28 August 2015

RUSSIA: Another enforced liquidation, place of worship to be seized

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

The 100 or so members of Abinsk's Jehovah's Witness community in Krasnodar Region of southern European Russia will risk criminal prosecution if they continue to meet to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief, now that Russia's Supreme Court has upheld the community's enforced liquidation. The state will also seize their place of worship, Forum 18 News Service notes. Three Jehovah's Witness communities and one mosque community have now been banned as "extremist". Jehovah's Witnesses believe prosecutors' similar liquidation suit in Cherkessk is an attempt to seize their property for commercial development. The community has faced searches it believes are illegal, seizure of religious publications and a fine, while two of its members have been fined and another was "subjected to beatings and severe psychological pressure" by police. Karachay-Cherkessiya Prosecutor's Office refused to discuss the liquidation suit with Forum 18. [read more...]

26 August 2015

BELARUS: Criminal trial of conscientious objector a show trial?

by Olga Glace, Forum 18 News Service

Eleven days after the official publication in June of Belarus' first-ever Alternative Service Law, which takes effect from 1 July 2016, an investigator opened a criminal case against Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Viktor Kalina. He faces punishment of up to two years' imprisonment if convicted of refusing military service on grounds of religious conscience. No court official in Brest was able to explain to Forum 18 News Service why the first hearing in his trial on 17 August was held not at the court but at Brest Military Conscription Office. Kalina likened it to a show trial as five more young men who chose not to go to the army were present at the hearing, and officials "decided to show them the consequences". However, the Head of Kalina's local Conscription Office, Valentin Abramov, insisted to Forum 18 that trials outside courts are "usual practices". [read more...]

24 August 2015

RUSSIA: Religious festival raided, two-year investigation, criminal trials, one fine

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Exactly two years after police raided two Muslim homes in Russia's Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk during celebrations of the end-of-Ramadan festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, criminal charges of "extremism" have been dropped against Yelena Gerasimova as the two-year statute of limitations for prosecutors and courts to complete cases has expired. The other home-owner, Tatyana Guzenko, was fined three months' average local wages, a fellow Muslim told Forum 18 News Service. Also in Krasnoyarsk, the criminal trial of three other Muslims on similar charges began in July and is due to resume on 8 September. The criminal re-trial of 16 Jehovah's Witnesses for continuing to meet after their community in Taganrog was banned through the courts is due to resume on 7 September. [read more...]

20 August 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Two-month secret police detention – prosecution to follow?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Kazakhstan's KNB secret police arrested Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov on the evening of 14 August after searching his home in the capital Astana and confiscating religious books. Also searched the same day was the Adventist church where he worships. On 15 August an Astana court ordered he be held in two-month pre-trial detention at the secret police Investigation Prison, the court chancellery told Forum 18 News Service. Kabduakasov is challenging this detention at a hearing tomorrow morning (21 August), his lawyer Gulmira Shaldykova told Forum 18. The secret police claim he was spreading "religious discord" when discussing his faith with and offering Christian books to others. Secret police Investigator Diyar Idrishov refused to discuss Kabduakasov's case. "I was merely a witness to his arrest and am not involved in the investigation," he told Forum 18. He said Investigator Nurlan was leading the criminal case (with a possible five to ten year prison sentence), but the man who answered his phone repeatedly hung up when Forum 18 asked about the case. [read more...]

19 August 2015

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

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

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. [read more...]

17 August 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Why do authorities close public prayer rooms?

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Muslims who used the prayer room at a Shymkent market were "of course" unhappy when Shymkent City Administration and the local National Security Committee (KNB) secret police closed it in early July, a source at the market told Forum 18 News Service. Officials gave the Muslims no reasons for the enforced closure. Kanat Kalybekov of the Internal Policy Department of the City Administration claimed to Forum 18 that "there was no prayer room in the market officially". Shymkent KNB denied any involvement in its closure. Officials have closed prayer rooms in many public buildings – including colleges, prisons, hospitals and airports – since the harsh 2011 Religion Law was adopted. Prayer rooms at Aktau and Atyrau Airports were closed in 2014. Students at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan's capital Astana are banned from exercising freedom of religion or belief. "There are no prayer rooms in the University, and we warn new students at admission that if they want to pray they can only do so in their dormitory room alone," Askhad Bekzhanov, Chief of the University's Department of Student Affairs, told Forum 18. [read more...]

13 August 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: "What right do authorities have to scare our children?"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

About 20 police officers, Prosecutor's Office officials and Education Department officials raided a church-run children's summer camp near Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty on 30 July. Officials frightened the children and "behaved like they were detaining some criminals", Pastor Sergei Li of Kapshagai Baptist Church told Forum 18 News Service. Police questioned children without their parents, as well as others, from morning until late in the evening. "One seven-year old girl was frightened and cried, and after that I told them to stop questioning the children", Pastor Li stated. Lieutenant Colonel Bayken Shalkarov, Deputy Head of Kapshagai Police, claimed to Forum 18 that "the Church taught children religion in violation of the Law". He refused to say why police questioned frightened young children without their parents for many hours. He said police are preparing administrative prosecutions, but refused to say for what "offence". Asem Suttibayeva of Kapshagai Education Department told Forum 18 that law-enforcement agencies required educational psychologists from her Department to participate in the raid. Asked why Almaty TV channel and its subsidiary Almaty News attacked the Baptist Church without a right of reply and to the distress of members, Deputy Chief Editor Tatyana Lisitskaya responded: "The authorities gave us the materials for broadcast." [read more...]

11 August 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Muslim bookseller's prison sentence "a judicial secret"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Sunni Muslim prisoner of conscience Eyvaz Mammadov was given a nine-month prison term in Azerbaijan's capital Baku for selling religious books and other religious items which have not undergone state censorship. However, the assistant to the Judge who sentenced him described the sentence to Forum 18 News Service as a "judicial secret". Mammadov was the last of five Muslim prisoners of conscience to be jailed on the same charges. Another of the five, Salim Qasimov, failed in his appeal against his six-month prison sentence. Shia Muslim Jeyhun Jafarov has failed to overturn the latest court order that he should be held in pre-trial detention at the NSM secret police Investigation Prison in Baku for a further four months. An NSM secret police officer dismissed Forum 18's question as to whether Jafarov and two female Jehovah's Witnesses also held by the secret police might be subjected to torture. "There is no torture here – there can't be," the official insisted. Azerbaijan has refused to allow publication of a report on an April 2015 visit to this and other prisons by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT). The criminal trial of five Muslim former prisoners of conscience arrested for participating in a meeting to discuss their faith is due to resume in a Baku court on 7 September. [read more...]