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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: 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.

KYRGYZSTAN: "We need to protect the rights of the majority"

Kyrgyzstan's law-enforcement and other state agencies are failing to stop or even appear sympathetic to violent attacks on people exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Among recent attacks, a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall in the south-western Jalal-Abad Region has been burnt down twice and five Baptists in Naryn Region were attacked in the home village of one of the Protestants. Local police and Public Prosecutors took no action when they witnessed attackers threatening to destroy the homes of Jehovah's Witnesses and kidnap them. Commenting on threats he witnessed by a mob, a Deputy Prosecutor told Forum 18: "No-one threatened the Jehovah's Witnesses, they just asked them nicely." Asked about these and other physical attacks on religious minorities, the new Head of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA), Abdilatif Zhumabayev, told Forum 18: "We need to protect the rights of the majority." One Jehovah's Witness commented that "failure to prosecute the persons who carried out the mob violence in May 2010 is no doubt the main reason why the mobs felt they could attack our community again in 2012". Forum 18 is aware of similar violent attacks against members of other religious communities.

UZBEKISTAN: Imminent expulsion for exercising religious freedom?

Despite being born, brought up and living in Uzbekistan, Jehovah's Witness Yelena Tsyngalova and her two teenage sons are facing imminent expulsion to Russia, in apparent punishment for exercising her freedom of religion or belief. As in similar previous cases, Uzbekistan is seeking to expel the family without formally deporting them. "Yelena knows no-one in Russia and has nowhere to go, plus she has a disabled mother here in Tashkent who would be left all alone," her fellow Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 News Service. "She wants to stay here." Uzbek officials refused to discuss the family's expulsion with Forum 18. When Tsyngalova attempted to find out the reasons for her deportation with the head of the Sergeli District Visa Department, Utkir Buzakov, he threatened her with 15 days' imprisonment. When she told officials she had two teenage children and a mother who is an invalid, officials said she would have to take the two children with her. Although tickets for a Tuesday 12 June expulsion have been withdrawn, officials subsequently stated she will still be deported and this will not be delayed. Also, Tereza Rusanova, a Baptist from Uzbekistan who has lived in Kyrgyzstan since 2009, is facing criminal prosecution after she returned to Uzbekistan to renew her passport.

KYRGYZSTAN: "We have not been able to pray and worship together"

Since July 2011, "we have not been able to pray and worship together", an Ahmadi Muslim complained to Forum 18 News Service. Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) has denied registration – or the right to legally exist - to their communities in four locations, citing a National Security Committee (NSC) secret police claim that Ahmadi Muslims are a "dangerous movement and against traditional Islam". Only 135 communities of the state-backed Muslim Board and three Russian Orthodox have gained registration since the repressive Bakiev-era Religion Law came into force in January 2009. Hundreds of mosques, Protestant churches, Jehovah's Witness and Hare Krishna communities have been left without registration, which requires not only 200 adult citizen founders and SCRA approval but approval from local keneshes (councils). Jehovah's Witnesses failed in their court challenges over three keneshes' refusal to approve their lists of founders. "The deputies do not like the Jehovah's Witnesses, and made a decision to refuse to endorse their list," Ardak Kokotayev, Chair of Naryn city Kenesh, told Forum 18.

KYRGYZSTAN: "Against the Constitution and discriminatory"

Officials continue to enforce Kyrgyzstan's repressive Bakiev-era Religion Law, Forum 18 News Service has found. No progress has been made in dealing with registration applications from – among others - hundreds of mosques, unregistered Protestant churches, and the Hare Krishna community. Unregistered religious activity is – against human rights standards Kyrgyzstan has agreed to implement – banned. One major obstacle to gaining legal status is the Religion Law's requirement that those wishing to found a religious organisation – at least 200 adult permanent resident citizens as founders under the Law – must identify themselves to national and local authorities, which many are afraid to do – even if their community is that large. Human rights defenders Valentina Gritsenko of Justice, a human rights group in Jalal-Abad, and Dmitri Kabak of Open Viewpoint in Bishkek, both describe the Law as "against the Constitution and discriminatory". "Why should communities have to collect 200 signatures to worship or pray together?" Gritsenko asked Forum 18.

