10 December 2012

RUSSIA: China-led restrictions on Falun Gong

Russia's small community of followers of the Chinese spiritual practice of Falun Gong face increasing state pressure, Forum 18 News Service notes. In 2005, officials refused to register a newspaper, citing provisions of the 2001 China-Russia treaty "On Neighbourly Relations, Friendship and Co-operation". The movement's core spiritual text "Zhuan Falun" has been included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials and courts have blocked access to websites containing the text. Four practitioners were detained in Vladivostok in July, while "anti-extremism" police summoned three local leaders in southern European Russia. In the latest deportations, two Ukrainian Falun Gong practitioners were barred from Russia in September when they tried to attend the movement's annual conference near Moscow. One had to move his wedding from Russia to Ukraine, as he told Forum 18. A similar Russian desire not to alienate the Chinese lies behind repeated denials of a Russian visa to the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

26 January 2011

AZERBAIJAN: "There is no discrimination" ?

After Azerbaijan's deportation of a former leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Russian citizen Ivan Uzun, and the denial of re-entry to Moldovan citizen Gheorghiy Sobor, Adventists have told Forum 18 News Service they are trying to resolve problems with the government through dialogue. Sobor lives in the capital Baku with his Azerbaijani wife and their three young children. He thinks he may have been denied re-entry as he helped Adventists gain state permission to import books. His wife Aida told Forum 18 that: "Without any court decision and without the possibility for him to respond, they have separated Gheorghiy from his family and children. Such an action contradicts basic human rights and international law at the same time as Azerbaijan considers itself a democratic country". Yusif Askerov of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations claimed that "there is no discrimination". Adventists stress that they have been present in the country for more than a century. An Adventist told Forum 18 that: "We're working to build bridges with the government".

16 June 2009

MOLDOVA: Government repeatedly acts against ECtHR judgements

Moldova continues to refuse legal status to religious communities of a variety of faiths, despite European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg judgements that it must do this, Forum 18 News Service has found. The state has repeatedly refused registration to Muslim and Protestant communities, individual parishes of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, and the Falun Gong movement. Without legal status, a community cannot seek land from the local authorities to place of worship, cannot run a bank account and cannot have an official stamp for legal documents. There are also great difficulties in burying members of unregistered communities. Asked why registrations are denied, Boris Galan, the Justice Ministry official responsible told Forum 18 that he had "a lot of work to do" and refused to answer more enquiries. Anatolie Munteanu, the official Parliamentary Human Rights Advocate, claimed to Forum 18 that "this is the first time" - despite the ECtHR judgements - he had heard about registration denials.

9 June 2009

MOLDOVA: Controversial new penalties for religious activity

Moldova's new Administrative Code replaces an article condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg with an almost identical article, Forum 18 News Service notes. Article 54 Part 3, which came into force on 31 May, less than three weeks after the article it replaces was condemned by the ECtHR, punishes unregistered religious activity "which contradicts the Law on Religious Denominations and its constituent parts." The only change from the condemned former Article 200 Part 3 is the replacement of the last phrase, which read "which contradicts the current legislation." The ECtHR condemned the Article, as a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, in a May judgement in the case of local Muslim Talgat Masaev who was punished for conducting unregistered religious worship. Christian, Muslim and Jehovah's Witness religious communities are also concerned at other parts of the Administrative Code, including a ban on "violating the exclusive rights of religious denominations to the publication, printing, preparation, sale or distribution by other means of cult objects."

8 May 2008

TRANSDNIESTER: Still banned from worshipping in church

A Pentecostal church in the internationally unrecognised entity of Transdniester is still banned from worshipping in its church building, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Pastor Yuri Semenyuk told Forum 18 that he is also now facing criminal prosecution for alleged forgery of documents, although he has not been given a copy of the charges. Prosecutor Vasily Tarnukov categorically denied this to Forum 18, but an independent legal source confirmed that state Commissioner for Religious Affairs Pyotr Zalozhkov had instigated the charges. Jehovah's Witnesses in the entity are also facing sustained harassment and refusals to register some of their congregations. However, after the entity's President Igor Smirnov received "many appeals" from local unregistered Baptists about harassment and fines against them, a presidential official told church leaders that they could meet and that officials "didn't have the power to ban them." The entity's parliament is considering drafts of a restrictive Religion Law and a National Security Concept, which are likely to hit hardest independent Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Bessarabian Orthodox Church.

