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19 October 2012

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

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

10 September 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: Fears over latest Uzbek extradition case

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

13 August 2012

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

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

25 July 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Two women deported for exercising religious freedom

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

11 June 2012

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.

30 May 2012

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.

22 May 2012

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".

9 May 2012

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.

8 May 2012

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.

30 April 2012

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".

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