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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

UZBEKISTAN: Imminent expulsion for exercising religious freedom?

Despite being born, brought up and living in Uzbekistan, Jehovah's Witness Yelena Tsyngalova and her two teenage sons are facing imminent expulsion to Russia, in apparent punishment for exercising her freedom of religion or belief. As in similar previous cases, Uzbekistan is seeking to expel the family without formally deporting them. "Yelena knows no-one in Russia and has nowhere to go, plus she has a disabled mother here in Tashkent who would be left all alone," her fellow Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 News Service. "She wants to stay here." Uzbek officials refused to discuss the family's expulsion with Forum 18. When Tsyngalova attempted to find out the reasons for her deportation with the head of the Sergeli District Visa Department, Utkir Buzakov, he threatened her with 15 days' imprisonment. When she told officials she had two teenage children and a mother who is an invalid, officials said she would have to take the two children with her. Although tickets for a Tuesday 12 June expulsion have been withdrawn, officials subsequently stated she will still be deported and this will not be delayed. Also, Tereza Rusanova, a Baptist from Uzbekistan who has lived in Kyrgyzstan since 2009, is facing criminal prosecution after she returned to Uzbekistan to renew her passport.

KAZAKHSTAN: "The Church will be closed down anyway"

Kazakhstan continues to use land use regulations as a means to prevent religious communities and their members exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. In one of several recent examples, in Taldykorgan the authorities have with this tactic forced a Methodist church to "voluntarily" close and fined the wife of the Church's Pastor. Pastor Valery Kim told Forum 18 that the Church paid for an announcement in newspapers that it was liquidating itself. "We do not want more punishment from the authorities", he noted. Zhumagul Alimbekov, Head of Almaty Region's Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) Department told Forum 18 that "the Church will be closed down anyway, unless they can collect 50 signatures for re-registration". Asked why Kazakhstan, whose government loudly boasts of its alleged religious tolerance, obstructs people exercising the internationally recognised right to freedom of religion or belief, Alimbekov claimed: "We are a law-governed state, we must obey the law". Religious communities also note that "expert analyses" by the ARA are obstructing communities gaining state registration and so permission to exist.

KAZAKHSTAN: Baptist convicted on evidence "fabricated" by police

Kazakhstan continues to punish people exercising their internationally recognised right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service notes. Raids, often without search warrants, have continued on members of the Baptist Council of Churches, who on principle do not seek state registration. In a particularly serious development, Baptist Vasily Stakhnev appears to have been framed by police and then given a large fine for the "offence" of distributing religious literature - which he vehemently insists that he did not do. Police apparently pressured his neighbours to write false testimonies against him, one neighbour telling Forum 18 that they are "not even sure what I signed for the police". Stakhnev insisted to Forum 18 that he had not distributed any literature, and that he was only "guilty" of possessing Christian literature in his private home. Local police chief Serikhan Tozhigitov of Serebryansk Police claimed to Forum 18 that: "We did not force anyone to sign anything".

UZBEKISTAN: An "unsanctioned meeting in a private home" - with a bomb?

Uzbekistan continues punishing people exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service notes. In one incident, police and the NSS secret police raided Protestants meeting in the home of Natalya Kim in Yukori-Chirchik, claiming at the time, local Protestants said, that a bomb was in the home. While searching for the alleged bomb, police confiscated Christian books and a laptop. Subsequently, 14 members of the unregistered Protestant Church were fined for an "unsanctioned meeting in a private home". The verdict was supplied after the legally required time, thus preventing an appeal being lodged. Natalya Kim herself was given the biggest fine, of 60 times the minimum monthly salary. Investigator Farhod Raimkulov told Forum 18 that "when many people gather in a certain place, it is the local police officer's duty to inspect and see what is happening". When Forum 18 asked whether the police can or should raid Inspector Raimkulov's home when he holds a party or some other event, he claimed that he was not part of the raid on Kim's home.

KAZAKHSTAN: How many religious books await compulsory state censorship?

With new state Censorship Regulations for almost all religious literature and objects produced in or imported into Kazakhstan now in force, only some religious books – all Muslim – have so far successfully undergone the censorship process, Forum 18 News Service notes. As of 8 May, 182 Muslim works had gained the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) approval required before they can be distributed. Those distributing uncensored religious literature risk fines. Although the maximum period the ARA has to conduct its censorship is 60 days, some religious communities complain they have had no response to applications "for months". No ARA official was immediately available to say how many books or religious items are awaiting approval, if any have so far been refused, why no non-Muslim books have yet been approved and whether religious books already in use are legal or not. Officials have already confiscated religious books – including children's books on the lives of Russian Orthodox saints – from libraries for checking.

KAZAKHSTAN: Restrictions on and punishment for spreading religious literature and faith

In separate cases in three of Kazakhstan's Regions since February, police have stopped Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists and Hare Krishna devotees from spreading their faith, questioned them and threatened them with punishment. Two of the five Baptists detained in Akmola Region in March were treated "as though they were criminals", another of the five told Forum 18 News Service. They were questioned and entered into police records, with their personal data, shoe size, and photographs in profile and full face taken. Police accused the Hare Krishna devotees of handing out "extremist literature". Baptist and Hare Krishna literature was sent to the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA), which conducts the compulsory state censorship of all religious literature. "The Religion Law necessitates the ARA to authorise all religious literature before it is used or distributed by religious communities," ARA spokesperson Svetlana Penkova told Forum 18. Several religious communities – some anonymously – complained not only about the censorship itself, but that literature sent to the ARA for approval has languished there "for months".

KAZAKHSTAN: Ahmadi Muslims closed down everywhere, Methodist congregation next?

