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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: Do foreigners have religious freedom?

Courts ordered two further fines and deportations in late 2013 of foreign citizens legally resident in Kazakhstan simply for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Polish cardiologist Robert Panczykowski had preached at a Jehovah's Witness meeting, while Kyrgyz citizen Shamurat Toktoraliyev had discussed his faith in a private flat. A further case is pending. Anti-"Extremism" officer Smayil Konyrbai who raided the meeting singled out Panczykowski because he spoke "with an accent", the court decision notes. "It's not racism, it's my job," Konyrbai insisted to Forum 18. Moscow Imam Shamil Alyautdinov has been blocked from presenting his books in Kazakhstan because the only legally registered Islamic organisation – the Muslim Board – refuses to invite him. Without personal registration as a "missionary", any public appearance would be illegal.

KAZAKHSTAN: Criminal trial begins for 67-year-old pastor

The criminal case launched against retired Presbyterian pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev in July 2011 finally reached a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana today (22 January), Forum 18 News Service notes. The 67-year-old pastor has gone deaf in one ear and suffered heart problems during eight months in prison and psychiatric hospital. He rejects the charges of harming health, inciting hatred, propagating extremism and leading an organisation that harms others. The most serious charge carries a maximum ten-year prison term. The trial will resume after 31 January. Meanwhile, the criminal investigation of atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov in the town of Ridder continues. Deputy Head of East Kazakhstan Police Kadyrbek Nurgaliyev claimed to Forum 18 the criminal case against Kharlamov was suspended until the end of the "religious expert assessment" of his works. "Kharlamov should not worry, we are not intending to put him in prison."

KAZAKHSTAN: 48-hour jail terms for refusing to pay "unjust" fines

Two Baptists were imprisoned for 48 hours each in Kazakhstan's northern Akmola Region for refusing to pay fines handed down in 2013 to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Vyacheslav Cherkasov and Zhasulan Alzhanov were freed in the evening of 11 January. Cherkasov was held with about ten other prisoners in one cell. Asked about conditions, he laughed grimly. "Not very good," he told Forum 18 News Service. More than 150 such administrative fines to punish individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief are known to have been handed down in 2013. Anatoly Lazarenko, a 79-year-old Council of Churches Baptist from West Kazakhstan Region, became the second-oldest known victim when fined in November 2013. Officials chose to fine Yuri Rudenko on 25 December, the day his congregation celebrated Christmas. He was punished for leading a meeting for worship raided by police. "Police never raid our citizens," Nurdilda Oraz, head of the Interior Ministry press service, claimed to Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: "We have experts to check icons"

Twelve icons and three Bibles seized from a commercial bookseller in Oral (Uralsk) in West Kazakhstan Region in October 2013 have still not been returned. The bookseller is due to face an administrative court where he may be fined several weeks' average wages and the icons and Bibles might be ordered destroyed. "Everything is OK now – he has agreed not to sell religious materials," Salamat Zhumagulov, the state religious affairs official who seized the items, told Forum 18 News Service. Saktagan Sadvokasov, spokesperson for the government's Agency of Religious Affairs, also defended the seizure. "The Kazakh state must defend our citizens from harmful materials," he told Forum 18. Asked whether he has known icons which are harmful, he responded: "We have experts to check icons." A new draft procedure for acquiring the compulsory religious bookselling licence will require the owner of an applicant's rented business premises to certify that they are happy for religious items to be sold on their property.

KAZAKHSTAN: Fines for "extremist" books

After raids on a Baptist church and a Christian centre in Kazakhstan's capital Astana in October 2012, a court in December 2013 fined two Protestants the equivalent of nearly four weeks' state-calculated average wage each for having "extremist" materials. Only one of seven confiscated items is known to have been banned as "extremist" through the courts. Protestants have repeatedly rejected to Forum 18 News Service accusations by state bodies that works confiscated from them are "extremist" and deserve to be banned. An Astana court is due to rule on 13 January whether a text by Salafi Muslim Mohammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab is "extremist" and should be banned. Because court hearings to rule whether materials are "extremist" take place unannounced and because no published list of banned books appears to exist, people in Kazakhstan remain unaware of what has and has not been banned. "Extremism" bans are part of a harsh system of state-imposed religious censorship.

KAZAKHSTAN: "They need permission from the local authorities"

Up to 16 police officers and journalists – led by the local religious affairs official – raided the meeting for Sunday worship on 10 November of Baptists in Oral (Uralsk) in West Kazakhstan Region. Ten of those present face possible fines of one or two months' average salary, for meeting for worship without state permission. One of the Baptists, Kenzhetai Baytinov, may have been removed from his job under state pressure. Elsewhere, imam Mukhammad Toleu of a mosque in Aktobe, which was denied state re-registration, has had his appeal against a fine for leading the community of one month's average salary rejected. He told a court that "no law bans praying five times a day", but he was found guilty. "They had no registration and no permission to meet", Prosecutor's Assistant Talap Usnadin insisted to Forum 18 News Service. Asked why, he insisted that "they need permission from the local authorities". And in a village near Aktobe, a Muslim who turned his home into a mosque with an unapproved minaret has been fined.

KAZAKHSTAN: Censorship "is not censorship", tightened censorship planned

Kazakhstan's Religion Law does not define what religious literature and objects are, but still imposes censorship on them. There is confusion among officials about what is censored, what is involved and what if anything is exempt. Galym Shoikin of the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) insisted to Forum 18 News Service that unless a book or object is banned by a court, it is legal. But legal books or objects cannot be distributed without ARA censorship. When Forum 18 noted that this is censorship, he claimed that: "This is not censorship – it is defending the interests of our country". He was unable to state a legal basis for some official actions, for example stating in relation to a claim that some (but not all) undefined "holy books" are exempt from censorship that "such issues are not put in law". But a new Criminal Implementation Code, a draft Law amending other laws "on questions of countering religious extremism and terrorism", and draft changes to the Religion Law will all further tighten censorship if adopted. Other changes considered include making religious communities pay for the state's imposition of censorship which breaks its human rights obligations.