30 April 2008

KAZAKHSTAN: Alarm at state-backed planned new Religion Law

Kazakhstan is planning more restrictions on freedom of thought, conscience and belief, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Human rights activists and some religious communities have expressed alarm at a planned new Religion Law penalising "unapproved" religious activities. The proposals include banning missionary activity by people who do not both represent registered religious communities and have state accreditation, and banning small religious communities from maintaining public places of worship or publishing religious literature. Prime Minister Karim Masimov has backed the latest draft, writing that "perfecting" legislation at the "contemporary phase of state-confessional relations" is "timely and necessary." Fr Aleksandr Ievlev of the Russian Orthodox Church vigorously defended the proposals, telling Forum 18 that "the current Law has allowed sectarians to spread in the country." He complained that "the proposed amendments do not at all restrict the rights and freedoms of religious organisations – those that say otherwise are lying." Accompanying the draft Law, the mass media is being used by officials and parliamentary deputies to promote intolerance of religious communitioes they dislike.

12 February 2008

MOLDOVA: Bureaucratic obstacles bar religious volunteers

The expulsions of four Romanian Orthodox priests from Moldova are being overturned on appeal and the priests are returning to their parishes, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. However, the lawyer for the Bessarabian Orthodox Patriarchate warned that it was likely that there may be yet another case against a Bessarabian priest brought at the end of February. Also, visa renewals for foreign Jehovah's Witness volunteers are now being refused. The government now refuses to allow the volunteers to work without a salary. "We don't want to draw up such contracts and pretend to pay people," a Jehovah's Witness complained to Forum 18. "We want to be honest. Why should we be forced to lie?" The permits for two Italian volunteers expire on 27 February. Many religious communities – including all Muslim communities and some Protestant churches – do not have legal status and so cannot even apply to invite foreign citizens to work with them.

29 January 2008

MOLDOVA: President attacks freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Brussels and Moscow

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has attacked the Bessarabian Metropolitanate's religious freedom on visits to Brussels and Moscow, Forum 18 News Service notes. During a press conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on 14 January, Voronin stated that he had not ever threatened to revoke the registration of the Metropolitanate. He then claimed its existence could lead to a Kosovo-style conflict. Repeating his attacks after meeting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy, Voronin claimed that the Metropolitanate "is part of Romania's aggressive policy." Presidential spokesperson Natalia Visanu told Forum 18 that "he merely said that if there are problems it could come to the point of looking again at its registration," she told Forum 18. Asked about the Kosovo-style conflict claim, Visanu stated that "the President said (..) the government could look at the question of not fulfilling the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)." The Metropolitanate only achieved registration after a fine imposed on Moldova by the ECtHR, as also happened with the True Orthodox Church. A wide range of Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim communities are still denied registration.

28 January 2008

MOLDOVA: Were check-ups aimed at congregations or migrants?

Moldova's expulsion of Romanian priests serving in the Bessarabian Orthodox Metropolitanate is part of a campaign of harassment of the Church, Forum 18 News Service has found. The Church also faces check-ups by the police and the Information and Security Service (SIS), as do Orthodox parishes under the Moscow and Kiev Patriarchates. One Jehovah's Witness congregation has also been checked. The authorities insist that the check-ups were to catch illegal immigrants, however leaders of religious communities state that officials were much more interested in the functioning of congregations. More than 60 Bessarabian parish priests have faced intrusive check-ups. Deacon Andrei Deleu of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate told Forum 18 that officers said "they have instructions from the Prime Minister." The Jehovah's Witness congregation asked police to put their reasons in writing. After police were shown their statute specifying that the congregation functions in the district, the police went away.

