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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

KAZAKHSTAN: "It is not allowed to pray at any location unless it's approved"

Courts and police have fined at least 15 people (one twice) and 3 organisations so far in 2021 for holding meetings for worship, hosting such meeting, maintaining places for such meetings, or holding other religious rituals without state permission. The fines were of between three weeks' and four months' average wage for those in formal work. After a Muslim was fined for leading Friday prayers, a police officer told Forum 18: "It is not allowed to pray at any location unless it's approved." Challenged about open surveillance of Baptists meeting for worship, an official claimed: "This isn't spying, this is monitoring," adding "we go to mosques, churches."

RUSSIA: Suspended sentence, though she did "nothing apart from study Koran"

After a trial lasting more than six months, Naberezhnyye Chelny City Court in Tatarstan handed 63-year-old Nakiya Sharifullina a two-year suspended sentence on 31 August on "extremism" charges to punish her for meeting with others to study the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi. The case followed police raids on the homes of 20 women in March 2020. Sharifullina, who has "a number of serious illnesses", denied any guilt and insisted she had done "nothing apart from study the Koran", her lawyer Ruslan Nagiyev noted. He has lodged an appeal. Seven Jehovah's Witnesses have been given prison terms on extremism-related charges since late June.

KAZAKHSTAN: Fines, bans for offering religious materials for sale

So far in 2021, courts have fined 26 people and given 2 verbal reprimands for offering for sale religious literature or other religious objects, such as icons, vinyl records and Koran stands, without state permission. Almost all the fines were of three weeks' average wage. Oskemen Police "Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism Department" identified two people offering icons for sale online, who were both fined. No official would explain why this police department was concerned about icons. Nurgali Kabylov, Head of the Expertise [Censorship] Department of the Information and Social Development Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee, refused to explain why the state imposes compulsory prior censorship on all religious literature and items in defiance of its international human rights commitments.

BELARUS: Administrative, criminal charges for evicted Church's outdoor worship?

At a meeting in Parliament and two letters, officials warned New Life Pentecostal Church that continuing to meet for worship in the car park of their seized church in Minsk could lead to administrative or criminal prosecution (maximum punishment four years' imprisonment). The Church vows to continue its worship. "The authorities may initiate criminal charges as they told us at the Council of the Republic meeting," Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko told Forum 18. "This is possible, given that they have gone as far as throwing us out of the building without compensation and imposing debts." City and state religious affairs officials refused to discuss the threats.

RUSSIA: Post-sentence: Curfews, regular registration, movement restrictions, job bans

Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims jailed on "extremism"-related charges for exercising freedom of religion or belief face years of restrictions once the sentence ends. With sudimost (the state of being a convicted person with an active criminal record), they risk harsher punishment if prosecuted again. Courts can impose post-sentence restrictions on freedom and administrative supervision, entailing curfews, movement restrictions, and regular registration with police or probation authorities. Individuals are barred from certain jobs. Many have bank accounts blocked for years. Jehovah's Witnesses have also been banned from leading or participating in religious organisations. Those fined or given suspended sentences face shorter restrictions.

KAZAKHSTAN: New controls on religious meetings: delayed, abandoned or imminent?

The Information and Social Development Ministry is proposing various amendments to the Religion Law and the Administrative Code. One Religion Law amendment would impose new bureaucratic procedures on state-registered religious communities wanting to hold religious meetings away from state-registered places of worship. This would affect any religious community which does not own its own building, as well as communities that want to hold a pilgrimage or other event away from their place of worship. The Prime Minister's Office ordered the Religion Law amendments be removed from the proposed Law on Social Control, but the provision remains in draft amendments from July, seen by Forum 18.

CRIMEA: Family denied body for Islamic burial

The Russian Investigative Committee refuses to release the body of Nabi Rakhimov for burial. Investigator Aleksei Skorin refused to explain why. The Russian FSB shot Rakhimov dead on 11 May in disputed circumstances while allegedly trying to arrest him. "Under the norms of Islam, in any circumstances the deceased must be buried within 24 hours before the setting of the sun," the lawyer Lutfiye Zudiyeva notes. Russian law denies the return of bodies of those killed in "terrorist" operations. In 2007, Russian Constitutional Court Judge Anatoly Kononov described this provision as "absolutely immoral, reflecting the most uncivilised, barbaric and base views of previous generations".

TAJIKISTAN: Imam jailed for preaching his own sermon

The secret police arrested Imam Mahmadsodyk Sayidov for refusing to read the state-provided sermon all imams must read at Friday prayers, instead giving his own sermon. A Kulob court jailed him in June for five years for allegedly participating in a religious "extremist" organisation. Two mosque attendees were also jailed. A Judge could not explain what was "extremist" about the three men's alleged activity. On 18 June the UN Human Rights Committee again called for the 70-year-old seriously-ill Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Shamil Khakimov to be transferred to a "specialised medical institution". The Prison Governor claimed "We have everything for his treatment."