KAZAKHSTAN: At least 153 fines in 2013 – and counting

Many people have been fined in 2013 in Kazakhstan for the "offence" of exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission. So far in 2013, at least 153 administrative fines have been imposed on 126 named individuals, some of whom have been fined up to five times, according to a list compiled by Forum 18 News Service. Fines have mostly been equivalent to either one or two months' average salary. Such fines, including fines for refusal to pay such unjust penalties, have been imposed on Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishna devotees and Muslims. In addition, twelve fines were imposed on commercial booksellers and other traders. If people refuse to pay such fines – imposed against Kazakhstan's international human rights obligations - they can also be banned from leaving the country. The list of documented fines is incomplete as state authorities refuse to make information public. Fines for the "offence" of exercising a human right without state permission are still being imposed.

KAZAKHSTAN: "He was told not to sell religious literature"

The religious affairs official in Kazakhstan's capital Astana who initiated a case against local businessman Pyotr Volkov - which led to a fine for selling religious literature without a state licence – has insisted to Forum 18 News Service that: "He was told not to sell religious literature." But Adiya Romanova denied that this is state censorship. Volkov has tried to gain a state licence, and is appealing against both the fine and the failure to process his licence application. Nine of the fourteen fines known to Forum 18 to have been imposed in 2013 on book sellers are of about two months' average salary. In May, four books confiscated from a bookseller in East Kazakhstan Region – including two with prayers to Russian Orthodox saints Serafim of Sarov and Sergius of Radonezh – were ordered destroyed when the bookseller was fined. If it was carried out, this would be the first known time that a court-ordered religious book destruction has been carried out in Kazakhstan.

KAZAKHSTAN: Baptist faces one year in jail, Hare Krishna community ordered halted for three months

Because Pavel Leonov refused to pay a fine equivalent to about two months' average salary, for leading a religious community without state permission in East Kazakhstan, the Baptist Pastor was jailed for 24 hours, Forum 18 News Service notes. As he still refuses to pay, police on 28 October opened a criminal case against him. He now faces a possible maximum punishment of one year's imprisonment. Pastor Leonov is one of more than 100 people (one of them aged 86) known to have been fined in 2013 for, among other "offences": leading or participating in religious meetings without state permission; sharing their faith with others without being personally registered as "missionaries"; or distributing religious literature away from state-licensed venues. Fines are typically one or two months' average salary, the most recent known fines having been imposed on Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Hare Krishna devotees. Also, the activity of Kostanai's Hare Krishna community was ordered to be stopped for three months. This was subsequently overturned on appeal. A Prosecutor's Office official told Forum 18: "It's not the Soviet system. This is the Kazakh system."

KAZAKHSTAN: Pastor re-arrested within minutes as suspected "extremist"

Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev's son Askar describes as "complete rubbish" the new criminal case against the retired pastor on charges of extremism, which carry a maximum seven-year prison term. "They're trying to turn my father into a terrorist," he complained to Forum 18 News Service. 66-year-old Kashkumbayev was arrested minutes after he was freed from prison in Astana after five months' pre-trial detention on separate criminal charges of harming a church member's health. Police investigator Captain Vyacheslav Glazkov, the Anti-Extremism Police (which is overseeing the case), the KNB secret police and the city Prosecutor's Office all refused to comment. The prison chief where Kashkumbayev is being held dismissed concerns over his health. "People don't die here in my prison," he told Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: Pastor to be transferred from prison to house arrest

After nearly five months' imprisonment, a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana has extended pre-trial detention for 66-year-old Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev until 17 November, but changed the terms from prison to house arrest, according to the court decision seen by Forum 18 News Service. He is expected to be freed from prison tomorrow (8 October). Kashkumbayev will be "banned from associating with anyone apart from close relatives living with him, receiving and sending letters, holding conversations with the use of any communications devices," and will be able to leave his home only for medical appointments. Meanwhile, the criminal investigation of atheist Aleksandr Kharlamov – freed in September after nearly six months' detention – continues. He told Forum 18 he is grateful that doctors who conducted a month-long court-ordered psychiatric assessment were "very correct". One doctor told him after reading his file that they knew he was there "not because you're bad but because you are an inconvenient person for the authorities".

KAZAKHSTAN: Offences a pretext for deportation?

Not only are the authorities deporting from Kazakhstan non-citizens with legal residence to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief, they also appear to be using minor infractions non-citizens may have committed to deport them. Protestant Pastor Vyacheslav Li (whose wife and two young children are Kazakh citizens) was deported after committing eight administrative offences in the eight years he lived legally in Kazakhstan. "They used these administrative offences as a pretext to kick the pastor out of the country," human rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis told Forum 18 News Service. "It is a violation of the principle of proportionality and a misuse of justice." The deputy district police chief denied to Forum 18 that Pastor Li had been singled out because of his religious affiliation. "We'd have done the same had it been a businessperson or whoever." Similarly, attempts were made to deport Russian Orthodox priest Fr Sofrony for alleged violations, but a court appears to have overturned the deportation order.