The enforced closure of the Ahmadi Muslim community in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty leaves the community unable to worship legally anywhere in the country, community members lamented to Forum 18 News Service. Their place of worship was closed amid a continuing official campaign against religious communities which use private homes for religious worship and followed a fine by Land Inspectors. Community member Nurym Taibek told Forum 18 they see no point in appealing against the decision and said that they "have given up hope" of resuming worship in their building. The Ahmadi Muslim community's place of worship in Shymkent was forcibly closed in 2011. Also threatened by Land Inspectors is a small Methodist Church which meets in a private home in Taldykorgan near Almaty, the Church's legal address. The home owner was fined in April. Land Inspectors from both Almaty City and Almaty Region defended their moves to Forum 18. They said they are inspecting all religious communities' properties to see if properties and land are used for their proper purpose.

UZBEKISTAN: Continuing freedom of movement bans

Uzbekistan continues to impose bans on entry and exit from the country on people exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. The authorities also use the border crossing points for confiscating religious literature. Referring to bans on people taking part in the haj and umra pilgrimages, human rights defender Shaira Sadygbekova described the authorities, especially the Religious Affairs Committee, as "creating artificial barriers for ordinary Uzbeks". Khaitboy Yakubov of the Najot human rights organisation stating that such barriers are widespread. Among other violations are bans on exit visas for Muslims who have passed the stringent state approval procedures for going on state-organised pilgrimages, bans on Muslims joining waiting lists for these pilgrimages, bans on individual Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses leaving the country, and bans on Hare Krishna devotees and Christians entering the country. Officials have refused to discuss these human rights violations with Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Illegal use" of property, meetings for worship stopped, independent mosque pressured

Kazakhstan has started moves to close down an independent mosque, Forum 18 News Service has learned. State officials have also re-started using claims of allegedly "illegal use" of property to harass religious communities the authorities dislike. For example the mosque of the Ahmadi Muslim Community in the Medeu District of Almaty, and the church of Grace Presbyterian Church in a suburb of Turkestan in South Kazakhstan Region, are both facing challenges from local Prosecutor's Offices as to whether they can be used as places of worship. The action against Grace Church was initiated by the KNB secret police. The leaders of both communities have been told by both regional Departments of the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) and Prosecutor's Office officials to stop worship in the buildings while investigations are conducted. Officials have stated – contrary to the Religion Law - that homes may not be used for worship, and have also used the Land Code to argue that communities' own places of worship are not places of worship. No official Forum 18 has spoken to could say how the authorities will interpret the concept of place of worship in the Religion Law. Almaty's Ahmadi Muslim community has also been targeted by the state-controlled mass media, and the ARA has also been supporting the establishment of more so-called "anti-sect centres".

KAZAKHSTAN: Small religious communities "banned under new Law"

Kazakhstan's senior state religious affairs official, Kairat Lama Sharif, has described the 13 per cent fall in the number of registered religious communities as a "positive dynamic" after 579 small religious groups (with fewer than 50 adult citizen members) were stripped of registration. He said the number of registered communities "will probably" fall further following the new Religion Law. In a letter seen by Forum 18 News Service, Akmola Region's senior state religious affairs official wrote to District officials that "the activity of small religious groups in the territory of Kazakhstan is now banned since there is no such form of religious association of citizens". Regional officials of the state Agency of Religious Affairs are now warning such groups that they must stop any activity. Imams of independent mosques and Grace, Baptist and Seventh-day Adventist leaders have been summoned to be stripped of registration and warned not to meet. "Now our believers are afraid each time they gather for worship," one church leader told Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: First known use of harsh new punishments

In Kazakhstan's first known use of expanded and increased punishments for exercising freedom of religion or belief, a Baptist in eastern Kazakhstan has been fined what local people estimate to be a year and a half's average local wages for leading an unregistered religious organisation. Shoe-repairer and father of ten Aleksei Asetov was fined 485,400 Tenge (18,725 Norwegian Kroner, 2,486 Euros or 3,273 US Dollars), for leading the small congregation that meets in a fellow church member's home, under a provision introduced in new Amending and Religion Laws local Baptists told Forum 18 News Service. The judge also banned the congregation. Elsewhere, a Pentecostal church in Petropavl in North Kazakhstan has twice been raided by the police Department for the Fight against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism and a local official of the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA). They confiscated New Testaments, other books, and DVDs for censorship, and want the Church punished for leaving the books on a table about ten metres (10 yards) from the entrance to a hall they rent for worship. Other fines for exercising religious freedom without state permission continue, one Baptist having been fined for unregistered worship meetings following a police operation called "Operation Legal Order".

KAZAKHSTAN: Promoting the "progressiveness" of the harsh new Religion Law

State Secretary Kanat Saudabaev ordered the devotion of considerable resources to promoting what he claimed to be "the significance and the progressiveness" of Kazakhstan's highly restrictive new Religion Law at a closed meeting of senior state officials on 27 October. He ordered not only the "observance of the demands" of the Law, but "their positive acceptance by subjects of religious activity [i.e. religious communities]", according to documents from the meeting seen by Forum 18 News Service. Forum 18 notes that members of a variety of religious communities are increasingly afraid to voice criticism of the new Law publicly. One media company was threatened with closure if it gave the new Law negative coverage. Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna was ordered to hand further money to the government-backed Fund for Support of Islamic Culture and Education. "I wouldn't call it support for one faith," a Samruk-Kazyna official told Forum 18. And Baptist parents have been threatened with fines or imprisonment for refusing to send their children to compulsory Self-Recognition lessons in schools.

