f18 Logo

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

TAJIKISTAN: Male police continue targeting women wearing hijabs

The long-running regime campaign to prevent women wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf) intensified from March, human rights defenders including Muslim women say. Officials stop women in the street, question them, and order them to take off their hijab. "When they saw a woman in a hijab the male and female officials immediately encircled the woman," a human rights defender saw in early July, speaking "very rudely and harassing them if they refused to take off their hijab". The male Deputy Head of Dushanbe's Shohmansur Police – whose officers detained hijab-wearing women – refused to explain why no action was taken to stop male police officers bullying women.

DONBAS: Luhansk: More Christian texts "extremist", Catholic priests banned

After officials in the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic apparently seized Christian literature from local Baptists, Sverdlovsk court declared four Protestant books "extremist". Acting Deputy General Prosecutor Roman Gubaydulin put the phone down when asked why he lodged the suit. The books are among 18 Protestant and 6 Jehovah's Witness publications on the "State List of Extremist Materials". "Parishioners in Luhansk are very sad and pained that they have no priest," says Catholic priest Grzegorz Rapa, still unable to return. Officials turned away the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine bishop at the Stanitsa Luhanska crossing point in mid-July.

BELARUS: "To put the church in its place"

As more human rights defenders are jailed, others protesting against election falsification and regime violence are also targeted. The Belarusian Orthodox Church has fired many priests including Archbishop Artemy of Grodno, who spoke of a "general purge" as "not all church figures support the existing regime". Among others targeted, Catholic priest Fr Vyacheslav Barok fled to Poland. A public prosecutor claimed it is illegal to give Fr Barok a copy of an official warning he was read. The regime tried to stop singing of the hymn Mighty God and organised instead a pro-regime "prayer day".

UZBEKISTAN: "The regime wants to shut people up"

A Tashkent court jailed Fazilkhoja Arifkhojayev for three months after an initial 15-day term after he questioned a regime-supporting imam. Officials denied him access to his lawyer and tortured him during his 15-day sentence. Officials tortured prisoner of conscience Tulkun Astanov in jail for praying, and he has lost 25 kg in weight since January. Officials have warned Shia Muslims not to publish religious material, and "some even stopped talking to or associating with people who had been warned".

BELARUS: Political prisoners' freedom of religion or belief restricted

The regime's many political prisoners are frequently denied clergy visits and access to religious literature, against both Belarusian law and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules). Arrested in March, Olga Zolotar repeatedly requested a visit from a Catholic priest, but the Investigative Committee refused. Finally, in June officials allowed a visit by the Vatican nuncio. "The denial of access of priests to political prisoners who are religious, and the use of discriminatory and repressive measures against them are unacceptable .. and grossly violate one of the fundamental human rights," Christian Vision notes.

AZERBAIJAN: "They hold services and pray there, but without a congregation"

Azerbaijani military forces have blocked Armenian Church pilgrims' access to Sunday worship at Dadivank Monastery since 2 May, citing first coronavirus, then a blocked road because of a landslip. "They do not want Dadivank to function as a Christian monastery, but they can't say directly that they don't want this," says Nagorno-Karabakh's Bishop, Vrtanes Abrahamian. "So they use technical issues." The Monastery, in Azerbaijani territory close to the ethnic Armenian-controlled unrecognised entity of Nagorno-Karabakh, is home to six monks and is protected by Russian peacekeepers.

UZBEKISTAN: President to sign restrictive new Religion Law?

Uzbekistan's new Religion Law [signed by the President 5 July, came into force 6 July] maintains almost all the restrictions on freedom of religion and belief in the current Religion Law. It continues to ban: all exercise of freedom of religion and belief without state permission; teaching about religion without state permission; sharing beliefs; and publishing, distributing or importing printed and electronic religious materials which have not undergone compulsory prior state censorship. The continuing restrictions are in defiance of Uzbekistan's legally binding international human rights obligations.

UZBEKISTAN: Shia mosque reopenings blocked, Religion Law passed with no published text

Officials have so far blocked Shia Muslims' attempts to reopen mosques in Bukhara with property excuses, and in Samarkand attempts have not been made as "they are afraid of the authorities". Officials have rejected other religious communities' recent applications to exist, or failed to respond. "Nothing has changed," a Protestant church which has applied for registration told Forum 18. Also, the draft Religion Law has been sent for presidential signature, but the regime has not revealed the text of the law it intends to apply to people it rules.