KAZAKHSTAN: Threats, fear, and independent mosque closures

Members of the Tatar-Bashkir Din-Muhammad Community in Petropavl in North Kazakhstan Region continue to gather for prayers in their 19th century mosque despite a 12 September court decision rejecting their appeal against compulsory liquidation. The court ordered officials to complete the liquidation quickly. Attendance at prayers has dropped from hundreds to tens because "people are afraid of the authorities", community members told Forum 18 News Service. The imam and members of another independent mosque denied re-registration after intense state pressure – who asked not to be identified – told Forum 18 that when they met to discuss applying for new registration, officials "came out of nowhere" and threatened them with punishment. Baltabay Metezhanov, who oversees work with mosques at the government's Agency of Religious Affairs, refused to explain to Forum 18 what law bans independent mosques.

KAZAKHSTAN: Pastor deported, Orthodox priest to follow?

Baptist pastor Viktor Lim was ordered deported from Kazakhstan for leading a registered religious community and left in mid-August. Lim, a stateless person, had lived in the country for 20 years and his wife and children are Kazakh citizens. The authorities classed his action as "illegal missionary activity" for which punishment is a fine and, for non-citizens, deportation. "The appeal hearing lasted just 10 minutes – it was a pure formality," Pastor Lim complained to Forum 18 News Service. Zhumagul Alimbekov, head of the Religious Affairs Department of Almaty Region, which lodged the suit against Pastor Lim, refused absolutely to discuss his deportation or the moves to deport Russian Orthodox priest Fr Sofrony. "I can't comment on court decisions," he told Forum 18. Asked why foreign citizens or people who have no citizenship cannot exercise their internationally-recognised right to freedom of religion or belief while legally resident in the country he put the phone down.

KAZAKHSTAN: Atheist freed, but criminal case continues; Pastor transferred from psychiatric hospital

Freed from prison today (4 September) in Oskemen in East Kazakhstan Region was 63-year-old atheist and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksandr Kharlamov, after nearly six months' pre-trial detention. However, the case continues against him on charges of "inciting religious hatred" for articles he had written criticising religion. Police investigator Alikhat Turakpayev "told me his writings were being sent for a further 'expert analysis', this time to Astana," Kharlamov's partner Marina Kaplunskaya told Forum 18 News Service. Meanwhile, imprisoned 66-year-old Presbyterian pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev was on 2 September discharged from psychiatric hospital in Almaty after one month's forcible detention. "I observed him for a whole month, and he is alive and well," the chief doctor insisted to Forum 18. However, she said she did not know if he had been transferred back to Almaty's Investigation Prison. Investigator Vyacheslav Glazkov refused to discuss the criminal case against him, or a separate criminal investigation against Astana's Grace Church which the pastor leads.

KAZAKHSTAN: Inviting to religious worship a new offence

In what appears to be a new development under Kazakhstan's harsh controls on religious activity, Jehovah's Witness Zarina Burova was fined in June for illegal "missionary activity" after inviting friends by text message to attend a religious meeting. In a July case, four Jehovah's Witnesses were similarly fined after two or three attendees at a meeting raided by police were guests, according to the court verdicts seen by Forum 18 News Service. The five were among 13 Jehovah's Witnesses fined for illegal "missionary activity" between May and July under Administrative Code Article 375, Part 3. Judge Kuralai Tobelbasova dismissed complaints by one of those she fined that his rights had been violated, arguing that the requirement to have personal state registration as a missionary before sharing his faith "cannot be evaluated as an infringement of religious freedom". On 29 August Jehovah's Witnesses filed a further nine complaints to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee in Geneva on behalf of 15 individuals punished for "missionary activity".

KAZAKHSTAN: Nationwide fines and raids on meetings continue

Kazakhstan continues to very frequently punish the exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service notes. Also, atheist writer and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksandr Kharlamov and Presbyterian pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev are both still in detention. In one of many recent cases, Baptist Vyacheslav Flocha was fined the equivalent of one month's average salary for participating in a meeting for worship without state permission. Judge Nurlan Kurmangaliyev, who upheld the fine, was asked by Forum 18 why he did not take account of the fact that the fine and laws behind it break the Constitution and international human rights standards. He replied that "this is not my duty". In another case, Tatyana Degterenko was fined one month's average salary because her 9-year old son David gave two Christian CDs to his teachers. His mother and father were upset when, at school headteacher Tatyana Lovyagina's invitation, police interrogated David in their absence. Asked why she called police, Lovyagina told Forum 18 that the local administration instructed headteachers to report any religious activity. Asked whether this does not sound like returning to the Soviet-era, she exclaimed "Yes!"

KAZAKHSTAN: Atheist and Pastor still detained with little evidence to convict either

Imprisoned atheist writer and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksandr Kharlamov and Presbyterian pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev are both still being detained by Kazakhstan, Forum 18 News Service has found. Kharlamov has been in detention since his 14 March arrest for "inciting religious hatred". Kuat Rakhimberdin of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law told Forum 18 that "If there were any Judge in Ridder with a minimum degree of honesty and independence, the indictment would be rejected as absurd and unfounded, and Kharlamov be acquitted." Kashkumbayev was arrested on criminal charges of "harming health" on 17 May. He is still detained although the only person whose heath the state claims was harmed told Forum 18 that Kashkumbayev is "totally innocent and has not harmed my health at all". She herself was subjected to forcible psychiatric treatment by the state. Asked whether the use of psychiatry in the cases of Kharlamov and Kashkumbayev may be a return to Soviet-era misuse of psychiatry, a Prosecutor claimed to Forum 18 that the Criminal Procedure Code "necessitates such assessment in order to determine whether the suspects can be answerable for serious crimes".

