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The right to change one’s belief or religion
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UZBEKISTAN: Increasing use of criminal law against Jehovah's Witnesses

Three Jehovah's Witnesses are being prosecuted under the Criminal Code for missionary activity, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Religious minorities are normally prosecuted under the Administrative Code and the last known criminal prosecution – against a Jehovah's Witness and Pentecostal Christians – was in late 2004. All three Jehovah's Witnesses are from small congregations, which do not meet the legal membership threshold for gaining state registration. Questioned about how people from such small congregations can, under Uzbek law, meet for religious activity, Begzot Kadyrov, of the state Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18 that congregation members must travel to towns where registered congregations exist. The nearest registered congregations for the three on trial are over 500 km. (310 miles) east of their homes. In a separate development, the largest registered Jehovah's Witness congregation may be in danger of losing its registration.

KAZAKHSTAN: New "national security" law contradicts itself

Kazakhstan's new "national security" requirement that all religious activity must be registered contradicts itself, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Both Professor Roman Podoprigora, a legal expert, and Aleksandr Klyushev, of the Association of Religious Organisations in Kazakhstan, note that Article 6-2 of the amended Religion Law, in Professor Podoprigora's words, "says that formal registration [or notification] is adequate, which directly contradicts Articles 4 and 9 of the same law, which says that juridical registration is compulsory!" Klyushev thinks that this is a legal loophole, and Professor Podoprigora believes that the contradiction arose because parliament did not notice it. Ninel Fokina, of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, argues strongly that the new Law is against the Kazakh Constitution. Religious minorities continue to voice deep anxiety. "It's as if they were playing chess with us," Valentina Volkova of the Hare Krishna community told Forum 18.

TURKMENISTAN: "Virtual catastrophe" for Muslim Theological Faculty

President Niyazov has ordered "a virtual catastrophe" for Turkmenistan's only official institution for training Muslim imams, a local staff member has told Forum 18 News Service. All Turkish staff members must return to Turkey, 20 students are being expelled, and the Muslim Theological Faculty's status is to be downgraded. Forum 18 has been told that "many staff don't want to work with the new teachers and would rather leave the university." The move is possibly part of an overall government attempt to tighten the already harsh controls over the country's officially registered religious communities, as there have recently been attempts to increase Turkmen state control over the Russian Orthodox Church and isolate the church. Other officially registered religious communities, such as the Baptists, Seventh day Adventists, Pentecostals and Hare Krishna devotees, also face strong official pressure and restrictions, as do the unregistered - and de facto illegal - communities.

KAZAKHSTAN: Methodist ordered to leave immediately "or there will be serious trouble"

An Uzbek pastor of a Kazakh church, Rashid Turebaev, has been told by police to leave the city of Karaganda "immediately or there would be serious trouble," Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Turebaev has in the past been told by officials that he does not need to re-register his place of residence, but in a sudden reversal has now been fined for not re-registering. He is pastor of the registered Living Vine Methodist Church, and the National Security Service secret police has pressured him to pass on information about foreign citizens – especially Americans - who belong to his congregation. The police have accused Turebaev, without any evidence, of doing unregistered missionary work and struggled to reply to Forum 18's questions as to how Turebaev's work could under the law be seen as missionary activity, and why their has been a sudden change in the official attitude.

UZBEKISTAN: Charity worker faces secret police death threats

After a secret police raid on her home, interrogations, death threats and a large fine in June, and a 15 day prison sentence for her father, Tashkent-based Protestant Marina Kalinkina told Forum 18 News Service that secret police pressure has not let up. On 11 July, secret police officers again interrogated her about what they claim was illegal religious activity as part of her work for Bridge of Friendship, a registered charity she leads. One officer told her that if she dared to complain about her treatment to international organisations it would only make things worse for her. Begzot Kadyrov of the government's religious affairs committee defended the secret police actions, claiming that Kalinkina is using her charitable work as an opportunity to preach. "In other words, she is doing the work of an unregistered religious organisation, and that is forbidden under Uzbek law," he told Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: Unregistered religious activity declared illegal, missionary activity restricted

New "national security" amendments signed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 8 July have brought in tight new restrictions on religious activity that violate Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments. All unregistered religious activity is declared illegal and those leading or taking part in unregistered religious meetings can be fined. Missionary activity by local people and foreigners is illegal unless missionaries are from a registered religious organisation and have individual registration from the authorities of the local area where they operate. Literature for use by missionaries requires prior censorship from local authorities. The OSCE had urged that the ban on unregistered religious activity should be excluded from the law. "Unfortunately this was not done," an official of the OSCE mission in Almaty told Forum 18 News Service. The OSCE is preparing a detailed critique of the "overly restrictive" new law.