4 January 2008

MOLDOVA: Christmas expulsions of four Romanian Orthodox priests

Four Romanian Orthodox Church priests are being expelled from Moldova as their Bessarabian Orthodox Metropolitanate prepares to celebrate Christmas on 7 January, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Two parishes have been deprived of priests as Fr Ion Bigea and Fr Constantin Dumitrascu were denied entry to Moldova when they tried to return to their parishes, in Fr Bigea's case after earlier being fined. Two more priests, Fr Iulian Budescu and Fr Ion Tivlea, also face expulsion. Fr Budescu has been told by the authorities that he must leave by 6 January. Fr Tivlea has been told that he must leave after a trial for administrative offences on 9 January. Human rights activist Ion Manole, of Promo-Lex, told Forum 18 that "this was specially done close to the Christmas holiday when non-governmental organisations and the media are not working. They [Moldovan authorities] chose this period deliberately."

20 December 2007

TRANSDNIESTER: President initiates order to halt Pentecostal church's public worship

The authorities in the breakaway unrecognised entity of Transdniester have ordered a Pentecostal church to stop meeting for public worship, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Pastor Yuri Semenyuk halted his Pentecostal church's public worship after a warning from Transdniester's senior Prosecutor, which was initiated by the entity's President, Igor Smirnov. "We're trying to abide by the law," Pastor Semenyuk told Forum 18. "Our church meets in a building designated as a private home, and the Prosecutor said this was not allowed." He said the 300-strong congregation has now been forced to meet in small home groups. If the church were to defy the ban and continue to meet as one congregation, Pastor Semenyuk suspects that the authorities would strip the congregation of its legal status. The Deputy Prosecutor insisted to Forum 18 that "in no way is this persecution." Transdniester routinely makes religious activity outside state-approved places of worship difficult.

13 November 2007

TRANSDNIESTER: Religious materials routinely confiscated at border

Protestants, Russian Orthodox and Jehovah's Witnesses have complained of continuing problems in bringing religious literature and objects through checkpoints operated by the unrecognised entity of Transdniester, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Religious material is routinely confiscated, the most recent known case being a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr Oleg Cernat, whose car was impounded for four days as he did not declare church candles. After agreeing to take the candles home, Fr Cernat's car was stopped again and he was also accused of driving away from the checkpoint without authorisation. Religious communities such as Baptists complain that confiscated literature is frequently not returned, and only members of registered communities are allowed to import literature. Transdniester is considering a draft Religion Law, which proposes to - amongst other restrictions - stop religious communities which do not have legal status from producing and importing literature.

31 October 2007

TRANSDNIESTER: Restrictive draft Religion Law proposed

A restrictive draft Religion Law is being proposed in the parliament of the unrecognised entity of Transdniester, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The new draft – if adopted – would stop any new religious communities, unaffiliated to existing registered denominations, from gaining legal status for ten years. This would deny them the right to produce and import literature, set up religious colleges, and invite religious workers from outside Transdniester. Independent Protestant congregations or faiths such as the Jehovah's Witnesses are likely to be most affected. But also hard hit is likely to be a newly-established diocese of the Bessarabian Orthodox Church. Local Russian Orthodox Church officials, as well as Transdniester state officials, have already signalled their strong opposition to the new Bessarabian diocese. Vyacheslav Tobukh, the Supreme Soviet deputy who wrote the draft Law, declined to discuss specific concerns with Forum 18 but defended his text.

17 October 2007

TRANSDNIESTER: Car returned but not Christian magazines

As several Protestants were about to give out Christian magazines to students on 8 October in Tiraspol in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester republic, two State Security Ministry officers pounced. "It was all over in three minutes," Igor Velikanenko of New Life mission told Forum 18 News Service. The literature and his car were seized. "They must have known in advance that we would be coming, maybe through intercepted phone calls." After Velikanenko and two colleagues were interrogated and threatened over successive days, he was accused of bringing "contraband" material into Transdniester and fined. "Anyone would think I had smuggled in illegal cigarettes, alcohol or drugs." He received his car back on 17 October but State Security officials refuse to give back the literature. State Security and religious affairs officials refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. Jehovah's Witnesses say 200 copies of a magazine were seized in Bendery after a Witness tried to bring them into Transdniester from Moldova in early October.