UZBEKISTAN: Extradited and given 12 years' imprisonment

Extradited back to his native Uzbekistan from Kazakhstan in March, against the express wishes of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, 38-year-old Muslim Khayrullo Tursunov was sentenced in early June to a long prison term - thought to be 12 years - for alleged "extremist" religious activity. Relatives outside Uzbekistan complained to Forum 18 News Service that the case had been "fabricated" to punish him for exercising his freedom of religion or belief. In a separate case, Dilbar Turabayeva and other parents of 13 young Muslim men from Namangan in eastern Uzbekistan given long prison terms in 2010 for learning how to read the Koran and to pray the namaz in a private home have lamented their failure to have their sons freed or the case re-examined. They note that the Investigator – who they claim threatened witnesses and dictated statements - and the Judge have both been removed on corruption charges. "The fact that Turabayeva wrote complaints does not mean that she will receive a positive response," Senator Svetlana Artikova – one of the many recipients of their complaints - told Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: Criminal trial for atheist writer imminent, pastor still in prison, new criminal case

The criminal trial of 62-year-old atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov on charges of "inciting religious hatred" – which he rejects - is set to begin in Ridder this month. He has been held for three months in prison and psychiatric detention, mostly in cellars, and has lost 20 kilograms in weight, his partner Marina Kaplunskaya told Forum 18 News Service. Asked who had suffered because of what Kharlamov had written on religion, Ridder's Prosecutor Vitaly Shaber told Forum 18: "This Criminal Code Article does not need victims – if there had been any, a completely different Article would have been used." Astana Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18 a criminal case on the same charges was launched in March in connection with the activity of the city's Grace Protestant Church. The church's 66-year-old pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev is already in prison facing separate criminal charges of harming health, which he rejects. The alleged victim says her health has not been harmed.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Double punishment" of fines and exit bans

Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law describes the ban on leaving Kazakhstan for Baptists who refuse to pay fines imposed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief as "double punishment". But a senior Justice Ministry official claimed to Forum 18 News Service that "it isn't double punishment - it's a limitation on their actions until they pay their fines". Ever more individuals of a variety of faiths are being fined for meeting for worship without state permission, or for sharing their faith with others. Council of Churches Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses and members of the Muslim Tabligh Jamaat missionary movement are particular targets. Zhovtis is also concerned that the travel ban "isn't governed by any law". "Officials .. simply take the decision and individuals don't have the proper opportunity to challenge this in court," Zhovtis told Forum 18. Several Baptists banned from travelling told Forum 18 they were not told of the court hearings where the travel bans were confirmed.

KAZAKHSTAN: Pentecostal jailed for 2 months pre-trial, Baptist gets 3-days jail, atheist still in psychiatric hospital

A Protestant pastor in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, was arrested on criminal charges of harming health on 17 May, Forum 18 News Service has learned. On 19 May he was ordered to be held for two months' pre-trial detention on unclear charges, apparently including praying and singing. And Baptist leader Aleksei Asetov was jailed for three days in early May, for refusing to pay a fine equivalent to a year and a half's average local wages. The fine was imposed for meeting for worship without state permission. He told Forum 18 he will not pay the fine, as he should not be punished for meeting for worship with his friends. Imprisoned atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov remains under investigation in a psychiatric hospital in the commercial capital Almaty. Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law stated that "the case is even more urgent as the man is not only in pre-trial detention, but now undergoing forcible psychiatric examination".

KAZAKHSTAN: Why was Muslim prisoner of conscience extradited to Uzbekistan?

Kenes Zhusupov, Kazakh lawyer for Uzbek Muslim prisoner of conscience Khayrullo Tursunov, has told Forum 18 News Service that "I am outraged - Kazakhstan should have refused to extradite him". He commented that "the Uzbeks wanted him back as part of their campaign against Muslims who read the Koran and pray". The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law appealed for the extradition not to happen, as did on 28 February the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT). Yet on 13 March Tursunov was extradited to Uzbekistan. Forum 18 has been unable to get any official to explain why Kazakhstan defied the UN's request and broke both its international obligations and domestic law. The CAT is also investigating the fate of 29 Muslims extradited by Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan. "As the representative of the victims, I urge the Committee against Torture to be firm regarding Kazakhstan and request strong measures", Christine Laroque of Action des Chrétiens pour l'Abolition de la Torture (ACAT) told Forum 18. She suggested that the Committee "set up a mission with members of the CAT or independent experts to visit the complainants still detained and who are alleged to have been tortured in Uzbek jails".

KAZAKHSTAN: Freedom of religion and belief to suffer in "anti-extremism" programme?

"Uncover and halt the activity of illegally functioning places of worship"; "Uncover and halt the distribution of religious literature and informational materials of religious content in non-approved locations"; "Uncover and halt the carrying out on the territory of the country of illegal missionary activity." These are three of 74 measures in a draft Plan to implement Kazakhstan's proposed new State Programme to Counter Religious Extremism and Terrorism for 2013-2017, in its final stages of preparation and seen by Forum 18 News Service. The State Programme with its Implementation Plan would require video-cameras in all places of worship and teaching on so-called "traditional religions" to become a compulsory school subject. The General Prosecutor's Office in the capital Astana – which is preparing the State Programme – refused to discuss it with Forum 18. "Freedom of religion and belief across the board will be more and more restricted," one member of a smaller vulnerable religious group told Forum 18.

