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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

KAZAKHSTAN: Harsher laws planned as 89-year-old fined

Kazakhstan's President orders harsher Religion Law drafted by mid-August, as fines for exercising freedom of religion or belief continue. 89-year-old Baptist Yegor Prokopenko was again fined for leading his community, while an Atyrau giftshop owner was fined for offering four Korans for sale.

KAZAKHSTAN: Bank accounts blocked, "expert analysis" costs

At least 26 people convicted of exercising their freedom of religion and belief have had bank accounts blocked by the government without being informed of this, and without additional legal process. They are also required to pay for "expert analyses" used to convict them.

KAZAKHSTAN: 31st criminal conviction since December 2014

Kazakhstan has jailed Murat Takaumov for 9 months for alleged membership of Tabligh Jamaat, the 31st Muslim to be convicted. Five more alleged members are under investigation. And 12 Kazakh organisations have strongly criticised the government's ICCPR record to the UN Human Rights Committee.

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious musical banned

Kazakhstan's Religious Affairs Committee warns organisers they would face prosecution if they did not cancel mid-May performances of religious musical in Astana and Almaty. If a show is religious "it requires permission in accordance with the law", a Committee official told Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: Punished for worship meetings; UN appeals

A Baptist was fined in Kazakhstan for refusing to pay a fine for hosting a worship meeting, and remains banned from leaving the country. Two Atyrau Region Protestants face prosecution for a meeting in a cafe after church. Jehovah's Witnesses await United Nations response to fine complaints.

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious literature fines, prison, destruction

Roman Dimmel served a second 3-day prison term for refusing to pay a fine for offering Christian literature. A court fined two fellow Baptists for offering literature and ordered it destroyed, which the Religious Affairs Department will do when the verdict comes into force.

KAZAKHSTAN: Now 30 Sunni Muslims convicted since December 2014, KNB secret police spy

Two more Sunni Muslims accused of membership of banned Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat were jailed in Kazakhstan in mid-March, Forum 18 News Service notes. These latest jailings bring to 30 the number of Sunni Muslims convicted for exercising freedom of religion or belief in Kazakhstan since December 2014, 18 of whom were jailed. The trial of another Muslim prisoner of conscience, which began in the capital Astana on 19 April, is due to resume on 28 April. All the cases were initiated by the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police, which has used a "senior operational officer" to infiltrate the movement – even though an earlier KNB-initiated study found that there was no reason to ban the movement. The KNB spy, 28-year-old Sanat Aktenberdy, refused to explain to Forum 18 what if any wrongdoing he might have found, or what exactly the alleged "extremist activity" of Tabligh Jamaat was. One court verdict states as an accusation that the movement displayed "intolerance" towards Shia Islam – even though the government has banned Shia Muslims from exercising freedom of religion or belief.

KAZAKHSTAN: Good Friday in Almaty

Police and officers of other security agencies raided 11 church premises and homes of the leaders of New Life Pentecostal Church in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty on 25 March, the day the Church was commemorating Good Friday. This was the first the Church knew of a criminal case of alleged large-scale fraud opened against it in July 2015. The criminal investigation follows alleged complaints from individuals "about the fraudulent appropriation by the pastors of the local religious organisation of large financial sums, as well as moveable and immoveable property, received under the guise of offerings", police claimed in a statement. "We're not fraudsters," one church member told Forum 18 News Service following the raids. "On the contrary, we help people. We've been working here in Kazakhstan for 26 years." Asked by Forum 18 if any other criminal cases have been opened against the Church, Adet Doskeyev of the city's Religious Affairs Department responded: "It's a secret."

KAZAKHSTAN: Three new prison terms, legal advisor next?

Three Sunni Muslim prisoners of conscience - Aidin Shakentayev, Bauyrzhan Serikov and Murat Shopenov – were today (28 March) in Karaganda handed prison terms of up to 30 months each for alleged membership of the "extremist" Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat. They have been held by Kazakhstan's KNB secret police in detention for nearly six months from October 2015. Asked by Forum 18 News Service if the three men had committed violence or incited others to commit violence, Prosecutor Olga Kiryanova – who led the prosecution case in court - put the phone down. The trial in the capital Astana of a legal expert who gave professional advice to the wives of two other imprisoned alleged Tabligh Jamaat members is due to begin on 8 April. "My husband runs a law firm and gave advice in that capacity," Murat Takaumov's wife Aynur insisted to Forum 18. Tabligh Jamaat was abruptly banned in 2013, a year after a commission concluded – after months of work requested by the KNB secret police and the government's Religious Affairs Committee – that it was not "extremist" or "terrorist" and no reason existed for it to be banned.

