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19 January 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Why does government restrict haj numbers?

It remains unclear why the Uzbek government is limiting the number of adult Muslims who can go on the haj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca that Islam requires. This year, only 4,200 of the more than 6,000 Uzbek citizens who wanted to make the pilgrimage were permitted to go, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The numbers are controlled under an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, by which the Saudis only issue haj visas to Uzbeks whose names are on a list drawn up by representatives of the state Committee for Religious Affairs and the state-controlled muftiate, or Islamic religious leadership. Uzbek state control is further ensured as, unlike in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where haj pilgrims can travel privately, Uzbek Muslims have to travel to Saudi Arabia by air using only the state-run Uzbek Airways. This cost of these flights is prohibitively expensive for most Uzbeks. The minority Shia Muslim community also experiences problems in making the haj with Sunnis.

11 January 2005

KAZAKHSTAN: Justice official "grossly distorting the facts"

Vidya Volkova, head of the Hare Krishna community in Kazakhstan, has told Forum 18 News Service that the deputy head of the Almaty regional justice department, Murat Tanirbergenov, was "grossly distorting the facts" about the land ownership of the only Hare Krishna farming commune in the CIS. Volkova showed Forum 18 legal documents proving ownership, and Tanirbergenov has now backtracked to Forum 18 about some claims he made to a local news agency, saying "we were just generalising about the facts but later, if the procuracy finds it necessary to bring a case, the court will decide on the issue of closing the Krishna commune." Tanirbergenov stood by claims he made – disputed by the commune – that they fail to meet hygiene and fire safety standards and trade illegally. This is the first time that the authorities have officially – as against unofficially - raised the possibility of closing down the Hare Krishna farm, which has been put under pressure since its foundation.

10 January 2005

KAZAKHSTAN: "Quite enough missionaries" in the south?

Both the South Korean-led Synbakyn Protestant church and the Ahmadi Muslim community in southern Kazakhstan have come under pressure from south Kazakh authorities recently, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Late in 2004, the authorities tried to close down the Synbakyn church's seminary, and both foreign Protestant and foreign Ahmadi Muslim missionaries have encountered visa problems. The regional local authority's chief specialist on religious affairs, Vladimir Zharinov, told Forum 18 that "all our region's authorities are trying to do is to ensure that religious associations operate in accordance with the laws of Kazakhstan." But Zharinov could not say in what precise ways religious believers were breaking the law.

7 January 2005

KAZAKHSTAN: No hope for Hope orphanage?

A northern Kazakh local authority has closed a Baptist-run orphanage, although local people say it was one of the best in town – an opinion confirmed by staff of a state-run orphanage, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Baptists fear that the closure of the Hope orphanage, which cared for 30 children, will be followed by the forced closure of the Baptist-run Sion charitable fund, enabling the authority to seize the orphanage building. Businessmen have privately expressed interest in buying the building from the local authority. Questioned by Forum 18, officials dispute the opinions of local people and state orphanage staff, claiming that conditions in the Baptist orphanage were "atrocious," and also stating – falsely – that the Kazakh religion law bars orphanages from operating without state registration. The founder of the Baptist orphanage, Dmitri Yantsen, told Forum 18 that other local orphanages do not have state registration either, "but no-one is bothering them." He believes the real reason for the closure is the increasing severity of Kazakh state policy against religious believers.

8 December 2004

KAZAKHSTAN: Who ordered imam attestations?

Following earlier state pressure to force mosques to join the central Spiritual Administration of Muslims, a government official has denied to Forum 18 News Service that there is any state involvement in the Spiritual Administration's campaign of compulsory re-attestation of imams in South Kazakhstan region. But it has been claimed to Forum 18 that the re-attestation is taking place at the prompting of the state, following the discovery of terrorist training camps in the southern region, which borders Uzbekistan. It is not clear by what authority the re-attestation campaign is taking place, especially as the Spiritual Administration is reportedly using the campaign to try to control whether imams from mosques not in its organisation stay in their posts.

18 October 2004

KAZAKHSTAN: Protestant teacher's crime: "not hiding my religious beliefs"

The KNB secret police has accused a ballet teacher, Vladislav Polskikh, of "a corruption of [children's] objective interpretation of events and adoption of certain life values", and is investigating him under an under an article of the criminal code which can lead to imprisonment of up to two years. Polskikh told Forum 18 News Service that "my only 'crime' is that of not hiding my religious beliefs" from children or parents. Even though this it is not required by Kazakh law, he told parents in writing that he was a Protestant and gained their specific written consent to "the use of any expressions or images connected with his faith during lessons." The KNB is hostile to Polskikh's church, and only began investigating him after he sued a newspaper which accused him of being a paedophile.

12 October 2004

KAZAKHSTAN: Do Police and KNB want to catch criminals?

The police and KNB secret police have shown much more interest in the legal missionary activity of a Protestant church, than in apprehending and prosecuting a group of people who on two separate occasions physically attacked the Pastor and church members, punching them, throwing them from a moving lorry, stealing and destroying religious literature, as well as stealing money and a mobile phone. Such attacks are illegal under Kazakh law, but the police and KNB have repeatedly refused to explain to the church, to the chairman of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan, and to Forum 18 why they seem more interested in missionaries than criminals.

11 October 2004

CHINA: Xinjiang - Linked religious practice and state control levels?

China maintains few controls on religious life in the mountainous Altai [Altay] region in the far north of Xinjiang, Forum 18 News Service has noted, apparently because there are only low levels of Islamic, Buddhist, Pagan, Orthodox and Pentecostal Christian religious practice among the majority ethnic Kazakhs, as well as among Chinese and most other local minorities. In contrast, Forum 18 has observed strict controls in nearby mosques amongst the Muslim Dungan people, and the visit of a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr Vianor Ivanov, was met by the authorities arresting him, as well as questioning virtually all the several dozen elderly Orthodox believers in the city Fr Ivanov visited, before deporting him.

22 September 2004

CHINA: Will Orthodox Christians soon be allowed priests?

China's estimated 3,000 scattered Orthodox Christians may soon be able to have their own priests once again. Since 2003, 18 Chinese Orthodox have been studying in Orthodox seminaries in Russia with the permission of China's State Administration of Religious Affairs. "Now they are happy for Chinese to become priests," an Orthodox source from Shanghai told Forum 18 News Service. But Hong Kong-based Russian Orthodox priest Fr Dionisy Pozdnyayev told Forum 18 it has yet to be decided whether these seminarians will be allowed to become priests in China when they complete their theological education. Fr Dionisy can minister only to foreign citizens in Beijing and Shenzhen, but a Russian priest spent two weeks in June ministering to local Orthodox in Harbin with official permission.

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.

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