KAZAKHSTAN: Three fines, a 48-hour jail term, and a deportation

In Kazakhstan a Baptist was imprisoned for 48 hours in early December for refusing to pay fines imposed for leading meetings for religious worship, another Baptist having been separately fined for attending a meeting for worship, with a third facing a fine, possibly tomorrow (14 December), for the same "offence". In one of the Baptist cases police extorted statements from church members, but a fine was still imposed. A Muslim was fined and ordered deported back to his home country elsewhere in Central Asia, Forum 18 News Service has also learned. His "offence" was occasionally leading prayers in his local mosque without being personally registered as a "missionary". The new Religion Law along with an Amending Law considerably broadened the range of "offences" for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, as well as increasing punishments for this. Officials have refused to answer Forum 18's questions on whether these state actions violate the right to freedom of religion or belief, the judge in the case of the Muslim putting the phone down when the question was asked.

KAZAKHSTAN: "The first phase of this work has been fully completed"

"The first phase of this work has been fully completed", State Secretary Kanat Saudabaev told a closed 27 October meeting in Kazakhstan's capital Astana. He identified this "first phase" as including adopting new legislation including the harsh new Religion Law restricting freedom of religion or belief, strengthening the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA), law enforcement agencies, "special services", and other measures countering "religious extremism". Saudabaev said that "an algorithm of further actions for the planned implementation of the instructions of the Head of State [President Nursultan Nazarbaev]" is to follow, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Among those attending were: one of the Deputy Heads of the Presidential Administration; the head of the KNB secret police; the head of the Syrbar Foreign Intelligence Service; the Interior Minister; the Prosecutor-General; the Foreign, Finance, Justice, Communications, Education and Culture Ministers; the Chair of the ARA; and officials of the Prime Minister's Office, the Tax Committee and the Customs Control Committee.

KAZAKHSTAN: "The state doesn't interfere in religious communities' internal affairs"?

About twenty of Kazakhstan's most senior state officials agreed at a closed 27 October meeting on new state controls over the country's Muslim community, according to documents from the meeting seen by Forum 18 News Service. Plans discussed included banning all independent and ethnically-based mosques, taking over all formal Islamic education, and using the existing Muslim Board to control and report on all permitted Islamic activity. Forum 18 notes that at no point do the documents indicate that officials recognise that the Muslim Board is an independent organisation or that it could be in a position to object to the orders officials plan to give it. Asked about the meeting's apparent decision to transfer the Muslim Board's Institute for Raising Qualifications of Imams to a new Islamic University, Muslim Board spokesperson Ongar Omirbek told Forum 18: "It's ours. We won't give it to anyone." Yet Yerbol Shauenov of the Presidential Administration, who was present at the meeting, insisted to Forum 18: "The state doesn't interfere in religious communities' internal affairs."

KAZAKHSTAN: New draft regulations outline official religious censorship

Kazakhstan's state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) has prepared – but not yet adopted – new regulations to implement the system of compulsory state censorship of almost all religious literature and objects. The Regulations for "expert analyses" will also apply to religious organisations' statutes. Without such ARA approval, religious books cannot be imported (apart from in small quantities) or distributed, and religious organisations will not be able to gain state registration. The draft Regulations – seen by Forum 18 News Service - make no provisions for any challenges to ARA's censorship decisions. They were presented to a closed 27 October meeting of about twenty senior government officials to devise plans for implementing that month's harsh new Religion Law. No one at the ARA was prepared to discuss the Censorship Regulations with Forum 18, or when they might be adopted.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Inform on a daily basis between 2 pm and 4 pm"

State officials in Kazakhstan are continuing to make wide-ranging and intrusive demands for information from religious communities, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The local administration of a district in Almaty has demanded that local communities "inform on a daily basis between 2 pm and 4 pm about measures undertaken by your religious association in the struggle with religious extremism to the telephone number 2351401. In association with this, in case of incidents of incitement of religious enmity and discord or calls for illegal acts by suspicious people, to report immediately on the given telephone number". Unregistered and registered religious communities have told Forum 18 that they are facing raids, threats, and bans on meeting. Meanwhile the Council of Europe has invited Kazakhstan to become a full member of the Commission for Democracy through Law, or Venice Commission. Local civil society activists have called on Kazakhstan to send both recent laws restricting freedom of religion or belief for Venice Commission review, along with a draft National Security Law.

KAZAKHSTAN: Not banned, merely "recommends refraining from inviting"

The organisers of a conference in Kazakhstan have been told that five foreign Protestant guest speakers could not come. Ershat Ongarov of the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) wrote stating that the ARA "recommends refraining from inviting" them. This follows an ARA ban on a well-known Russian Muslim author visiting to present his books in bookshops and universities. Ongarov insisted to Forum 18 News Service that religious organisations can invite foreign visitors to religious events under the new Religion Law. "We did not issue a ban on these pastors visiting", but he refused to say how else his letter could be interpreted. Asked whether this was not unwarranted state interference in the freedoms of assembly and of speech, Ongarov laughed but refused to answer. ARA Chair Kairat Lama Sharif has stated that regulations to cover both foreigners and citizens engaged in undefined "missionary activity" and "spreading a faith" would "form a system of measures for prevention and countering of the destructive influence of several non-traditional religious organisations on the process of the spiritual/moral development of Kazakh society".

KAZAKHSTAN: "Those who initiated and adopted such laws will answer before Allah"

Following the adoption of laws seriously restricting the ability of people to exercise their freedom of religion or belief, Kazakhstan has started closing Muslim and Russian Orthodox prayer rooms in social care institutions. "We're all in shock," Fr Vladimir Zavadich of the Orthodox Church told Forum 18 News Service. "We didn't expect this from our government. Now we fear this will happen everywhere." The Muslim Board has also protested, spokesperson Ongar Omirbek telling Forum 18 "those who initiated and adopted such laws will answer before Allah". Orthodox Bishop Gennady of Kaskelen stated that this took away "the last consolation from those people who, for health reasons, find themselves in a desperate, helpless situation". He described calls to bar priests from such homes, hospices and old people's homes as "inhumane". One Almaty care home staff member told Forum 18 that "faith is often a help for people in difficult times. There was no harm in what the imam and the Orthodox priest did". Elsewhere, two more prosecutions have been brought against Baptists for meeting for worship without state permission.