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious books banned as "extremist", but Prosecutor "can't remember" why

On 15 February a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana upheld the Prosecutor's suit to ban four further Christian books as "extremist", according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The books were among 47 items seized when Christian prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov was arrested. Prosecutor Temirlan Adilkhanov, who led the case in court, told Forum 18 he "can't remember" in what ways the books might have caused harm to anyone. "I knew nothing about the case until the court decision came into force on 15 March," one of the authors, Pastor Manarbek Baieke, complained to Forum 18. "They concocted all this out of thin air." He fears the ban might provide the authorities with a reason to arrest him. Religious believers have expressed concern over a list of 254 "radical" religious books, including Muslim, Ahmadi Muslim, Christian, Hare Krishna and Jehovah's Witness items. Shortandy District Administration said that Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department gave them the list in late 2015 for publication. Asked the status of books on the list, an official of Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department explained to Forum 18: "If it is on the list it is banned."

KAZAKHSTAN: Crossword books, but no religious literature in prison

Prisoners are allowed to have crossword books, but no religious literature, a relative of one of the five Sunni Muslim prisoners of conscience held in Kazakhstan's capital Astana complained to Forum 18 News Service. "I asked the guards if I could bring a Koran. They said religious books, as well as political books, are not allowed." The relative also complained that the men had their beards shaved off and their religious head coverings taken from them. The duty officer at Astana's Interior Ministry Investigation Prison, where the five are held, claimed to Forum 18 that religious books are allowed, provided they are checked and stamped by the KNB secret police. A relative of another Sunni Muslim prisoner of conscience, Saken Tulbayev, complained to Forum 18 of restrictions in labour camp in Pavlodar. "If he prays they beat him. He can only pray to himself without anyone observing."

KAZAKHSTAN: Now 13 Sunni Muslim prisoners of conscience, 12 restricted freedom sentences over 15 months

Six more Sunni Muslims accused of membership of the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement were convicted in two separate trials in Kazakhstan in February. Five men – who have been in secret police detention for five months – were given prison terms of up to two and a half years in the capital Astana on 18 February. The judge still has not issued the written verdicts, relatives complained to Forum 18 News Service. Two of the men have never seen their youngest children, born since their arrests. Another alleged Tabligh Jamaat member was given a term of two years' restricted freedom in nearby Akmola Region. The convictions bring to 25 the number of alleged members known to have been convicted since December 2015. Three more are on trial in Karaganda and one more in pre-trial detention in Astana.

KAZAKHSTAN: "What were they afraid of? We didn't take anyone away"

Anti-"Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism" police Lieutenant Colonel Rashid Kuandikov, who led a January raid on a Protestant meeting in Aktau in Kazakhstan, has dismissed witness statements that officers deliberately insulted and intimidated people, including children. "What were they afraid of? We didn't take anyone away," he told Forum 18 News Service. He also denied that police pressure on an Indian and two Azerbaijanis present was racism. And in December 2015, two female Jehovah's Witnesses failed to overturn large fines for talking to a passer-by on the streets about their faith. One of those fined, Nadezhda Chesnokova, was a 74-year-old pensioner. Two booksellers are known to have been fined in the southern city of Kyzylorda in 2015 for selling the Koran and other books on Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Farabi Uzakov of Kyzylorda Prosecutor's Office, asked how punishing people for exercising their freedoms of expression and of religion or belief accord with Kazakhstan's international human obligations, replied: "I don't understand what obligations you are talking about".

KAZAKHSTAN: Nine Sunni Muslims on trial, another awaiting trial

In criminal prosecutions brought by the KNB secret police, nine Sunni Muslims are on trial in Astana, Karaganda and Akmola Region on charges of belonging to the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat, which is banned as "extremist" in Kazakhstan. If convicted, they face possible imprisonment of up to seven years. Eight of the nine have already spent months in secret police Investigation Prison, Forum 18 News Service notes. A tenth is awaiting trial on the same charges, also in secret police Investigation Prison. KNB secret police investigator Nurlan Belesov – who brought the cases against seven of the men, as well as against Seventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov, who has been transferred to labour camp in Pavlodar – refused to discuss anything with Forum 18 on 1 February. An individual close to the five Astana Sunni Muslim defendants insisted to Forum 18 that they met "simply to help people, visit the sick in hospital, help those in need and feed the hungry".

KAZAKHSTAN: Muslim freedom of religion or belief prisoners of consciences' trials due

The trial of 5 Sunni Muslims for exercising freedom of religion or belief is due to begin in Kazakhstan's capital Astana on the morning of 22 January, officials have told Forum 18 News Service. The 5 prisoners of conscience, for one of whom there are health concerns, have been detained since September 2015 and face up to 6 years' jail. Another alleged member awaits criminal trial in Astana, but his trial date is unknown. Criminal cases against 3 more are expected to be heard in Karaganda later in January. 4 more alleged Tabligh Jamaat members were fined and sentenced to 1 year's restricted freedom for talking about their faith among themselves in December 2015. That same month Christian prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov was jailed for 2 years in a labour camp for talking about his faith with others. Since December 2014, 28 Sunni Muslims are known to have faced criminal charges for alleged membership of the Tabligh Jamaat missionary movement, Forum 18 notes. 8 Muslims have been jailed as prisoners of conscience, 11 Muslims have been sentenced to restricted freedom, and 9 more Muslims are known to be in pre-trial detention. Full lists of these cases are given in this article.

