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.
13 March 2006
Pulat Nurov, the Islamic affairs specialist of the state Religious Affairs Committee, has told Forum 18 News Service that, in a planned new religion law, "it will clearly be stated that registration of religious organisations is compulsory." If this proves to be the case, Tajikistan will join Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in breaking international human rights obligations by making state registration compulsory. Nurov was speaking to Forum 18 about "inconsistencies" in the current 1994 Religion Law in relation to the continued closure of an Islamic religious school in northern Tajikistan. This madrasa is being barred from operation by the authorities, even though there is no legal basis for the government to do this. Nurov admitted to Forum 18 that registration of the madrasa is not compulsory and that no existing state agency can control the teaching of Islam. "These are the annoying defects of the Religion Law adopted back in 1994," he complained.
1 March 2006
Baptist pastor Pyotr Panafidin's refusal to pay a massive fine imposed last September for leading his unregistered church in the southern town of Taraz has led to a three-day imprisonment and the decision to confiscate his home. Detained at a court hearing on 27 February, Panafidin is due for release on 2 March. "Of course we're worried - if the house is seized, he, his wife Katya and their nine children will be homeless," a local Baptist told Forum 18 News Service. "Of course the detention and the threat to seize the pastor's home are not pleasant," Arbol Argynov of Kazakhstan's Human Rights Ombudsperson's office told Forum 18 from the capital Astana. "If a religious community is not registered with the authorities, that is no reason to restrict it." He says the requirement for religious communities to register must be removed for Kazakhstan to meet its international human rights commitments.
17 February 2006
The recent murder of an ethnic Kyrgyz convert to Christianity, Saktinbai Usmanov, was the culmination of a long series of intolerant incidents, Forum 18 News Service has found. Usmanov was the only Christian in his village. The intolerance was encouraged by the village Mullah, Nurlan Asangojaev, although most of the attackers were themselves drunk, which is forbidden in Islam. Asangojaev arranged for Usmanov to be banned from community events after his conversion, which is very painful for the traditionally community-centred Kyrgyz. He has also barred Usmanov from being buried in the village cemetery. Mullah Asangojaev has since Usmanov's murder told Forum 18 and others that "I can't offer any convincing proof, but I am sure that Saktinbai was killed by Protestants because he wanted to return to Islam." This is strongly denied by Saktinbai Usmanov's son, Protestant Pastor Ruslan Usmanov, who told Forum 18 that this is a "monstrous slander." There are numerous incidents of intolerance, including official hostility, towards Christian converts from Muslim backgrounds throughout Central Asia, Forum 18 has found.
8 December 2005
In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, Forum 18 News Service notes that the de facto religious freedom situation continues unchanged. Religious communities – notably Protestant Christian and Hare Krishna religious minorities, as well as non-state controlled Muslims - continued to experience state hostility and attacks on their freedom to carry out peaceful religious activity. The passage in 2005 of new "extremism" and "national security" laws significantly worsened the de jure religious freedom situation. However, it is generally agreed within Kazakhstan that the de facto religious freedom situation has not yet significantly worsened. Professor Roman Podoprigora, an expert on religious law, commented to Forum 18 that it will only be some time after the recent presidential elections – in which the incumbent President Nazarbayev was declared the winner – that it will become clear whether state religious policy will become harsher.
5 December 2005
The second known religious prisoner of conscience in Turkmenistan, Hare Krishna devotee Cheper Annaniyazova, is to be moved to the country's only women's prison, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "This is a long way from her home in Ashgabad and will make it difficult for people to visit her," Forum 18 was told. "Besides, it is in a closed border zone and anyone wanting to visit will need a special permit." Annaniyazova was sentenced in November to seven years in jail on three charges, one of which was not made public. The extra sentence imposed in the wake of the accusation was likewise not made public. The judge in Annaniyazova's case refused to give her lawyer a copy of the written verdict, or even to let the lawyer see it, which one source told Forum 18 may have been a deliberate attempt to prevent a legal appeal. It is thought within Turkmenistan that the seven year jail sentence was imposed to intimidate the Hare Krishna community.