6 March 2015

RUSSIA: Muslim first known victim of lengthened "extremism" prison terms

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

A 31-year-old Muslim from Ulyanovsk, Bagir Kazikhanov, is preparing to appeal against his sentence of three and a half years' imprisonment for "organisation of extremist activity". He is the first known person to be sentenced under the February 2014 lengthened Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 terms of imprisonment, Forum 18 News Service notes. Two fellow Muslims who received suspended prison terms are also set to appeal, a fellow Muslim told Forum 18. A fourth man is wanted by police. The four met to discuss religion, watch football and study the works of the Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi. Many Russian translations of his works have been banned. The 15th hearing in the criminal trial of two leaders of a Muslim "women's cell" in Krasnoyarsk is due on 1 April. And the eighth hearing in the re-trial of 16 members of the banned Jehovah's Witness community in Taganrog for alleged "extremism" offences was adjourned today (6 March). [read more...]

4 March 2015

UZBEKISTAN: "Pardoned only after repenting and asking the President for forgiveness"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Uzbekistan in February freed six known Muslim prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. The freed prisoners of conscience include sports journalist Hairulla Hamidov and five other Muslim prisoners of conscience who were jailed because they met to study the works of theologian Said Nursi. The five are: Rashid Sharipov, Akmal Abdullayev, Ahmad Rakhmonov, Ahmadjon Primkulov and Kudratullo (last name unknown). All six had served most of their long jail terms. Other prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief are known to be still in jail, including other Muslims who met to study Nursi's works and one Protestant. The five amnestied readers of Nursi's works were "pardoned only after repenting and asking the President [Islam Karimov] for forgiveness", a source from Uzbekistan who knows the men and who asked to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. [read more...]

2 March 2015

RUSSIA: Prosecutions for public evangelism and public meetings for worship

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Communities who exercise freedom of religion or belief in public without Russian state permission may find their members facing five-figure Rouble fines if they do not inform the local authorities in advance, Forum 18 News Service notes. It is possible that changes to the Religion Law may have a positive effect on cases currently before the courts, such as that of a Sochi Protestant leader fined for holding prayers and a Bible study in a rented café. The FSB security service was behind that case, sending officials to attend the meeting. However, a new Criminal Code Article 212.1 may have a chilling effect on exercising freedom of religion or belief in public. The Sochi Bible study group has ceased to meet fearing prosecution under this Article, their lawyer told Forum 18. However, Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis thinks the authorities may seek to avoid prosecuting religious or belief communities under this article. "Political protesters will go first", he thought. [read more...]

25 February 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: "A general unwillingness to properly protect human rights"

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Kazakhstan continues to jail people for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Vasiliy Kliver, a Baptist in Aktobe Region was on 5 February given a 5-day jail term for non-payment of a 2008 fine. Judge Saule Spandiyarova ignored an Administrative Code limitation on punishments when jailing Kliver. He told Forum 18 that: "we are not afraid, and are glad to suffer for the Lord." Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association noted after visiting Kazakhstan in January "a general unwillingness to properly protect human rights in the country, and of a sense of impunity by some officials" He also noted state intimidation of those he met. Talgat Rakhimov, Head of West Kazakhstan Region Religious Affairs Department, refused to tell Forum 18 why sports fans can share their views anywhere on the street without state permission, but religious believers need state permission. And a registered Protestant church has been raided by law-enforcement officials and those present forced to write statements. [read more...]

24 February 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Another Mosque forcibly transferred to new leadership

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

The State religious affairs official for Azerbaijan's capital Baku, Anar Kazimov, warned the leaders of a Sunni Mosque in Qobustan that if the leadership did not liquidate itself, hand back documents for the Mosque and allow the Mosque leadership to be replaced, the State Committee would go to court to enforce its liquidation. "Anar sounded threatening," one original community member told Forum 18 News Service. "He said they could easily find 50 new people to constitute the new leadership. They obviously wanted people closer to the authorities." The Mosque leadership complied reluctantly. Kazimov refused to discuss with Forum 18 why the authorities have yet again forcibly transferred a Sunni Muslim mosque to new, Shia-led leadership. Police have refused to explain why they raided the Mosque and seized religious literature weeks after the enforced transfer. In January a Jehovah's Witness was fined more than three months' average wage for discussing his faith on the street, the latest in a series of heavy fines for exercising the right to freedom of religion. [read more...]

23 February 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Latest secret police prisoners – two female Jehovah's Witnesses

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

In a sudden closed hearing on 17 February, a Judge in the Azerbaijani capital Baku ordered two female Jehovah's Witnesses to be held for three months in the National Security Ministry secret police investigation prison, according to the decisions seen by Forum 18 News Service. Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova face up to five years' imprisonment if convicted of offering religious literature without state permission. "Under our laws, spreading religious books is banned," Colonel Isfandiyar Mehbaliyev, head of the District Police in Pirallahi, where the women were initially detained, told Forum 18. He refused to say if this means that the state regards offering religious literature to others as dangerous and a threat to state security. On 18 February a Judge in Sumgait sentenced Sunni Muslim Zohrab Shikhaliyev to six months' imprisonment on weapons charges. His friends insisted to Forum 18 that police planted the weapons to punish him for maintaining a prayer room in his home. Sumgait has no Sunni Muslim mosque. [read more...]

20 February 2015

BELARUS: Slander and obstruction to keep foreigners out

by Olga Glace, Forum 18 News Service

Catholics responded vigorously to accusations by the senior state religious affairs official that foreign Catholic priests working in Belarus often break the law, Forum 18 News Service notes. "They don't like our country, our laws and authorities. In such cases we don't prolong their stay in our country," Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs Leonid Gulyako had declared in presenting his annual report for 2014. He accused unspecified priests of conducting services outside the regions where they had been given state permission to serve, not understanding either of the state languages (Russian and Belarusian) and drunken driving. Both Gulyako and his deputy refused to explain his accusations to Forum 18, which Catholics described as "slander". It was only with difficulty that Polish priest Fr Roman Schulz' permission to remain in his Mogilev parish was extended for a further six months until 20 June 2015, Catholics told Forum 18. A Protestant seminary failed to get permission for foreign religious lecturers. And a court warned two Jehovah's Witnesses that as foreigners they had no right to speak to people about their faith. [read more...]

18 February 2015

TURKMENISTAN: Two amnestied prisoners, conscientious objector in hospital, beaten "Wahhabis"

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Umid Gojayev, imprisoned on charges of hooliganism which local Protestants insist were brought disproportionately because of his religious beliefs, and Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Ruslan Narkuliyev were freed yesterday (17 February), Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Both were released under amnesty from the same labour camp in Seydi in eastern Turkmenistan. "Narkuliyev's release means that there are no longer any Jehovah's Witnesses convicted and imprisoned in Turkmenistan as conscientious objectors," one Jehovah's Witness told Forum 18. However, Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Soyunmurat Korov is being held "against his will" in military hospital in Ashgabad. Meanwhile, five Muslim men imprisoned on charges of religious extremism, were severely beaten on arrival in Seydi strict regime labour camp in early February. One suffered a broken hand, another a broken rib and damage to his lung. Forum 18 has been unable to establish if they were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or for committing crimes. [read more...]