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The right to change one’s belief or religion
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KAZAKHSTAN: Mosques resist pressure to join state-recognised central organisation

Ethnic Uzbek Imams leading mosques in southern Kazakhstan have resisted state pressure to come under the 'Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Kazakhstan', Forum 18 News Service has found. Pressure followed a 2002 attempt to change the law on religious associations, which the Constitutional Council ruled contradicted the constitution. Kazakh officials have frequently privately told Forum 18 that the region is the country's "hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism". However, Kyrgyzstan is the only state in Central Asia where Hizb-ut-Tahrir (which seeks to unite Muslims worldwide under the rule of a Caliphate) is not officially banned, and most Hizb-ut-Tahrir members in South Kazakhstan region are ethnic Kazakhs. Commenting on this ethnic difference, a local NGO told Forum 18 that "Uzbeks in Kazakhstan live much better than they do in Uzbekistan," so they "are not interested in seeking open confrontation with the authorities."

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious freedom survey, February 2004

In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, Forum 18 News Service notes that after restrictive amendments to the religion law were thrown out by the Constitutional Council in April 2002, the religious freedom situation has improved. Muslim, Baptist and Jehovah's Witness communities that did not wish to or failed to get registration had been routinely pressured or fined, but this has now stopped. However, an article of the Administrative Offences Code still prescribes punishment for leaders of unregistered religious communities and allows registered religious communities that hold youth meetings to be banned. Some officials – though not all - still maintain to Forum 18 that registration of religious organisations is compulsory.

UZBEKISTAN: Police arrest, insult & threaten to rape female Jehovah's Witnesses

Two female Jehovah's Witnesses, Gulya Boikova and Parakhat Narmanova, have been arrested, insulted and threatened with rape by police in Karshi (Qarshi), Forum 18 News Service has learnt. On 22 January a pending court case against the women was adjourned by Judge Abdukadyr Boibilov, while police gather more evidence. This is one example of the continuing persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Uzbekistan, who are the religious minority most frequently victimised by the authorities. Witnesses have been subjected to vicious beatings by police, and a Jehovah's Witness is the only member of a religious minorities to have been sentenced to jail for his religious beliefs. (There are about 6,500 prisoners of conscience from the majority religion, Islam.) The persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses is probably explained by their being the most active religious minority in trying to spread their beliefs, and the Uzbek religion law banning "actions aimed at proselytism".

CENTRAL ASIA: State policy towards religious minorities in Central Asia

State policies in Central Asia towards religious minorities present a varied picture. Orthodox Christians say they have almost no problems at all, which is in stark contrast to the situation of other religious minorities such as Protestant Christians, and to the situation of Islam, the most widespread religion in the region. Throughout the region both Islamic radicalism and proselytism by non-Islamic faiths are viewed very seriously indeed by governments, which frequently seek to control and/or severely repress both Islam and proselytism. This is partially due to fear of religious diversity, and partially due to fear of radical Islamic groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

KYRGYZSTAN: Religious freedom survey, January 2004

In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service notes that both registered and unregistered religious communities appear to function freely, despite a 1996 presidential decree requiring religious communities to register. A dispute in 2003 about headscarves worn by Muslim schoolgirls seems to be over, however the closure of six mosques has not been overturned and the official who ordered the closure has not been punished. A Pentecostal Church which faced a massive tax bill and obstruction in registering affiliated congregations hopes that, due to international concern attributed to Forum 18's reporting, a solution will be found. However, due to Muslim anger at conversions from Islam to Christianity, Forum 18 has been told by some that an official campaign against Christian proselytism may soon be launched.

UZBEKISTAN: Death row prisoners denied clergy access

Uzbekistan is denying clergy access to death row prisoners, Tamara Chikunova, head of the Uzbek NGO Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture, has told Forum 18 News Service. This denial violates two articles of the Uzbek Criminal Code, which specifically allow those sentenced to death the right to meet a member of the clergy. Fr Nikolai Rybchinsky, of the Central Asian diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, told Forum 18 that in the case of two death row prisoners "so far at least, Orthodox priests have not been allowed access to these prisoners. We have made an official appeal on this matter to the state administration for carrying out punishments, but have received no reply from there." Fr Rybchinsky also said that "in general, priests face significant difficulties gaining access to prisons." Forum 18 has learned that death row prisoners are denied access to religious literature. When a Muslim death row prisoner asked a senior prison official to give him a Koran, the official reportedly replied: "Are you joking? After all, that is a political thing."

