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21 December 2006

TURKMENISTAN: After Niyazov, what hope for religious freedom?

Following today's (21 December) death of Turkmenistan's dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, victims of his policies have told Forum 18 News Service that, in the words of an exiled Protestant, "the transition leaders have already praised Niyazov and his policies and vowed to continue them." The country's Foreign Minister and other officials refused to comment to Forum 18. Exiled human rights activist Farid Tukhbatullin, of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, noted that hostility to religious freedom was a "personal instruction" of Niyazov. But "this does not mean though that his subordinates were merely implementing his will," he said. "Almost all of them shared his views on this entirely." He pointed out that "the overwhelming majority of officials of the police and MSS secret police have a vested interest in preserving the current situation, under which they enjoy unlimited rights." It is unclear whether Niyazov's invented Ruhnama religion will continue to be state-imposed.

7 December 2006

UZBEKISTAN: State bars haj pilgrims from pilgrimage

Uzbekistan is restricting the number of haj pilgrimages – a requirement for all able-bodied adult Muslims who can do so – to some 20 per cent of the country's total possible number of pilgrims, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Controls on pilgrims have been significantly increased, with potential pilgrims having to be approved by local Mahalla committees, district administrations, the NSS secret police and the state-run Haj Commission. "The authorities are deliberately giving a lower quota in regions of Uzbekistan where there are more believers," an Uzbek Muslim told Forum 18. "It would be better if most Uzbek pilgrims were elderly" the state-controlled Muftiate told Forum 18. Turkmenistan imposes the strictest Central Asian controls on haj pilgrims. Apart from Kazakhstan, all the other Central Asian states also ban non-state organised haj pilgrimages. In Kyrgyzstan last year, there were complaints that Kyrgyz places were taken by Chinese Muslims on false passports.

14 November 2006

KAZAKHSTAN: Punished for preaching in mosques

Members of the Tabligh Jama'at international Islamic missionary organisation face increased fines across Kazakhstan for trying to give lectures in mosques without state registration, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Provisions in Kazakh law punish "missionary activity" without special permission. Also punishable is any activity by religious communities that do not have registration, with Baptists and other Protestants so far bearing the brunt of such fines. Secret police official Askar Amerkhanov denied to Forum 18 that the Kazakh authorities now regard Tabligh as extremist: "Tabligh's problem is that its supporters are preaching without having registered with the authorities." Tabligh supporter Murad Mynbaev told Forum 18 in Almaty that the group does not attribute its problems to the central Kazakh authorities but to local authorities "who in their ignorance think we are a political organisation".

24 October 2006

TURKMENISTAN: Hare Krishna prisoner of conscience freed with restrictions

Hare Krishna devotee Cheper Annaniyazova – who has served one year of a seven year jail term – has been allowed to return to her home as part of the annual prisoner amnesty, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. She was jailed on three charges, two of which related to leaving Turkmenistan illegally. The third charge has never been made public, and sources within Turkmenistan think she was jailed for her religious beliefs. Others who did the same thing as her have not been punished, she has stated. Cheper Annaniyazova, who has the religious name Caitanya Rupini, has to report daily to the police, and it appears unlikely that she will be allowed to travel abroad for at least four years. These are the usual restrictions applied to amnestied prisoners. No recent news is known of former chief mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment in March 2004.

5 September 2006

UZBEKISTAN: Then there was one

The regional Justice Department's stripping of registration in late August from the Fergana Jehovah's Witness community has left only one registered Jehovah's Witness community in the whole of Uzbekistan. "Under Uzbek law unregistered religious communities are not allowed to function and now our brothers in Fergana will not be free to preach their religious beliefs in peace," one Jehovah's Witness complained to Forum 18 News Service. The source added that were it not for official discrimination, the Jehovah's Witnesses could have registered "dozens" of congregations. Any activity by Jehovah's Witnesses outside the remaining congregation in Chirchik will be subject to harsh penalties under the country's repressive Religion Law. Forum 18 was unable to find out the reason for the clampdown on the Jehovah's Witnesses from the government's Religious Affairs Committee, but its spokesperson Aziz Abidov has criticised Forum 18's coverage of the current severe crackdown on religious activity affecting many faiths.