6 August 2007

MOLDOVA: Will new Religion Law end arbitrary legal status denials?

Moldova's new Religion Law, now awaiting promulgation, may end the state's arbitrary denials of registration, and hence legal status, to religious communities it dislikes. These include all Muslims, smaller Orthodox Churches and many Protestant Churches, and has led to two large fines being imposed on Moldova by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. But some have told Forum 18 News Service that they are sceptical. Serghei Ostaf of the Resource Centre for Human Rights told Forum 18 that "I fear there will be problems. Nothing functions in Moldova as it is supposed to. Officials are very creative in finding obstructions, when they don't want to do something." Without legal status, religious communities cannot carry out a wide range of peaceful religious activities. Ostaf fears officials will pressure members of disfavoured religious communities not to sign registration applications. "Leaders of one Muslim community told me their members are already being pressured not to take part in religious activity."

3 August 2007

MOLDOVA: Religion Law again with President, but concerns remain

Moldovan religious minorities have told Forum 18 News Service of their concerns over the "special importance and leading role" the new Religion Law gives the Russian Orthodox Church. This "will be used to justify measures against other faiths," Valeriu Ghiletchi of the Baptist Union stated. There are also concerns about the Law's controversial ban on "abusive proselytism," which many fear could be misused. Serghei Ostaf of the Resource Centre for Human Rights told Forum 18 that "Abusive proselytism is a very strange concept which will limit freedom of expression." After the Law was initially vetoed by President Vladimir Voronin it has now been revised by Parliament and sent back to him. The President initially refused to approve the Law and made several demands, including that the Law require that "the state must have special cooperative relations with the traditional Orthodox Church", and that a provision authorising "spreading faith" be removed. These points were accepted.

16 May 2007

MOLDOVA: Controversial Religion Law suddenly rushed through Parliament

Religious minorities have told Forum 18 News Service of concerns over provisions that might still be in Moldova's long-promised new Religion Law, which has been suddenly rushed through its final reading in Parliament. No-one will be able to read the Law until it has been promulgated by the President and published in the Official Monitor. But Christian Democrat deputy Stefan Secareanu, who chaired the committee which prepared the draft Law, rejected suggestions that the Law has been adopted without proper consultation. "Let people who want to read the text be patient," he told Forum 18. Religious minorities' concerns, apart from the secrecy of the final text, focus on the ban on "abusive proselytism" and the impossibility of religious communities with fewer than 100 adult members gaining legal status. In sharp contrast, members of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moldova complain that the Law does not restrict freedom of thought, conscience and belief enough.

8 March 2007

MOLDOVA: Why does the government violate religious freedom?

Despite the latest judgement by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg against the Moldovan government, for refusing to grant legal status to the True Orthodox Church, Moldovan human rights activists have told Forum 18 News Service that they are sceptical that the situation will improve. Vladislav Gribincea, of Lawyers for Human Rights, told Forum 18 that the State Service for Religious Denominations "doesn't want to" register any other religious communities. "It needs political will to change this, and I don't think it is there." Sergei Ostaf, of the Resource Centre for Human Rights, insisted that "the system needs urgent reform to bring it into line with international standards." The Bessarabian Church – which won an ECtHR judgement in its favour in 2001 – has written to the ECtHR to complain about continued refusal to register individual parishes, as well as lodging two separate ECtHR cases about continued state violations of its right to religious freedom.