KAZAKHSTAN: Two years' imprisonment for Astana Adventist

The City Court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana today (28 December) increased the punishment handed down to Seventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov in November to two years' imprisonment in a labour camp, Forum 18 News Service notes. The lower court had given the 54-year-old father of eight a seven-year sentence of restricted freedom at home. He was prosecuted for alleged incitement of religious discord while talking to others of his faith, charges he and his fellow Church members reject. KNB secret police officers seized Kabduakasov at the end of the hearing and took him away to prison. Nurlan Belesov, the same secret police Investigator who prepared Kabduakasov's prosecution, is also leading the criminal cases against six Sunni Muslims accused of membership of the banned Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat. The six prisoners of conscience are being held in Astana's KNB secret police Investigation Prison. The court-ordered period for pre-trial detention for five of them has already expired and appears not to have been extended. Three other Muslim prisoners of conscience accused of Tabligh Jamaat membership have been in pre-trial imprisonment in Karaganda for nearly 12 weeks.

KAZAKHSTAN: "State prosecutor wants Yklas to serve 7 years in prison!"

State Prosecutor Asylzhan Gabdykaparov is seeking to have Protestant Christian Yklas Kabduakasov's punishment of seven years' restricted freedom turned into an actual seven-year prison sentence, Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Andrei Teteryuk told Forum 18 News Service. The Prosecutor's protest – and Kabduakasov's appeal to have the sentence quashed – are due to be heard on 22 December at Astana City Court. The November verdict ordered that nine Christian books seized by the secret police in the case should be destroyed. "It is barbarism to destroy books," human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis told Forum 18. An Astana-based court bailiff - who has witnessed the destruction of religious books - explained to Forum 18 that bailiffs throw books ordered destroyed – including religious books – into the rubbish bin. "They are normally disposed off at a general rubbish dump outside the city."

KAZAKHSTAN: Sixth Muslim in KNB secret police pre-trial imprisonment

Murat Takaumov became the sixth Muslim to be arrested by the secret police in Kazakhstan's capital Astana and held at the city's KNB secret police Investigation Prison. On 20 November a Judge ordered his pre-trial imprisonment for two months while he is investigated on charges of participating in the activity of a banned religious organisation, the Judge's assistant told Forum 18 News Service. The same Judge ordered the five others – arrested in September – to be held at the same Investigation Prison for a further month. They face up to six years' imprisonment if convicted of organising the activity of a banned religious organisation. During the September arrest of one, the man's wife went into premature labour "out of fear", Vitaly Ponomarev of Memorial human rights organisation told Forum 18. No officer of Astana KNB was prepared to discuss with Forum 18 why it had brought criminal charges against the Muslims and against a recently convicted Seventh-day Adventist. All six Muslims are allegedly connected to the banned Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat. Fifteen other alleged members have already been convicted since late 2014, with the harshest sentence a prison term of nearly five years.

KAZAKHSTAN: Seven years' restricted freedom for discussing faith

In a case brought by the KNB secret police, Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov was today (9 November) sentenced to seven years' restricted freedom by a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana. He was found guilty of spreading "religious discord" by discussing his faith with a group of students who invited him to a flat rented by one of them. "My father's religious liberties and basic human rights were violated by the fact that he was kept under arrest without any grounds since 14 August and has now been sentenced," one of his sons Alibek Kabduakasov complained to Forum 18 News Service. The Prosecutor, the Judge and the KNB secret police all refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. Meanwhile, the auction to rent out the Din-Muhammad Mosque of Petropavl's Tatar-Bashkir community was abandoned as fewer than two bidders came forward. Community members welcomed the abandonment of officials' attempts to auction their Mosque to a third party against their wishes.

KAZAKHSTAN: Last days for embattled mosque?

Without informing the community that regained the half-ruined building and restored it as a mosque in 1999, and continues to worship there, North Kazakhstan Region authorities have offered for tender the Din-Muhammad Tatar-Bashkir Mosque in Petropavl, according to the rental tender seen by Forum 18 News Service. The only eligible bidder is Kazakhstan's state-backed Muslim Board, to which the community does not belong. "An elderly lady in the community came running to us to say her son had found the announcement on the internet," community chair Ibragim Akhmedjanov told Forum 18. "She was shocked, and so is the whole community." But Kaziza Mukhamediyeva of the Regional Finance Department, which is putting up the building for auction, rejects any complaints. "It's not the property of that community," she told Forum 18. "Their praying there is illegal." Meanwhile a year after the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Kazakhstan had violated the human rights of Viktor Leven, a Baptist, by punishing him for participating in a religious meeting, the authorities have rejected his attempts to have them abide by their obligations.