UZBEKISTAN: Tortured Pentecostal still in jail

Pentecostal Kural Bekjanov is still being held at a police station in the capital Tashkent with no progress on the investigation into whether he was connected to the murder of a US citizen in the city. "We are convinced of his innocence, and our suspicion is that his religious beliefs are the reason for his ordeal," Iskander Najafov, a lawyer for the Full Gospel Church, told Forum 18 News Service. But Shukhrat Ismailov of the government's religious affairs committee denied this, telling Forum 18 church members' claims were "pure speculation". Since his arrest on 14 June, Bekjanov has been tortured by police and cell mates trying to force him to abandon his Christian faith. Meanwhile two Jehovah's Witnesses in Karshi who have already been fined for "illegal" religious activity now face criminal charges with penalties of up to three years' imprisonment.

UZBEKISTAN: Police continue hunt for religious literature

Police and secret police continue to hunt down religious literature in Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Latest seizures include 15 Bibles from the home of Protestant pastor Viktor Klimov in Gulistan on 17 June, 90 Hare Krishna books seized by police and secret police from a devotee in Bostan on 16 June. Five Protestants in Kungrad were officially warned on 1 June, after bringing religious literature into the country. An official of the government's Religious Affairs Committee has defended such seizures, telling Forum 18 that "the police did have the right to seize Klimov's Bibles temporarily, but they then had to send the books to us for analysis, and we of course will conclude that these books (in other words, the Bibles) are not banned in Uzbekistan," Begzot Kadyrov stated. Such censorship of and restrictions on religious literature violate Uzbekistan's international commitments to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

UZBEKISTAN: Court confirms all Protestants banned in north-west

The last legal Protestant church in north-western Uzbekistan has had its appeal against a regional Justice Ministry ban turned down in court, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. All Protestant activities in north-west Uzbekistan are now banned after a Nukus court rejected the Emmanuel Full Gospel Church's appeal. Separately, another example of official condoning of kangaroo courts staged by local residents against Muslim-born converts to other faiths has come to light. An Uzbek Protestant, who preferred to be anonymous, told Forum 18 of the case of Daniyara Ibaidulayev, a Protestant convert who was on 29 June beaten up by his brother and another villager, who cut his lips with a knife, telling him he must return to Islam. The district public prosecutor's office told Ibaidulayev that "his problems would cease as soon as he returned to Islam". Also, a Hare Krishna devotee has been threatened with losing her job as a schoolteacher, if she does not stop sharing her beliefs.

KAZAKHSTAN: Should the state remove "inconsistencies" in Muslim rituals?

The leader of the independent Union of Muslims in Kazakhstan (UMK), Murat Telibekov, has told Forum 18 News Service that mosques only join the official Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan (the Muftiate) under state pressure. Telibekov has been fined for writing to a newspaper as head of the UMK, before it received state registration. The authorities freely admit that they want all mosques to be under the Muftiate's control. Baktybai Duisebekov, head of the Internal Policy Department of South Kazakhstan Regional Administration, told Forum 18 that this is because "religious rituals in north and south Kazakhstan differ from each other. If all mosques were governed from one central point, we could get away from these inconsistencies." He did not explain why such "inconsistencies" need to be removed by the government. Forum 18 has found that tension exists between ethnic Uzbek Muslims and the Muftiate in South Kazakshtan region.

UZBEKISTAN: Protestant tortured by police trying to force abandonment of Christianity

A Pentecostal Christian in the capital, Tashkent, has been tortured by police since being arrested on 14 June, and other church members have been summoned and threatened, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. 19-year-old Kural Bekjanov was tortured by both police officers and prisoners to try to force him to abandon Christianity. His mother, Gulya, saw him on 26 June, when he had lost weight, had difficulty walking and his fingers and legs were covered in blood. "His mother heard the cries of her own son and begged them to stop beating him," Forum 18 was told. "They told her it wasn't her son's cries, but she said she knew the sound of her own son's voice. Yesterday police threatened to put him on a chair wired up to the electricity – believe me, all this is happening," a church member told Forum 18. Protestants in Karakalpakstan, in north-west-Uzbekistan, the targets of a long running anti-Christian campaign by the authorities, have told Forum 18 of renewed difficulties in meeting. Elsewhere, the trial of six members of the Bethany Church in Tashkent has been fixed for 7 July, after police raided the church whilst a service was taking place.

UZBEKISTAN: One imprisoned, one fined, six more to follow

Nail Kalinkin of the embattled Bethany Protestant Church in the capital Tashkent was sentenced to 15 days in prison on 10 June for "illegally" teaching his faith, while his daughter Marina was fined 68 US dollars, Protestant sources have told Forum 18 News Service. After the church's Sunday service was raided by police on 12 June six more – including the pastor Nikolai Shevchenko – face administrative charges of breaking the country's religion law by leading an unregistered religious community. The church – located in a city district where mosques are also banned - has repeatedly tried but failed to register. Its latest challenge through the courts was again postponed on 17 June. Leaders of another Protestant church in Tashkent have been interrogated and threatened since mid-May, with 18 armed riot police raiding the home of one church leader. In Angren near Tashkent, the leader of a registered Pentecostal church was fined 39 US dollars.