8 February 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: "What were they afraid of? We didn't take anyone away"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Anti-"Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism" police Lieutenant Colonel Rashid Kuandikov, who led a January raid on a Protestant meeting in Aktau in Kazakhstan, has dismissed witness statements that officers deliberately insulted and intimidated people, including children. "What were they afraid of? We didn't take anyone away," he told Forum 18 News Service. He also denied that police pressure on an Indian and two Azerbaijanis present was racism. And in December 2015, two female Jehovah's Witnesses failed to overturn large fines for talking to a passer-by on the streets about their faith. One of those fined, Nadezhda Chesnokova, was a 74-year-old pensioner. Two booksellers are known to have been fined in the southern city of Kyzylorda in 2015 for selling the Koran and other books on Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Farabi Uzakov of Kyzylorda Prosecutor's Office, asked how punishing people for exercising their freedoms of expression and of religion or belief accord with Kazakhstan's international human obligations, replied: "I don't understand what obligations you are talking about". [read more...]

5 February 2016

BELARUS: Colonel claims Constitution "nonsense", human rights treaties "not important"

by Olga Glace, Forum 18 News Service

Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector to military service, Dmitry Chorba, is still being called up despite an Alternative Service Law coming into force in Belarus on 1 July, he told Forum 18 News Service. Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Osipov of Rechitsa Military Conscription Office called him up despite the failure of one criminal case and two administrative cases he initiated against Chorba. In the second administrative case, the Lieutenant Colonel claimed in court in January that the Constitution is "nonsense" and international human rights treaties are "not important". In Mogilev Region, two Baptists are being prosecuted for "not using living premises for their designated purpose" after a December raid on a religious meeting. And in Svetlogorsk in Gomel Region, Baptist Pastor Vladimir Daineko has had his car put under restraint and his computer confiscated to pay for a fine imposed for leading a meeting for worship without state permission. Appeals against the fine have proved fruitless. "Now we appeal to our supreme authority – God who will not leave us," Daineko told Forum 18. [read more...]

2 February 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Nine Sunni Muslims on trial, another awaiting trial

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

In criminal prosecutions brought by the KNB secret police, nine Sunni Muslims are on trial in Astana, Karaganda and Akmola Region on charges of belonging to the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat, which is banned as "extremist" in Kazakhstan. If convicted, they face possible imprisonment of up to seven years. Eight of the nine have already spent months in secret police Investigation Prison, Forum 18 News Service notes. A tenth is awaiting trial on the same charges, also in secret police Investigation Prison. KNB secret police investigator Nurlan Belesov – who brought the cases against seven of the men, as well as against Seventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov, who has been transferred to labour camp in Pavlodar – refused to discuss anything with Forum 18 on 1 February. An individual close to the five Astana Sunni Muslim defendants insisted to Forum 18 that they met "simply to help people, visit the sick in hospital, help those in need and feed the hungry". [read more...]

29 January 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Convicted and freed, but no compensation for 50 week imprisonment

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Two female Jehovah's Witnesses, Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova, were convicted yesterday (28 January) of offering one religious booklet without the compulsory state permission needed in Azerbaijan to distribute religious literature. Judge Akram Qahramanov of Baku's Pirallahi District Court gave each a large fine, but waived the fines as they had spent nearly a year in prison, a court official told Forum 18 News Service. The two were freed in the courtroom. "The decision completely disregards a United Nations [Working Group on Arbitrary Detention] ruling that directed Azerbaijan to compensate the women for their unjust imprisonment," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. The court official said Judge Qahramanov was hearing another case, and she could not comment on why he had ignored the UN decision that the two women – far from being convicted of any crime – should be compensated. The secret police spokesperson claimed to Forum 18 the case was not within its competence, even though it had led the investigation and held the prisoners of conscience for nearly a year. Many other prisoners of conscience are still being held to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]

27 January 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Prisoner of conscience tortured – with impunity?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Shia Muslim theologian and prisoner of conscience Taleh Bagirov was subjected to "severe torture" and a broken nose while in detention at the Interior Ministry's Main Directorate for the Struggle with Organised Crime in December 2015. No official at the Main Directorate would explain why Bagirov was tortured, what punishment those responsible will face or how such torture can be prevented. "No-one here gives information," the duty officer told Forum 18 News Service. Rashid Rumzada, head of Azerbaijan's National Preventive Mechanism which is supposed to help prevent torture, told Forum 18 that confidentiality meant he could not discuss individual cases. Shia Muslim cleric Nuhbala Rahimov is in four months' pre-trial detention facing possible criminal trial. The criminal trial of two female Jehovah's Witnesses – one of whom is very ill - is due to resume in a Baku court tomorrow (28 January). And the appeal by five Sunni Muslims against long prison terms is due to resume at Baku Appeal Court on 2 February. [read more...]

26 January 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Four mosques remain closed, Georgian Orthodox still with no priest

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Four mosques in the village of Nardaran near Azerbaijan's capital Baku remain closed as the authorities work to bring them under state control. They can resume worship only if they submit to the state-backed Muslim Board and get registration with the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations. They were forcibly closed immediately after the November 2015 armed assault on the village to suppress the Muslim Unity Movement and arrest its leader Taleh Bagirov. The imam of Nardaran's closed Rahima Hanum Mosque is also among those in pre-trial imprisonment. Meanwhile, parishioners of the two Georgian Orthodox parishes which the government allows to exist remain without a priest, seven months after their previous priest was denied re-entry to Azerbaijan. "There is no news for us to be joyful about," a Georgian diplomat familiar with the negotiations told Forum 18 News Service. The State Committee has yet to allow Georgian citizen Fr Petre Khumarashvili to begin serving in Azerbaijan. The regional State Committee representative repeatedly refused to give Forum 18 any date for permission to be given or explain why it has been withheld so far. [read more...]

21 January 2016

RUSSIA: Raids, charges, detentions and fines of Muslims continue

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Two more Muslims who read the works of the late Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi, Komil Odilov and Yevgeny Kim, were arrested in December 2015 and are in pre-trial detention on "extremism" criminal charges, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Odilov has already served a one-year suspended sentence for alleged "extremist" activity and is currently appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. Another long-running case against three Muslim men in Krasnoyarsk ended in December 2015 in convictions and large fines for two of the defendants, and will soon go to appeal. After being convicted on almost the same "extremism" charges, after the longest such trial yet in Russia, 14 male and two female Jehovah's Witnesses have appealed against heavy fines and suspended prison terms for continuing to meet to pray and read the Bible after their Taganrog community was banned. And the criminal trial of an atheist blogger in Stavropol for "insulting religious feelings" is due to begin on 4 February. [read more...]

20 January 2016

AZERBAIJAN: UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention condemns prisoners of consciences' jailings

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found that two female Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience on trial in Azerbaijan, Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova, are being punished for exercising freedom of religion or belief and called for them to be freed and compensated, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The Working Group also condemned the use of conscientious objection to military service as an excuse to detain the two women. A Judge has prevented the Working Group's opinion being attached to the case file, but lawyers are calling for the court to act on the Working Group's opinion. The secret police cell where one was held for 10 months has been described by her as a "cage" with no privacy, where the smell of sewage was "suffocating". Jehovah's Witnesses are concerned for the women's health as their detention "has damaged their health", stating that "the pointless delay in proceedings amount to further mistreatment." The trial is due to resume at 12 noon on 28 January. [read more...]