KAZAKHSTAN: Prison mosques, churches, and prayer rooms closed down

Kazakhstan has recently closed mosques, churches and prayer rooms in prisons, citing two laws restricting freedom of religion or belief before they came into force, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "Mosques and Russian Orthodox churches were built in prisons in violation of building regulations and the law", Aliya Kadenova of the Interior Ministry told Forum 18. "They are illegal – that's why they are being closed down." She refused to say why, if they had been built illegally, no prison governors had been prosecuted. "How can these Orthodox churches have been built illegally?" Fr Aleksandr Suvorov of the Astana and Almaty Orthodox Diocese asked. "Prisons are zones under the strictest of controls." Muslim Board spokesperson Ongar Omirbek told Forum 18 that "we complained to the state about this – verbally and in writing. But they didn't listen. Prisoners have now been left without prayer rooms." Also some prisoners state that they have been placed in solitary confinement, on the instructions of the KNB secret police, for praying Muslim prayers.

UZBEKISTAN: New haj pilgrimage, same old restrictions

The Uzbek authorities have again this year imposed severe restrictions on how many pilgrims could take part in this year's haj pilgrimage, now underway in Saudi Arabia. Only 5,080 out of a potential quota of about 28,000 travelled to Mecca. About as many pilgrims travelled from Kyrgyzstan as from Uzbekistan, more than five times more populous. An official of one Sergeli District mahalla (neighbourhood), with between 3,000 and 7,000 residents, told Forum 18 News Service that "our mahalla will be able to send pilgrims only in 2012. Several people are on the waiting list but maybe only one will go." As before, an "unwritten instruction" banned would-be pilgrims under the age of 45, officials of a local mahalla committee in Tashkent told Forum 18. Pilgrims faced official screening, while secret police officers reportedly accompany the pilgrims. An Imam outside Tashkent, who did not wish to be named for fear of state reprisals, complained that "unofficial payments" more than doubled the cost of the haj. "The number of applicants would be much, much higher if the cost was not so high," he lamented to Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: Application to join Venice Commission on day laws violating human rights commitments signed

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed two laws violating international human rights commitments the same day the country applied for full membership of the Council of Europe's Commission for Democracy through Law, or Venice Commission, Forum 18 News Service notes. Nazgul Yergaliyeva of the Legal Policy Research Centre in Almaty told Forum 18 that Kazakhstan "should demonstrate in practice that it adheres to the fundamental values of the rule of law, human rights and democracy, which are the founding principles of the Venice Commission". Vyacheslav Abramov of Freedom House commented that if the application is accepted, "it will be a clear signal to Kazakhstan that it can continue violating human rights". Meanwhile the government's Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) claims it has revoked a ban on a visit by an Islamic author, Imam Shamil Alyautdinov of Moscow's Memorial Mosque. However the ARA insists that the imam cannot give any book presentations in bookshops or universities, as this is banned under the new Religion Law.

KAZAKHSTAN: Laws enforced although not yet in force

Kazakhstan is enforcing laws before they have come into force, Forum 18 News Service has found. In Atyrau, police and KNB secret police officers raided a meeting for worship of an officially registered Protestant church, New Life, claiming that under the new Religion Law the church cannot meet outside its legal address. The church had been forced to meet away from its legal address because of pressure from the KNB. During the raid, a 17-year old woman was hit by a policeman, leaving her unconscious. No action seems to be being taken against the policeman responsible for the attack, even though church members state that a Public Prosecutor's Office official was a witness. In the commercial capital Almaty, Jehovah's Witnesses sharing their beliefs were briefly detained by police, who stated that they were doing this as the new Religion Law bans missionary activity on the street. When other Jehovah's Witnesses pointed out that the Law was not yet in force, their colleagues were released. Hare Krishna devotees, Ahmadi Muslims and Catholics have all expressed concern to Forum 18 about the new laws and their impact, but do not wish to comment publicly.

KAZAKHSTAN: President signs two laws restricting freedom of religion or belief

It was made public today (13 October) that Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev has signed two new laws imposing severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The two laws have attracted strong criticism from civil society organisations, human rights defenders and many religious communities in Kazakhstan, as well as from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which the country chaired in 2010. Both new laws are expected to come into force on 24 October. OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) spokesperson Jens Eschenbaecher told Forum 18 that the ODIHR was disappointed that the laws were signed into force. "The legislation appears to unnecessarily restrict the freedom of religion or belief and is poised to limit the exercise of this freedom in Kazakhstan", he told Forum 18. Nazgul Yergalieva of the Almaty-based Legal Policy Research Centre observed to Forum 18 that "strict regulation and limitation of fundamental rights, such as freedom of religion, by governments has already proved to be a dangerous path, leading to social tension and resentment".

KAZAKHSTAN: Two repressive new laws sent to President for signature

Two new laws seriously restricting freedom of religion or belief were passed by Kazakhstan's Senate, the upper house of Parliament, today (29 September). Both laws now only need President Nursultan Nazarbaev's signature to become law. Previous similar laws were rejected by the Constitutional Council as "unconstitutional", and were also heavily criticised by an Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Legal Opinion for breaking the country's human rights commitments. Both the current laws have been in preparation for many months, have been rushed through Parliament with great speed, and are now with the President for signature. Commenting on the previous OSCE Legal Opinion, Zhanna Onlasheva of the state Agency of Religious Affairs, who drafted the laws, told Forum 18 News Service that "We set out our position to the OSCE that we didn't agree with their view. We stuck to our position". The laws were passed as the Military Affairs Directorate of Almaty's Turksib District wrote to local religious communities, ordering them to "provide information on citizens on record as followers of non-traditional religions and radical religious views" - without being able to define what these are - and a Protestant was fined for praying for someone else's health.

