29 July 2015

TAJIKISTAN: "Teaching religion unlawfully in a private flat"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Twice in July, police in Tajikistan's northern Sugd Region detained Jehovah's Witnesses and prepared administrative punishments. Officers raided a meeting for prayer and Bible study in a flat, seizing Bibles, questioning those present at the police station and demanded that they renounce their faith, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. Khurshed Barotov, Deputy District Police Chief who questioned those detained claimed that "we have freedom of religion", but they were "teaching religion unlawfully in a private flat". A week later, police detained two female Jehovah's Witnesses at a street meeting to discuss their faith with an apparent police agent provocateur. Police refused to confirm or deny to Forum 18 whether the apparent agent provocateur works for them. The two Jehovah's Witnesses were "hit on the head and slapped" for refusing to sign a police report, though police denied this to Forum 18. Elsewhere, an Interior Ministry Colonel in Dushanbe warned mosque-goers during Friday prayers not to leave early, which he claimed was a sign of adhering to non-Hanafi Islam. Human rights defender Rustom Gulov described these warnings as an "example of direct state interference in the private matters of faith of its citizens". [read more...]

27 July 2015

RUSSIA: Banning religious texts easy, unbanning them difficult

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

In mid-July, Russia's Justice Ministry finally deleted from its Federal List of Extremist Materials 50 Islamic texts among 68 banned in a 20-minute hearing in Orenburg back in March 2012. The 50 texts spent at least four months on the Federal List after they should have been removed, because the appeal judge did not explicitly reverse the original "extremism" designation, lawyer Timur Zaripov told Forum 18 News Service. Yet 11 of the 50 works are already banned in different editions. Of ten other religious texts removed from the Federal List after difficult and protracted efforts, seven (Muslim and Falun Gong) were soon re-banned. Three Jehovah's Witness brochures removed from the List in 2014 and 2015 have not been re-banned. Yet over 60 Jehovah's Witness texts remain on the Federal List, and successful appeals against "extremism" designations, whether before or after they come into force, are rare. Those possessing banned religious literature are often fined. [read more...]

20 July 2015

BELARUS: Conscientious objector threatened with conscription

by Olga Glace, Forum 18 News Service

A conscientious objector to military service in Belarus has been threatened with conscription, Forum 18 News Service has learned, even though President Aleksandr Lukashenko on 4 June signed into law an Alternative Service Law. But on 11 June Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Dmitry Chorba, from Rechitsa in Gomel Region, had a case under Criminal Code Article 435, Part 1 ("Refusal of call-up to military service") filed against him by the local Military Conscription Office. Although it appears that the case has been closed he fears a renewed call-up in the Autumn. Also in Gomel Region, appeals are due on 24 July in Gomel Regional Court against fines imposed on Reformed Orthodox Transfiguration Church Pastor Sergei Nikolaenko and Baptist Lyubov Kundas after armed police raids on their churches. Nikolaenko is appealing against a fine for organising a meeting for worship without state permission. Kundas is appealing against a fine imposed for refusing to testify against her fellow-Church members. [read more...]

17 July 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Mosque again denied legal status, Imam dies, electricity "temporarily" cut off

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Kazakhstan has once more denied legal status to the Din-Muhammad Mosque community in Petropavl and the regional Justice Department has refused to tell the community or Forum 18 News Service what exactly is wrong with their application, despite the authorities claiming it is "not truthful". An official of the Religious Affairs Department stated that the authorities have not stopped the Community using the Mosque as "we do not want to stir up the Tatars and Bashkirs". But a community member stated that "we all know that sooner or later we will be forced out of the building". Muslims think that the death from a heart attack of the community's Imam, Rafael Ryazapov, was caused by heavy state pressure on the mosque and its members. On the first day of Ramadan (and 11 days after Imam Ryazapov's death), Mosque community members could not meet for night prayers as the authorities cut off the electricity supply. Also, three Turkish academics have been deported from a Sufi-named university for Sufi activity, Muslim prisoner of conscience Saken Tulbayev is being kept in "awful" conditions, and a criminal case against Baptist Nikolai Novikov is not yet closed. [read more...]

