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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

KYRGYZSTAN: Who can be a conscientious objector?

Changes before Kyrgyzstan's Parliament continue to restrict conscientious objection to "members of registered religious organisations whose beliefs do not allow the use of weapons or service in the Armed Forces". But they change the recipient of the financial penalty - called "alternative service" and equivalent to between one and two months' average wages - paid by conscientious objectors from the Defence Ministry to "the state body which handles social issues". Human rights defender Dmitry Kabak of Open Viewpoint observed to Forum 18 News Service that there could be problems if the state deregisters a community. Temir Kasymov, assistant to Deputy Mairamkul Tlenchiyeva who co-drafted the legal changes, stated that Muslim or Russian Orthodox conscientious objectors, and atheists, would be able to opt out of military service. But asked what would happen if Muslim or Orthodox leaders were asked if their faiths allowed individuals to perform military service, Kasymov appeared unsure. "There haven't been cases when Muslims refused to serve", he told Forum 18. Kasymov pointed out that the proposed amendments are still in draft form, and asked for help in framing them to meet concerns over who will be allowed to be a conscientious objector.

KYRGYZSTAN: Eight raids, two official warnings in three months

Police and secret police officers raided eight meetings for worship of Jehovah's Witnesses in the first three months of 2013, claiming that they were illegal because the communities had no individual registration. Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) also issued two official warnings – seen by Forum 18 News Service - that their communities have broken the law. In four places – including twice in Jalal-Abad – officials have refused even to process their registration applications. Ahmadi Muslims are still challenging in court the SCRA's re-registration denial which has prevented their communities meeting since 2011. "We have freedom of assembly and freedom of religion in Kyrgyzstan," Kubanychbek Abakirov, expert on religious communities in the Presidential Administration, insisted to Forum 18 after reviewing documentation on the warnings to the Jehovah's Witnesses and their latest registration denial.

KYRGYZSTAN: Criminal prosecutions to punish registration applications?

With at least eight raids on their meetings for worship in two regions of Kyrgyzstan since the beginning of 2013, Jehovah's Witnesses believe the criminal cases launched against two of their members are designed to punish the community for their latest registration application. A Jehovah's Witness mother and daughter in Osh are under two-months' house arrest and face up to three years' imprisonment for allegedly conjuring live snakes from eggs and then swindling two old women of their life savings. Jehovah's Witnesses described the accusations to Forum 18 News Service as "bizarre" and "ludicrous". A police investigator in one of the two criminal cases refused to say how police had identified the two women as suspects, but denied to Forum 18 that the NSC secret police had been involved. Meanwhile, the family of Uzbek former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov is hoping a Bishkek court will decisively reject his possible extradition back to Uzbekistan when it re-hears his appeal.

KYRGYZSTAN: Extradition overturned, but new charges and transfer to prison close to Uzbekistan

The appeal in Kyrgyzstan by Uzbek former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov against his extradition back to Uzbekistan has been upheld, Forum 18 News Service notes. The successful appeal followed his being recognised as a refugee by the Bishkek office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – but he was immediately afterwards detained again and sent by the NSC secret police to a prison in Osh, very close to the border with Uzbekistan. "We had to tell the lawyer – no one had told him of the transfer," Sulaimanov's wife Albina Karankina told Forum 18. She complained that no one would tell the family why he was transferred to Osh, where he is being held and what the new accusations against him are. His lawyer Toktogul Abdyev understands that the new charges relate to an alleged illegal border crossing in 2012, but the UNHCR is "waiting for an official confirmation concerning his transfer and charges brought against him". The NSC secret police would not tell Forum 18 what new charges Sulaimanov faces. But officials confirmed that he is in the Osh Region NSC Investigation Prison.

KYRGYZSTAN: Will international law protect Uzbek imam from extradition?

The wife of Uzbek former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov has spoken of her concern for her husband, detained since October 2012 by Kyrgyzstan's NSC secret police. "I'm very worried that they could extradite him back to Uzbekistan," Albina Karankina told Forum 18 News Service. "We want him freed. It is very hard for the children to live without their father." She observed that "they [Kyrgyz authorities] keep delaying the case" in court. Sulaimanov's next appeal hearing against his deportation is due at Bishkek City Court on 1 March. Karankina has been denied access to her husband in detention, and called for the "fight for justice" for him to continue. "We're grateful to all who have shown concern for us," she told Forum 18. Sulaimanov's only "crime" in Uzbekistan was to lead religious communities. The Bishkek office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Forum 18 that Sulaimanov is protected under international human rights law against refoulement, or being sent back to his home country.

KYRGYZSTAN: Imam still faces extradition to Uzbek torture

The legal appeal by former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov against his extradition from Kyrgyzstan back to Uzbekistan resumes on 12 February, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Officials failed to produce Sulaimanov for the first hearing yesterday (5 February). His lawyer argued in court that if Sulaimanov is returned to Uzbekistan, he is likely to face torture. However, Kyrgyzstan's General Prosecutor's Office, which wants to send him back, insisted to Forum 18 – against overwhelming documented evidence - that "the risk or basis to believe that torture would be used against Sulaimanov does not exist". Sulaimanov's wife, Albina Karankina, calls for the proposed extradition of her husband to Uzbekistan to be halted. "We also want him to be freed from the Investigation Prison", she told Forum 18. Human rights defenders continue to condemn the possible extradition, but the General Prosecutor's Office denied to Forum 18 that it had received an appeal letter on the case from Human Rights Watch. The letter in English and in Russian was submitted to the General Prosecutor's Office in hard copy on 1 February, and signed confirmation of receipt was given. Apart from one five minute visit, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has not been allowed access to Sulaimanov, and family members have been refused visits.

