16 September 2014

BELARUS: Religious freedom survey, September 2014

by Olga Glace, Forum 18 News Service

Belarus continues to keep religious communities within an invisible ghetto of regulation, Forum 18 News Service has found. The state closely controls people meeting together to exercise their religious freedom, forcing many religious communities to keep out of sight. Officials are hostile towards followers of faiths they see as a threat, particularly the Protestantism of many of the regime's political opponents. However, Forum 18 also notes that Belarus has been more reluctant to crack down on freedom of religion and belief in recent years. Yet people fear that without change to the legal framework and the attitudes of officials harsh actions could resume. Other issues include: strict controls on foreign citizens, including Catholic priests, who conduct religious activity; a Soviet-era network of KGB secret police and religious affairs officials; lack of provision for conscientious objection to military service; and obstruction of the religious freedom of prisoners, including prisoners of conscience and death-row prisoners. [read more...]

11 September 2014

CRIMEA: Six weeks until Catholic parish loses priest?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

The Catholic parish in the Crimean capital Simferopol appears to be about to lose its parish priest, a Polish citizen, just as 18 of the Muftiate's invited Turkish imams have already been forced to leave. The residence permit of Fr Piotr Rosochacki – who has served in Crimea for more than five years – expires on 25 October and Russia's Federal Migration Service has verbally refused to extend it and that of a Polish Catholic nun which expires in December. Crimea's Chief Prosecutor, Natalya Poklonskaya, promised to investigate, though her assistant told Forum 18 that it is "too early" to expect results. Asked why Fr Rosochacki's residence permit was not simply extended as it had been on previous occasions, Yana Smolova of Russia's Federal Migration Service in Crimea responded: "That was under Ukrainian law. Now we are a different country." [read more...]

10 September 2014

CRIMEA: The unbearable burden of re-registration?

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

All 1,546 religious communities in Crimea which had state registration with the Ukrainian authorities are being required to re-register under Russian law by 1 January 2015 if they wish to retain legal status. A wide range of communities have complained to Forum 18 News Service of the burden of having to prepare documentation and the lack of information about how to go about it. Communities that function throughout Crimea will have to register in Moscow, the rest in Crimea. Many communities which wish to remain part of Ukrainian religious organisations – including the Moscow Patriarchate and Kiev Patriarchate dioceses, the Greek Catholic Exarchate and Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Armenian Apostolic parishes – remain uncertain as to whether this will be allowed. Nikolai Barylyuk of the Crimean Department of the Russian Justice Ministry refused to tell Forum 18 whether religious communities' previous registration under Ukrainian law remains valid. [read more...]

8 September 2014

RUSSIA: Further fines for religious literature

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

In the four months up till the end of August, Forum 18 News Service identified 18 individuals or organisations in 15 different regions of Russia facing administrative punishment for possessing religious literature which appears not to incite violence or hatred. All but two were eventually fined. Jehovah's Witness Aleksandr Yevdoshenko was fined in Krasnoyarsk after a man claimed to have been given an "extremist" booklet at a religious meeting, even though fellow Jehovah's Witnesses say no "available evidence" exists that the man who brought the complaint to police was present. The man claimed on his party website he "simply went to the police station and wrote a statement", which the police received "with enthusiasm". According to court documents seen by Forum 18, searches of Jehovah's Witnesses' homes, vehicles and workplaces tend to be prompted by complaints from members of the public. Inspections of mosques and Muslim shops are more often carried out to monitor "compliance with the law on extremist activity", according to prosecutors. [read more...]

5 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Why can't school-age children attend worship meetings?

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

On the instruction of the authorities in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, teachers and doctors were forced to help the police identify school-age boys attending worship in mosques in late August "and to prevent them from participating in prayers, especially Friday prayers," human rights defender Abdurakhmon Eshanov told Forum 18 News Service. Officials refused to discuss the ban with Forum 18. Deputy Chief Mufti Abdulaziz Mansurov claimed to Forum 18 that both Sharia law and the Religion Law ban children from attending prayers. He then added: "I wish the Law would allow it." After Anti-Terrorism Police raids in Namangan Region on Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses, state-sponsored media attacks noted that "even under-age children" had been present at both meetings. Although the Religion Law does not ban children from attending meetings for worship, officials frequently pressure parents and religious communities not to allow them to attend. [read more...]

3 September 2014

CRIMEA: Enforced departure of Turkish imams; FSB surveillance

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

All but five of 23 Turkish imams and religious teachers invited by the Crimean Muftiate under a 20-year-old programme have been forced to leave Crimea as Russia's Federal Migration Service refused to extend their residence permits. The rest will have to leave when their residence permits expire. "We can't invite anyone now as they say we have no legal status," Jemil Bibishev of the Muftiate lamented to Forum 18 News Service. "If they want to begin mission work in Crimea they will have to get a visa from the Russian embassy in Turkey in accordance with Russian law," Yana Smolova of the Federal Migration Service insisted to Forum 18. Representatives of a range of religious communities have told Forum 18 that they are under surveillance by the FSB security service. Greek Catholic priest Fr Bogdan Kostetsky has been summoned several times. Among the questions were some about his attitude to Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, who led the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church until his death in 1944. The duty officer at the Yevpatoriya FSB told Forum 18 he had never heard that Fr Kostetsky had been summoned. [read more...]

1 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Raids, religious literature seizures, passport confiscations and expulsions

by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

As a Baptist family in Navoi gathered with relatives and friends for a Sunday morning meeting for worship, 11 Anti-Terrorism Police officers and other officials raided the Alpayev family home, church members complained to Forum 18 News Service. They searched the home without a warrant and went on to search the home of another church member present, Nikolai Serin, seizing all the religious literature they could find. Police and other authorities keep telling him and other Baptists – including during the 17 August raid - that he cannot keep his Christian books and even his Bible in his home, Serin complained to Forum 18. "Isn't this a gross violation?" Artur Alpayev's mother (born in Uzbekistan and visiting from Israel) and a couple from Russia (the wife also born in Uzbekistan) were subsequently expelled from Uzbekistan. Fines are expected. Sadriddin, who introduced himself as Assistant Head of the Navoi Anti-Terrorism Police, claimed to Forum 18 that he is "new in the Police Department, and I do not know the details." Raids, literature seizures and fines have continued across Uzbekistan. [read more...]

28 August 2014

RUSSIA: "We still cry when we remember the burned books"

by Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

A Tatarstan court had to reject the prosecutor's suit to have a further 18 books by or about the Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi declared "extremist" as police had already burned them. According to a police letter seen by Forum 18 News Service, police claim not to have received a court decision ordering their return to the owner, Nakiya Sharifullina, who had controversially been convicted for "extremist" activity. "We still cry when we remember the burned books," a local Muslim told Forum 18, adding that they "asked God that these people repent for their actions, since in these books were verses of the Holy Koran". Four further Nursi titles, plus more Jehovah's Witness publications, have been declared "extremist" and banned. Websites or pages that host religious materials controversially banned as "extremist" have similarly been banned and added to Russia's Register of Banned Sites. [read more...]