KAZAKHSTAN: KNB secret police-inspired criminal prosecutions

The trial of Seventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov continues in Kazakhstan's capital Astana tomorrow (14 October). He faces between five and 10 years' imprisonment if convicted of spreading "religious discord", charges fellow church members denied to Forum 18 News Service. The secret police had monitored him for a year before they arrested him in August 2015, appear to have rented the flat to which four students invited him for religious discussions, appear to have organised the secret filming of the meetings with at least two hidden cameras, and prepared the prosecution case. Secret police Investigator Nurlan Belesov, who prepared the case, refused to discuss it with Forum 18. The secret police similarly initiated many, and possibly all, of the criminal prosecutions of at least 15 alleged members of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat since December 2014. One, like Kabduakasov, remains in a secret police Investigation Prison. Five more are in pre-trial imprisonment.

KAZAKHSTAN: Wave of prosecutions against "extremist" Muslims

In September alone in three different cities of Kazakhstan, at least four alleged members of the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement were convicted and five more imprisoned as prisoners of conscience in pre-trial detention for two months, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In Temirtau, Orazbek Apakashev received a term of three years' imprisonment. A court in the capital Astana imprisoned five alleged members for two months' pre-trial detention at the KNB secret police's request. Forum 18 tried to reach the head of Astana KNB, Kurman Yelyubayev, or any of his deputies. "We're such an organisation that we can't answer your questions," Yelyubayev's assistant said to explain her refusal to transfer the call. Davlet Tlemisov, who led the prosecution in court in Shymkent of three alleged Tabligh Jamaat members, defended the sentences of one year's restricted freedom each. "These are dangerous people," he told Forum 18. He then admitted that they had not set off bombs, nor murdered anyone, nor incited anyone to commit crimes. "They hold meetings and discussions directed at violating the constitutional system," he claimed, but refused to explain.

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

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. Prisoner of conscience 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. KNB 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 Belesov was leading the criminal case (with a possible five to 10 year prison sentence), but the man who answered his phone repeatedly hung up when Forum 18 asked about the case.

KAZAKHSTAN: Why do authorities close public prayer rooms?

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.

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

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."

KAZAKHSTAN: Mosque again denied legal status, Imam dies, electricity "temporarily" cut off

Kazakhstan has once more denied legal status to the Din-Muhammad Mosque community in Petropavl and the regional Justice Department has refused to tell the community or Forum 18 News Service what exactly is wrong with their application, despite the authorities claiming it is "not truthful". An official of the Religious Affairs Department stated that the authorities have not stopped the Community using the Mosque as "we do not want to stir up the Tatars and Bashkirs". But a community member stated that "we all know that sooner or later we will be forced out of the building". Muslims think that the death from a heart attack of the community's Imam, Rafael Ryazapov, was caused by heavy state pressure on the mosque and its members. On the first day of Ramadan (and 11 days after Imam Ryazapov's death), Mosque community members could not meet for night prayers as the authorities cut off the electricity supply. Also, three Turkish academics have been deported from a Sufi-named university for Sufi activity, Muslim prisoner of conscience Saken Tulbayev is being kept in "awful" conditions, and a criminal case against Baptist Nikolai Novikov is not yet closed.

KAZAKHSTAN: Muslim prisoner of conscience given nearly 5 years' jail and ban until end 2022 on exercising freedom of religion or belief

Kazakhstan has sentenced Muslim prisoner of conscience Saken Tulbayev to four years eight months jail in a labour camp and banned from exercising freedom of religion or belief from his scheduled December 2019 release until December 2022, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The 46-year-old Tulbayev was jailed despite his family and others insisting that evidence was planted by police and false witnesses produced. The ban on the unclearly phrased "activity directed at meeting the religious needs of believers" would appear, a Kazakh legal expert told Forum 18, to include praying alone or with others, reading the Koran or other religious literature, attending a mosque, or going on pilgrimages. Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law described the three-year ban on Tulbayev's freedom of religion or belief as "another total stupidity and total absurdity". He observed to Forum 18 that "it will be interesting how they will prohibit him from going to mosque and so on".

KAZAKHSTAN: Muslim preacher the latest prisoner of conscience

Kazakhstan's trial of a Muslim prisoner of conscience, Saken Tulbayev, is due to resume sometime after 12 June at an Almaty court, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He has been detained as a prisoner of conscience since 1 April, having been first fined for preaching at a railway station without state permission. A criminal case based on 43 leaflets his family insists were planted during a three-hour police night raid on their home was then opened. Police produced "witnesses" that Tulbayev states he has never met. While in detention he is being denied a Koran and family visits and he faces up to seven years' jail if convicted. But a case against a Baptist, Nikolai Novikov, who refused to pay a fine for exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission seems about to be closed after worldwide protests. "They told me there were so many appeals it seemed that half the world had written", he told Forum 18. The second criminal case against retired Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev appears to have halted. But the case against atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov, who was detained in a psychiatric hospital, continues.

