25 July 2012
Two long-term residents of Uzbekistan born in the country – both Jehovah's Witnesses - have been deported to punish them for discussing their faith with others, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Russian citizen Yelena Tsyngalova was deported on an Uzbek Airlines evening flight from Tashkent to Moscow today (25 July), after being detained since 2 July. Accompanying her were her two teenage children, one a Russian citizen, the other an Uzbek citizen. Her mother Galina Poligenko-Aleshkina – an Uzbek citizen who is a pensioner with disabilities and who shared the family flat – is now left to fend for herself. Kazakh citizen Oksana Shcherbeneva was deported on 16 June immediately after completing a 15-day prison term. Other Jehovah's Witnesses detained and tried with her were jailed and fined.
11 June 2012
Despite being born, brought up and living in Uzbekistan, Jehovah's Witness Yelena Tsyngalova and her two teenage sons are facing imminent expulsion to Russia, in apparent punishment for exercising her freedom of religion or belief. As in similar previous cases, Uzbekistan is seeking to expel the family without formally deporting them. "Yelena knows no-one in Russia and has nowhere to go, plus she has a disabled mother here in Tashkent who would be left all alone," her fellow Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 News Service. "She wants to stay here." Uzbek officials refused to discuss the family's expulsion with Forum 18. When Tsyngalova attempted to find out the reasons for her deportation with the head of the Sergeli District Visa Department, Utkir Buzakov, he threatened her with 15 days' imprisonment. When she told officials she had two teenage children and a mother who is an invalid, officials said she would have to take the two children with her. Although tickets for a Tuesday 12 June expulsion have been withdrawn, officials subsequently stated she will still be deported and this will not be delayed. Also, Tereza Rusanova, a Baptist from Uzbekistan who has lived in Kyrgyzstan since 2009, is facing criminal prosecution after she returned to Uzbekistan to renew her passport.
30 May 2012
Kazakhstan continues to use land use regulations as a means to prevent religious communities and their members exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. In one of several recent examples, in Taldykorgan the authorities have with this tactic forced a Methodist church to "voluntarily" close and fined the wife of the Church's Pastor. Pastor Valery Kim told Forum 18 that the Church paid for an announcement in newspapers that it was liquidating itself. "We do not want more punishment from the authorities", he noted. Zhumagul Alimbekov, Head of Almaty Region's Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) Department told Forum 18 that "the Church will be closed down anyway, unless they can collect 50 signatures for re-registration". Asked why Kazakhstan, whose government loudly boasts of its alleged religious tolerance, obstructs people exercising the internationally recognised right to freedom of religion or belief, Alimbekov claimed: "We are a law-governed state, we must obey the law". Religious communities also note that "expert analyses" by the ARA are obstructing communities gaining state registration and so permission to exist.
22 May 2012
Kazakhstan continues to punish people exercising their internationally recognised right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service notes. Raids, often without search warrants, have continued on members of the Baptist Council of Churches, who on principle do not seek state registration. In a particularly serious development, Baptist Vasily Stakhnev appears to have been framed by police and then given a large fine for the "offence" of distributing religious literature - which he vehemently insists that he did not do. Police apparently pressured his neighbours to write false testimonies against him, one neighbour telling Forum 18 that they are "not even sure what I signed for the police". Stakhnev insisted to Forum 18 that he had not distributed any literature, and that he was only "guilty" of possessing Christian literature in his private home. Local police chief Serikhan Tozhigitov of Serebryansk Police claimed to Forum 18 that: "We did not force anyone to sign anything".
9 May 2012
Uzbekistan continues punishing people exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service notes. In one incident, police and the NSS secret police raided Protestants meeting in the home of Natalya Kim in Yukori-Chirchik, claiming at the time, local Protestants said, that a bomb was in the home. While searching for the alleged bomb, police confiscated Christian books and a laptop. Subsequently, 14 members of the unregistered Protestant Church were fined for an "unsanctioned meeting in a private home". The verdict was supplied after the legally required time, thus preventing an appeal being lodged. Natalya Kim herself was given the biggest fine, of 60 times the minimum monthly salary. Investigator Farhod Raimkulov told Forum 18 that "when many people gather in a certain place, it is the local police officer's duty to inspect and see what is happening". When Forum 18 asked whether the police can or should raid Inspector Raimkulov's home when he holds a party or some other event, he claimed that he was not part of the raid on Kim's home.
8 May 2012
With new state Censorship Regulations for almost all religious literature and objects produced in or imported into Kazakhstan now in force, only some religious books – all Muslim – have so far successfully undergone the censorship process, Forum 18 News Service notes. As of 8 May, 182 Muslim works had gained the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) approval required before they can be distributed. Those distributing uncensored religious literature risk fines. Although the maximum period the ARA has to conduct its censorship is 60 days, some religious communities complain they have had no response to applications "for months". No ARA official was immediately available to say how many books or religious items are awaiting approval, if any have so far been refused, why no non-Muslim books have yet been approved and whether religious books already in use are legal or not. Officials have already confiscated religious books – including children's books on the lives of Russian Orthodox saints – from libraries for checking.
