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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

KAZAKHSTAN: Seven years' jail for online Muslim posts

Muslim Anatoli Zernichenko was jailed for seven years, for posting on social media Muslim texts which prosecutors without evidence claimed promoted terrorism. Zernichenko has appealed, but no hearing date is set. The case started with the secret police hunting through his social media accounts, and the jailing rests on textual "expert analyses". Yevgeny Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law says this is "exactly what the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur for Protecting Human Rights while Countering Terrorism raised concerns about". There are now 10 known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief.

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious freedom survey, June 2022

Freedom of religion and belief, with interlinked freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and other fundamental freedoms remain seriously restricted in Kazakhstan. Forum 18's survey analysis documents violations including: jailing and torturing prisoners of conscience for exercising their freedom of religion and belief; banning meetings for worship and sharing beliefs without state permission; state control of all expressions of Islam, including restrictions on how Muslims are allowed to pray; and religious literature and object censorship.

KAZAKHSTAN: Multiple long-term punishments for exercising freedom of religion or belief

List of: 9 individuals (all Sunni Muslim men) jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief; 4 freed early from prison and serving the rest of their terms at home under restrictions; 8 former prisoners of conscience under years-long, often vague post-prison bans on specific activity; 35 individuals who have completed their jail terms have access to bank accounts blocked for up to a further 8 years. This account blocking can also block individuals from finding work or driving.

KAZAKHSTAN: Post-prison "there's a block everywhere!"

When individuals complete prison or restricted freedom sentences for exercising freedom of religion or belief and other rights, punishment does not stop. Many still face often vague bans on specific activity, including exercising freedom of religion or belief. "The Financial Monitoring Agency List says it relates to finance, but it's in fact about everything," one said. "When you want to get a job or open a bank account .. there's a block everywhere!" Restrictions include bank account blocks, driving bans and being unable to work in many jobs.

KAZAKHSTAN: Nine known Muslim prisoners of conscience - torture, solitary confinement

Five of the nine known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief were punished for participating in an online Islamic discussion group. The other four are also Sunni Muslims. Dadash Mazhenov and Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov are facing torture by being held in prolonged solitary confinement. Mazhenov has been physically tortured, most recently in a January 2022 beating with truncheons which broke his jaw. Abduzhabbarov was not allowed to attend his father's funeral, while Galymzhan Abilkairov was not allowed to attend his wife's funeral.

KAZAKHSTAN: Six months after UN decision, no releases from sentences, no compensation

In September 2021 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on Kazakhstan to free eight Muslims from their punishments "immediately" and compensate them for their imprisonment. They were among nine jailed for participating in a WhatsApp Muslim discussion group, and the Working Group stressed its Opinion applied to all nine. More than six months later, none has had their sentence overturned or been compensated. Five are still jailed and four transferred to sentences based at home. "Unfortunately Kazakhstan hasn't implemented the Working Group Opinion and state bodies do not even refer to it," says human rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis.

KAZAKHSTAN: 130 administrative prosecutions in 2021

In 130 known administrative prosecutions in 2021, 114 individuals (one twice), two charities, two schools and one company were punished for worship meetings, offering religious literature and items (including online), sharing or teaching faith, posting religious material online, or praying in mosques. Beimbet Manetov of the regime's Religious Affairs Committee insisted that individuals had to be fined if they break the law. Asked why courts punish individuals for exercising freedom of religion or belief, he responded: "I can't comment on court decisions." He said amendments his Committee has prepared to reduce these administrative punishments are now with the Justice Ministry, but refused to say why these punishments should not be abolished.

KAZAKHSTAN: Legal changes increase obstacles for holding religious events

As the regime declares a state of emergency and bans mass meetings in some areas, legal changes from 9 January increase the obstacles for holding religious meetings away from state-registered places of worship. Human rights defenders such as the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law have documented the regime's already severe restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly and to hold demonstrations. Orthodox Christmas night services (due on 6/7 January) in state of emergency areas have been cancelled.

KAZAKHSTAN: Tighter event restrictions back in Parliament's lower house

On 2 December, the upper house of Parliament approved in revised form amendments to the Religion Law to make holding religious events away from state-registered places of worship more difficult. The amendments now return to the lower house. The Senate narrowed the type of events that would need to undergo the burdensome process of seeking special official permission in advance. A legal specialist questions whether ordinary police officers would know that the new requirements – if adopted – would not apply to religious communities meeting in rented premises. "Much will depend on the instructions of religious affairs authorities and the discretion of local or national officials," the legal specialist told Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: New religious meeting restrictions now in Senate

Religion Law changes to widen state religious censorship and make holding religious meetings more difficult are now in parliament's upper house. Any religious community which does not own its own building, or wants to hold a pilgrimage or other event away from their own place of worship, would have to have advance state permission for the meeting or event – including regular meetings for worship - if the amendments are adopted.

KAZAKHSTAN: Plagiarised "expert analysis", Jehovah's Witnesses to pay over 3 years' wages

Claims that reading Jehovah's Witness texts harms mental health has led to Jehovah's Witness communities being ordered to pay over 3 years' average wages to plaintiffs. A Justice Ministry "expert analysis" was used to make the claims, which succeeded despite 63 per cent of the "analysis" being plagiarised and an academic analysis finding it "cannot be accepted as comprehensive, complete, scientifically based, or in accordance with the normative demands presented to the specialists for investigation".

KAZAKHSTAN: "It is not allowed to pray at any location unless it's approved"

Courts and police have fined at least 15 people (one twice) and 3 organisations so far in 2021 for holding meetings for worship, hosting such meeting, maintaining places for such meetings, or holding other religious rituals without state permission. The fines were of between three weeks' and four months' average wage for those in formal work. After a Muslim was fined for leading Friday prayers, a police officer told Forum 18: "It is not allowed to pray at any location unless it's approved." Challenged about open surveillance of Baptists meeting for worship, an official claimed: "This isn't spying, this is monitoring," adding "we go to mosques, churches."