27 March 2015

CRIMEA: Religious freedom survey, March 2015

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

One year after Russia's March 2014 annexation of Crimea, Forum 18 News Service notes that the forced imposition of Russian restrictions on religion has brought difficulties for those trying to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief. Individuals and religious communities have faced raids, fines, religious literature seizures, government surveillance, expulsions of invited foreign religious leaders, unilateral cancellation of property rental contracts and obstructions to regaining places of worship confiscated in the Soviet period. Only one percent of communities which had state registration under Ukrainian law have succeeded in gaining the compulsory Russian re-registration. Members of a wide range of religious communities are highly cautious about discussing anything that could be interpreted as criticism of Russian rule for fear of possible reprisals. This includes a reluctance to discuss restrictions on freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]

26 March 2015

CRIMEA: Only one percent of religious organisations re-registered

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

All 150 re-registration applications submitted to Crimea's Justice Department ahead of the original 31 December 2014 deadline were initially rejected as they were "very bad", Irina Demetskaya of the Justice Department in the Crimean capital Simferopol told Forum 18 News Service. Even after the extended 1 March deadline, only two centralised religious organisations (one of the Orthodox dioceses and the Muftiate) have been re-registered and only 12 local communities. This represents about one percent of the number that had Ukrainian registration, Forum 18 notes. Two more are awaiting approval from the tax authorities, while 13 are being considered in Moscow. Her office is still considering about 150 more. Without registration under Russian law, religious communities can meet, but cannot enter into contracts to rent property, employ people or invite foreigners. Meanwhile, the Sevastopol authorities have reaffirmed their refusal to return the confiscated St Clement's Catholic Church. The parish has been seeking its return since the 1990s. Vladimir Ryabykh of Sevastopol's Culture Department claimed to Forum 18 that it cannot be returned as the parish has not asked for it back. [read more...]

20 March 2015

RUSSIA: More literature, website and video bans, but one partially overturned

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

A Russian court's 2012 ban of 65 Islamic books, one issue of the Muslim journal Novie Grani (New Boundaries), and two short articles as allegedly "extremist" has been partially overturned, Forum 18 News Service notes. However, 18 of the 68 texts in the original ruling remain banned. Appeals are being prepared against these bans. However, courts continue to rule literature "extremist", opening the way for more prosecutions for their possession or "mass distribution". These include the Google Translate Russian version of a collection of sayings of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, and a video commenting on the attempted seizure by bailiffs of saints' relics from the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church. Also banned as "extremist" have been two Jehovah's Witness texts, with the community being forced to pay for the state's "expert analysis" which contributed to the ban. Analyses and testimony by Jehovah's Witnesses themselves were refused. Despite the term "mass distribution", prosecutors have often brought charges even if only one copy of a text is discovered. No state agency has answered Forum 18's questions on whether it is right that people should be punished for their possession and whether such prosecutions are a sensible use of police and prosecutors' time. [read more...]

16 March 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Six new freedom of religion or belief prisoners of conscience

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

On 10 March Shia Muslim theologian and translator Jeyhun Jafarov became the latest prisoner of conscience to be arrested and ordered held in pre-trial detention by Azerbaijan's NSM secret police, apparently to punish him for exercising his freedom of religion or belief, his friends told Forum 18 News Service. He has been ordered to be held for four months while being investigated for treason. Jafarov's arrest was two weeks after the arrest of five Sunni Muslim prisoners of conscience from Baku, including Mubariz Qarayev, imam of the Lezgin Mosque in Baku's Old City. The Lezgin Mosque is one of many Sunni Muslim mosques the government seeks to close. They five have been ordered to be held for three months by the NSM on criminal charges of selling religious literature which has not been censored by the state. Already held in the same NSM prison are two female Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience, Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova, whose appeal against being held in pre-trial detention for three months has been rejected. [read more...]

12 March 2015

TURKMENISTAN: "Who can forbid us from praying?" Yet raids, fines continue

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Narmurad Mominov, a Protestant leader from Galkynysh in Lebap Region of eastern Turkmenistan, was fined two weeks' average local wages in late February after police raided a private home, local Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Many of those present were held until the early hours of the morning, while some were pressured to renounce or change their faith. One who did so was told to "repent" publicly in the mosque. During a search, police had found a copy of the New Testament and blamed Mominov for giving it to the home owner. Local Protestants had feared that he could have been given as much as a 15-day jail term. In March 2014, a court in the same Region handed down 15-day prison terms to ten Jehovah's Witnesses to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of religion. One Baptist home owner in Mary told police intruders who seized four hymnbooks from her guests: "Who can forbid us from praying? Who can forbid us from inviting others as guests?" [read more...]

6 March 2015

RUSSIA: Muslim first known victim of lengthened "extremism" prison terms

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

A 31-year-old Muslim from Ulyanovsk, Bagir Kazikhanov, is preparing to appeal against his sentence of three and a half years' imprisonment for "organisation of extremist activity". He is the first known person to be sentenced under the February 2014 lengthened Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 terms of imprisonment, Forum 18 News Service notes. Two fellow Muslims who received suspended prison terms are also set to appeal, a fellow Muslim told Forum 18. A fourth man is wanted by police. The four met to discuss religion, watch football and study the works of the Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi. Many Russian translations of his works have been banned. The 15th hearing in the criminal trial of two leaders of a Muslim "women's cell" in Krasnoyarsk is due on 1 April. And the eighth hearing in the re-trial of 16 members of the banned Jehovah's Witness community in Taganrog for alleged "extremism" offences was adjourned today (6 March). [read more...]

4 March 2015

UZBEKISTAN: "Pardoned only after repenting and asking the President for forgiveness"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Uzbekistan in February freed six known Muslim prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. The freed prisoners of conscience include sports journalist Hairulla Hamidov and five other Muslim prisoners of conscience who were jailed because they met to study the works of theologian Said Nursi. The five are: Rashid Sharipov, Akmal Abdullayev, Ahmad Rakhmonov, Ahmadjon Primkulov and Kudratullo (last name unknown). All six had served most of their long jail terms. Other prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief are known to be still in jail, including other Muslims who met to study Nursi's works and one Protestant. The five amnestied readers of Nursi's works were "pardoned only after repenting and asking the President [Islam Karimov] for forgiveness", a source from Uzbekistan who knows the men and who asked to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. [read more...]

2 March 2015

RUSSIA: Prosecutions for public evangelism and public meetings for worship

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Communities who exercise freedom of religion or belief in public without Russian state permission may find their members facing five-figure Rouble fines if they do not inform the local authorities in advance, Forum 18 News Service notes. It is possible that changes to the Religion Law may have a positive effect on cases currently before the courts, such as that of a Sochi Protestant leader fined for holding prayers and a Bible study in a rented café. The FSB security service was behind that case, sending officials to attend the meeting. However, a new Criminal Code Article 212.1 may have a chilling effect on exercising freedom of religion or belief in public. The Sochi Bible study group has ceased to meet fearing prosecution under this Article, their lawyer told Forum 18. However, Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis thinks the authorities may seek to avoid prosecuting religious or belief communities under this article. "Political protesters will go first", he thought. [read more...]