KAZAKHSTAN: Hare Krishna demolition re-started – then halted by "person in a black Mercedes"
Today (20 March), Kazakh authorities resumed the demolition of an embattled Hare Krishna commune, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Demolition re-started this morning, but was suddenly halted on the arrival of "a person in a black Mercedes Benz car," who ordered the demolition to stop. The demolition squad then departed. Official pressure on the Hare Krishna commune has been steadily increasing this year and it remains unclear who stands to benefit from the attacks on the Hare Krishna commune. Some sources have told Forum 18 of "persistent rumours" that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's brother, Bulat Nazarbayev, wants to acquire the Krishna property. Local officials are also suspected of standing to benefit financially. Official hostility to the religious freedom of Hare Krishna devotees, and other religious minorities, is compatible with officials acting from hopes of personally benefiting from the property of the Hare Krishna commune.
However, Forum 18 was told by Hare Krishna sources, "a person in a black Mercedes Benz car" arrived who arrived, who ordered the demolition to stop. The demolition squad then departed. A reporter told Hare Krishna devotees that the Karasai District Executors office had claimed to him that the demolition will resume in five days (see F18News 20 March 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=934).
Official pressure on the Hare Krishna commune has been steadily increasing this year. Thirteen Hare Krishna-owned homes were bulldozed in November 2006 (see F18News 24 November 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=876), with the homes of other Hare Krishna devotees being targeted for demolition and further court cases pending.
Despite denying any religious motives to the moves against the commune, Amanbek Mukhashev defended the inclusion of Muslim and Orthodox clergy in the official Commission charged with examining the dispute: "The population of Karasai district is basically Orthodox and Muslim and it follows that we should have regard for the views of the representatives of these faiths" (see F18News 31 January 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=905).
It is unclear who stands to benefit from the attacks on the Hare Krishna commune. Sources which preferred to be unnamed have told Forum 18 of "persistent rumours" that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's brother, Bulat Nazarbayev, wants to acquire the Krishna property. The sources told Forum 18 that "it is practically impossible to prove it. Even if Bulat Nazarbayev were to privatise the Krishna farm he would do it through other people." (see F18News 17 November 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=872). Local officials are also themselves suspected of standing to benefit financially. Official hostility to religious freedom and personal greed are not incompatible motivations.
By 2 February, 13 of the 66 original Hare Krishna-owned homes had already confiscated and destroyed and three more were threatened with demolition on that day, with officials also challenging the Hare Krishna commune's ownership of an adjacent 47.7 hectare (118 acre) farm. Commune members are wondering who will acquire the property, which they vehemently assert has been illegally seized from them. In late January "officials trying to close the Hare Krishna farm" had been included as members of the horticultural collective, Maksim Varfolomeyev of the Hare Krishna community complained to Forum 18 on 30 January. "Judging by all that's happened, these people will end up with the devotees' land."
But the chief religious affairs specialist of the Karasai district administration, Ryskul Zhunisbayeva, dismissed any complaints. "Officials are equally residents of Karasai district and therefore have the right to join the Ptitsevod collective," she told Forum 18 on 30 January.
It is now certain that people with official connections – who have no previous connection with the land and whose identity remains unclear – have now become involved in "buying" the Hare Krishna commune's land. At the concluding meeting of the Commission on 22 December, officials declared that privatisation of private plots would be resumed. Although Hare Krishna devotees have applied to buy land as part of this process, all their applications have been refused.
Plots being "sold" - without the consent of the legal owners – include plots on which previously bulldozed homes of Hare Krishna devotees stood. On Sunday 28 January, an official from the Land Committee Anatoli Portnyagin, the lawyer of the Hakim (district administration chief), a police officer from the Hakimat, and the voted-out former leader of the horticultural commune, Irina Zakharchuk, were "selling" land plots. Witnesses reported that these people "fell into hot disputes that turned into shouting". The identity of the new "owners" remains at present unclear.
On 29 January, Hare Krishna sources reported that one of their members has a plot and house which is slated for destruction and approached a relative in the KNB secret police for help. The KNB have previously been involved in the case (see F18News 26 April 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=769). The KNB relative replied that "it was no use as they know who has taken control of the property."
