29 June 2015

BELARUS: Pastor also to face criminal case?

by Olga Glace, Forum 18 News Service

Nearly three weeks after police and riot police raided a Sunday worship service in Gomel in south-east Belarus, a court fined Pastor Sergei Nikolaenko for leading an unapproved religious meeting. A court official refused to put Forum 18 News Service through to the Judge. Nikolaenko's Reformed Orthodox Transfiguration Church has already been banned from meeting and police have searched his and another church member's homes for "sectarian" literature. A criminal charge against him might be in preparation. A third member of a Council of Churches Baptist congregation in nearby Svetlogorsk has been fined for refusing to say who was reading from the Bible when armed police raided the church during Sunday worship in May. Others face similar prosecution, as does the owner of the home where the church meets, church members told Forum 18. And three Hare Krishna devotees were detained in Vitebsk for five hours for offering religious literature on the streets. [read more...]

26 June 2015

CRIMEA: "Expert conclusions" force structure and activity changes

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

"Expert conclusions" by Russia's Justice Ministry Expert Council have led to some Crimean religious organisations having to make changes to get re-registration under Russian law, Forum 18 News Service notes. The Crimean Muftiate had to cut its ties to the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (a political organisation). The nine Catholic parishes had to formally cut ties with their Diocese of Odessa-Simferopol in southern Ukraine and are now in a Pastoral District of Crimea and Simferopol. Yalta's Augsburg Lutheran congregation had to remove a reference to pilgrimages in its statute. It is unclear what may happen if a pilgrimage is organised. "Observations" in the "expert conclusion" on the Tavrida Muftiate – the smaller of the two Crimean Muftiates – have so far blocked its re-registration. Of the 15 communities which have undergone "expert analyses" in Moscow so far in 2015, the Tavrida Muftiate is the only one which has so far failed to gain re-registration after receiving an "expert conclusion". [read more...]

24 June 2015

CRIMEA: Fined for books that "have absolutely nothing to do with the mufti"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Ruslan Saitvaliyev, mufti of the Tavrida Muftiate, has insisted that his fine of nearly a week's average local wage for "extremist" literature is unjust. He says books police and Prosecutor's Office officials claim to have seized during a raid on an independent mosque in the Crimean capital Simferopol have nothing to do with him, a Muslim familiar with the case told Forum 18 News Service. Prosecutor's Office official Anna Ober – who led the raid – refused to discuss it with Forum 18. The warden of a hostel for medical academy students has been fined over two Muslim books found in a prayer room which Russian authorities deem "extremist". And an eighth Baptist has been fined the equivalent of three weeks' average local wages for participating in an open-air religious meeting. However, State Council deputies have dropped a proposed new administrative offence of "religious agitation in public places" in Crimea. [read more...]

18 June 2015

BELARUS: Alternative Service Law "a bad law. But it exists and that's good."

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Belarus has for the first time adopted an Alternative Service Law, to take effect from 1 July 2016. The Law will allow some but not all young men who are conscientious objectors to perform a civilian alternative service instead of compulsory military service. However, Forum 18 News Service notes, only young men with a religious objection will be eligible to apply, not those with non-religious pacifist convictions. It is also unclear whether even all young men with religious objections to military service will be allowed to do civilian alternative service. The new Law is silent on how objectors from communities which are not as a community formally pacifist – such as the Orthodox Church - will be treated. And the length of alternative service will be twice as long as the comparable military service. Human rights defenders and the Jehovah's Witnesses – who refuse to do military service - have welcomed the Law's adoption. Human rights defenders such as Yauhen Asiyeuski of For Alternative Civilian Service stress that they will continue to work to bring the Law into line with international human rights standards. [read more...]

15 June 2015

BELARUS: From raid to ban in 12 days

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

On 31 May police in Belarus with OMON riot police raided the Reformed Orthodox Transfiguration Church's meeting for Sunday worship, held in rented premises in Gomel. On 11 June officials banned the Church from renting premises, therefore banning it from meeting, church members told Forum 18 News Service. Police asked them: "Why do you attend this church and not a normal one?" Officials warned congregation leader Pastor Sergei Nikolaenko – who is already facing trial on Administrative Code charges - that he would be investigated on possible Criminal Code charges. "You can watch a football match or discuss [the poet Aleksandr] Pushkin without permission, but for a religious meeting you need permission", Dmitry Chumakov, the official in charge of religious affairs at Gomel Regional Executive Committee told Forum 18. Two weeks earlier there was a similar armed police raid on the Svetlogorsk congregation of Council of Churches Baptists. "11 more armed police arrived and broke up the service, as if they were coming after bandits", Forum 18 was told. Two congregation members were fined in early June for meeting for worship without state permission. [read more...]

10 June 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Muslim preacher the latest prisoner of conscience

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Kazakhstan's trial of a Muslim prisoner of conscience, Saken Tulbayev, is due to resume sometime after 12 June at an Almaty court, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He has been detained as a prisoner of conscience since 1 April, having been first fined for preaching at a railway station without state permission. A criminal case based on 43 leaflets his family insists were planted during a three-hour police night raid on their home was then opened. Police produced "witnesses" that Tulbayev states he has never met. While in detention he is being denied a Koran and family visits and he faces up to seven years' jail if convicted. But a case against a Baptist, Nikolai Novikov, who refused to pay a fine for exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission seems about to be closed after worldwide protests. "They told me there were so many appeals it seemed that half the world had written", he told Forum 18. The second criminal case against retired Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev appears to have halted. But the case against atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov, who was detained in a psychiatric hospital, continues. [read more...]

8 June 2015

RUSSIA: Bans demanded for "religious superiority", "religious hatred"

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

A judge in the Urals has ordered new analyses of two Muslim books prosecutors are trying to have banned as "extremist", Forum 18 News Service has learned. The first analyses by an FSB security service specialist claimed that a Russian-language collection of hadith (sayings of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed) and an Islamic examination of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity promote "religious superiority" of one faith over others and incite "religious hatred". Similar arguments have been used to ban Jehovah's Witness works as "extremist". The right to believe in the inherent truth and superiority of one's own faith is part of the right to freedom of religion and belief. And, as Ilhom Merazhov – an Islamic scholar defending the two works against the prosecutors' suit - argues, "cannot by itself be regarded as an act aimed at inciting hatred or enmity". Religious publications, websites, webpages and apps continue to be banned as "extremist" elsewhere in Russia. [read more...]

4 June 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Tortured till he lost consciousness

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Officers at Karmana District Police Station, among them Feruz Ruziyev, tortured Murot Turdiyev until he lost consciousness, while another fellow-Protestant was threatened with rape, Protestants complained to Forum 18 News Service. The two were among four Protestant men stopped at a traffic checkpoint. "The Police knows his car, and the licence plate, and seemingly they were informed about their arrival in town, and were waiting for them there," one Protestant told Forum 18. When Forum 18 asked why he had beaten Turdiyev, Officer Ruziyev immediately put the phone down. Gofur Namozov, Chief of Karmana Criminal Police, adamantly denied to Forum 18 that any of the four had been beaten and tortured. "We only questioned them about the many visas and foreign stamps in their passports," he claimed. Administrative cases against the four appear to have been handed to court. Meanwhile police and other officials went almost daily in May to the Karshi home of Guljahon Kuzebayeva, banging on the gates of the yard "like hooligans" and trying to climb over the wall. She has been in hiding since July 2014 to evade arrest for her religious activity. [read more...]