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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
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KYRGYZSTAN: Impunity for officials, mob and torturers ignoring law

On 15 February Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Jehovah's Witnesses against refusal to register communities in Osh, Naryn, Jalal-Abad, and Batken, Forum 18 News Service has learned. And on 24 February the Supreme Court sent two Jehovah's Witnesses, Nadezhda Sergienko and Oksana Koriakina, for a new trial "in total disregard of the overwhelming and unchallenged evidence of my clients' innocence", their lawyer Shane Brady told Forum 18. Elsewhere, a court rejected an appeal by the registered Elchilik Zhiyini Church against Kemin Kenesh's halting of their activity despite a decision by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court. "Our decision must be followed", Akylbek Akhmatov of the Constitutional Chamber told Forum 18. He added that "the lawyers of the Kemin Church should refer to our decision in court". The Church has not been able to meet since August 2015 and was threatened with violence at a Kenesh (council) meeting. Police have refused to take action against people they witnessed threatening violence. In another case, the authorities have refused to bring officials who tortured Jehovah's Witnesses in Osh to justice.

KYRGYZSTAN: Freedom of religion or belief without state permission = murder?

After the December 2015 murder in Kyrgyzstan of Ahmadi Muslim Yunusjan Abdujalilov, an independent human rights defender has noted this month (February 2016) to Forum 18 News Service that "the authorities turn a blind eye to hate speeches on TV, other mass media, and mosques about Ahmadi Muslims and other vulnerable religious groups". They also noted that, in addition to attacks by Muslim Board imams, the Ahmadis were refused state registration. "All of this created a tense situation and hatred against the Ahmadis." Osh Regional Police spokesperson Jenishbek Ashirbayev told Forum 18: "There are two sides of the issue, one is the murder, and the other is the unregistered freedom of religion or belief of the Ahmadis". Asked why the authorities are seeking to punish the Ahmadis instead of investigating the murder, Ashirbayev reiterated that both the murder and the Ahmadi Community's activity are being investigated. Asked what the freedom of religion or belief of the Ahmadis has to do with the murder, he referred Forum 18 to the NSC secret police.

KYRGYZSTAN: Will government defend judges, lawyers and residents from police?

A Jehovah's Witness mother and daughter in Kyrgyzstan have been freed from house arrest, having been held since March 2013, in what a judge described as "a fabricated case", Forum 18 News Service has learned. But NSC secret police and ordinary police 10th Department officers repeatedly illegally tried to stop the two women's lawyers participating in the appeal hearing, and then invaded the judges' deliberation room when they realised that the women might be set free. Under international law some of the police should not have been at liberty, as they were involved in torturing other Jehovah's Witnesses. The two women's defence lawyers have publicly called for the ordinary police and NSC secret police officers who openly attacked lawyers' and judges' independence to be investigated on criminal charges, and if guilty punished according to the law. Officials have refused to tell Forum 18 if these and other official attempts to obstruct the rule of law will be subject to investigation and criminal charges.

KYRGYZSTAN: Police impunity for torturing people at religious meeting?

Kyrgyzstan is refusing despite medical evidence to investigate named police who tortured seven Jehovah's Witnesses during a raid on an Osh meeting for worship, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The victims have complained to the General Prosecutor's Office. Under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Kyrgyzstan is obliged to arrest anyone suspected on good grounds of having committed torture and try them under criminal law. A 2012 UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) visit found that "torture and ill-treatment is prevalent", due to among other factors "the impunity and general lack of accountability of officials". Asked by Forum 18 why Prosecutors will not prosecute torturers but prosecuted their victims meeting for worship, Deputy Osh Prosecutor Mirlan Kongaytiyev claimed: "We just want the law and justice to be fulfilled". Osh Prosecutors continue to try to convict two Jehovah's Witnesses of, among other things, conjuring live snakes from eggs. Nadezhda Sergienko and Oksana Koryakina have been under house arrest since March 2013, despite a judge condemning "a fabricated case".

KYRGYZSTAN: "His screams of terror and pain could be heard throughout the building"

Ten police officers – only two of them in uniform – raided a Jehovah's Witness meeting for worship in a rented cafe in Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan on 9 August, claiming it was "illegal". Police brought an Imam to "convert them to Islam", who threatened those present. Officers beat one man for filming the raid on his phone and "his screams of terror and pain could be heard throughout the building", Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 News Service. At the police station, officers strangled three Jehovah's Witnesses "to the point that they passed out". Asked why he and his colleagues raided the meeting for worship and beat several participants, Officer Kozhobek Kozubayev insulted and swore at Forum 18. Kozubayev had been involved in similar beatings of Jehovah's Witnesses in Osh in 2013, for which he was ordered punished. Also in early August, Osh City authorities and a local Imam did not allow a Protestant to bury her deceased 25-year-old son in the cemetery in the District where they live. She could only bury him in a distant cemetery when, under pressure from an Imam, she renounced her faith.

KYRGYZSTAN: Draft Religion Law still repressive, Alternative Service Law stalled?

In producing a draft new Religion Law Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) seems to be ignoring civil society and UN Human Rights Committee criticism and a Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling that some of the Law's restrictions are unconstitutional, Forum 18 News Service notes. The draft is now with the Prime Minister's Office but officials are refusing to say when it might be ready or if it will be made public. Galina Kolodzinskaia of the Inter-religious Council thought that the authorities do not plan to change the Law in 2015. Changes to the law to allow conscientious objection to military service in line with a Constitutional Court decision and UN Human Rights Committee recommendations also seem unlikely soon. Officials are making contradictory statements as to whether a revised draft has reached the Zhogorku Kenesh (Parliament). Also, the authorities are still seeking to confiscate the building of Protestant Jesus Christ Church in Bishkek. When Forum 18 asked whether the SCRA is supposed to help religious communities, SCRA Deputy Head Tabyldy Orozaliyev replied: "We are not telling Norway what its Religious Affairs Ministry should or should not do, so mind your own business."

KYRGYZSTAN: Will state officials obey the law?

Officials are refusing to follow a Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court decision legally removing two major obstacles to the registration of religious or belief communities. "We are observing the present Religion Law until the Constitutional Chamber's decision is integrated into it," Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) Deputy Head told Forum 18. "You need to ask Parliament about changes to the Law." However, Judge Mukambet Kasymaliyev, Chair of the Constitutional Chamber, told Forum 18: "Everyone must abide by the Court's decisions as they become part of the law immediately after they are passed." Asked what he thinks of local officials and the SCRA ignoring this, Judge Kasymaliyev replied, "I cannot evaluate the actions of those officials. But it seems to me that they do not know Kyrgyzstan's laws and must study them." Also, two Jehovah's Witnesses, Nadezhda Sergienko and Oksana Koryakina, under house arrest for two years, still face prosecution, despite a describing the case as "fabricated". And the July 2011 ban on Ahmadi Muslims still continues.

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.