8 March 2007

MOLDOVA: Government fined again by ECtHR for legal status denial

Five years after a December 2001 fine by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, for denying legal status to the Bessarabian Orthodox Church, the Moldovan government has once again been heavily fined for refusing to grant legal status to a religious community – this time the Moldovan True Orthodox Church. The State Service for Religious Denominations repeatedly refused to register the Church, despite repeated Moldovan court orders to do so. No state official – whether at the State Service, the Justice Ministry, the Foreign Ministry or the Moldovan representation to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg - was prepared to discuss with Forum 18 News Service the reasons for the state's refusal to register the True Orthodox Church, the local branch of the Orthodox Kiev Patriarchate, various Muslim communities and numerous Protestant churches. As Moldova persists in refusing to register religious communities, this is unlikely to be the last time that the ECtHR fines the government for this type of religious freedom violation.

26 January 2007

MOLDOVA: New Religion Law to be passed in early February?

Moldova's long-promised new Religion Law may be passed by Parliament on 9 February, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. However, the draft Law has provisions which cause concern to religious minorities, including a lack of clarity about how many members will be needed to get legal status, and what the definitions of "abusive proselytism" - which is to be forbidden - and "religious hatred" - which registered religious communities are to be protected from - are. Amongst other provisions causing concern is that registered religious communities are to have the "exclusive right" to publish or import religious literature. Serghei Ostaf of the Resource Centre for Human Rights has complained to Forum 18 of the "closed, non-transparent process" of adopting the Law. The Moldovan government has refused to allow a Council of Europe assessment of the Law to be made public, and has not told the Council of Europe whether its comments have been incorporated into the draft Law.

24 January 2007

MOLDOVA: Arbitrary legal status denials continue

In Moldova, all Muslim organisations, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, the Ukrainian Orthodox Kiev Patriarchate and a variety of Protestant congregations, have complained to Forum 18 News Service about arbitrary state denials of their right to legal status. The State Service for Religious Communities has even defied court orders to register specific denominations. The only religious community known to have gained registration in recent years is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormons), who only received legal status after five US Senators wrote to Moldova's President. "Many things in Moldova happen only because of foreign pressure," Serghei Ostaf of the Chisinau-based Resource Centre for Human Rights told Forum 18. "It is bad if those without important voices abroad can't get justice." Without legal status, religious communities are denied the legal possibility of a wide variety of normal activities.

4 August 2006

TRANSDNIESTER: Why are authorities summoning Orthodox priests?

The Russian Orthodox bishop responsible for the unrecognised Transdniester Republic, in eastern Moldova, is not allowing priests of his diocese to attend meetings called by the unrecognised entity's senior religious affairs official, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Pyotr Zalozhkov, who reports to Transdniester's President Igor Smirnov, has in recent weeks ordered priests to bring to meetings copies of the parish statute, the document from the bishop appointing them to their position, their certificate as a priest and their personal identity document. Religious affairs official Tamara Kovalchuk, Zalozhkov's assistant, has dismissed Orthodox concerns. "We've had these meetings last year and this," she told Forum 18. "All religious leaders must be accredited. We need to know who the leader of any religious organisation is." Other faiths too, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, also face obstruction from the Transdniester authorities.

1 August 2006

MOLDOVA: Is children's camp "normal" or "unsanitary"?

After attempts by health officials and police with guns and truncheons to close a children's camp, Baptists have denied to Forum 18 News Service claims that the camp is "unsanitary." "The authorities say there are bad conditions for the children at the camp – after they themselves cut off the water," Baptist leader Ivan Fonaryuk told Forum 18. But local Mayor Iurie Onofrichuk claimed that "there's the danger of an epidemic." The children's camp has been running since 2002, and has had good relations with the local Sanitary Epidemiological Service. A German Baptist at the camp told Forum 18 that "compared with homes and other facilities in the district there is no great difference – or perhaps the camp is better." The appointment of a new local health official marked the start of the Baptist's problems – despite a senior police official, who inspected the camp, reporting that conditions are "normal". Police are currently posted at the gates, to try to stop Baptists entering. It remains unclear why local authorities are this year trying to close the camp.