KAZAKHSTAN: "A new wave of persecution has begun once more"

Unless Viktor Gutyar succeeds in his appeal, he expects the administrative fine of nearly ten months' minimum wage for leading an unregistered religious community to be docked from his wages as a coalminer. He was not even present when his church in Satpaev in central Kazakhstan was raided on Sunday morning, 11 September. His was one of five Baptist congregations raided in Karaganda Region in September, including a Harvest Festival in Zhezkazgan attended by 150 people raided by police and riot police on Sunday 25 September. "A new wave of persecution," is how one Baptist described it. "They refuse to register in accordance with our Religion Law, so it's their problem," Mereke Myrzabekova of Zhezkazgan's Internal Policy Department told Forum 18. She admitted they would not have been raided had they been watching football or drinking vodka together "because that's not religion". Shymkent's Ahmadi Muslim community has lost its latest appeal against a ban on using their mosque. "All we want is for our mosque to be allowed to reopen," one Ahmadi told Forum 18. And two Jehovah's Witnesses in Kyzylorda failed to overturn punishments – a seven-day jail term and a fine - for holding a religious meeting in a private home.

KAZAKHSTAN: Parliamentary adoption of restrictive laws imminent?

Two laws imposing severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief could possibly be adopted by Kazakhstan's Senate, the upper house of Parliament, as early as next Thursday (29 September). Both laws passed through the Majilis, the lower house, in one day and reached a Senate committee the same day. One observer described the speed of passage to Forum 18 News Service as "unprecedented", and a Majilis press spokesperson was unable to say whether any laws had ever had a quicker passage. An official of the government's Agency of Religious Affairs confirmed to Forum 18 that the two laws would be considered at the Senate's plenary session on 29 September, but would not say if they would complete their passage within one session. Human rights defenders and some religious communities have already told Forum 18 of their deep concern at many of the provisions, which violate Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments. The first proposed law, a new Religion Law, would among other restrictions impose a complex four-tier registration system, ban unregistered religious activity, and impose compulsory censorship. The second proposed law amends nine legal provisions, and its changes to Article 375 of the Code of Administrative Offences and to the Law on the Rights of the Child could have a more far-reaching impact on freedom of religion or belief.

KAZAKHSTAN: Two repressive laws heading through Parliament at "unprecedented" speed

Within hours today (21 September) two controversial new laws which – if adopted by the Senate and signed into law by Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev – will impose severe restrictions on people exercising their freedom of religion moved decisively towards adoption. The Lower House of Parliament, the Majilis, approved them this morning. In the afternoon the two laws were given their initial presentation to the Social and Cultural Development Committee of the Senate, the Upper House. Forum 18 News Service has learned that privately many Majilis deputies were angry at provisions of the laws and the speed which the government is pushing the laws through Parliament, but no-one voted against either law. In discussion of both laws – a proposed new Religion Law and a separate law amending other laws affecting freedom of religion or belief - the fundamental incompatibility of both laws and current state actions with Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments do not appear to have been publicly discussed.

KAZAKHSTAN: "To prepare the public for a discriminatory new law"

Officials of Kazakhstan's Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA), the state-backed Muslim Board, "anti-sect" personnel, and local administrations have held public meetings praising the so-called "traditional religions" and attacking so-called "non-traditional religions". The ruling Nur Otan political party has also held similar meetings. ARA regional departments and local administrations across Kazakhstan have also demanded that members of religious minorities provide detailed information on their activities – sometimes on a weekly basis. Former state religious affairs officials, who wished to remain unnamed, have told Forum 18 News Service that religious communities should not be divided into categories such as "traditional" and "non-traditional". One commented that "the word 'non-traditional' gives the public a negative image". An Ahmadi Muslim, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 that they thought that the campaign is to "prepare the public for a discriminatory new Law". Protestants have also suggested that this is the motivation. Tomorrow (21 September) Forum 18 understands that the first reading of two laws restricting freedom of religion or belief is due to take place in the country's Parliament.

KAZAKHSTAN: "They are not real Imams"

Officials of Kazakhstan's Agency for Religious Affairs (ARA), the Muslim Board, and regional government officials have re-started demands that independent legally registered mosques join the government-supported Muslim Board, Forum 18 News Service has learned. These moves come as the authorities have been pressuring allegedly "non-traditional" religious groups in a public campaign, and the Majilis is considering draft laws imposing further restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and other human rights. The current National Security Law bans interference by the state in religious communities. One imam who still faces telephone demands "almost every day several times" that his mosque give up its independence, Nurmuhamed Ahmedyanov, observed that if officials at a meeting "were genuinely interested in us, and if they were good Muslims, they would not rush us or try to make us break our fast, or be so rude". Another Imam, Meyram Ibrayev, faced like his colleague with threats that their mosques will not be re-registered after – not if - the new Religion Law is adopted stated that "if in future they refuse to re-register us, I will sue them in court". Karaganda regional ARA Director Serik Tlekbayev claimed to Forum 18 that "they are not real Imams".

KAZAKHSTAN: New proposed legal restrictions on religion reach Parliament

The proposed new Religion Law which reached Parliament yesterday (5 September), if adopted in its current form, would impose a complex four-tier registration system, ban unregistered religious activity, impose compulsory religious censorship and require all new places of worship to have specific authorisation from the capital and the local administration. A second proposed Law imposing changes in the area of religion in nine other Laws would also amend the controversial Administrative Code Article 375, widening the range of "violations of the Religion Law" it punishes. The texts – seen by Forum 18 News Service – have been approved by Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Karim Masimov, but have not yet been published.