UZBEKISTAN: Devout Muslim "may receive up to 15 years" in jail

Uzbekistan is prosecuting Muslim prisoner of conscience Khayrullo Tursunov for exercising his freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He was extradited from Kazakhstan – in violation of that country's international human rights obligations – and immediately arrested by Uzbekistan's NSS secret police, the Interior Ministry, the ordinary police, and the Prosecutor General's Office. His trial was due to begin on 15 April, but has not yet happened. Tursunov "may receive up to 15 years" in jail, police Colonel Isameddin Irisov told Forum 18. "Tursunov is a devout follower of Islam, and in Uzbekistan he peacefully practiced his faith outside state-controlled Islam", exiled human rights defender Mutabar Tadjibayeva of the Fiery Hearts Club told Forum 18. Some relatives suspect that the authorities may have sought Tursunov in revenge for his wife's escape from Uzbekistan. Nodira Buriyeva fled Uzbekistan after being interrogated and threatened with rape before a relative was jailed for being a devout Muslim. Tursunov had fled to Kazakhstan to practice his faith and join his wife and their children, but now faces being tortured in Uzbekistan.

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious free speech "doesn't exist"

Kazakhstan's National Library in Almaty has had its religious books checked, its General Director Gulisa Balabekova told Forum 18 News Service, but "there were no problems". The check was part of the compulsory prior censorship of all printed and imported religious literature and controls on where religious literature can be sold or distributed. In other religious free speech restrictions, who can lead or address worship services is restricted, while discussing faith with other people in public is banned – with punishments for those who ignore these bans. "Unfortunately the right to freedom of speech in the area of religion doesn't exist in Kazakhstan," independent journalist Sergei Duvanov told Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: Four raids, heart attack, eight fines – amid presidential claims of religious freedom

Within 48 hours of a claim by Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev that "religious freedom is fully secured", seven members of a small Pentecostal Church – four of them in their sixties – were given heavy fines for meeting for Easter Sunday worship. The leader, Aleksandr Balaev, was fined the equivalent of six months of his pension, he told Forum 18 News Service. Galina Gileva, who is 73, complained that during the raid police "brought me to such a position of stress that I suffered a heart attack". The raid on the Church in Zhaskent was one of four recent raids on religious worship. Lt-Colonel Nikolai Narkhov, head of Karabalyk Police in Kostanai Region, refused absolutely to answer Forum 18's questions as to why about 15 police officers and officials raided a Jehovah's Witness meeting, seizing religious literature.

KAZAKHSTAN: Imprisoned atheist mad, bad, or neither?

Imprisoned atheist Aleksandr Kharlamov is due to undergo a second officially-ordered psychiatric examination since his 14 March arrest, as Kazakhstan's prosecutors seek to jail him on criminal charges of "inciting religious hatred". He rejects the accusation, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years' jail. "No-one suffered from what he wrote on religion", police Captain Alikhat Turakpayev admitted to Forum 18 News Service. Kuat Rakhimberdin of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law told Forum 18 that "Kharlamov is involved in many types of activity, but he annoyed the police and this appears to have been what triggered the case". Rakhimberdin added that "his writings on religion are just the excuse. But in any case, this is a violation of his right to freedom of speech and religion." Captain Turakpayev refused to discuss whether the prosecution was motivated by the police's annoyance with Kharlamov. He also refused to explain to Forum 18 on what, if any, medically-relevant evidence he ordered two psychiatric examinations of Kharlamov.

KAZAKHSTAN: "He needs local state permission to preach"

Officials who raided a Protestant church in Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan's northern Akmola Region, as the Easter Sunday morning service was finishing, have defended the raid. "The visiting pastor needed permission to preach here," Duman Uvaideldinov of Stepnogorsk police Criminal Investigation Department – who led the raid - insisted to Forum 18 News Service. "He will receive an official warning." The raid followed a visit by a dual-role official of a state-backed "anti-sect" centre and the local Internal Policy Department. Pastor Igor Andreikin and others from New Life Pentecostal Church are also concerned by an apparent attempt to discredit or blackmail them. An unidentified "law-enforcement officer" attempted to send two young women into a sauna session with men from the church, to be closely followed by two ordinary police officers. Both the ordinary police and the KNB secret police have denied to Forum 18 that they had any involvement. Pastor Andreikin told Forum 18 that as "boundaries have been crossed", there is nothing to stop officials planting drugs on church leaders or using other methods of framing them. He told Forum 18 that he was going public on this case to try to stop such methods being used in future.

KAZAKHSTAN: Never too old to be fined

Among seven members of a small Baptist church in Ayagoz in East Kazakhstan Region punished for holding unregistered religious services were two grandmothers in their late seventies, according to the verdicts seen by Forum 18 News Service. All seven were fined the equivalent of nearly two months' local average wages for a teacher. The fines followed a 4 April police raid on a prayer service. Asked by Forum 18 whether judges and court officials were not embarrassed to be involved in punishing religious believers for meeting for prayer, the judges' assistant at Ayagoz District Court laughed. Meanwhile, a court decision on another Baptist Vyacheslav Cherkasov that Bibles confiscated from him should be destroyed has been overturned and the Bibles returned. But the fine remains. Journalist Sergei Duvanov had predicted that the book-burning would be overturned. "But this will only happen because someone was able to report on the act of vandalism being prepared to human rights defenders in Oslo and they gave it wide publicity."

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious freedom fines multiply – criminal penalties to come?

If adopted in its current form, Kazakhstan's proposed new Criminal Code would allow those who lead unregistered religious communities to be imprisoned for up to three months, and those who share their faith for up to four months. The draft text – seen by Forum 18 News Service – is expected to be approved by the government in May and presented to parliament in July, Ruslan Toktagulov of the General Prosecutor's Office, who is coordinating preparation of the draft, told Forum 18 from Astana. A new Code of Administrative Offences is expected to reach parliament in the autumn, but no draft has been published. Eighteen individuals are known to Forum 18 to have been found guilty under the Code of Administrative Offences in 2013 for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Ten were fined two months' average wages, seven were fined one month's average wage and the other was warned.