CENTRAL ASIA: Hizb ut-Tahrir wants worldwide Sharia law

Hizb ut-Tahir, which is widespread in Central Asia, has told Forum 18 that it aims to introduce a worldwide Caliphate and ban all faiths apart from Islam, Judaism and Christianity, all religious practice being regulated by Sharia law. Buddhism, Hinduism, the Hare Krishna faith and what the party sees as sects within Islam would all be banned. Hizb ut-Tahir members also explained to Forum 18 that the party would give all non-Muslim states a choice between either joining the Caliphate under Sharia law, or paying a tax to the Caliphate. Failure to pay the tax would be punished by military attacks. The USA, the United Kingdom and Israel were described to Forum 18 as the work of the devil and "European democracy" as "a farce". Within the Caliphate, Christians and Jews would be allowed to drink alcohol, if that was required for religious rituals, and to regulate within their own communities marriage, divorce and the assignment of possessions.

KYRGYZSTAN: Official begins destruction of six rural mosques

After unilaterally closing six of the nine mosques in his district close to Jalal-abad in southern Kyrgyzstan, Asan Erinbayev, head of Karadarya rural district, has now begun to destroy them, regional Muslim leader Dilmurat haji Orozov complained. He said the six mosques closed down last May were registered with the government's committee for religious affairs. "Yet Erinbayev is still flagrantly flouting the laws," Orozov told Forum 18 News Service. "I simply don't know what to do. All I can do is go to Karadarya and fight it out with him." Erinbayev justified the destruction of the mosques, telling Forum 18 they had been built illegally on state-owned land, claims the Muslims deny.

KYRGYZSTAN: Is mullah latest Uzbek KGB kidnapping victim?

When he was kidnapped in the town of Uzgen in southern Kyrgyzstan on 7 September, local mullah Sadykjan Rahmanov became at least the sixth devout Muslim seized in the area, apparently by Uzbek secret police agents from across the border. "The investigation's main line of inquiry is that Sadykjan Rahmanov has been kidnapped by the Uzbek special services," the deputy head of Uzgen district Mamatali Turgunbayev told Forum 18 News Service. "The Uzbek special services act in Kyrgyzstan as if they are at home." He speculates that the Uzbek authorities believe the mullah was connected to the violent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The mullah's brother Salimjon Rahmanov claims he is innocent. "He is simply a believer who has never been involved in politics," he told Forum 18.

KYRGYZSTAN: Massive tax bill aimed at "crushing" Church?

The appeal to the Ministry of Finance from the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ against what it claimed was an unjust tax demand for 110,000 US dollars was rejected on 15 August. "The taxes are simply a means of crushing the church," senior pastor Vasili Kuzin told Forum 18 News Service. Kyrgyzstan's tax code exempts charitable bodies from tax, while the religion law prescribes taxes only on religious organisations' business activities. "It is true that the activity of religious organisations is not subject to taxation, and if the situation is indeed as you say, then the tax inspectorate is breaking the law," Natalya Shadrova of the Committee for Religious Affairs told Forum 18.

KYRGYZSTAN: "End persecution or we seek asylum," Pentecostals tell president

Pastor Vasili Kuzin of the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ says his Church's open letter to President Askar Akayev vowing to seek asylum abroad if pressure on the Church is not ended is "a last resort". "We have no other way of attracting international attention to our unfortunate situation," he told Forum 18 News Service. Banned from registering in several towns and with its churches closed down or threatened, the Church now faces a tax demand of more than 100,000 US dollars, although religious groups are tax-exempt. Sharshek Usenov of the government's religious affairs committee rejects the Church's claims. "No-one is persecuting the Church of Jesus Christ and I do not understand what Kuzin aims to achieve with this letter," he told Forum 18.

KYRGYZSTAN: Campaign to close down Pentecostal Church?

With its congregations in Karakol and Osh closed down after failing to gain registration, a senior pastor of the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ has accused the authorities of launching a campaign to close down the Church and its affiliates. "We have not managed to register our affiliates in the provinces and the authorities are taking active advantage of that," Vasili Kuzin told Forum 18 News Service. The religious affairs committee warned Kuzin that if members of the closed Osh church continue to meet in private apartments, his Bishkek congregation will have its registration removed. Murmurzak Mamayusupov, chairman of the religious affairs committee, denied there was any deliberate obstruction. "No-one is putting obstacles in the way of their registration," he told Forum 18.