KAZAKHSTAN: Baptist facing three years jail for breaking state censorship?

A Baptist in Kazakhstan, Nikolai Novikov, could face up to three years in jail for refusing to pay a 2013 fine for offering religious literature which has not been censored by the state on the streets, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He has refused to pay that and other fines, as he states they are unjust. Prosecutor Aydin Rashidov insistently claimed that as Novikov's "crime" was of what he described as "middling seriousness", if convicted Novikov would not be imprisoned. However, Rashidov stated that he would have to live under restrictions – such as being subject to a curfew every night at his house - for up to three years. Novikov has pointed out that the prosecution is illegal under Kazakhstan's law. Meanwhile, administrative prosecutions to punish individuals for commercially distributing Muslim religious materials without state approval continue. And, apparently for the first time, the General Prosecutor's Office has published a list of religious and other texts deemed "extremist" and whose production, import or distribution is banned.

KAZAKHSTAN: "A general unwillingness to properly protect human rights"

Kazakhstan continues to jail people for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Vasiliy Kliver, a Baptist in Aktobe Region was on 5 February given a 5-day jail term for non-payment of a 2008 fine. Judge Saule Spandiyarova ignored an Administrative Code limitation on punishments when jailing Kliver. He told Forum 18 that: "we are not afraid, and are glad to suffer for the Lord." Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association noted after visiting Kazakhstan in January "a general unwillingness to properly protect human rights in the country, and of a sense of impunity by some officials" He also noted state intimidation of those he met. Talgat Rakhimov, Head of West Kazakhstan Region Religious Affairs Department, refused to tell Forum 18 why sports fans can share their views anywhere on the street without state permission, but religious believers need state permission. And a registered Protestant church has been raided by law-enforcement officials and those present forced to write statements.

KAZAKHSTAN: Former rehab centre residents "scared and tired of police pressure"

After attempts lasting five years, the authorities in Pavlodar Region of north-eastern Kazakhstan finally succeeded in closing down for three months a Protestant-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in the village of Sychevka. They also fined the Centre and its director Yuri Morozov three months' average wages. "We've given our decision, and you can read what's in there," Judge Lyudmila Klimashina of Pavlodar Regional Court – who upheld one of the fines - told Forum 18 News Service. Natalya Fesenko of Pavlodar Regional Religious Affairs Department described the Centre in court as "bearing a destructive character" and – although she is not a medical specialist - claimed it had "harmed the psychological and physical health" of those who had chosen to live there. She alleged that the Centre "zombified" its residents. Morozov told Forum 18 that eight of the 14 rehabilitants left the Centre after a March 2014 police raid and repeated questioning. "They were scared and tired of the police pressure," he lamented. "We have seen only one of the eight who left us, and we understood that he was back into drinking again."

KAZAKHSTAN: Four 20-month prison terms, one 18-month term

Four alleged members of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat – Bakyt Nurmanbetov, Aykhan Kurmangaliyev, Sagyndyk Tatubayev and Kairat Esmukhambetov – were sentenced today (14 January) to 20-months' imprisonment each, human rights defender Aliya Akhmediyeva of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law told Forum 18 News Service. Judge Sara Zhanbyrbayeva of Taldykorgan City Court sentenced the fifth - Ruslan Kairanov – to 18-months' imprisonment. Like a December 2014 Tabligh Jamaat–related criminal trial, this too was largely held in secret. Akhmediyeva saw transcripts of talks at religious meetings held in Nurmanbetov's home – apparently recorded by the KNB secret police. "I could find nothing inflammatory or inciting crime in these transcripts," she told Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Social justice" the Kazakh way

Nikolai Novikov has been fined three times in two years, jailed for five days, placed on Kazakhstan's exit ban list (with a restraining order placed on his car) and now faces his garage being confiscated. The Baptist from West Kazakhstan Region refuses to pay any of the fines imposed for meeting for worship without state permission. Also in December, Aset Doskeyev of Almaty's Religious Affairs Department wrote to local registered religious communities that holding meetings for worship away from state registered places of worship is an offence. He refused to discuss his letter with Forum 18 News Service. And another Baptist, Maksim Volikov, was fined the equivalent of one month's average salary for talking to people about his faith and offering them religious literature without state permission. Jehovah's Witnesses are also prosecuted for committing this "offence". Judge Nurlan Nuralin ordered Volikov's books to be confiscated and the fine imposed "for the restitution of social justice". And the criminal trial of five alleged members of the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement is due to conclude soon.

