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14 October 2010

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.

1 October 2010

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."

30 September 2010

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.

8 September 2010

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.

24 June 2010

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."

23 June 2010

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".

18 June 2010

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.

1 April 2010

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.

31 March 2010

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.

24 February 2010

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.

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