KAZAKHSTAN: New Religion Law to "bring order to our house"

Human rights defenders and members of religious communities the government does not like have already expressed concern to Forum 18 News Service over the proposed amendments to make the Religion Law harsher. President Nursultan Nazarbaev told Parliament on 1 September that the amendments are to be adopted "in the current session", which concludes in June 2012. He complained of unregistered communities which the state does not control, insisting: "We must bring order to our house." The head of the government's Agency of Religious Affairs, Kairat Lama Sharif, told the media the amendments his Agency has prepared (which have not been made public) will soon go to Parliament. Once adopted, the Law will require re-registration. "We are not expecting anything good from these new developments," one Protestant told Forum 18. Ninel Fokina of the Almaty Helsinki Committee told Forum 18 she fears the new amendments will be "essentially the same text" as the restrictive previous amendments declared unconstitutional by Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council in 2009. The OSCE told Forum 18 the Kazakh government has not asked for its assistance.

KAZAKHSTAN: Expelled for preaching in own church

After legal residence in Kazakhstan for 15 years, marriage to a Kazakh citizen and a two-year-old daughter, Russian citizen Leonid Pan was in mid-August denied his application to renew his residence permit because he volunteers to preach in his local Protestant church, according to documentation seen by Forum 18 News Service. The local Internal Policy Department had already refused permission for him to become leader of the church. "How can the Migration Police, without having a Court order, demand that Leonid leave the country?" church members complained to Forum 18. The KNB secret police denied to Forum 18 it was involved in the expulsion. Meanwhile, another Baptist was in August fined nearly five months' official minimum wage for holding an unregistered worship service. State restrictions on religious communities are likely to increase with the new Religion Law amendments, due to be considered in the new session of Parliament which opened today (1 September).

KAZAKHSTAN: "One nation – one religion"?

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev has called for increased surveillance of religious communities. Earlier, the head of the new state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) stated that the country had chosen "one nation – one religion" and that the ARA will "prepare a concept on the 'Development of moderate Islam in Kazakhstan'". This may echo Muslim Board calls to "restrict permitted Islam to the Hanafi school". Local people have told Forum 18 that the ARA is also expected to work on legislation further restricting freedom of religion or belief in the country. Yesterday (27 July), a ban on Shymkent's Ahmadi Muslim Community's right to use its mosque was upheld, but the community can continue to use the building until an appeal is decided. "The authorities are not just going against us", an Ahmadi commented. Changes have also been made to the Criminal and Administrative Codes, whose overall impact is – a legal expert stated - to "give more freedom to state agencies to interfere with freedom of religion or belief and go unpunished". "Who will now protect us from 'law-enforcement' agencies breaking the law?" a Kazakh religious believer, who wished to remain unnamed, asked Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Absurd" criminal charge for praying for the sick

Pastor Yerzhan Ushanov of the New Life Protestant Church in Taraz could face up to two years' imprisonment if criminal charges of harming an individual's health, brought by the KNB secret police, reach court. The KNB claim a visitor to the church suffered after Pastor Ushanov prayed for him using hypnosis, the second time the secret police have brought such charges against a Protestant pastor in Jambyl Region. "This is not the first time the authorities in southern regions of Kazakhstan bring such absurd accusations against pastors for allegedly using hypnosis, while in reality all they do is pray for the sick," New Life Church members complained to Forum 18 News Service. The police Department for the Fight against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism then raided the Church's Sunday worship after an alleged complaint of food poisoning and the KNB searched Pastor Ushanov's home. The KNB secret police, as well as the ordinary police Department for the Fight against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism, both refused to comment on the case to Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: Ahmadi Muslim mosque closed, Protestants fined 100 times minimum monthly wage

Kazakhstan has fined an Ahmadi Muslim community – also denying it the use of its mosque and land – as well as imposed fines of 100 times the minimum monthly wage on two Protestants for religious activity without state permission, Forum 18 News Service has found. One official claimed to Forum 18 in relation to the Ahmadis that "using a dwelling house for religious purposes violates the Land Code", but was unable to say where this was stated. Officials were similarly evasive in relation to the Protestants, when asked which of Kazakhstan's laws banned religious believers from praying and reading scriptures together with their fellow believers in their private homes. One of the two Protestants was only informed of an appeal hearing six days after it took place. Kazakhstan's mass media also continues to be used for "anti-sect" propaganda, one of the aims of which appears to be to encourage support for legislation imposing more restrictions on people exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Great political efforts are made"

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the Mayor of the commercial capital Almaty have recently called for greater controls on unspecified religious communities, which they describe as "sects". The calls come as smaller religious communities are experiencing greater pressure including police and KNB secret police raids, Forum 18 News Service has found. Prominent in these measures are state-funded so-called anti-sect centres, which members of many religious communities state are encouraging public hostility through statements in the state-controlled national and local mass media. Communities targeted have included Hare Krishna devotees, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Protestants, described as "destructive religious movements". Also Ahmadi Muslims in the southern city of Shymkent are facing threats by the authorities to close their community down. It has been suggested to Forum 18 that the "anti-sect" campaign is intended to prepare the ground for restrictive laws against freedom of religion or belief.

KAZAKHSTAN: Punishments for worship meetings re-start

Kazakhstan has started to punish worship in private homes and worship without state permission again, Forum 18 News Service has found. Baptist Pastor Pyotr Panafidin was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage for leading unregistered religious worship in Taraz on 4 March, the seventh time he has been fined for this "offence", local Baptists told Forum 18. He is the first Council of Churches Baptist in Kazakhstan known to have been fined since June 2010. An officer of Jambyl Regional Directorate for the Struggle with Organised Crime – which took part in raids on the congregation - insisted to Forum 18: "It's a violation if they don't register – all religious communities must be registered." In Shymkent a judge has banned the local New Life Pentecostal Church from holding worship in the house where the congregation is registered. And a local administration in Almaty has – with KNB secret police and Interior Ministry intervention – banned a university from renting its facilities to religious communities.