25 April 2006

UKRAINE: "Uncanonical and diabolical schismatics shouldn't exist"

Fr Anatol Curtev, a priest of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate of the Romanian Orthodox Church, is sceptical that the authorities will protect him and his parish in the village of Kamyshovka in the far south-west of Ukraine from violence. He and his parishioners claimed to Forum 18 News Service that the village's Russian Orthodox priest Fr Aleksei Grecu hit him on the head just before they started their separate liturgies on 12 March to mark the Sunday of Orthodoxy, and that Fr Grecu organised a brutal attack on him in the station of the nearby town of Izmail on 12 April. "It's a complete lie – I didn't hit him [Fr Curtev] or organise the attack," Fr Grecu told Forum 18, but admitted he was interviewed by police. "But if he's doing evil, what are we supposed to do? They're uncanonical and diabolical schismatics who shouldn't exist on Ukrainian territory." Fr Grecu dismissed any idea that the Bessarabian parish has any religious freedom rights. "We're not for democracy – we're Orthodox."

26 July 2005

MOLDOVA: Government "should register Muslims", says OSCE

The State Service for Religious Communities defied the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in refusing to register a Muslim community in the capital Chisinau, despite a letter from OSCE ambassador William Hill to deputy prime minister Andrei Stratan. "Moldova should register the Muslim communities, in the same way as other religious communities are registered," Claus Neukirch of the OSCE mission in Moldova told Forum 18 News Service. Bishop Antoni (Rudei) leads the six parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in Moldova, which has also been refused registration. He told Forum 18 that since the 6 March elections which saw the return to power of the Communist Party, police agents have been sent to his churches to find out what the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is doing. "This was an excuse to keep us on tenterhooks," the bishop claimed.

21 July 2005

MOLDOVA: Why are Muslim registration applications rejected?

An application for state registration from the Spiritual Organisation of Muslims in Moldova has once again been rejected, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Without registration, religious communities cannot have a bank account, publish literature, or build a prominent place of worship. The Muslim community has been trying since 2000 to gain legal status, and has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad – also denied state registration - has also appealed to the ECtHR. The Bessarabian Orthodox Church, which is under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate, was only registered after the ECtHR fined the government for arbitrarily denying registration. Talgat Masaev, who leads a Muslim community in the capital Chisinau, told Forum 18 that the latest application was lodged on 28 June and rejected on 11 July. Officials have refused to tell Forum 18 the reason for the rejection.

1 June 2005

OSCE COMMITMENTS: CENTRAL ASIA: OSCE Conference on Intolerance regional survey

As participants prepare for the forthcoming OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance, Forum 18 News Service notes that religious believers face intolerance in the form of attacks on their internationally agreed rights to religious freedom – mainly from their governments – in many countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states religious communities are still being vilified, fined and imprisoned for peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are being broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied state registration and hence the domestic legal right to exist. Events in Uzbekistan offer one warning of what the persistent intolerance of religious freedom and other internationally agreed human rights can lead to.

13 May 2005

KAZAKHSTAN: "Draconian amendments" approved by Majilis

"The ban on the activity of unregistered religious associations and the draconian amendments to the administrative code significantly limit believers' rights," Aleksandr Klyushev, of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan (AROK) told Forum 18 News Service after 12 May Majilis parliamentary approval of sweeping "national security" amendments to eleven laws. The parliamentary debate had been expected on 18 May, but was suddenly brought forward. Klyushev said to Forum 18 that "deputies discovered that the discussion of the draft would take place on 11 May only on the day of the session. I believe this was done deliberately to prevent deputies from preparing for the consideration of the draft and from submitting amendments." Communist party deputy Yerasyl Abylkasymov told Forum 18 that "in the time of Genghis Khan such ideological saboteurs were hung, drawn and quartered. Alas it is now unfortunately not possible to do this and so we have to defend ourselves by means of laws." Having been approved by the Majilis, the lower house of parliament, the amendments now go to the upper house, the Senate, for approval.

5 May 2005

UKRAINE: Russian hand behind Japanese monk's entry denial?