KAZAKHSTAN: No freedom of religion or belief "unless they have registration", Anti-Terrorism Police claim

Kazakhstan – in defiance of its binding international legal obligations – demands that groups of people can exist as a religious community and exercise freedom of religion or belief only if they have state permission. Permission to exist is gained via state registration, yet even this does not stop officials trying to stop people exercise this fundamental human rights, Forum 18 News Service notes. The most recent known examples of communities facing such official obstruction are: the Full Gospel Church in Atyrau where the Anti-Terrorism Police with the Justice Department are bullying people identifying themselves as founders on registration applications, and trying to stop the Church meeting for worship without state permission; the Din-Muhammad Mosque community in Petropavl whose Mosque has been liquidated, but are still struggling against "legal" and extra-legal harassment to try to gain registration; and the registered Hare Krishna community in Kostanai who have been raided by police and their leader fined, and has appealed to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee to be able to exercise freedom of religion or belief without fear of criminal or administration punishment.

KAZAKHSTAN: One three-year jail term, 5 or 25 more to follow?

Secrecy surrounds Kazakhstan's criminal trials of members of Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat. Mamurzhan Turashov was given a three-year prison term on 2 December, but neither the court, the prosecutor, the Judicial Expertise Institute which conducted "expert analyses" of religious books seized from him, nor his defence lawyer were willing to make the verdict public. All were also unwilling to tell Forum 18 News Service what Turashov had done wrong, apart from Tabligh Jamaat membership. A similar criminal trial began in Taldykurgan on 9 December of five apparent Tabligh Jamaat adherents, and 20 suspected Tabligh Jamaat adherents were detained in Almaty in late November. Officials have refused to discuss any aspect of the cases with Forum 18. Tabligh Jamaat was banned in February 2013, even though the KNB secret police admitted that Tabligh Jamaat literature did not have "extremist, terrorist, or any other calls against Kazakhstan's laws". However, the KNB claimed that "all their activity could be characterised as subversive in the ideological sphere, forming in the population anti-social or anti-civil positions".

KAZAKHSTAN: "New forms of countering religious activity by non-traditional religious movements"

Nurlan Bizhanov, a Deputy Prosecutor of East Kazakhstan Region, warned local officials in mid-September about the "activity of non-traditional religious movements which is not declining". Bizhanov identified Grace Church, New Life Church, the Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses. He insisted that "new forms and methods of countering religious activity by non-traditional religious movements need to be prepared and implemented, based on the coordination of efforts by all local executive, law-enforcement, special and plenipotentiary state organs, together with civil society institutions". The instruction came in a secret mid-September letter – seen by Forum 18 News Service – though officials categorically denied to Forum 18 that the letter exists. Meanwhile, police in Pavlodar Region appear to be trying to close down a Protestant-run rehabilitation centre which they raided in July. Kazakhstan's human rights record will be scrutinised at the United Nations in Geneva on 30 October.

KAZAKHSTAN: Ten days' imprisonment for "extremist" book

Vyacheslav Cherkasov and Zhasulan Alzhanov began ten-day prison terms in Kazakhstan's Akmola Region on 6 October for offering passers-by on the street a book which a religious "expert analysis" controversially claimed contains "elements inciting religious hatred and discord", Forum 18 News Service has learnt. They were each also fined about four months' average wages. Forum 18 has been unable to find out if the book "Jesus: More than a Prophet" has been banned by a court. In February an Astana court banned as "extremist" a book at least partly written by Salafi Muslim Mohammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab. Such court hearings are unannounced, making it impossible to challenge them. Nor are such bans publicised. Jehovah's Witnesses have failed in all their legal challenges against bans on importing 14 of their publications. Despite official assertions that state-imposed bans are not based on theological assessments, Kazakh and Russian language booklets were banned because they "reject the fundamental teachings of Christianity".

KAZAKHSTAN: Fourteenth known 2014 short-term prison term

Anatoly Stakhnev's 10-day prison term in July and Nikolai Novikov's five-day term in August bring to 14 the number of known short-term prisoners of conscience in 2014 jailed for refusing to pay earlier fines imposed in punishment for refusing to seek state permission to exercise the right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Husband and wife Vladimir and Regina Milintsov were fined two months' average wages each in late September for talking to passers-by on the street about their faith. When prisoners of conscience complained about such administrative penalties to Kazakhstan's presidentially-appointed Human Rights Ombudsperson, Askar Shakirov, his response was "to explain the norms of national legislation on religious activity and the necessity of observing them", he noted in his report for 2013. The government ignored a January request from five United Nations Special Rapporteurs to end punishments for "alleged illegal missionary activity", police raids on religious communities and bans on religious publications.