KAZAKHSTAN: Ethnic-based mosques "cannot be opened"

Sunni and Shia Muslims from Kazakhstan's ethnic minorities have told Forum 18 News Service of great difficulties they face from the state and the state-backed Muslim Board in opening mosques for people of the same minority ethnicity. When they have been able to register Islamic houses of prayer, they are subject to state or Muslim Board limitations on religious activity – such as being banned from conducting Friday prayers. Muslims are often extremely reluctant to discuss why ethnic minorities cannot conduct religious activity together, including hearing sermons in their own language. Those who do discuss the issue indicate very strongly that they are fearful of state reactions, and often ask for anonymity. Officials also mainly refuse to discuss the issue, insisting that such mosques "cannot be opened". An independent Muslim expert on Islam within Kazakhstan, who wished to remain unnamed, told Forum 18 that the State wants to "keep the Muslim Board's monopoly over the mosques". Appointing Kazakh imams and making Kazakh the priority language in mosques may be part of a wider state attempt to make the Kazakh ethnicity dominant, the expert suggested.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Mosques cannot be independent"

Kazakhstan is pressuring independent Muslim communities to join the state-favoured Muslim Board, Forum 18 News Service has found. Asylkhan Nurmagambetov of the state Religious Affairs Committee stated that "mosques cannot be independent. Just like any other religious organisation, because it belongs to a certain confession, it must be subordinated to a religious centre. Mosques also must do this". An official of the Muslim Board claimed that independent mosques "will breed terrorists". However officials were unable to explain what law demanded that mosques join the Board, or what proof there is for their assertions. In one example of pressure, five mosques in Karaganda Region have been for over two years under pressure from – among other state agencies – law- enforcement agencies, the regional Tax Authority, Emergency Service, Sanitary-Epidemiological Service, Architecture Department, Prosecutor's Office, and Land Committee to join the Muslim Board. Among conditions imposed on mosques which join the Board is that they must hand over one third of their income, one imam from a mosque under the Board observing that "mosques which want to remain independent in rural areas across Kazakhstan will not be able to do this". The imams of the five mosques insist that they do not want to join the Muslim Board, despite the state pressure.

KAZAKHSTAN: Government "trying to force all foreign religious believers out of the country"?

New visa regulations that came into force in March have caused growing problems for some religious communities to invite foreign citizens for religious work, Forum 18 News Service has found. The new "missionary visa" is valid for a maximum 180 days and is not renewable. "No one wants to spend so much money to move, only to be able to stay in the country for a maximum of six months," Rabbi Elkhonon Cohen of Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Centre of Kazakhstan told Forum 18. "It will be difficult for us to open new synagogues, since it will be very difficult to invite rabbis to lead them." He insists that he and his colleagues are not "missionaries" and are in Kazakhstan "first of all to serve the Jews". After one Catholic priest failed to get a visa for two months, the nuncio spent a week going to the Foreign Ministry before a business visa was granted. Two Ahmadi Muslim imams have been forced to leave after visas were denied. Kazakhstan is "trying to force all foreign religious believers out of the country," one Ahmadi commented to Forum 18. The government's Religious Affairs Committee told Forum 18: "There are no problems with giving missionary visas, you do not need to invent these cases."

KAZAKHSTAN: Ruling party's "ideological preparation" for harsh new Religion Law?

Human rights defender Ninel Fokina told Forum 18 News Service she believes an internal document from the ruling Nur Otan party attacking "non-traditional" faiths and calling for laws on religion to be harshened is "ideological preparation" for senior officials in the run-up to a new attempt to change the Religion Law. The section of the July document on religion – seen by Forum 18 – attacks groups including the Tabligh Jamaat Islamic movement, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Protestant New Life Church and Grace Protestant Church. It adds that such groups are financed by "the special services of Western countries". The report claims that tens of thousands of people in Kazakhstan are members of such groups "and need help". However, an official of Nur Otan's Institute of Parliamentarianism – which produced the report - insisted to Forum 18 that it was halted before being issued and the section on religion represented only the views of one party researcher who has since been sacked. Forum 18 has been unable to verify his claims.

KAZAKHSTAN: Proposed new Administrative Code to be reworked, existing penalties remain

In withdrawing from Parliament the controversial proposed new Code of Administrative Offences, the government was not responding to pressure from human rights defenders, an official and a law professor have separately told Forum 18 News Service. Bulat Beisov of the Justice Ministry's Legislation Department insisted the Code will be reworked and presented again to Parliament. Law professor Roman Podoprigora says the impact on human rights and religious freedom of the withdrawal of the proposed new Code is "neutral". He points out that the Code in force today already includes two Articles punishing non state-approved religious activity which are likely simply to be carried over into the new Code when it is presented once again. Beisov rejected any suggestion that the two Articles in both the current and withdrawn new Code violate international human rights norms by punishing people for unregistered religious activity.

KAZAKHSTAN: Parliament to go against international human rights commitments?

Following a police raid on his ordination service, Baptist pastor Oleg Voropaev in Kazakhstan's northern Pavlodar Region has become the latest victim of the Administrative Code's punishments for leading unregistered worship, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Voropaev told the court that he considered himself not guilty, as Kazakhstan's Constitution guarantees the right to worship individually or collectively. As a community without a bank account the church does not need legal status, and does not need or want registration to exist or meet. Human rights defenders and religious communities are concerned that punishments for religious activity under the current Administrative Code are retained under the proposed new Code now in Parliament. Deputy Serik Temirbulatov, who chairs the Majilis working group preparing the new draft, expects a draft to be presented to the Majilis' Legislative and Judicial-Legal Committee in late October, and a draft to reach the full Majilis in December. Asked if the majority view among deputies will prevail even if proposed Articles still violate Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments, Temirbulatov responded: "Yes."

