29 June 2006
All Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) states are committed to "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief," recognising that this is a litmus test of the state of human rights. OSCE commitments to human rights have been reiterated and enhanced. Yet some OSCE states, especially in the eastern part of the OSCE region where Forum 18 News Service works, repeatedly break their commitments and attack religious freedom. Examples include Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which commit persistent and even worsening religious freedom and other human rights violations. Forum 18 here surveys the situation. The question facing the OSCE is: How, concretely, are its repeated commitments to free, democratic, tolerant societies which respect human rights to be implemented, faced with states whose concrete actions directly contradict their commitments?
23 June 2006
Uzbekistan has deported a second Jehovah's Witness, a month after deporting a Russian lawyer intending to defend his fellow-believers, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Yevgeny Li's home is in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, but he was deported to Kazakhstan although he is Ukrainian. Also, Jamshed Fazylov, an Uzbek lawyer intending to defend Jehovah's Witnesses in southern Uzbekistan was himself detained in a cell for 24 hours for "vagrancy". "What happened to Li sets a very dangerous precedent," a Jehovah's Witness told Forum 18. "The authorities could launch a mass deportation of our fellow-believers." The use of deportation to rid the country of religious believers the state does not like seems to be growing. Other faiths are facing growing repression, Protestant sources telling Forum 18 that twelve churches have been stripped of registration, thus banning them from conducting any religious activity. Also, the authorities are attempting to stop Muslim schoolchildren from attending mosques.
14 June 2006
A Baptist who is a Russian citizen, Aleksandr Frolov, was deported from Turkmenistan on 10 June because of his religious activity, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Local Baptists told Forum 18 that Frolov's latest problems began after he visited Russia. After he returned, three officials came to his home and confiscated his Residence Permit. The officials gave their reasons as his attempt to import Christian literature, failure to notify the Migration Service of his exit from the country, and the holding of worship services in his home. Frolov separates him from his wife, a Turkmen citizen, their three year old son, and five month old daughter at their family home. Local Baptists have called for prayers and appeals for Frolov to be allowed back to his home and his family, for local Baptists to be allowed to hold worship services freely, for an end to restrictions on receiving Christian literature and for believers to be able to travel freely to visit other congregations.
9 June 2006
A Baptist Pastor in Kazakhstan has been fined more than three times the estimated average monthly salary, for leading unregistered religious activity, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. In some Kazakh regions, state registration demands information on the ethnicity ("Kazakhs, Russians, Germans, Koreans, Tatars, and Others"), family status, religious education of congregational leaders, their age and type of work and "the most acute problems worrying parishioners", as well as details of members' political affiliation. "Facts demanding attention on the part of state bodies," are also required by the state. "Such registration is a web it's almost impossible to break free of," Baptists complained to Forum 18. Daniyar Muratuvi of the Human Rights Ombudsperson's Office insisted - contrary to international human rights standards – that religious believers had to register. Ninel Fokina of the Almaty Helsinki Committee told Forum 18 that the media and political parties are also facing tighter controls, and that intrusive registration requirements "have no basis in law."
2 June 2006
In continuing Kazakh state intolerance of religious freedom, two recent attacks on religious minorities have been accompanied by hostile TV coverage, Forum 18 News Service has found. Following police raids on an unregistered Baptist Church in north-west Kazakhstan, local TV has repeatedly shown film of the church shot by the police, with a hostile commentary. Asked why the Baptists were being persecuted merely because they refused to register – as is their right under international human rights agreements Kazakhstan has signed – Serozhatdin Baryshev, head of the regional Justice Department, told Forum 18 that "international agreements are nothing to us – we're governed by the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan," adding the comment that "you're going against the norms of the Kazakh nation." Hare Krishna devotees, struggling against the authorities' attempts to bulldoze houses and seize property of a commune, have also complained about TV broadcasts "full of lies and inaccuracies," attacking the devotees' defence of their religious freedom. They have also told Forum 18 of aggression against devotees, sparked by the broadcasts.
1 June 2006
Two Protestants in western Kazakhstan are facing prosecution and large fines for belonging to an unregistered religious community, which has tried to register five times in five years, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. This is the latest instance of Kazakh official intolerance of religious freedom, in which new "national security" amendments to the Administrative Code are used against unregistered religious activity. Salobek Sultanov, of the Committee for Relations with Religious Organisations, told Forum 18 that "this small handful of people constantly kicks up a fuss. My personal view is why register yet another group of believers when we already have so many churches here? There's an Orthodox and a Catholic church in Atyrau. We respect believers of all confessions." He was unable to explain to Forum 18 why Jehovah's Witnesses as well as Protestants are repeatedly denied registration. Aleksandr Klyushev, of the Association of Religious Communities of Kazakhstan, told Forum 18 that "the national authorities certainly share responsibility for this. If they didn't like the religious policies of the officials in Atyrau they could easily sack them."
