8 October 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Five latest freedom of religion or belief prisoners of conscience

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Azerbaijan's latest prisoners of conscience are five Sunni Muslims jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief. They were arrested in court on 7 October after their sentences were passed and have been transferred to a Baku prison, a friend of the five men told Forum 18 News Service. 46-year-old Ismayil Mammadov was jailed for 5 years 5 months; his brother 45-year-old Zakariya, with 46-year-old Shahin Hasanov, was jailed for 5 years; 41-year-old Eldeniz Hajiyev was jailed for 4 years, 5 months; and 21-year-old Revan Sabzaliyev was jailed for 1 year 7 months. Hasanov is the only one of the five prisoners of conscience to be married. Judge Akshin Afandiyev's assistant Seymur (who would not give his last name) confirmed the sentences to Forum 18 today (8 October). He said the written verdicts would be issued today or soon after. The five were arrested after an April 2014 armed police raid on Muslims meeting together to study Islam with the aid of texts by theologian Said Nursi. Their lawyers were prevented from attending the final court hearing. One male Shia Muslim and two female Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience are still under investigation in the NSM secret police Investigation Prison for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]

7 October 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Wave of prosecutions against "extremist" Muslims

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

In September alone in three different cities of Kazakhstan, at least four alleged members of the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement were convicted and five more imprisoned in pre-trial detention for two months, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In Temirtau, Orazbek Apakashev received a term of three years' imprisonment. A court in the capital Astana imprisoned five alleged members for two months' pre-trial detention at the KNB secret police's request. Forum 18 tried to reach the head of Astana KNB, Kurman Yelyubayev, or any of his deputies. "We're such an organisation that we can't answer your questions," Yelyubayev's assistant said to explain her refusal to transfer the call. Davlet Tlemisov, who led the prosecution in court in Shymkent of three alleged Tabligh Jamaat members, defended the sentences of one year's restricted freedom each. "These are dangerous people," he told Forum 18. He then admitted that they had not set off bombs, nor murdered anyone, nor incited anyone to commit crimes. "They hold meetings and discussions directed at violating the constitutional system," he claimed, but refused to explain. [read more...]

1 October 2015

AZERBAIJAN: "We forbid religious books – but this isn't religious discrimination"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

As legal changes are set to make the state religious censorship even tighter, Gunduz Ismayilov, a deputy chair of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations – which enacts the state censorship – says that large-scale distribution of works by Muslim theologian Said Nursi is "not appropriate". He made the assertion in a letter to Ismayil Mammadov, one of five Sunni Muslims facing up to six years' imprisonment in Baku for distributing religious literature. The trial is likely to end on 5 October, the lawyer Asabali Mustafayev told Forum 18 News Service. The State Committee has already banned the import of nine Jehovah's Witness publications in 2015 so far. "We forbid religious books – but this isn't religious discrimination," a junior State Committee official told Forum 18. [read more...]

29 September 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Fines, deportations, criminal trials to punish meetings for worship and study

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Two Turkish citizens arrived in the Azerbaijan capital Baku on 19 September to take part in a meeting of prayer and study ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. That evening police and secret police officers raided the meeting in a home, taking 85 people for questioning and confiscating 3,000 religious books. On 20 September, the two Turks were fined and ordered deported. Five local Sunni Muslims were also fined. Although the court decision had not entered legal force, the Migration Service deported the two Turks on 21 September, their lawyer Asabali Mustafayev complained to Forum 18 News Service. A secret police officer insisted to Forum 18 the meeting had been "illegal", but refused to explain how a meeting for worship in a home could be illegal. Five Jehovah's Witnesses have failed to overturn convictions for meeting for study and worship in a Baku home raided by police in April. And the criminal trial of five Sunni Muslims to punish them for participating in a religious meeting is due to resume for what might be the last session on 5 October. The prosecutor is demanding up to six years' imprisonment for each. [read more...]

25 September 2015

TAJIKISTAN: Communities' foreign contacts blocked, websites banned, Central Asia's only legal religious-based political party banned

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service, and
Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Several of Tajikistan's non-Muslim registered religious communities have told Forum 18 News Service that since early 2015 state officials have consistently rejected their requests to be allowed to invite fellow-believers from abroad to participate in religious events. The Orthodox Church was refused permission to invite two scholars from Uzbekistan to a July conference. Other religious communities asked Forum 18 not to name them for fear of state reprisals or to identify their would-be foreign guests. Officials have refused to explain the reasons for the ban, which appears to be part of a government desire to reduce religious communities’ foreign contacts. The state has also blocked access to some websites, including one run by prominent Tajik Muslim scholars. Also, 10 Jehovah's Witnesses, including two women framed by a police agent provocateur, have been fined for "teaching religion unlawfully". And Central Asia's only legal religious-based political party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, has been banned and its senior party figures arrested. [read more...]

24 September 2015

BELARUS: Orthodox Archbishop denied entry, another conscientious objector show trial

by Olga Glace, Forum 18 News Service

The Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church's parish in the capital Minsk has abandoned attempts to gain state registration after US-based Archbishop Sviatoslav (Lohin) was denied entry to Belarus in late July, Fr Leonid Akalovich has told Forum 18 News Service. This is the first ban on a pastoral visit by the Archbishop. Fr Akalovich stressed that the Church would like to have legal status. Without registration it has to keep a low profile, as under the Religion Law, any exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief without state approval is illegal. Officials have refused to explain to Forum 18 why they denied the Church registration and gave spurious reasons for this – including that the Church is allegedly new although its current statute was drafted in 1927. Also, Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Dmitry Chorba still faces attempts to conscript him, despite both criminal and administrative charges being dropped. Another Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector, Viktor Kalina, was acquitted at his criminal trial. Both trials were before apparently selected audiences to deter other young men from refusing military service. [read more...]

21 September 2015

RUSSIA: Religious literature banned and blocked

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Outrage among Muslims followed the August banning by a Sakhalin court of a Koranic commentary as "extremist", apparently basing the decision on statements of monotheism in Koranic verses. Three appeals have now been lodged, one of them by the Prosecutor's Office which requested the original ban. Widespread public protests have been successful following earlier religious literature banning cases in Russia, Forum 18 News Service notes. Jehovah's Witnesses in Belgorod have failed to overturn both a ban on two more of their publications and an order that they should pay for the court-ordered "expert analysis" used to prove the texts' "extremism". Muslims in Pervouralsk have failed to overturn a decision that the FSB security service will conduct an "expert analysis" of works prosecutors are seeking to have banned as "extremist", again at the expense of the religious community. And Jehovah's Witnesses have failed to overturn a ban on 4,000 of their Bibles and other literature confiscated at the border as "supposedly prohibited from being imported". [read more...]

18 September 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Over 160 year wait to go on haj pilgrimage?

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Uzbekistan continues severely restricting the Muslims who can on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca, Forum 18 News Service notes. The state imposes severe restrictions on the numbers of pilgrims and refuses to explain why it does this. People can only get onto the extremely long pilgrimage waiting lists after extensive scrutiny by state agencies including the NSS secret police. Shaira Sadygbekova of Ezgulik human rights organisation has calculated that she will need to live to be 205 years old to reach the top of the waiting list. The head of her mahalla (city district) – one of the agencies which decides who gets onto waiting lists – told Forum 18 that she "will be able to go in 20 or 30 years". Even if people reach the top of the waiting list they may be arbitrarily denied an exit visa to go on pilgrimage. State-run banks often refuse to distribute enough hard currency to pilgrims, according to human rights defenders including Surat Ikramov. A wide variety of state officials have refused to discuss the problems with Forum 18. [read more...]