KAZAKHSTAN: Jailings under Administrative Code continue as new Codes signed

Two new five day prison sentences have been imposed in two separate administrative cases against a Muslim and a Baptist exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. This brings to 12 the number of individuals so far known to have been given such jail terms in 2014. These cases continue as President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed into law a new Code of Administrative Offences and Criminal Code, which mainly take effect on 1 January 2015. Human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis, of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, described the new Codes to Forum 18 as being "like a baton, to use as a threat against those the state does not like". The new Administrative Code mainly replicates the old Codes' punishments of people exercising their freedom of religion or belief but also introduces new police powers, and the new Criminal Implementation Code's restrictions on people in jail mirror restrictions on exercising this human right throughout Kazakhstan.

KAZAKHSTAN: Two criminal cases continue as new Criminal Code signed

Retired Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev and atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov – both in their sixties – are still being investigated on criminal charges, to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Kashkumbayev – who has already been convicted in one criminal case – faces possible further punishment for allegedly harming a second church member's health. Kharlamov faces possible punishment for articles he wrote in defence of atheism. Meanwhile, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed into law Kazakhstan's new Criminal Code. Forum 18 News Service notes that a proposed possible broadening of the "crimes" people might be accused of for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief is not in the final text. But the same "offences" seem likely to be in the new Code of Administrative Offences.

KAZAKHSTAN: Teacher and bookseller fined, imam's fine overturned

Larisa Lange, a teacher, and commercial bookseller Gulnar Sandibayeva have each been fined one month's average wages for exercising their right to freedom of religion and expression. Lange hosts meetings of a Baptist community in her home without state permission, while Sandibayeva had sold Islamic books in her shop without the compulsory state licence for selling religious materials. Kordai District Prosecutor Zhasulan Yelamanov refused to explain to Forum 18 News Service why his officials had brought the case against Lange. Zhilioi District Prosecutor Aslanbek Zholanov defended the prosecution against Sandibayeva. Asked why Kazakhstan imposes censorship on religious literature, Zholanov told Forum 18: "It's not censorship. But religious literature can only be sold in approved places." By contrast, Almaty-based Imam Yerkebulan Nukasov had an earlier fine of two months' average wages for leading an unregistered Muslim Board mosque overturned on appeal.

KAZAKHSTAN: Drink vodka – yes, watch football – yes, praying – no

The leader of a Baptist congregation in Semei in East Kazakhstan Region, which chooses to meet for worship without state permission, began a ten-day prison term on 27 May. Viktor Kandyba had refused to pay a fine handed down in 2013 for leading the church. Prosecutor's Office official Bolzhan Botbayev, who brought both cases to court, struggled to explain why Kandyba has the right to gather friends to drink vodka or watch football on television but not to meet for worship. "The law says they must have registration before they are allowed to meet," he insisted to Forum 18. Kandyba is the tenth known Baptist to be given a short-term prison sentence in 2014 for refusing to pay fines for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. "I can't agree that these imprisonments are a violation of human rights," Rustam Kypshakbayev of the government's Ombudsperson's Office for Human Rights told Forum 18. Those who lead unregistered religious communities will face up to 60 days' imprisonment if the new Criminal Code now in the Senate is adopted in current form.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Not accused of extremism", but punished

Nauatbek Kalymbetov, head of Jambyl Region Police's Department for the Struggle against Extremism, personally questioned two Jehovah's Witnesses detained for talking to others about their faith on a Taraz street. His department sent a report to court when the two were fined two months' average wages each. Yet he repeatedly refused to explain why punishing two women for speaking to others about their faith was an issue for his Department. "I'm not accusing them of extremism, but they broke the law," Kalymbetov insisted to Forum 18 News Service. Dozens of administrative fines for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief are known to have been issued across Kazakhstan in 2014 so far. A new Administrative Code now in the upper house of parliament would require deportation even for Kazakh citizens who conduct "missionary activity" without the required personal prior state permission. And religious communities which commit two "offences" within a year could be banned permanently.

KAZAKHSTAN: Two months' jail for religious meetings without state permission?

Leaders of religious communities who fail to gain or choose not to seek state registration will face up to 60 days' imprisonment if the new Criminal Code now in the upper house of Kazakhstan's parliament is approved in the current form, Forum 18 News Service notes. Those who attend such communities could face up to 45 days' imprisonment. The new Administrative Code, now in the Senate, also appears likely to continue current administrative punishments for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. The new Criminal Implementation Code – also in the Senate – bans building places of worship in prisons. "Significant changes to these Codes are unlikely now at this late stage," one human rights defender lamented to Forum 18. Asked why provisions of these Codes restrict individuals' rights to freedom of religion or belief, Telegen Dertayev, a consultant on the Senate's Legal Committee, insisted to Forum 18 that "we have religious freedom".