KYRGYZSTAN: "I received it from heaven"

Religious communities in Kyrgyzstan are encountering bans and great difficulties in inviting foreign religious workers to work with them, Forum 18 News Service has found. Many but not all of the problems relate to the harsh 2009 Religion Law being used against communities with foreign contacts. There are moves to strengthen the Law's censorship provisions, but two Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned in 2011 on seven-year prison terms have now been released. Following an application for a foreign religious worker to be re-registered, Ahmadi Muslims were themselves denied re-registration by the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA). The NSC secret police had told the SCRA that Ahmadi Muslims are a "dangerous movement and against traditional Islam". SCRA Head Ormon Sharshenov, asked by Forum 18 how the SCRA concluded that Ahmadi Muslims are dangerous, replied: "I received it from heaven". Ahmadi Muslims told Forum 18 that since July they had stopped meeting for worship in the hope that they will receive state permission to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief. The Grace Presbyterian Church is also facing an SCRA threat to its legal existence. All unregistered religious activity is banned, against international human rights standards.

UZBEKISTAN: New haj pilgrimage, same old restrictions

The Uzbek authorities have again this year imposed severe restrictions on how many pilgrims could take part in this year's haj pilgrimage, now underway in Saudi Arabia. Only 5,080 out of a potential quota of about 28,000 travelled to Mecca. About as many pilgrims travelled from Kyrgyzstan as from Uzbekistan, more than five times more populous. An official of one Sergeli District mahalla (neighbourhood), with between 3,000 and 7,000 residents, told Forum 18 News Service that "our mahalla will be able to send pilgrims only in 2012. Several people are on the waiting list but maybe only one will go." As before, an "unwritten instruction" banned would-be pilgrims under the age of 45, officials of a local mahalla committee in Tashkent told Forum 18. Pilgrims faced official screening, while secret police officers reportedly accompany the pilgrims. An Imam outside Tashkent, who did not wish to be named for fear of state reprisals, complained that "unofficial payments" more than doubled the cost of the haj. "The number of applicants would be much, much higher if the cost was not so high," he lamented to Forum 18.

KYRGYZSTAN: Jail terms overturned, but investigation continues

Batken Regional Court in southern Kyrgyzstan has overturned seven-year prison terms imposed on two cousins who are Jehovah's Witnesses, Forum 18 News Service has learned. However, despite this, the Court specifically stated that it rejected the two men's appeal. Instead of being exonerated and freed, the two - Iskandar Kambarov and Jonibek Nosirov - still face possible prosecution and remain in pre-trial detention. "We hope that reason will prevail and they will now be freed," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. The two men had been found guilty of having two discs which police say were from the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamist movement. Kambarov and Nosirov say the discs were not theirs and were planted on them. Batken Regional Court also ordered that "in order to remedy the gaps in the investigation process" the case should be sent for further investigation, and ordered that the two cousins should pay costs. Officials continue to defend the prosecution to Forum 18. Local Jehovah's Witnesses state that the two men remain "in good spirits".

KYRGYZSTAN: Seven year sentences despite "fabricated evidence" and "procedural violations"

Two cousins – both Jehovah's Witnesses – were sentenced on 18 May to seven years' imprisonment accused of having two DVDs in their private home claimed by the state to be extremist Islamic, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The two young men, Iskandar Kambarov and Jonibek Nosirov, insist the DVD discs must have been planted by police during a 29 January search of their flat at which they were arrested. The two have appealed against their conviction, noting "fabricated evidence" and "procedural violations". The two have been denied religious literature they have requested on the orders of the Judge who sentenced them, Judge Lutfulla Saliev. Forum 18 has been told that the judge's phone is broken. Two anti-terrorism police officers stated that they put the flat under surveillance because the two had been "preaching" and only went out after dark. No warrant was issued authorising the raid that accompanied the arrests. Until 4 February the police denied that the two were in detention, although court documents contradict this claim. No date has been set for the appeal.