KYRGYZSTAN: Extradition "would violate our international human rights obligations"

Khabibullo Sulaimanov – who led a mosque in the Uzbek capital Tashkent and is seeking asylum in Kyrgyzstan - is fighting extradition back to Uzbekistan. "If the former imam is handed back to Uzbekistan, he faces torture and conviction on fabricated charges of 'extremism'", insists Vitaly Ponomarev of Memorial, who is among human rights defenders following the case. Sulaimanov was detained by Kyrgyzstan's NSC secret police in October 2012. "I can only see him at court hearings, and we can talk together for no more than five or ten minutes," his wife Albina Karankina told Forum 18 News Service. Tursunbek Akun, Kyrgyzstan's human rights Ombudsperson told Forum 18 that "extraditing Sulaimanov back to Uzbekistan would violate our international human rights obligations. (..) I will use all my authority and influence to prevent Sulaimanov's extradition." In sharp contrast, Kanabek Uzakbayev of Kyrgyzstan's General Prosecutor's Office, asked by Forum 18 about breaking international law by sending an individual back to Uzbekistan where they might face torture, responded: "Let them [the Uzbek authorities] do it. It doesn't bother me at all." The next appeal hearing is due on 5 February in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek.

KYRGYZSTAN: NSC secret police behind "needed" new religious freedom punishments

Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA), with the help of the National Security Committee (NSC) secret police, formulated proposed new punishments for exercising the right to religious freedom, an NSC official told Forum 18 News Service. The proposed new punishments are included in Justice Ministry amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences, which considerably increase both the range of activities which are punishable and potential penalties. The Committee of Ministers Department, whose approval is necessary before the amendments can reach Parliament, has returned them to the Justice Ministry for more work. Galina Kolodzinskaia of the Inter-religious Council told Forum 18 that religious leaders "without exception were very worried about the amendments". She added that "if adopted, the punishments will definitely be used. We regard them as a way for the authorities to collect money from religious communities." NSC secret police and Interior Ministry officials stressed to Forum 18 that they support introduction of the "needed" new punishments.

KYRGYZSTAN: Religion Law changes being done "democratically"

Government-backed changes to Kyrgyzstan's Religion Law have begun passage in Parliament, Forum 18 News Service notes. If eventually adopted, they would ban sending students for foreign religious education without state permission, require religious communities to have 200 founders in one locality, and ban all foreigners exercising freedom of religion or belief without a state license. The amendments do not address the long-standing issue of obstructions or denials of burials according to their own rites to deceased Protestants, Baha'is, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees. Mira Karybayeva of the Presidential Administration claimed to Forum 18 that "we're doing all this democratically", insisting that "government and society have reached a consensus". Her claim of "consensus" ignored heavy criticisms by human rights defenders such as the Open Viewpoint Foundation and others, including that the amendments increase the risk of conflict. Meanwhile, Ahmadi Muslims are again challenging state denials of registration and so of permission to exist, and Jehovah's Witnesses have taken state registration denials to the UN Human Rights Committee.

KYRGYZSTAN: Censorship amendments to Religion Law signed

New censorship amendments to Kyrgyzstan's Religion Law were signed by President Almazbek Atambayev on 7 December, officials have told Forum 18 News Service. They came into force on official publication on 11 December. State officials have refused to explain how the amendments – which increase state control over religious literature and other materials - will be implemented. "This is not censorship," Kanybek Mamataliyev of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) insisted to Forum 18 from Bishkek on 11 December. "Procedures will be adopted to implement this, but I can't say who will adopt them." He was also unable to explain what the censorship categories of "extremism", "separatism", and "fundamentalism" mean. Political analyst Ivan Kamenko of Egalitee told Forum 18 that "implementation is likely to be chaotic, selective and arbitrary". He went on to state that: "No one will check Muslim Board or Russian Orthodox literature, but faiths deemed 'non-traditional' could face problems." Also, a Dutch film "I am gay and Muslim" was banned on 28 September. An appeal against the ban is continuing.

KYRGYZSTAN: Prosecutor General preparing new banning suit

Kyrgyzstan's Prosecutor General's Office is preparing a new lawsuit to have the country's Ahmadi Muslim community banned as "extremist", the legal expert of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) told Forum 18 News Service. The attempt comes after the failure on technical grounds of their first attempt. Meanwhile, Jehovah's Witnesses have failed in the Supreme Court in their attempt to challenge the denial of registration to three of their branches. Lack of clarity over how religious communities gain re-registration after the 2009 Religion Law has left many unable to uphold their rights.

KYRGYZSTAN: Tightened censorship from September?

Kyrgyzstan's parliament is considering amendments to the restrictive Religion Law which would tighten state censorship, Forum 18 News Service notes. The existing censorship – like other parts of the Religion Law – breaks the country's international human rights commitments. Lawyers from various religious communities, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, have told Forum 18 that the amendments would have the effect of imposing total censorship on all religious literature and similar material. Asked why censorship is needed, the main parliamentary backer Deputy Tursunbay Bakir uulu told Forum 18 he was busy in a meeting, and could not comment further.