KAZAKHSTAN: Court-ordered religious book burning a first?

In what may be the first such instance in Kazakhstan, a court has ordered religious literature to be destroyed. A total of 121 books confiscated from a Baptist, Vyacheslav Cherkasov, were ordered destroyed in the northern Akmola Region, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18 News Service. The books comprise Bibles, Children's Bibles, and other books and leaflets on the Christian faith, mainly in the Kazakh language. Cherkasov was also fined one month's average wage. If he loses his appeal, court executors will carry out the destruction. A Justice Ministry official in the capital Astana told Forum 18 that "most likely the books would be burnt". A state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) official told Forum 18 that "I'm not interested in whether court executors are bothered by having to destroy religious literature". Local Council of Churches Baptists told Forum 18 that "we were shocked - this is sacrilege and illegality". Human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law sounded distressed, telling Forum 18 that "this is terrible, terrible". Religious literature is frequently confiscated, and the state appears committed to using censorship and other freedom of religion or belief violations as a means to control society.

KAZAKHSTAN: "If they continue to pray, they'll be brought to legal responsibility"

The historic 19th century Din-Muhammad Mosque in Petropavl in North Kazakhstan has failed in its challenge to the state's court-ordered liquidation, while another mosque in the north-western city of Aktobe has been told it has nine months to gain re-registration to avoid liquidation. "We don't intend to close," a member of Aktobe's Nurdaulet Mosque insisted to Forum 18 News Service. "We have the right to gain registration as an independent religious organisation in accordance with the law." A state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) official claimed to Forum 18 that "praying isn't banned – we live in a democratic state". But he went on to threaten that, "if the liquidation decision [against the Din-Muhammad Mosque] comes into legal force and if they continue to pray, they'll be brought to legal responsibility". A community member told Forum 18 that "the authorities insist we have sermons only in Kazakh. But we hold sermons in the language of the people who attend the Mosque so that they can understand what is said". Also, a small seminary attached to an Almaty Baptist church has been liquidated.

KAZAKHSTAN: Bookshop censorship, ban on all non-Hanafi Sunni Muslim literature

Kazakhstan continues to ban all non-Hanafi Sunni Muslim literature. State-backed Muslim Board spokesperson Ongar Omirbek told Forum 18 News Service that "only Islamic literature from the Sunni Hanafi school can be distributed, as all other Muslim schools - including Ahmadis - are banned". Shia Muslims across Kazakhstan, who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 that Shia literature cannot be found on sale. Local authorities and "law enforcement" agencies have been enforcing censorship – including severe limitations on the numbers of bookshops allowed to sell any kind of religious material – across Kazakhstan with raids and fines. Even some shops with permission to sell religious books such as Korans and Bibles have told Forum 18 that they do not want to do so, to avoid trouble from the authorities. Yerlan Kalmakov of Kostanai Regional Internal Policy Department, asked why people must ask for permission from the authorities, replied: "Imagine what could happen if we allow just anybody to distribute religious materials". He added that "unregistered religious organisations, which are illegal in Kazakhstan will use this and attract people to their ranks. They will thus continue their illegal existence".

KAZAKHSTAN: "To counter manifestations of religious extremism and terrorism"

At least eight separate meetings for worship in Kazakhstan were raided by the authorities in January, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Raids on Baptists were made, police claimed, "to counter manifestations of religious extremism and terrorism". It seems that some raids – which police insist were not raids - took place after official monitoring of the religious communities. Speaking of a raid on Jehovah's Witnesses, police Major Kanat Rakhmetzhanov told Forum 18 that: "It is not against the law to gather to watch football, read poetry or drink vodka. But our lads wouldn't have gone to such a meeting for no reason. We had reliable information that prayers were being said." Fines for the unregistered exercise of religious freedom were imposed on three Baptist pastors. Police gave evidence that Pastor Aleksandr Kerker illegally "stood at the pulpit and read Psalms from the Bible, then those present sang Christian hymns". He – with the other two pastors – were each fined the equivalent of nearly two months' average wages for this "offence".

KAZAKHSTAN: "Protect us from officials' lawlessness"

Mosques in Kazakhstan continue to be denied re-registration – and so permission to exist – if they will not join the state-backed Muslim Board, Forum 18 News Service has found. Independent and ethnic minority mosques are being particularly targeted. In one example, Imam Nurmuhamed Ahmedyanov of Abai District Mosque was "deceived .. into writing a letter" to a court that "I do not mind the liquidation of the Mosque". The Mosque has now been closed and officials denied all responsibility when questioned by Forum 18. Members of the only remaining ethnic Tatar-Bashkir mosque, the historic Din-Muhammad Mosque in Petropavl, have come under heavy pressure. For example, one night the state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) telephoned the Imam and some elderly members of the community for an 09.00 meeting with the Head of the Region's administration Serik Bilyalov. He threatened them that if they did not join the Muslim Board the community would be liquidated and the mosque would be taken over by the local authorities who would use it for some public non-religious purpose. A central ARA official claimed to Forum 18 that "there is no pressure on the mosques".