30 April 2012
In separate cases in three of Kazakhstan's Regions since February, police have stopped Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists and Hare Krishna devotees from spreading their faith, questioned them and threatened them with punishment. Two of the five Baptists detained in Akmola Region in March were treated "as though they were criminals", another of the five told Forum 18 News Service. They were questioned and entered into police records, with their personal data, shoe size, and photographs in profile and full face taken. Police accused the Hare Krishna devotees of handing out "extremist literature". Baptist and Hare Krishna literature was sent to the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA), which conducts the compulsory state censorship of all religious literature. "The Religion Law necessitates the ARA to authorise all religious literature before it is used or distributed by religious communities," ARA spokesperson Svetlana Penkova told Forum 18. Several religious communities – some anonymously – complained not only about the censorship itself, but that literature sent to the ARA for approval has languished there "for months".
24 April 2012
The enforced closure of the Ahmadi Muslim community in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty leaves the community unable to worship legally anywhere in the country, community members lamented to Forum 18 News Service. Their place of worship was closed amid a continuing official campaign against religious communities which use private homes for religious worship and followed a fine by Land Inspectors. Community member Nurym Taibek told Forum 18 they see no point in appealing against the decision and said that they "have given up hope" of resuming worship in their building. The Ahmadi Muslim community's place of worship in Shymkent was forcibly closed in 2011. Also threatened by Land Inspectors is a small Methodist Church which meets in a private home in Taldykorgan near Almaty, the Church's legal address. The home owner was fined in April. Land Inspectors from both Almaty City and Almaty Region defended their moves to Forum 18. They said they are inspecting all religious communities' properties to see if properties and land are used for their proper purpose.
11 April 2012
Uzbekistan continues to impose bans on entry and exit from the country on people exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. The authorities also use the border crossing points for confiscating religious literature. Referring to bans on people taking part in the haj and umra pilgrimages, human rights defender Shaira Sadygbekova described the authorities, especially the Religious Affairs Committee, as "creating artificial barriers for ordinary Uzbeks". Khaitboy Yakubov of the Najot human rights organisation stating that such barriers are widespread. Among other violations are bans on exit visas for Muslims who have passed the stringent state approval procedures for going on state-organised pilgrimages, bans on Muslims joining waiting lists for these pilgrimages, bans on individual Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses leaving the country, and bans on Hare Krishna devotees and Christians entering the country. Officials have refused to discuss these human rights violations with Forum 18.
29 February 2012
Kazakhstan has started moves to close down an independent mosque, Forum 18 News Service has learned. State officials have also re-started using claims of allegedly "illegal use" of property to harass religious communities the authorities dislike. For example the mosque of the Ahmadi Muslim Community in the Medeu District of Almaty, and the church of Grace Presbyterian Church in a suburb of Turkestan in South Kazakhstan Region, are both facing challenges from local Prosecutor's Offices as to whether they can be used as places of worship. The action against Grace Church was initiated by the KNB secret police. The leaders of both communities have been told by both regional Departments of the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) and Prosecutor's Office officials to stop worship in the buildings while investigations are conducted. Officials have stated – contrary to the Religion Law - that homes may not be used for worship, and have also used the Land Code to argue that communities' own places of worship are not places of worship. No official Forum 18 has spoken to could say how the authorities will interpret the concept of place of worship in the Religion Law. Almaty's Ahmadi Muslim community has also been targeted by the state-controlled mass media, and the ARA has also been supporting the establishment of more so-called "anti-sect centres".
22 February 2012
Kazakhstan's senior state religious affairs official, Kairat Lama Sharif, has described the 13 per cent fall in the number of registered religious communities as a "positive dynamic" after 579 small religious groups (with fewer than 50 adult citizen members) were stripped of registration. He said the number of registered communities "will probably" fall further following the new Religion Law. In a letter seen by Forum 18 News Service, Akmola Region's senior state religious affairs official wrote to District officials that "the activity of small religious groups in the territory of Kazakhstan is now banned since there is no such form of religious association of citizens". Regional officials of the state Agency of Religious Affairs are now warning such groups that they must stop any activity. Imams of independent mosques and Grace, Baptist and Seventh-day Adventist leaders have been summoned to be stripped of registration and warned not to meet. "Now our believers are afraid each time they gather for worship," one church leader told Forum 18.
14 February 2012
In Kazakhstan's first known use of expanded and increased punishments for exercising freedom of religion or belief, a Baptist in eastern Kazakhstan has been fined what local people estimate to be a year and a half's average local wages for leading an unregistered religious organisation. Shoe-repairer and father of ten Aleksei Asetov was fined 485,400 Tenge (18,725 Norwegian Kroner, 2,486 Euros or 3,273 US Dollars), for leading the small congregation that meets in a fellow church member's home, under a provision introduced in new Amending and Religion Laws local Baptists told Forum 18 News Service. The judge also banned the congregation. Elsewhere, a Pentecostal church in Petropavl in North Kazakhstan has twice been raided by the police Department for the Fight against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism and a local official of the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA). They confiscated New Testaments, other books, and DVDs for censorship, and want the Church punished for leaving the books on a table about ten metres (10 yards) from the entrance to a hall they rent for worship. Other fines for exercising religious freedom without state permission continue, one Baptist having been fined for unregistered worship meetings following a police operation called "Operation Legal Order".