15 May 2006
Trials of Muslims – apparently for seriously practicing Islam – are under way in Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. They have been accused of "Wahhabism" - a term widely and loosely used by the authorities to imply a Muslim they dislike. Surat Ikramov, of the Human Rights Initiative Group of Uzbekistan, has told Forum 18 that the cases are "a complete fabrication." Also, two of nine people deported from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan have been jailed for six years in a labour camp for links with exiled imam Obidkhon Nazarov, who is accused of being a Wahhabi leader. Nazarov told Forum 18 from exile that "my crime against President Karimov was only to take a stand against alcoholism and corruption and standing up for the rights of Muslim women." Shukhrat Ismailov of the state Religious Affairs Committee told Forum 18 that "Nazarov openly criticised our President and inflicted great harm on Uzbekistan," but could not say what harm had been caused.
26 April 2006
On 25 April, in the wake of a regional court ruling last year, court executors – backed by the police – arrived to bulldoze five Hare Krishna-owned dachas at their commune on the outskirts of Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty. In the end the authorities postponed the demolition because of the presence of many local journalists, but have vowed to return when the "fuss" has died down. Rati Manjari (Yekaterina Levitskaya) of the Hare Krishna community complained to Forum 18 News Service that officials gave less than the required five days notice of the proposed demolition. But a court executor defended the planned demolitions to Forum 18, claiming that it is all "perfectly legal". The Hare Krishna community believes the authorities have been trying to destroy the commune since the community bought a farm in 1999 and then bought nearby dachas. Last month a court ordered the farm to be confiscated with no compensation and a district court has ruled that five more Hare Krishna-owned dachas are to be confiscated. Only Hare Krishna-owned dachas have been targeted for confiscation and destruction.
19 April 2006
The long running struggle of Kazakhstan's Hare Krishna community to retain a farm they own – their only commune in the former Soviet Union - has intensified, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, as Almaty regional court has ordered the farm to be confiscated without compensation. "We will contest this decision in the Kazakhstan Supreme Court of Supervision. The situation is critical. Under the law the court bailiffs can come to us at any moment and begin to take the land from us," Rati Manjari (Yekaterina Levitskaya), of the Society for Krishna Consciousness, told Forum 18. The commune has long been the target of state attempts to close it down, which the community thinks may be motivated by state intolerance of Hare Krishna devotees and greed for material gain. Other religious minorities in Kazakhstan – such as Protestants – are also experiencing state intolerance of religious freedom.
13 April 2006
Veteran Soviet-era Baptist prisoner Yakov Skornyakov, who is now 79, again faces prosecution for leading an unregistered religious community. Kadyraly Ospanov, public prosecutor of the town of Taraz in southern Kazakhstan, defended the administrative case he launched against Pastor Skornyakov on 30 March. "Kazakhstan's laws categorically lay down the requirement for a religious community to register and prevent a religious community from operating without registration," Ospanov told Forum 18 News Service. "I am simply obliged to ensure that the law is observed." He promised not to imprison Skornyakov because of his age. In the latest of a rising number of Baptist prosecutions, Pastor Abram Pankrats and Valter Zeman were each fined 400 US dollars on 27 March for leading and hosting the unregistered Baptist church in a village in Jambul region. "He serves the Lord and this requires no registration," the court decision quoted Pankrats as declaring.
3 April 2006
Shortly after her failed appeal against her seven year jail sentence for illegally crossing the border - charges her supporters reject - Hare Krishna devotee Cheper Annaniyazova was transferred from the women's prison in the capital Ashgabad to the women's labour camp in Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Work in the labour camp is reported to be hard, while bribery to escape the worst work is rampant. Even acquiring a decent place to sleep requires bribes. Annaniyazova's state of health and situation in the labour camp remains unknown. Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox church in Dashoguz, the only Orthodox place of worship in northern Turkmenistan, still cannot complete construction of a new church begun some years ago. Officials are questioning the parish's right to use the land, while the church's registration application has been denied.
22 March 2006
Tajikistan's parliament is to debate a proposed Law on Religion which, if passed, would be the most repressive of all the Central Asian religion laws. The draft was prepared by the state Committee for Religious Affairs. Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Jehovah's Witness leaders have all told Forum 18 News Service of their deep concerns over many aspects of the draft Law. Amongst the violations of international human rights standards that the Law proposes are: a ban on unregistered religious activity; the highest threshold in the CIS for numbers of citizens to register a religious community; restricting the numbers of mosques; banning evangelism or proselytism; banning the teaching of religion to all children under 7; state control over who can teach religion within religious communities and their education; state control of organising Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca; and a ban on foreigners – such as Catholic priests – leading religious communities.