KAZAKHSTAN: Seven large fines for "illegal missionary activity" – so far

Seven individuals - four Jehovah's Witnesses, two Muslims and a Protestant – are known to have been prosecuted since August 2012 for "illegal missionary activity", Forum 18 News Service has learned. Many are being given the maximum fine of 100 Minimum Financial Indicators, which in many parts of Kazakhstan represents several months' average wages. At least three more individuals are known to be expecting prosecution. Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 they fear that the fines already handed down "will no doubt further embolden the Agency of Religious Affairs [ARA] and local law enforcement officials to arrest Jehovah's Witnesses". Zhorabek Daurenov of the ARA Department in Astana defended such fines on a local Jehovah's Witness and a Protestant. "If the Religion Law had been against the Constitution, it wouldn't have been adopted," he claimed to Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: Mosques and churches forcibly closed

Kazakhstan is enforcing though the courts the closures of many religious communities after the deadline for re-registration applications expired. Communities complain of arbitrary and flawed decisions. One Protestant church was liquidated for providing "false information" after one of its 54 founders died shortly before the re-registration deadline, its pastor told Forum 18 News Service. Registration requires only 50 founders. An independent mosque was closed down for failing to give extensive information about its beliefs in its application. The judge in the case refused to explain to Forum 18 why her verdict said the mosque's representative was present in court, while the imam told Forum 18 they knew nothing of the hearings. A Protestant Church complained to Forum 18 it was closed down because most of its members are ethnic Kazakhs. No one at the government's Agency of Religious Affairs in the capital Astana was prepared to discuss the court-ordered closures with Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: "There can be no Tatar, Chechen or Tajik mosques"

Among the many religious communities denied the legal right to exist as Kazakhstan completes its compulsory and cumbersome re-registration process are mosques catering to Muslims mainly of one ethnic minority community. Members of Almaty's Azeri Shia community – already liquidated in court – told Forum 18 News Service they fear it may be forced to stop worship. Denied re-registration, the 160-year-old Tatar-Bashkir Din-Muhammad Mosque in the northern city of Petropavl is "on the verge of closure", community members complained. "This would be a blow not only to our religious traditions but also to our culture as a whole," one mosque member told Forum 18. "There are no divisions in Islam based on ethnic identity. There can be no Tatar, Chechen or Tajik mosques," Nurislyam Gabdullin, the religious affairs official who refused to approve the re-registration, told Forum 18. "I have in front of me the Charter of the Community, which calls itself the Tatar-Bashkir Din-Muhammad Religious Community. That is not possible in Kazakhstan."

KAZAKHSTAN: Government "did the right thing" in allowing wanted Uzbek pastor to leave

Uzbek Protestant pastor Makset Djabbarbergenov was released from prison in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty yesterday (4 December), reunited with his wife and four children and taken to the airport. They boarded a flight for Germany in the early hours of today (5 December), arriving safely in Europe, his friends told Forum 18 News Service. Facilitating the release and asylum in Europe was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Uzbekistan has been seeking to extradite Djabbarbergenov on charges which carry a maximum 15 year prison term to punish him for leading an unregistered Protestant community. His friends in Almaty told Forum 18 "we need to thank the Kazakh government – they did the right thing". Meanwhile, the Kazakh government – condemned by the United Nations Committee Against Torture for sending back to Uzbekistan 29 Muslim asylum seekers who alleged they would face torture – has insisted to the UN that they have checked that none was tortured in prison in Uzbekistan.

KAZAKHSTAN: Muslim Board Islamic monopoly, Catholic exemption

Kazakhstan's Muslim and Catholic communities have been given different treatment to other communities in state decisions on whether they are allowed to exist, Forum 18 News Service has found. All Muslim communities must be part of the state-backed Muslim Board. No independent mosques or Shia Muslim communities have been given state permission to exist. Neither have any Ahmadi Muslim communities, all of whom having been forcibly closed by the state. The Ahmadis have only applied for re-registration for one of their communities, in Almaty. The Muslim Board's spokesperson told Forum 18 that all Islamic communities "must be Hanafi Sunni Muslim". "We don't have other sorts of Muslims here", he added. Asked about Shia mosques or mosques of other schools of Sunni Islam, he replied: "There aren't any." Explaining different treatment for Catholics under an Agreement with the Holy See, a Justice Ministry official stated that international agreements override the Religion Law. But he did not explain why this reasoning does not also apply to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, whose provisions would abolish most of the Religion Law including its provisions on compulsory state registration to exercise human rights.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Complex", "arbitrary", "unnecessary" and "expensive" re-registration process

Many religious communities in Kazakhstan have complained to Forum 18 News Service of what they variously describe as the "complex", "burdensome", "arbitrary", "unnecessary" and "expensive" compulsory re-registration process – which breaks the country's international human rights obligations. Few were prepared to give their names, for fear of state reprisals. One community denied re-registration was the Kostanai congregation of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. "ARA officials told us that as we don't have a place of worship there to meet in we couldn't apply for re-registration," Fr Gennadi Subbotin told Forum 18. Not having a place of worship has not prevented others from gaining re-registration. Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) spokesperson Svetlana Penkova told Forum 18 that those failing to gain re-registration "can still meet until they have been liquidated through the courts". And in an apparently co-ordinated move, Russian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Won Buddhist, Catholic, Baptist and Pentecostal leaders have written to President Nursultan Nazarbaev praising him for ensuring what they claim is "religious tolerance" in Kazakhstan. All their communities have been re-registered.

KAZAKHSTAN: "What difference does it make whether you are registered or not?"

Kazakhstan continues to attempt to make exercising freedom of religion or belief dependent on state permission, Forum 18 News Service has found. Council of Churches Baptists face possible confiscation of their homes if they continue to meet, Pastor Dmitry Yantsen asking rhetorically "What difference does it make whether you are registered or not?". Pastor Yantsen also noted that raids are continuing against both registered and unregistered communities. An independent mosque has been threatened with demolition with a bulldozer, Imam Kinayat Ismailov noting to Forum 18 that he thinks criminal allegations against him are to "create the grounds for his firing or closing the Mosque". Other independent mosques are being pressured into joining the state-backed Muslim Board. And the state Agency of Religious Affairs continues to find a variety of excuses to refuse to re-register churches belonging to Grace Presbyterian Church.

