26 January 2015

CRIMEA: "Subject to action by the law-enforcement agencies"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Crimea's Russian-backed head of government Sergei Aksyonov "gave people the opportunity" to hand in religious and other literature the Russian authorities regard as "extremist" during a moratorium on prosecutions which expired at the end of 2014. "Those who didn't will be subject to action by the law-enforcement agencies," Aksyonov's spokesperson Yekaterina Polonchuk told Forum 18 News Service. Although raids, literature seizures and administrative fines for religious books the Russian authorities regard as "extremist" seem to have reduced during the moratorium, they did not stop. Muslims and librarians are particular targets of administrative fines, while an attempt to fine Simferopol's Jehovah's Witness community was sent back in November 2014. [read more...]

22 January 2015

RUSSIA: Punishments continue for religious literature

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

In October 2014, Ramazan mosque in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg was fined 50,000 Roubles – equivalent to nine months' official minimum wage – for possessing religious literature which does not appear to incite violence or hatred. The mosque's imam Albert Bayazitov was formally warned about the inadmissibility of "extremist" activity. A court rejected the appeal against the fine in December 2014. This was among 18 administrative cases in 14 different regions of Russia in the last four months of 2014 identified by Forum 18 News Service in which individuals or organisations were punished for possessing religious literature the authorities deem "extremist". Forum 18 asked Russia's Justice Ministry in writing in September 2014 whether it is right that people should be punished for possessing religious texts which do not incite hatred. More than four months on, it has received no response. [read more...]

21 January 2015

TAJIKISTAN: Thoughtcrime banned

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Tajikistan continues to penalise people exercising their freedom of religion or belief for their ideas, not their actions, Forum 18 News Service notes. The Supreme Court has decided that Salafi Muslims are "extremist". Court Deputy Chair Makhmudjon Ashurov replied "I cannot tell" when asked by Forum 18 what the difference between this and the 2009 ban on Salafis is. Mavlon Mukhtarov, Deputy Head of the State Committee for Religious Affairs (SCRA), claimed to Forum 18 that Salafis are "extremist" because they "attend Tajik sunni mosques and pray differently, and they also argue with Mosque attendees about the teachings of Islam." Police in Vahdat have arrested and taken into custody two Muslim men after raids. Criminal cases have been opened against them for teaching school-aged children the Koran and Islam. The families are afraid to give details of the raids and arrests. The SCRA has warned in writing various Protestant churches that they must not allow children to be at meetings for worship, but threats to suspend the church's activity have yet to be carried out. Supreme Court Deputy Chair Ashurov did not answer when asked what Tajikistan intends to do to remove the contradiction between its international human rights obligations and the Religion and Parental Responsibility Laws. [read more...]

20 January 2015

CRIMEA: Convent closed following nuns' enforced departure

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Nearly 18 years after the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary established a small convent in the Crimean capital Simferopol to help in pastoral work in the city's Roman Catholic parish, it has had to close. The three nuns – who are from elsewhere in Ukraine and Poland – were refused extensions to their residence permits and had to leave in November 2014, a month after the parish priest was similarly forced to leave. "Just one priest remains in Simferopol to serve the Catholic parish," diocesan chancellor Fr Krzysztof Kontek lamented to Forum 18 News Service. "He has to do everything now by himself." December 2014 saw the last of the 23 Turkish imams and religious teachers forced to leave Crimea, bringing to an end a 20-year-old programme. Officials of Russia's Federal Migration Service insisted to Forum 18 that only registered religious communities are able to invite foreign citizens. No religious organisations in Crimea currently have legal status under Russian law and thus none are able to invite foreign citizens. [read more...]

14 January 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Four 20-month prison terms, one 18-month term

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Four alleged members of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat – Bakyt Nurmanbetov, Aykhan Kurmangaliyev, Sagyndyk Tatubayev and Kairat Esmukhambetov – were sentenced today (14 January) to 20-months' imprisonment each, human rights defender Aliya Akhmediyeva of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law told Forum 18 News Service. Judge Sara Zhanbyrbayeva of Taldykorgan City Court sentenced the fifth - Ruslan Kairanov – to 18-months' imprisonment. Like a December 2014 Tabligh Jamaat–related criminal trial, this too was largely held in secret. Akhmediyeva saw transcripts of talks at religious meetings held in Nurmanbetov's home – apparently recorded by the KNB secret police. "I could find nothing inflammatory or inciting crime in these transcripts," she told Forum 18. [read more...]

12 January 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: "Social justice" the Kazakh way

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Nikolai Novikov has been fined three times in two years, jailed for five days, placed on Kazakhstan's exit ban list (with a restraining order placed on his car) and now faces his garage being confiscated. The Baptist from West Kazakhstan Region refuses to pay any of the fines imposed for meeting for worship without state permission. Also in December, Aset Doskeyev of Almaty's Religious Affairs Department wrote to local registered religious communities that holding meetings for worship away from state registered places of worship is an offence. He refused to discuss his letter with Forum 18 News Service. And another Baptist, Maksim Volikov, was fined the equivalent of one month's average salary for talking to people about his faith and offering them religious literature without state permission. Jehovah's Witnesses are also prosecuted for committing this "offence". Judge Nurlan Nuralin ordered Volikov's books to be confiscated and the fine imposed "for the restitution of social justice". And the criminal trial of five alleged members of the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement is due to conclude soon. [read more...]

19 December 2014

KAZAKHSTAN: No freedom of religion or belief "unless they have registration", Anti-Terrorism Police claim

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Kazakhstan – in defiance of its binding international legal obligations – demands that groups of people can exist as a religious community and exercise freedom of religion or belief only if they have state permission. Permission to exist is gained via state registration, yet even this does not stop officials trying to stop people exercise this fundamental human rights, Forum 18 News Service notes. The most recent known examples of communities facing such official obstruction are: the Full Gospel Church in Atyrau where the Anti-Terrorism Police with the Justice Department are bullying people identifying themselves as founders on registration applications, and trying to stop the Church meeting for worship without state permission; the Din-Muhammad Mosque community in Petropavl whose Mosque has been liquidated, but are still struggling against "legal" and extra-legal harassment to try to gain registration; and the registered Hare Krishna community in Kostanai who have been raided by police and their leader fined, and has appealed to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee to be able to exercise freedom of religion or belief without fear of criminal or administration punishment. [read more...]

16 December 2014

RUSSIA: Kaliningrad and Moscow struggles for places of worship

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

In Russia's capital Moscow Hare Krishna devotees are appealing against a unilaterally terminated land lease and the denial of building permission for a temple by the authorities. "We will pursue both cases through every level of the courts, to be able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights", the community's lawyer told Forum 18 News Service. Long-standing official obstructions also continue in Moscow for other disfavoured faiths in the capital, such as Muslims and Protestants. Muslims in Kaliningrad have already appealed to the ECtHR in their efforts to overcome official obstructions and complete their mosque. "In Russia no hope remains of correcting this illegal judicial act", their lawyer told Forum 18 News Service. Kaliningrad's Jewish community, trying to reconstruct their synagogue destroyed in 1938 by the Nazis, is challenging the city administration's denial of a building permit in the Regional Arbitration Court. Local Jewish newspaper editor Sergey Sterlin told Forum 18 that the project is "historical justice..with respect to the victims of the Holocaust and the anti-fascist movement". [read more...]