Ukraine's security police have refused to explain to Forum 18 News Service why Japanese Buddhist monk and teacher Junsei Teresawa was taken off the train from Poland last night (4 May) and refused entry, while his valid visa was cancelled. But security police spokesperson Marina Ostapenko vigorously denied it is because Ukraine is following Russia's secret police blacklist. "If Ukraine barred him entry he must have done something here," she insisted to Forum 18 News Service. "What's it got to do with Russia?" Teresawa described the ban to Forum 18 as "unjust, unreasonable and unconstitutional".

16 March 2005

COMMENTARY: No religious freedom without democracy: a lesson from "Orange Ukraine"

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's surprise announcement last month of the abolition of the State Committee for Religious Affairs is a powerful signal to the rest of the region that governments should end their meddling in religious life, argues former Soviet political prisoner Professor Myroslav Marynovych, who is now vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University http://www.ucu.edu.ua in Lviv, in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. He regards the feeling in Ukraine that the communist model of controlling religion is now dead as the greatest gain of the "Orange Revolution" in the sphere of religion. Yet Professor Marynovych warns that other countries will find it hard to learn from the proclaimed end of Ukrainian government interference in religious matters without wider respect for human rights and accountable government. Without democratic change – which should bring in its wake greater freedom for religious communities from state control and meddling - it is unlikely that religious communities will escape from government efforts to control them.

9 September 2004

OSCE COMMITMENTS: OSCE CONFERENCE ON DISCRIMINATION – A REGIONAL SURVEY

Ahead of the OSCE Conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination on 13-14 September 2004 in Brussels, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org surveys some of the more serious discriminatory actions against religious believers that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration. Forum 18 believes most of the serious problems affecting religious believers in the eastern half of the OSCE region come from government discrimination.

2 September 2004

COMMENTARY: Away with legal discrimination - Serbia shouldn't follow Austria

The Serbian draft law on religion follows Austria's hastily passed 1998 law in dividing religious communities into different categories with differing legal rights, thus institutionalising religious discrimination, comments Dr. Reinhard Kohlhofer, an Austrian lawyer specialising in religious freedom, in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. The Austrian law is a bad example for Serbia to follow, Dr. Kohlhofer argues, having been severely criticised by international lawyers, and also being the subject of a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case, with a decision expected in the next few months. In a 1993 case involving Greece, the ECtHR ruled that "freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a democratic society" and that "the pluralism indissociable from a democratic society .. depends on it." Dr. Kohlhofer goes on to state that there is no justification for states to legally discriminate between or against religious communities, and that democracy demands nothing less than the elimination of all forms of legal discrimination.

21 July 2004

MOLDOVA: Why can't Muslims or Russian Orthodox Church Abroad register?

Muslim and Orthodox communities have been repeatedly denied state registration, despite the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad winning a case against the government in the Moldovan Supreme Court. Two of the communities have told Forum 18 News Service that they have now appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The ECtHR fined Moldova in 2002 for denying the Romanian Orthodox Church registration, and the government subsequently registered the church. Unregistered religious communities can be fined, and they cannot hold a bank account, publish literature in their own name, or build a prominent place of worship. State officials have refused to tell the communities or Forum 18 why the registration applications have been repeatedly refused.

5 May 2004

TRANSDNIESTER: Harsh draft religion law rejected – for now

A harsh draft new religion law in the unrecognised Transdniestr republic has been rejected, but the senior religious affairs official has insisted to Forum 18 News Service that it will be adopted, indicating that it has the support of the breakaway republic's president, Igor Smirnov. The draft gave the authorities draconian "control powers in relation to the activity of religious organisations" and attracted criticism from the Orthodox Church, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, and Jehovah's Witnesses, amongst others. Orthodox Bishop Iustinian likened the proposed powers to those of Soviet times, and said that such state religious affairs offices were an anachronism. Despite this initial rejection of the draft law, plans remain to amend the Criminal Code to increase punishments for "illegal activity of sects", including youth and adult work, increasing fines 15 times and imprisoning offenders for up to a year.

