29 September 2014

TURKMENISTAN: Freed after four weeks, but court "failed to correct an injustice"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

After nearly four weeks' imprisonment, during which Bibi Rahmanova suffered "severe physical abuse", she was released from prison in Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan on 2 September. But her conviction on charges she strongly denies of assaulting a police officer still stands, and she can within the next four years only leave her home city with state permission, according to the decision seen by Forum 18 News Service. No action has been taken against officials who assaulted her and her husband and detained her four-year old child. Rahmanova's release from prison leaves nine other individuals known to be in prison because of their faith. Six are conscientious objectors to compulsory military service (all Jehovah's Witnesses). Two other Jehovah's Witnesses are imprisoned on charges their fellow Jehovah's Witnesses insist were fabricated. One Protestant is in prison on charges his fellow Protestants say should not have led to imprisonment. Murad Atabaev of Parliament's Committee on the Protection of Human Rights claimed that a proposed Alternative Service Law had been drafted in 2013 but that he had not seen the text. "When it will be adopted – I don't know," he told Forum 18. [read more...]

26 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Rehabilitation Centre suspended, leaders under criminal investigation

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

About 20 residents of a Protestant-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent were driven out during a 31 May Police, secret police and Tax Office raid. Officials confiscated religious literature, office equipment and money before sealing Shelter Rehabilitation Centre. An employee who taught metal-working to residents, Pyotr Tikhomirov, was fined for "illegally" storing religious literature "posing a threat to the peace and security of the population". Criminal cases were opened against him and the Centre's founder, Vladislav Sekan, for allegedly not paying taxes on wages, not having a cash-register and exploiting residents by not paying them for clearing up after themselves. "For twelve years of its work, large numbers of drug and alcohol addicts were freed from their harmful habits and restored to normal life in the Rehabilitation Centre," Sekan told Forum 18 News Service. Anti-Terrorism Police Officer Jabbor Rizkulov, who led the May raid, refused to explain to Forum 18 why the Centre had been raided or exactly what charges were brought against Tikhomirov and Sekan. Prosecutor's Office Investigator Sarvar Akhmedov refused to give Forum 18 details of the investigation or say when it will be completed. [read more...]

24 September 2014

TURKEY: What will happen to state-confiscated places of worship?

by Mine Yildirim, Norwegian Helsinki Ctte <http://www.inancozgurlugugirisimi.org>

The use and ownership of Turkey's many state-confiscated places of worship raises many questions, including how to address past injustices and the present needs of religious communities and historical preservation. Opinions are divided on who Christian churches converted into mosques centuries ago and then turned into museums should be returned to. Many Alevi tekke (dervish lodges) were turned into mosques under the control of the government's Diyanet or assigned to the use of municipalities. The many current uses of such buildings, and the legal status of their potential or past owners, also affects Turkey's implementation of its international obligations to protect freedom of religion or belief. With little or no consultation with religious or belief communities and other interested parties and no general guidelines, state decisions on this delicate subject are bound to be taken on an arbitrary basis, Forum 18 News Service notes. [read more...]

22 September 2014

AZERBAIJAN: Transfer to house arrest a prelude to trial?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Eldeniz Hajiyev, Ismayil Mammadov and Revan Farzaliyev could soon face criminal trial to punish them for attending a religious meeting in Hajiyev's Baku home raided in April, a friend of the three Muslims told Forum 18 News Service. They face up to three years' imprisonment if tried and convicted. A Baku court ordered the men's release from Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry (NSM) secret police investigation prison on 12 September and transfer to house arrest. The permitted investigation period in the case runs out in mid-October. "I believe they will take the case to court for a full criminal trial," the friend insisted. NSM officials refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. Meanwhile, the new chair of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, Mubariz Qurbanli, has rejected the right of individuals to conduct religious work, the right of mosques to choose their own leaders, the right of individuals to interpret the Koran for themselves, the right to distribute religious literature uncensored, and the right to share one's faith. [read more...]

18 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: "We will continue fining you unless you stop storing religious literature in your home"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

The police officer who led the raid on the home of a Seventh-day Adventist couple in Samarkand told Forum 18 News Service that it is illegal for them to have religious literature since the Adventist community does not have registration in the city. Protestants believe the raid was a reprisal for lodging a new registration application as the community seeks to regain the registration stripped from it in 2007. Among books seized were a Koran and Bibles in Braille. Police seized religious literature from individuals' homes elsewhere in Uzbekistan. "We will continue fining you unless you stop storing religious literature in your home," Judge Oltinbek Mansurov warned Artur Alpayev in Navoi in early September after fining him six months' average local wages for having religious literature at home. Forum 18 can find no published law which broadly bans individuals from owning religious books or other materials, though materials intended to encourage people to change their beliefs or works which, in the state's interpretation, "distort religious canons" have been banned since January. [read more...]

16 September 2014

BELARUS: Religious freedom survey, September 2014

by Olga Glace, Forum 18 News Service

Belarus continues to keep religious communities within an invisible ghetto of regulation, Forum 18 News Service has found. The state closely controls people meeting together to exercise their religious freedom, forcing many religious communities to keep out of sight. Officials are hostile towards followers of faiths they see as a threat, particularly the Protestantism of many of the regime's political opponents. However, Forum 18 also notes that Belarus has been more reluctant to crack down on freedom of religion and belief in recent years. Yet people fear that without change to the legal framework and the attitudes of officials harsh actions could resume. Other issues include: strict controls on foreign citizens, including Catholic priests, who conduct religious activity; a Soviet-era network of KGB secret police and religious affairs officials; lack of provision for conscientious objection to military service; and obstruction of the religious freedom of prisoners, including prisoners of conscience and death-row prisoners. [read more...]

11 September 2014

CRIMEA: Six weeks until Catholic parish loses priest?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

The Catholic parish in the Crimean capital Simferopol appears to be about to lose its parish priest, a Polish citizen, just as 18 of the Muftiate's invited Turkish imams have already been forced to leave. The residence permit of Fr Piotr Rosochacki – who has served in Crimea for more than five years – expires on 25 October and Russia's Federal Migration Service has verbally refused to extend it and that of a Polish Catholic nun which expires in December. Crimea's Chief Prosecutor, Natalya Poklonskaya, promised to investigate, though her assistant told Forum 18 that it is "too early" to expect results. Asked why Fr Rosochacki's residence permit was not simply extended as it had been on previous occasions, Yana Smolova of Russia's Federal Migration Service in Crimea responded: "That was under Ukrainian law. Now we are a different country." [read more...]

10 September 2014

CRIMEA: The unbearable burden of re-registration?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

All 1,546 religious communities in Crimea which had state registration with the Ukrainian authorities are being required to re-register under Russian law by 1 January 2015 if they wish to retain legal status. A wide range of communities have complained to Forum 18 News Service of the burden of having to prepare documentation and the lack of information about how to go about it. Communities that function throughout Crimea will have to register in Moscow, the rest in Crimea. Many communities which wish to remain part of Ukrainian religious organisations – including the Moscow Patriarchate and Kiev Patriarchate dioceses, the Greek Catholic Exarchate and Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Armenian Apostolic parishes – remain uncertain as to whether this will be allowed. Nikolai Barylyuk of the Crimean Department of the Russian Justice Ministry refused to tell Forum 18 whether religious communities' previous registration under Ukrainian law remains valid. [read more...]