case against three Baku-based Muslims - who spent up to five months under criminal investigation in pre-trial detention at the NSM secret police for holding a religious education meeting - has now been handed to a Baku court and their trial is expected soon. [read more...]

13 November 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: "A fabricated case" states Judge, but women still under arrest

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Kyrgyzstan is keeping two Jehovah's Witnesses, Nadezhda Sergienko and her daughter Oksana Koryakina, under arrest more than 19 months after their March 2013 arrest for alleged swindling. Both women strongly deny the authorities' allegations, and Judge Sheraly Kamchibekov acquitted the two women of all charges. He told Forum 18 News Service on 4 November that "it was a fabricated case" and that he did not believe the prosecution's claims. However, the two women remain under house arrest as the prosecution has appealed against the acquittal. The two women's co-believers have told Forum 18 that they think the arrests and detentions may be reprisals by the authorities for registration applications Jehovah's Witness communities have made. The lawyer for the people alleged to have been swindled argues in appealing against the acquittal that Jehovah's Witnesses "do not have registration in Osh, Jalalabad and Batken regions". As Judge Kamchibekov observed to Forum 18, "this has nothing to do with the case". [read more...]

10 November 2014

NAGORNO-KARABAKH: Conscientious objector "a criminal who must pay the price for his crime"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

A court in the unrecognised entity of Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus sentenced 19-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Artur Avanesyan to 30 months' imprisonment for refusing compulsory military service, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18 News Service. He awaits his 18 November appeal court hearing in prison in Shusha. "Every man must defend his home," Karabakh's Human Rights Ombudsperson Yuri Hairapetyan insisted to Forum 18. "He's a criminal who must pay the price for his crime." A prison official told Forum 18 Avanesyan can receive visits from relatives and read the Bible. Jehovah's Witnesses insist Avanesyan's 14 July arrest in Armenia, where he had applied for alternative civilian service, and transfer back to Karabakh was illegal. Armenian police spokesperson Haykuhi Babajanyan said that if an individual is wanted by police in Karabakh, Armenia would hand them over. "If what was done to Avanesyan was illegal, an investigation would prove that," she told Forum 18. [read more...]

4 November 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: Religious freedom survey, November 2014

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service, and
John Kinahan, Forum 18 News Service

Before the January 2015 UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service notes ongoing violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights. These include: a ban on exercising freedom of religion or belief with others without state permission; obstacles such as unreasonably high numbers of required founders and some apparent reprisals against communities including Jehovah's Witnesses and Baha'is wishing to gain state registration; increasing state control of the Muslim community; raids on some religious communities; the banning of the Ahmadi Muslim community; restrictions on conscientious objection to military service; harassment and mob violence against non-Muslims with the authorities' complicity, including preventing the dead being buried; state censorship related to freedom of religion or belief; arbitrary expulsions of foreigners; and threats to property. Officials seem unwilling to implement domestic and international legal obligations, with government proposals for Religion Law and Administrative Code changes contradicting a UN Human Rights Council recommendation to "remove all restrictions incompatible with article 18 of the Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights]". [read more...]

3 November 2014

CRIMEA: "All our priests and nuns will have to leave by the 2014 year end"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Russia's Federal Migration Service is not extending residence permits for foreign citizens who have been working for Crimean religious communities, leaving Simferopol's Roman Catholic parish without its senior priest, Polish citizen Fr Piotr Rosochacki, who had worked in Crimea for 5 years. All other Catholic priests and nuns will have to leave by the end of 2014. Similarly, almost all Turkish Muslim imams and religious teachers have been forced to leave Crimea. The Federal Migration Service in Crimea told Forum 18 News Service that only registered religious communities can invite foreign citizens. No Crimean religious communities have registration, and under a Russian law which entered into force on 1 July all religious communities must apply for re-registration by 1 January 2015. There is uncertainty about what will happen to applications from communities under bodies outside Crimea or Russia – including Crimea's Armenian Apostolic, Old Believer, Moscow Patriarchate, Roman Catholic and Kiev Patriarchate parishes. [read more...]

30 October 2014

KYRGYZSTAN: Contradictory court decisions, arbitrary official actions

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Some officials in Kyrgyzstan appear unwilling to act on their domestic and international legal obligations, Forum 18 News Service notes. Commenting on a UN Human Rights Council recommendation to "remove all restrictions incompatible with article 18 of the Covenant [of Civil and Political Rights]", State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) lawyer Zhanibek Botoyev told Forum 18 News Service: "Go and bring some order to your own countries and Norway. We are a sovereign country here, and you cannot command us what to do or what not to do". In relation to a Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling on where a religious organisation may operate, in a case brought by Jehovah's Witnesses, Botoyev claimed that the ruling did not mean what it clearly states it does. The SCRA has also forced a Russian Orthodox Church catechist, Vakhtang Fyodorov, to leave the country and with the State Property Fund continues to try to confiscate a Protestant church's building. [read more...]

29 October 2014

CRIMEA: Guns, weapons, drugs – and religious literature

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Crimea's acting Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov has ordered a moratorium on raids, searches and literature confiscations until 1 January 2015. Before it there were many raids on libraries, schools, political organisations, Muslim homes, mosques and madrassahs, and Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Halls, Forum 18 News Service notes. Fines for possession of Islamic and Jehovah's Witness literature were also imposed. There do not seem to have been any raids and religious literature seizures since the moratorium. The government-appointed human rights Ombudsperson's office told Forum 18 that no action would be taken on the raids and literature seizures. Crimea's Education, Science and Youth Ministry has ordered education departments and educational institutions to remove and destroy any such literature. The Ministry official who drafted the order told Forum 18 that officials "should recycle them, use the paper again". Asked why some Islamic and Jehovah's Witness books should be destroyed, she replied: "I understand you, but the law is the law. I will answer for my role before God." [read more...]