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The right to change one’s belief or religion
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KYRGYZSTAN: "A fabricated case" states Judge, but women still under arrest

Kyrgyzstan is keeping two Jehovah's Witnesses, Nadezhda Sergienko and her daughter Oksana Koryakina, under arrest more than 19 months after their March 2013 arrest for alleged swindling. Both women strongly deny the authorities' allegations, and Judge Sheraly Kamchibekov acquitted the two women of all charges. He told Forum 18 News Service on 4 November that "it was a fabricated case" and that he did not believe the prosecution's claims. However, the two women remain under house arrest as the prosecution has appealed against the acquittal. The two women's co-believers have told Forum 18 that they think the arrests and detentions may be reprisals by the authorities for registration applications Jehovah's Witness communities have made. The lawyer for the people alleged to have been swindled argues in appealing against the acquittal that Jehovah's Witnesses "do not have registration in Osh, Jalalabad and Batken regions". As Judge Kamchibekov observed to Forum 18, "this has nothing to do with the case".

KYRGYZSTAN: Religious freedom survey, November 2014

Before the January 2015 UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service notes ongoing violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights. These include: a ban on exercising freedom of religion or belief with others without state permission; obstacles such as unreasonably high numbers of required founders and some apparent reprisals against communities including Jehovah's Witnesses and Baha'is wishing to gain state registration; increasing state control of the Muslim community; raids on some religious communities; the banning of the Ahmadi Muslim community; restrictions on conscientious objection to military service; harassment and mob violence against non-Muslims with the authorities' complicity, including preventing the dead being buried; state censorship related to freedom of religion or belief; arbitrary expulsions of foreigners; and threats to property. Officials seem unwilling to implement domestic and international legal obligations, with government proposals for Religion Law and Administrative Code changes contradicting a UN Human Rights Council recommendation to "remove all restrictions incompatible with article 18 of the Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights]".

KYRGYZSTAN: Contradictory court decisions, arbitrary official actions

Some officials in Kyrgyzstan appear unwilling to act on their domestic and international legal obligations, Forum 18 News Service notes. Commenting on a UN Human Rights Council recommendation to "remove all restrictions incompatible with article 18 of the Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights]", State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) lawyer Zhanibek Botoyev told Forum 18: "Go and bring some order to your own countries and Norway. We are a sovereign country here, and you cannot command us what to do or what not to do". In relation to a Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling on where a religious organisation may operate, in a case brought by Jehovah's Witnesses, Botoyev claimed that the ruling did not mean what it clearly states it does. The SCRA has also forced a Russian Orthodox Church catechist, Vakhtang Fyodorov, to leave the country and with the State Property Fund continues to try to confiscate a Protestant church's building.

KYRGYZSTAN: "Draconian" proposed Religion Law and Administrative Code changes

Kyrgyzstan is proposing to harshen its Religion Law and give even more power to the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA). The proposals that have attracted most criticism so far from human rights defenders and religious and belief communities include: increasing the number of founders required for registered religious organisations to be founded from 200 to 500 and all such organisations to be re-registered; requiring anyone working in any capacity in any religious organisation to have an annually renewed SCRA license; and requiring every institution offering religious education to have an SCRA license. It is also proposed that existing punishments in the Administrative Code for exercising freedom of religion or belief be increased to up to the rough equivalent of 14 months' average salary. The proposals go directly against the UN Human Rights Committee's March recommendation that planned changes to the Religion Law should "remove all restrictions incompatible with article 18 of the Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights]".

KYRGYZSTAN: Orthodox Bishop banned

Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) on 14 July refused registration as missionary to Bishop Feodosy, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Under the Religion Law, this prevents him from working as a religious worker in Kyrgyzstan. "This is a ban on the Bishop", Orthodox Church spokesperson Yuliya Farbshteyn told Forum 18. The SCRA claimed that the Bishop was denied registration as he "threatens the public security of Kyrgyzstan and sows religious discord among the population". Orthodox believers totally denied these claims to Forum 18. The SCRA also claimed that registration was refused as the Interior Ministry's Anti-terrorism Department was investigating the Bishop. This Department, however, told Forum 18 that it has "nothing against the Church or the Bishop". Sunday school catechist Vakhtang Fyodorov continues to be threatened with deportation. Also, the State Property Fund is again seeking – this time through the Supreme Court - to confiscate the building of the Protestant Church of Jesus Christ in Bishkek.

KYRGYZSTAN: Ahmadis "must not worship together. Otherwise they will be punished"

On 10 July Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court rejected an appeal against two lower courts' support of the State Commission for Religious Affairs' (SCRA) refusal to give state registration to the Ahmadi Muslim community. Asel Bayastanova, the Ahmadis' defence lawyer, told Forum 18 News Service that "it means that Ahmadi Muslims cannot act like Ahmadi Muslims and organise meetings for worship or any other activity together". An Ahmadi Muslim, who asked to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 that "this is equal to banning us .. If we are found by the NSC secret police, the ordinary police, or any other state agency to be carrying out 'illegal' religious activity, we will be given harsh punishments - maybe even imprisonment." The SCRA's lawyer, Zhanibek Botoyev, claimed to Forum 18 that "we are not going to send them to prisons". He also stated that "they can individually pray or read their books in their homes but they must not worship together. Otherwise they will be punished." He refused to say exactly what punishments will be imposed.