KAZAKHSTAN: Jailed over Easter; new deportation order

Imprisoned for six days over Easter was Council of Churches Baptist Denis Yenenko. He refused to pay a fine in 2013 imposed to punish him for leading worship without the compulsory state permission. His family only learned of his imprisonment when police called, relatives told Forum 18 News Service. "He wasn't fined for praying to God," a Prosecutor's Office official claimed to Forum 18. "He committed an offence and made no attempt to pay the fine." Yenenko is the ninth known Council of Churches Baptist to be given a short prison term in 2014 so far. Jehovah's Witness Yuri Toporov, a Russian citizen married to a Kazakh citizen, has lost his appeal against a fine and deportation to punish him for addressing his own religious community without state registration as a "missionary". UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Heiner Bielefeldt has strongly criticised such raids and punishments, and the ban on exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission.

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious freedom survey, March 2014

Before the 2014 UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Kazakhstan, and the 26 March – 6 April visit of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, Forum 18 News Service's religious freedom survey notes continuing violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights. Violations include: making the exercise of human rights conditional upon state permission; systematically increasing the range of possible "offences" people can be punished for if they exercise freedom of religion or belief and related human rights; officials routinely violating the rule of law with impunity; closing down independent mosques, and continuing to seek to close other smaller religious communities; censorship of religious literature and objects, including severe limitations on the numbers of premises where such literature and objects can be distributed; the misuse of psychiatry against people the authorities dislike; and exit bans and jailings imposed on those refusing to pay fines for exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission.

KAZAKHSTAN: 87-year-old fined, two new five-day prison terms

Yegor Prokopenko – a religious prisoner of conscience in the 1970s and 1980s – has again been fined for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Now aged 87 and three months, Forum 18 News Service believes him to be the oldest victim of Kazakhstan's policy of fining those who conduct religious activity without state permission. Two five-day prison terms were handed down in March on those refusing to pay fines imposed for exercising religious freedom. In the first 10 weeks of 2014, nearly 50 administrative fines (one or two months' average wages) are known to have been handed down. In this period, seven individuals were imprisoned for between one and 10 days for refusing to pay earlier fines.

KAZAKHSTAN: Criminal conviction, large "moral damages" - and new criminal case?

Retired Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev was this afternoon (17 February) given a four-year suspended prison term in Kazakhstan's capital Astana. He was convicted of harming the health of a church member, even though that church member has repeatedly insisted to state authorities that her health was not harmed. He also has to pay the representative of his alleged "victim" large "moral damages" of 2 Million Tenge (about 65,800 Norwegian Kroner, 7,900 Euros or 10,800 US Dollars). "In my experience as a lawyer, this is one of the strangest cases I have seen in terms of legality", Pastor Kashkumbayev's lawyer Nurlan Beysekeyev told Forum 18 News Service after the verdict was handed down orally. "It was not just strange, but from the standpoint of the law, all types of violations occurred, when the case was opened, when it was being investigated and during the trial." Kashkumbayev will appeal against the verdict. Other violations of freedom of religion or belief continue, including ongoing raids on meetings for worship without state permission.

KAZAKHSTAN: "We're liquidating the [mosque] community"

Kazakhstan's Din-Muhammad Tatar-Bashkir Mosque, built in 1852, is being forcibly closed. Yesterday evening (4 February), three officials of a Liquidation Commission appointed by a court to dissolve the community arrived at the Mosque in Petropavl to prepare an inventory of all its possessions. "The mosque is to be handed over to another religious organisation", Marat Zhamaliyev, deputy head of the regional Finance Department, told Forum 18 News Service. He refused to say which religious community the mosque will be given to. Told by Forum 18 that the mosque community still exists, regularly holds the namaz (prayers) in the mosque (including this morning, 5 February) and intends to continue to exist, Zhamaliyev responded: "We're not liquidating the mosque, we're liquidating the community." He insisted that the juridical community had been liquidated by a court and therefore did not exist. The Din-Muhammad Mosque may possibly be the last remaining publicly-accessible mosque independent of the state-backed Muslim Board.

KAZAKHSTAN: Jailed for refusing to pay fines for exercising human rights without state permission

A Baptist in Semey in Kazakhstan is due to complete a 10-day prison term on 30 January, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Maksim Kandyba was jailed for refusing to pay a fine for attending a meeting for worship without state permission. Sentenced on the same day to three days' imprisonment was fellow Baptist Pavel Leonov. These are the third and fourth such known jailings in 2014. Such fines continue to be imposed, recently on Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses. Kandyba and Leonov, like other Council of Churches Baptists, refuse to pay such fines. They point out that neither Kazakhstan's Constitution nor the country's international human rights obligations allow punishments for exercising human rights without state permission. But Aynura Shaimukhambetova of the Prosecutor's Office rejected Forum 18's observation that Kandyba's right to practice his faith freely is protected by international human rights commitments. Elsewhere, New Life Protestant Church members in Arkalyk have faced state interrogations and threats, particularly targeting state employees. The authorities appear to want to close the Church down. A Deputy Prosecutor refused to tell Forum 18 how many had been interrogated, or what he thinks they have done wrong.