11 March 2004

MOLDOVA: Muslims vow to defy "illegal" worship ban

Police banned a Muslim community in the capital Chisinau from meeting for worship after raiding the place where they meet after Friday prayers on 5 March. They detained several Muslims and three Syrian citizens were expelled from the country. "The situation is getting worse, with the police arriving at least every other week," community leader Talgat Masaev told Forum 18 News Service. He and a colleague have been repeatedly fined for leading a community which does not have state registration, although the fines so far have been overturned. Forum 18 has been unable to find out from officials why police raid the Muslim community and have refused it registration for the past four years. "They have the right to meet without registration, provided they do not break the law," human rights activist Stefan Uritu insisted.

2 December 2003

COMMENTARY: What about religious freedom?

In this personal commentary contributed to Forum 18 News Service www.forum18.org , Arie de Pater, director of Jubilee Campaign NL, argues that the European Union (EU) should pay greater attention to restrictions on religious freedom in many of the ten states which will join the EU in May 2004 (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia & Slovenia) and in states that hope to join any further expansion (Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania & Turkey potentially due from 2007). Drawing on a report on religious freedom in the candidate countries, compiled by Jubilee Campaign NL with the assistance of Forum 18 and others, published today (2 December 2003), he notes that even in the first batch of accession countries, criticism of religious law and practice can be levelled at the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. He questions why the European Commission's 2003 Comprehensive Regular Report makes no criticism of Bulgaria's new denominations act, which has been sharply criticised in Bulgaria and abroad.

10 September 2003

TRANSDNIESTER: Did Orthodox join police in crushing Baptist street library?

Baptist pastor Vasili Timoshchuk alleges that Orthodox priest Fr Igor Konstantyushko confiscated the books from a Baptist street library in Krasnoe on 30 August and called the police to detain the library organiser, Aleksandr Kulysh. "I can't believe this. Fr Igor doesn't command the police. That's a state matter," Orthodox diocesan secretary Fr Dionisy Abramov told Forum 18 News Service, though he admitted he had not enquired of the priest if he had broken up the library or not. Kulysh could now be fined. The authorities of the separatist republic of Transdniester in eastern Moldova have a history of impeding distribution of literature by Baptists and other religious minorities they dislike. The incident came three weeks after Transdniestran customs seized copies of a Baptist journal, which have still not been returned. Forum 18 has been unable to find out why they were seized.

5 September 2003

TRANSDNIESTER: Methodists live "twilight existence," leader claims

The two Methodist congregations in the separatist republic of Transdniester in eastern Moldova live a twilight existence, their leader reports. "We can't rent anywhere for services and we can't afford to buy property. We have to meet semi-legally in private flats," Dmitri Hantil told Forum 18 News Service. He said their local registration applications in 1997 and again in 2000 had stalled as they refused to pay a bribe of at least 500 US dollars sought by Pyotr Zalozhkov, the commissioner of religion and cults. Forum 18 tried to reach Zalozhkov but his phone went unanswered. The Methodists have also sought registration with the Moldovan authorities – so far in vain.

9 July 2003

OSCE COMMITMENTS: OSCE MEETING ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION - A REGIONAL SURVEY

Before the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Religion or Belief on 17-18 July 2003, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org/ surveys some of the more serious abuses of religious freedom that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration.

29 April 2003

TRANSDNIESTER: Police move to crush Baptist street libraries

Authorities in Bendery (Tighina) in the unrecognised republic of Transdniester in eastern Moldova have moved to crush a street library run by local Baptists. A Baptist statement reaching Forum 18 News Service reported that on 20 April police confiscated all the books for a second time. "This activity is illegal in Transdniester," the city police chief Valeri Smyk told Forum 18. The local security ministry insisted that the matter was nothing to do with them. The Baptists – who reject registration on principle – have long complained about harassment from the Transdniestran authorities, which insist that because they are not registered they should not be allowed to function.