16 July 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Religious freedom survey, July 2015

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service, and
John Kinahan, Forum 18 News Service

As increasing numbers of prisoners of conscience are jailed by Azerbaijan, Forum 18 News Service notes that freedom of religion or belief and related human rights such as the freedoms of expression and of assembly remain highly restricted. Among the regime's current prisoners of conscience are 14 Muslims and two Jehovah's Witnesses jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief. There is also one Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector to compulsory military service in a disciplinary military unit. Other freedom of religion or belief issues documented by Forum 18 are: attempts to counter discussion of human rights violations with outright denials and claims of "inter-religious harmony", "religious tolerance" and similar assertions; officials behaving as if the rule of law places no limitations on their actions; unfair trials lacking due legal process; "legal" restrictions on and punishments for exercising freedom of religion or belief; arbitrary official actions denying fundamental rights to citizens and foreigners; a highly restrictive censorship regime, including pre-publication, bookshop, photocopy shop and postal censorship; an arbitrary compulsory state registration system, designed to make all exercise of freedom of religion or belief dependent on state permission; enforced closures of places people meet for worship, especially Sunni mosques; a ban on praying outside mosques; and severe denials of human rights in the Nakhichevan exclave. [read more...]

13 July 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Imam prisoner of conscience jailed for one year

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Imam Mubariz Qarayev, who led prayers and preached at the Lezgin Mosque in Azerbaijan's capital Baku, was given a one-year prison sentence on 10 July, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He is the fourth from a group of five Sunni Muslim prisoners of conscience connected to the Mosque, which the authorities want to close, to receive a prison term. And in western Azerbaijan, Sabuhi Mammadov, the host of a group of Muslims who met to study the works of Islamic theologian Said Nursi, was given a massive fine in early June. "He had not gathered people correctly," police told Forum 18. Thirteen other Muslims were also fined after police broke up the meeting. And in late June, Azerbaijan denied entry to Georgian Orthodox priest Fr Demetre Tetruashvili, who has served the only two Georgian Orthodox parishes with state permission to exist in the country for the past four years. The local Georgian Orthodox community cannot now celebrate the liturgy or receive other sacraments. [read more...]

10 July 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Three Muslim prisoners of conscience jailed for 15 to 6 months for selling books

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Three of five Sunni Muslim prisoners of conscience arrested in Azerbaijan's capital Baku in February have been jailed for selling books and other religious items which have not undergone state censorship. All five Muslims are associated with the Lezgin Mosque, which the government wants to forcibly close. Azad Qafarov was given a 15-month jail term, Habibulla Omarov a one-year jail term and Salim Qasimov a six-month jail term, fellow Muslims who know them told Forum 18 News Service from Baku on 8 July. The criminal trials continue of the other two prisoners of conscience of the group, Eyvaz Mammadov and Lezgin Mosque Imam Mubariz Qarayev. Including the five Sunni Muslims, eight prisoners of conscience are being held in the NSM secret police Investigation Prison because of their faith. The other three are Jehovah's Witnesses Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova – who on 4 July were ordered to be held for two more months - and Shia Muslim Jeyhun Jafarov, who was on 9 July ordered to be held for four more months. [read more...]

8 July 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Muslim prisoner of conscience given nearly 5 years' jail and ban until end 2022 on exercising freedom of religion or belief

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Kazakhstan has sentenced Muslim prisoner of conscience Saken Tulbayev to four years eight months jail in a labour camp and banned from exercising freedom of religion or belief from his scheduled December 2019 release until December 2022, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The 46-year-old Tulbayev was jailed despite his family and others insisting that evidence was planted by police and false witnesses produced. The ban on the unclearly phrased "activity directed at meeting the religious needs of believers" would appear, a Kazakh legal expert told Forum 18, to include praying alone or with others, reading the Koran or other religious literature, attending a mosque, or going on pilgrimages. Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law described the three-year ban on Tulbayev's freedom of religion or belief as "another total stupidity and total absurdity". He observed to Forum 18 that "it will be interesting how they will prohibit him from going to mosque and so on". [read more...]