KAZAKHSTAN: Is unregistered religious activity extremism, separatism or terrorism?

Muslims and Baptists are known to have been targeted in 2010 by at least three of Kazakhstan's regional police Departments for the Fight against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism in Kazakhstan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. "We get involved in questions on this line," police Major Dauren Gumarov commented on raids on three Taraz mosques and one nearby madrassa (religious college). Major Gumarov is head of Jambyl region's anti-terrorism police, and asked what he meant by "line" he replied: "Unregistered religious associations." Insisting – despite contradictory statements in Kazakh law and international human rights standards – that state registration is compulsory, Major Gumarov refused to explain why his Department targeted peaceful religious communities which did not pose an extremist, separatist or terrorist threat. Council of Churches Baptists – who refuse on principle to seek state registration – have also been targeted by anti-terrorism police. Pastor Nikolai Levin told Forum 18 that he "asked [a police officer] why people cannot believe as they choose without his Department needing to know about it, but he refused to explain".

KAZAKHSTAN: Textbook "propagandises intolerance, so it should be banned for use in schools"

Human rights defenders and religious communities remain highly concerned about a school religious studies textbook which, in the words of one local specialist, contains "aggressive, sometimes insulting and even offensive" language about some Kazakh religious communities. Among those who have expressed concern to Forum 18 News Service are Ahmadi Muslims, Protestant Christians, Hare Krishna devotees, Jehovah's Witnesses and the state Religious Affairs Committee. Human rights defenders have also expressed concern about the textbook's echoing of officials' rhetoric against freedom of religion or belief. The lead author of the textbook, Senator Garifolla Esim, claimed to Forum 18 that "I have not said anything negative about any of the officially registered religious groups". Numerous criticisms have been made of the textbook, 'Introduction to Religious Studies', one Kazakh expert bluntly stating that "the book propagandises intolerance, so it should be banned for use in schools". Senator Esim also told Forum 18 that he and fellow law-makers are working on a draft law similar to a previous draft severely restricting freedom of religion or belief.

KAZAKHSTAN: Criminal records for religious activity

Two Protestants have been given criminal convictions to punish them for their activity, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Vissa Kim, pastor of Grace Light of Love Church in Taraz in southern Kazakhstan, was fined 100 months' minimum wages today (1 April) for allegedly harming a woman's health by praying for her. Sergei Mironov was given one year's restrictions on his free movement after being found guilty of depriving a client of his drug rehabilitation centre of his freedom. The authorities have closed the centre. Both Kim and Mironov deny any wrongdoing. A criminal case has been opened against the leader of another Christian-run rehabilitation centre in Almaty. "Religious communities can do social work but only if they do it in accordance with the Religion Law," an official told Forum 18 about Mironov's case. "Now it looks like pastors will get fines for praying for the sick in churches," a member of Kim's church told Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Struggle against religious extremism must be carried out on all fronts"

Kazakhstan has left threats to deport Viktor Leven "hanging in the air", he has told Forum 18 News Service. The now-stateless Baptist, who is Kazakh-born, was convicted of missionary activity without state permission, and because he and his wife do not have passports they cannot either obtain paid work or travel by train. He and his family live on what they can grow themselves. Another Baptist, Zhanna-Tereza Raudovich, who was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage for hosting worship in her home, has had an appeal against the fine rejected and has appealed to the Supreme Court. Akmola Regional Police held a seminar on ways of struggling against religious extremism, during which Baptists were associated with terrorism. Asked why this association was made, police told Forum 18 that Baptists were not extremists but they "do violate the law often" as they continue religious activity without official registration. Attendees at the seminar included members of President Nursultan Nazarbaev's Nur Otan political party.

UZBEKISTAN: Threats, raids and violence against religious believers

Three members of the unregistered Greater Grace Protestant Church have been given heavy fines in Samarkand in central Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The fines followed a police raid on a private home, after which children and teenagers were illegally interrogated without their parents being present. A church member was also threatened with jail unless he confessed that he taught the Bible, which would have rendered him liable to prosecution for teaching religious doctrines without the permission of the state and a registered religious organisation. The church has been unsuccessfully seeking state registration since 2000. Church members also complained that the NSS secret police has been closely watching them recently. A Muslim refugee has also complained to the BBC of NSS attempts to recruit him as an informer. In a separate case, two Protestant women in eastern Uzbekistan are facing charges after a raid, and one of the women was beaten up when she refused to confess to missionary activity, a criminal offence in Uzbekistan.

KAZAKHSTAN: Government proposes retaining punishments for exercising religious freedom

Kazakhstan's proposed new Administrative Code continues current penalties for exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. The state-approved version being considered by Parliament continues existing fines and bans punishing individuals and religious communities operating without state-granted legal status or who conduct unregistered "missionary activity". Those classified as foreigners who conduct unapproved "missionary activity" are set to continue to face fines and deportation, as is currently being threatened in the case of a Kazakh-born Baptist. Also, a new offence of inciting an undefined "religious superiority" is included in the government draft. A Baptist jailed for three days in 2009 for unregistered worship told Forum 18: "What we want is simple: to be left alone to pray to God and to speak to others of God without any obstruction. We don't want any privileges or any discrimination in our favour." He said that in the 1990s they could worship freely, "but since 2000 this has been banned and that has been banned." Also, Kazakhstan has for the first time denied an Ahmadi Muslim missionary registration and a visa to work in the country. Government departments "send us to each other and no one wants to resolve this problem," the Ahmadis complained to Forum 18.