KAZAKHSTAN: 15 years' jail for UNHCR-recognised refugee if deportation to Uzbekistan proceeds?

Uzbekistan is now seeking to extradite detained UNHCR-recognised refugee Makset Djabbarbergenov from Kazakhstan on charges which carry a maximum 15 year jail term. The Protestant who fled to Kazakhstan is being sought by Uzbekistan for exercising freedom of religion or belief in his home town of Nukus. A Kazakh 15 October Almaty court decision, authorised further detention until 5 November. The Kazakh court also claimed that the Uzbek charges – which seek to prosecute exercising freedom of religion or belief – can be equated to terrorism-related charges in Kazakh law. Djabbarbergenov's wife has been stopped by Kazakh authorities from visiting him, she told Forum 18 News Service, as has a human rights defender who found he is being held in "quarantine". The Supreme Court claims it cannot find an appeal he lodged in August. Also, Kazakhstan has yet to reply to a finding of the UN Committee Against Torture that it violated human rights obligations by extraditing to Uzbekistan a group of Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. Kazakhstan's current bid to join the UN Human Rights Council claims it would, if elected, "enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Human Rights Council".

KAZAKHSTAN: Pressure on founders to deny re-registration?

Shortly before the 25 October re-registration deadline for all of Kazakhstan's religious communities, officials pressured nearly a quarter of the signatories on the re-registration application of Grace Protestant Church in Karaturyk to remove their names. "It seems the authorities especially chose to target those founders who are of Kazakh and Uygur ethnicity," the Church's Pastor Zhursyn Koshkinov told Forum 18 News Service. One of the officials told Forum 18 "we only did what we were asked by the District Internal Policy Department." It in turn told Forum 18 the instruction came from the government's Agency of Religious Affairs. ARA official Zhumagali Alimbekov refused to tell Forum 18 how the authorities can demand that the Grace Church signatories reveal whether or not they are active in the Church or write statements to reveal their beliefs while this is not required by the Religion Law. Jehovah's Witness communities have been raided "to make sure we are registered", while a Protestant church's worship was interrupted by the head of a state-backed "anti-sect" centre.

KAZAKHSTAN: Criminal investigation, "hallucinogenic" Communion wine, "extremist" books?

Two unrelated Protestant Churches in different parts of Kazakhstan were raided in early October, ostensibly over a criminal case launched 15 months ago. The case follows a complaint by the mother of a member of Astana's Grace Church that it harmed her health, allegations Church members denied to Forum 18 News Service. Masked police searched the Church and seized computers, valuables and religious books they insisted were "extremist" (though they could not explain what was extremist or who had declared them so). Police requested church members to give blood specimens to see if the Church uses "hallucinogenic" substances for Communion. Nine days later the unrelated New Life Church in Oral (Uralsk) was raided in the same case. Asked by Forum 18 why masked police broke into Grace Church in a manner Church members found threatening, Senior Investigator Vyacheslav Glazkov adamantly denied this. "We did not threaten anyone, we just made a search." Members of both Churches fear the authorities will use the case to prevent them gaining the compulsory re-registration for religious communities to be allowed to continue operating after 25 October.

KAZAKHSTAN: Fears over latest Uzbek extradition case

Makset Djabbarbergenov – a Protestant pastor wanted in his home country of Uzbekistan for "illegal" religious teaching and literature distribution – has been arrested by the authorities of Kazakhstan, where he sought refuge in 2007. He was detained after police held his sister-in-law for two weeks to find his whereabouts, family members told Forum 18 News Service. A court ordered on 7 September Djabbarbergenov be held in detention until Kazakhstan's General Prosecutor's Office decides whether to send him back. "As a person I can say this is not right," Daniyar Zharykbasov of Almaty's Bostandyk District Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18. "But we have to follow the rules." In June the United Nations Committee Against Torture condemned Kazakhstan for sending back 28 Uzbek Muslim refugees and asylum seekers in 2011. They were arrested on their return and at least some received long prison terms.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Unlawful" fine – but will state do anything about it?

Kazakhstan continues to use property-related legal cases as a way of stopping people exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. Officials have admitted that one fine imposed on the wife of the pastor of a forcibly closed Methodist Church was illegal. But officials have refused to admit that similar fines and bans - for example bans on Ahmadi Muslims meeting - are also illegal. They have also been unwilling to discuss halting future illegalities. In a different case, Kentau's Love Presbyterian Church has been fined and forced to close. Judge Ziyash Klyshbayeva cited alleged violations of fire safety rules in a building it rents. The verdict claimed that the Church asked that the case be heard in its absence, as it agreed with the authorities.

UZBEKISTAN: Two women deported for exercising religious freedom

Two long-term residents of Uzbekistan born in the country – both Jehovah's Witnesses - have been deported to punish them for discussing their faith with others, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Russian citizen Yelena Tsyngalova was deported on an Uzbek Airlines evening flight from Tashkent to Moscow today (25 July), after being detained since 2 July. Accompanying her were her two teenage children, one a Russian citizen, the other an Uzbek citizen. Her mother Galina Poligenko-Aleshkina – an Uzbek citizen who is a pensioner with disabilities and who shared the family flat – is now left to fend for herself. Kazakh citizen Oksana Shcherbeneva was deported on 16 June immediately after completing a 15-day prison term. Other Jehovah's Witnesses detained and tried with her were jailed and fined.