KYRGYZSTAN: "I don't see political will on higher level" to resolve burial problems

As burial problems continue for deceased non-Muslims or Muslims who have non-Muslim relatives, Orozbek Moldaliyev, Head of Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs, insisted to Forum 18 News Service that the problem has already been "resolved". A recent draft of Kyrgyzstan's Concept on State Policy in the Religious Sphere 2014-20 acknowledges that the problem exists. But even a Presidential Administration official involved in drafting the Concept admits that any solutions that might be included "may not resolve all future burial problems". Bishkek-based religious expert Galina Kolodzinskaya told Forum 18 that solving this long-standing problem requires both political will "on the higher level" and new laws. "At the moment I don't see such political will on the higher level."

KYRGYZSTAN: Complaining to local authorities about burial violations is "useless"

Kyrgyzstan's government continues its long-standing failure to ensure that people may exercise their right to bury their dead with the religious ceremonies and in the cemeteries they would wish, Forum 18 News Service notes. Protestants, Baha'is, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees have all long complained that the authorities have not resolved this problem, which greatly distresses the families and friends of the dead. But they are frequently afraid to raise this problem, for fear of reprisals aided by state indifference. The most recent publicly documentable failures by the authorities to ensure people may exercise their rights concern Protestants, when in two villages in Jalal-Abad Region local imams interfered in the conduct of funerals. In another case in a different Region an imam blocked the burial of a Protestant woman and forced her grieving husband to convert to Islam to get her buried. The authorities appear to be content to allow local imams to control who is buried in state-owned cemeteries not owned by religious communities. Complaining to local authorities about the violations is "useless", Pastor Kapar Yusup uuly – who was stopped from participating in his brother's funeral in Jalal-abad Region - told Forum 18. He insisted that the authorities could resolve some problems by giving land plots in nearby towns for such burials.

KYRGYZSTAN: Lenten service raided, other raids, warnings of "illegal activity"

The Russian Orthodox cathedral in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek was raided by a range of state agencies during a service in early Lent. The raid appears to have been part of a series of raids and inspections on religious communities between January and April. The campaign resulted in warnings of "illegal" religious activity to at least one individual, a Russian Orthodox catechist, and seven mosques in Bishkek's Sverdlovsk District. "I cannot give you details of our inspections," a Sverdlovsk District official told Forum 18 News Service. Nearly 700 mosques nationwide were identified as carrying out "illegal" activity because they are unregistered. "The authorities are using these inspections to try to bring religious affairs under greater control," a Russian Orthodox Church member told Forum 18. The secret police warned Protestant Churches to reduce their activity and stop handing out religious literature, a Protestant told Forum 18. Another source said the secret police also questioned Protestant leaders on their attitude to Ukraine's political changes.

KYRGYZSTAN: 14 year church ownership annulled

More than 14 years after the Church of Jesus Christ in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek bought a Culture House to use as its worship building, a court has annulled the sales contract. The Church's appeal is due on 18 April. "We are not against the Church or its activity but the contract was null and void from the beginning and must be annulled," Aysulu Orozbekova, who represented the State Property Fund in its suit to court, claimed to Forum 18 News Service. She refused to say why the Fund opened the issue 14 years after the contract was signed or if it is linked to a construction company's interest in the property. Asked if, as she insists the contract was illegal, any state officials had been punished, Orozbekova said this was not the Fund's responsibility. "It is not just the Church of Jesus Christ's property under investigation at the moment. Other religious and non-religious buildings are also under question." She refused to identify the other religious communities whose property may now be threatened.

KYRGYZSTAN: Criminal convictions overturned, but will alternative to military service be for all?

Jehovah's Witnesses have welcomed as "an encouraging sign" the overturning in court of criminal convictions of 13 of their young conscientious objectors to military service. However, the Education Committee of Kyrgyzstan's parliament has rejected draft legal amendments which would – if adopted – allow some conscientious objectors to military service to pay the "alternative service" fee not to the military but to the government. "All five deputies on the Education Committee were categorically against the draft," an aide to one of the draft's initiators told Forum 18 News Service. Parliament's Defence Committee is expected to consider the amendments on 7 or 8 April. "The Defence Committee is the main Committee handling this draft, and we will fight for it." Deputy Defence Minister Zamir Suerkulov defended the proposed restriction of the right to apply to pay the "alternative service" fee only to members of registered pacifist religious organisations.

KYRGYZSTAN: Freeing belief communities from state interference "a mistake"

A meeting chaired by Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambayev has described as a "mistake" the constitutionally-enshrined "distancing state bodies from regulating processes in the religious sphere". Following the meeting, a presidential Decree prepares the way for increased state control over the Muslim Board. The Decree also announces the preparation of legal changes. One Kyrgyz commentator told Forum 18 News Service that "many of the proposals emerging now contradict the Constitution". The commentator – who asked not to be identified – stated that "many religious communities are afraid that under any new legal changes they will be stripped of state registration." Despite the proposed heavy state controls over various aspects of the Muslim Board, its press secretary Asan Saipov told Forum 18 that "our government doesn't seek to control us". Asked why the Muslim Board could not choose its own leaders and verify their qualifications without state interference, Saipov responded: "The state needs to know who the imams are and where they were educated".