Zakharchuk, head of the Ptitsevod horticultural collective, claimed to Forum 18 on 20 February that it was "simply nonsense to say that any state officials joined our farming cooperative after the Krishna cottages had been confiscated." She has been one of the Hare Krishna communities most outspoken critics, but flatly denied that she "has anything against the Krishna followers." But she went on to claim that is was "no surprise that they are the first to have their cottages confiscated. The aim of our agricultural land is to grow fruit and vegetables. The Krishna followers have virtually turned their cottages into monasteries. This means they are not using the farmland as it was intended.
Despite the complications of the case, it is clear that officials have been using illegal methods.
"Under Kazakh law the cottage owners have to use their plots of land for their designated purpose of growing fruit and vegetables," Kazakh law professor Roman Podoprigora, told Forum 18 on 21 February. "However," he continued, "the punishment for breaking this rule is a fine, not confiscation of the cottages." In Professor Podoprigora's view, the dispute "is an over-complicated mess. It is an open battle for land, with religion as its underlying cause." He also thinks that there are elements of a "personal dispute between the Krishna followers and Zakharchuk, the head of the Ptitsevod horticultural collective."
Religious minorities of all faiths are under increasing pressure, with a harsh new Religion Law being prepared (see F18News 21 February 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=916). Unregistered communities, such as some Baptist and Pentecostal churches, along with Muslim missionaries, are being targeted in what one official described to Forum 18 as "the fight against terrorism and religious groups without registration" (see F18News 28 February 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=921). Baptist pastor Pastor Fauzi Gubaidullin was on 7 March jailed for three days for leading an unregistered Baptist church (see F18News 13 March 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=931). (END)
For a personal commentary on how attacking religious freedom damages national security in Kazakhstan, see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=564
For more background, see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=701
A survey of the religious freedom decline in the eastern part of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) area is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=806 and a survey of religious intolerance in Central Asia is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=815.
A printer-friendly map of Kazakhstan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=kazakh
13 March 2007
On 7 March an administrative court in the southern city of Shymkent sentenced Pastor Fauzi Gubaidullin to three days in prison for leading an unregistered Baptist church which refuses to abide by a court order banning it for three months. In Aktobe in late February, a washing machine and car were among items confiscated from a Baptist preacher to cover unpaid fines levied in punishment for peaceful religious activity. Shymkent congregation member Yuri Pfafenrot says life for Council of Churches Baptists in Kazakhstan is getting tougher. "First they came and offered us registration, but we refused," he told Forum 18 News Service. "Now they insist that we register, and when we don't they hand down big fines or even launch criminal cases." Backing the Baptists' demands for an end to compulsory registration is the Human Rights Ombudsperson, Bolat Baikadamov, but he insisted to Forum 18 it is up to religious believers to pressure parliamentary deputies to abolish this requirement. However, current plans to amend the Religion Law seek to make it even more restrictive.
28 February 2007
Two Baptist congregations – one state-registered and the other a branch of a state-registered congregation - and a Pentecostal congregation are among the latest victims of Kazakhstan's crackdown on religious freedom known to Forum 18 News Service. The raids and what Baptists describe as "crude" methods used to interrogate elderly church members were described to Forum 18 by police as "part of the fight against terrorism and religious groups without registration." Police also claimed – apparently falsely – that this is part of a CIS-wide initiative. Unregistered Baptist communities and members of the Tabligh Jamaat Islamic movement also continue to be targeted by the authorities. Kazakh officials continue to encourage citizens to link non-state authorised religious activity with serious crime. Increasingly harsh legal moves against religious freedom and media reports of "illegal" religious communities have created, Forum 18 has been told, a climate of fear among many religious minorities.
22 February 2007
Two Protestant Christians in the north-west of Uzbekistan – where all Protestant activity is illegal – are facing criminal charges for their religious activity, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The two - 26-year-old Makset Djabbarbergenov and 32-year-old Salavat Serikbayev – each face up to five years' imprisonment if convicted. The Prosecutor's Office have repeatedly evaded any discussion of the cases with Forum 18. Elsewhere in Uzbekistan, Protestant pastor Dmitry Shestakov – arrested by the NSS secret police on 21 January – also awaits trial, with no date yet set. He is being held in prison. However, visiting Kazakh Protestant pastor Rishat Garifulin has been freed without charge, after being held by the NSS secret police for eleven days. But police in the south-west who raided a private home have detained six Protestants, as well as confiscating a Bible, two audiocassettes and three Christian books in Kazakh. Such confiscated literature - including the Bible - has often been burnt.