27 April 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Shia Muslim prisoner – one of many – reported close to death

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Inqilab Ehadli, one of the dozens of Shia Muslims imprisoned as an alleged supporter of the Muslim Unity Movement, is believed to be close to death in prison hospital in the capital Baku, human rights defender Elshan Hasanov told Forum 18 News Service. Ehadli, who is 58, was already in poor health when arrested in January and transferred to the secret police Investigation Prison. "In his home town of Salyan he had authority. Young people came to him with questions about their faith and Islamic law, even members of the clergy," Hasanov noted. At least 68 supporters of the Movement have been arrested since an armed assault by security forces on the village of Nardaran in November 2015, including its leader Taleh Bagirov and mosque prayer leader Nuhbala Rahimov. Meanwhile, two female Jehovah's Witnesses – freed after 50 weeks' imprisonment, mostly by the secret police - have failed to overturn their criminal convictions on appeal. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found in December 2015 that the two were being punished for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief and called for them freed and compensated. The Working Group is due to visit Azerbaijan in mid-May. [read more...]

26 April 2016

TAJIKISTAN: "Inciting religious hatred" charges for at least 6 imams and man who filmed police harassment

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Sulaymon Boltuyev, Imam of the cathedral Mosque in Guliston (former Kayrakkum), "did not call for forceful changes of the constitutional order, did not incite religious hatred, nor did he commit anything illegal", his lawyer Faizinisso Vokhidova told Forum 18 News Service. Boltuyev is among at least six imams in Tajikistan's northern Sugd Region in pre-trial detention since early March. They face up to five years' imprisonment on criminal charges of "inciting religious hatred". Also under arrest on the same charge is Okil Sharipov. On a visit to his family from Russia, he had filmed police harassment of women for wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf). Prosecutors in the cases refused to discuss them with Forum 18 and nor would an official from the office of the Interior Minister in Dushanbe. Sulaymon Davlatzoda, Chair of the State Religious Affairs Committee, confirmed to Forum 18 that the arrested six Imams in Sugd had been appointed with the Committee's approval. But he too could not say why they had been arrested. [read more...]

25 April 2016

RUSSIA: In 2015, 89 known individuals and communities prosecuted for religious literature

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Unemployed Jehovah's Witness A. Bokov served six days in prison for possessing Jehovah's Witness literature the Russian authorities deem "extremist". Yevgeny Menshenin served five days in prison for sharing an Islamic video on a social network. Elista's Jehovah's Witness community and an Islamic community in Komsomolsk-on-Amur were each fined 100,000 Roubles for religious literature (Jehovah's Witnesses say the literature in Elista had been planted). These were some of the 89 known individuals and communities brought to court in 2015 under Administrative Code Article 20.29 for religious literature, Forum 18 News Service notes, a rise of a third on 2014. While more than half the prosecutions resulted from Islamic materials (many of them online), more than a third (a marked increase on 2014) were Jehovah's Witness texts. The other two were from Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong. [read more...]

22 April 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Now 30 Sunni Muslims convicted since December 2014, KNB secret police spy

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Two more Sunni Muslims accused of membership of banned Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat were jailed in Kazakhstan in mid-March, Forum 18 News Service notes. These latest jailings bring to 30 the number of Sunni Muslims conviced for exercising freedom of religion or belief in Kazakhstan since December 2014, 18 of whom were jailed. The trial of another Muslim prisoner of conscience, which began in the capital Astana on 19 April, is due to resume on 28 April. All the cases were initiated by the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police, which has used a "senior operational officer" to infiltrate the movement – even though an earlier KNB-initiated study found that there was no reason to ban the movement. The KNB spy, 28-year-old Sanat Aktenberdy, refused to explain to Forum 18 what if any wrongdoing he might have found, or what exactly the alleged "extremist activity" of Tabligh Jamaat was. One court verdict states as an accusation that the movement displayed "intolerance" towards Shia Islam – even though the government has banned Shia Muslims from exercising freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]

18 April 2016

TURKMENISTAN: Children's summer camp warning, fines, new Religion Law, "no religion" in army

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Secret police officers warned the pastor of the Baptist Church in Mary not to hold a children's summer camp in 2016 otherwise "it would be a different conversation", Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. One of the officers had led the raid on the same church's children's camp in 2013. Also in February, members of Greater Grace Protestant Church were fined for visiting the town of Tejen to talk to others of their faith. On 12 April, Turkmenistan's new Religion Law came into force. It retains the earlier ban on unregistered religious activity, while increasing the number of founders who can apply for legal status for a religious community from five to 50. The new government Commission that controls religion needs to approve all religious literature and any new places of worship. Two senior members of parliament refused to discuss the new Law with Forum 18. Members of several religious communities complained that "no religion" is allowed during military service. "You can't have a Koran, Bible or other religious literature and you can't conduct prayers visibly," one told Forum 18. [read more...]

14 April 2016

TURKMENISTAN: More than half Ashgabad's mosques now destroyed

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

In early April, Aksa Mosque in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabad became the eighth of the city's mosques to have been summarily destroyed in the city in recent years. The Mosque – built in the early 1990s with donations from local Muslims – could accommodate 100 worshippers. Demolition workers from the Hyakimlik (administration) justified the demolition by telling local people that "this mosque has been built without any kind of permission", Radio Free Europe's Turkmen Service noted. No one over 23 years had mentioned any illegality in the construction, insisted a 70-year-old local resident who had been involved in the Mosque's original construction. "But now, under a pretext, they are destroying the building considered to be God's house," Iolaman-aga told Radio Free Europe. An official of the Architecture Department of Ashgabad's Kopetdag District Hyakimlik put the phone down before Forum 18 News Service could ask about the destroyed Aksa Mosque. The demolition was completed as Turkmenistan's new Religion Law entered into force on 12 April. [read more...]

13 April 2016

UZBEKISTAN: Poor jail conditions, torture and large fines for Protestants

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Latipzhon Mamazhanov, a Protestant who was arrested and jailed on 12 March for 15 days in Fergana in eastern Uzbekistan, was released from jail on 28 March. This is one day after he should have been released under the law, Forum 18 News Service has learned. on 31 March. Police illegally raided Mamazhanov's home and those of other Christians in Fergana on 12 March searching for religious literature. Mamazhanov was imprisoned in the Region's Kuva District Police Detention Centre where up to seven inmates were put in a cell designed for two people, no sanitary and hygiene rules are followed, and food is only given once a day. He and other prisoners who inststed they were innocent of crime were also tortured several times. "They can keep one Bible in their homes," Rustam Yegamberdiyev, Head of Fergana City Criminal Police, insisted to Forum 18. "But if they keep more than one then this means that they are intending to gather others in their homes for illegal prayers and meetings. It is exactly the same for Christians, Muslims and others." [read more...]

11 April 2016

RUSSIA: Eight facing criminal cases, five already under arrest

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Komil Odilov was arrested in Novosibirsk and Oleg Kim in Blagoveshchensk in December 2015, Ziyavdin Dapayev and Sukhrab Kultuyev in Makhachkala and Andrei Dedkov in Krasnoyarsk in March 2016, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The five – who can be held in pre-trial detention for up to one year - are among eight Sunni Muslims known to be facing FSB-led criminal prosecution on charges of "extremism" for studying the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi. Many Russian translations of his books have been banned as "extremist" in Russia, along with many Jehovah's Witness publications. The 16 Jehovah's Witnesses convicted of "extremist" activity in Taganrog in November 2015 have failed in their attempt to have their sentences overturned. When they get the written verdicts of the 17 March decision they will decide whether to appeal further, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. [read more...]