20 July 2006

UZBEKISTAN: Crackdown continues against Muslims and Christians

Muslims and Christians are both falling foul of Uzbekistan's crackdown on religious freedom, Forum 18 News Service has found. In the capital Tashkent and the surrounding area, the Human Rights Initiative Group of Uzbekistan thinks that there has this year been a sharp increase in the number of arrests and detentions of devout Muslims. Many of those detained have been accused of "Wahhabism," a term often erroneously applied in Central Asia to pious Muslims. The state Religious Affairs Committee has refused to discuss the arrests with Forum 18. Christians also continue to be victimised by the authorities, the latest publicly known incident being a Protestant Pastor being fined and Christian material confiscated from him being ordered to be destroyed – this is normal practice in Uzbekistan. The material included New Testaments which had been legally printed and paid for. Religious censorship against all faiths has recently been tightened, Forum 18 has found.

18 July 2006

CENTRAL ASIA: Religious intolerance in Central Asia

In June 2006, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held a "Tolerance Implementation Meeting on Promoting Inter-Cultural, Inter-Religious and Inter-Ethnic Understanding," in Kazakhstan. In a paper for the 11 June NGO Preparatory Conference, Igor Rotar of Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org looked at the reality of religious intolerance in Central Asia. This vital issue must be considered by examining the concrete reality of state policy that restricts the rights of believers of one or another confession, and religious intolerance in everyday life. It is sadly impossible to avoid the conclusion that many states in Central Asia deliberately pursue a policy which violates international religious freedom standards - despite the many fine-sounding statements made by these same states at OSCE and other conferences.

29 June 2006

OSCE COMMITMENTS: CENTRAL ASIA: Implementation the issue for OSCE – a survey

All Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) states are committed to "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief," recognising that this is a litmus test of the state of human rights. OSCE commitments to human rights have been reiterated and enhanced. Yet some OSCE states, especially in the eastern part of the OSCE region where Forum 18 News Service works, repeatedly break their commitments and attack religious freedom. Examples include Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which commit persistent and even worsening religious freedom and other human rights violations. Forum 18 here surveys the situation. The question facing the OSCE is: How, concretely, are its repeated commitments to free, democratic, tolerant societies which respect human rights to be implemented, faced with states whose concrete actions directly contradict their commitments?

14 June 2006

TURKMENISTAN: Religious activity leads to Baptist's deportation

A Baptist who is a Russian citizen, Aleksandr Frolov, was deported from Turkmenistan on 10 June because of his religious activity, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Local Baptists told Forum 18 that Frolov's latest problems began after he visited Russia. After he returned, three officials came to his home and confiscated his Residence Permit. The officials gave their reasons as his attempt to import Christian literature, failure to notify the Migration Service of his exit from the country, and the holding of worship services in his home. Frolov separates him from his wife, a Turkmen citizen, their three year old son, and five month old daughter at their family home. Local Baptists have called for prayers and appeals for Frolov to be allowed back to his home and his family, for local Baptists to be allowed to hold worship services freely, for an end to restrictions on receiving Christian literature and for believers to be able to travel freely to visit other congregations.

31 May 2006

TURKMENISTAN: Official exit ban list confirmed

Former Baptist prisoner of conscience Shageldy Atakov is the latest person, known to Forum 18 News Service, banned from leaving Turkmenistan apparently because of their religious activity. "We blocked him from travelling – he's here on the list," a Migration Service officer told Forum 18. "People are only stopped from leaving if they have problems with the government," he added, without explaining what reasons trigger exit bans. As well as the Migration Service, the MSS secret police can also impose exit bans. "Sometimes we work together with them, sometimes separately," the official said. Forum 18 knows of an increasing number of Turkmen residents banned from leaving the country, because the authorities do not like their religious activity. Protestants are frequent victims of the exit ban policy, but others known to have been banned from exit are Hare Krishna devotees and Jehovah's Witnesses. The number of Muslim haj pilgrims is also severely restricted.

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