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16 May 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious musical banned

By Felix Corley, Forum 18

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

13 May 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Punished for worship meetings; UN appeals

By Felix Corley, Forum 18

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

11 May 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious literature fines, prison, destruction

By Felix Corley, Forum 18

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

22 April 2016

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

By Felix Corley, Forum 18

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

31 March 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Good Friday in Almaty

By Felix Corley, Forum 18

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

28 March 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Three new prison terms, legal advisor next?

By Felix Corley, Forum 18

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

16 March 2016

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

By Felix Corley, Forum 18

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

9 March 2016

KAZAKHSTAN: Crossword books, but no religious literature in prison

By Felix Corley, Forum 18

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

25 February 2016

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

By Felix Corley, Forum 18

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

8 February 2016

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

By Felix Corley, Forum 18

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

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