KYRGYZSTAN: "A fabricated case" states Judge, but women still under arrest
Kyrgyzstan is keeping two Jehovah's Witnesses, Nadezhda Sergienko and her daughter Oksana Koryakina, under arrest more than 19 months after their March 2013 arrest for alleged swindling. Both women strongly deny the authorities' allegations, and Judge Sheraly Kamchibekov acquitted the two women of all charges. He told Forum 18 News Service on 4 November that "it was a fabricated case" and that he did not believe the prosecution's claims. However, the two women remain under house arrest as the prosecution has appealed against the acquittal. The two women's co-believers have told Forum 18 that they think the arrests and detentions may be reprisals by the authorities for registration applications Jehovah's Witness communities have made. The lawyer for the people alleged to have been swindled argues in appealing against the acquittal that Jehovah's Witnesses "do not have registration in Osh, Jalalabad and Batken regions". As Judge Kamchibekov observed to Forum 18, "this has nothing to do with the case".
Judge Kamchibekov said that the appeal case should be heard in the Regional Court within five to six weeks. He thinks that the appeal should be decided in the Jehovah's Witnesses favour, as there is no evidence of their alleged crimes.
The two women's co-believers have told Forum 18 that they think the arrests and detentions may be reprisals by the authorities for registration applications Jehovah's Witness communities have made (see F18News 2 April 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1819). That the reason for the arrests and prosecutions is discriminatory would appear to be backed by the behaviour of the police and prosecutors (see below).
Other religious or belief communities do not appear to have faced such specific reprisals, but they routinely endure harassment up to and including violence with the complicity of the authorities (see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013).
Judge Kamchibekov acquitted Sergienko and Koryakina of all the criminal charges they faced on 7 October at Osh City Court. He told Forum 18 that "it seemed to me that it was a fabricated case". The Judge also stated that he believed the two women's testimony that they were not at the location where the alleged offences were claimed by the prosecution to have happened, and also did not believe the prosecutions allegations that the women were swindlers.
The authorities alleged that Sergienko and Koryakina conjured live snakes from eggs and then swindled old women out of their life savings (see F18News 2 April 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1819). However, Jehovah's Witnesses pointed out, the authorities were unable to prove in court either that the alleged offences took place, or that if they had taken place that the defendants were responsible.
Prosecutors produced three alleged victims, Natalya Smirnova, Yevdokiya Merkulova and Galina Beze. However, during identification parades, Beze stated on 22 March 2013 that neither Sergienko nor Koryakina had defrauded her. Smirnova, Merkulova and Beze claimed they had been defrauded by "unknown Russian women" who said they were sent by a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church in Osh.
However, police admitted in court that they did not investigate anyone apart from the two Jehovah's Witnesses. Police Investigator Nargiza Abdrahmanova did on 24 April 2013 question Fr Viktor Reymgen of the Russian Orthodox Church in Osh. But she admitted this was only to obtain information about what she described as "the religious sect of Jehovah's Witnesses".Â
None of this stopped police Investigator Ali Mavlyanov from via a court putting the defendants under house arrest (see F18News 2 April 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1819).
At the 7 October 2014 hearing which led to the acquittal, Jehovah's Witnesses pointed out that police also did not investigate whether the defendants had or had received the money allegedly taken from their alleged "victims". The only search conducted of the defendants' home took place on 21 May 2013, more than six months after the alleged crime. Police Investigator Abdrahmanova, according to the official search record, only looked to see if the defendants had "prohibited literature".
Why arrest and prosecute the innocent?
Prosecutor Nazar Kenzheyev on 12 November 2014 refused to tell Forum 18 why the two Jehovah's Witnesses have been under arrest for so long and why he appealed against their acquittal. "It is an investigation secret, and I cannot talk to you over the phone," he claimed. Asked if the Jehovah's Witnesses are being punished because of their exercise of freedom of religion or belief, and their requests to local keneshes (authorities) in southern Kyrgyzstan to receive state registration, he put the phone down.
Police Investigators Abdrahmanova and Mavlyanov, were equally unwilling to discuss why the women have been under arrest for so long and the authorities are still attempting to prosecute them on unsafe evidence. "I will not tell you anything about the case", Abdrahmanova told Forum 18 on 6 November before putting the phone down. Mavlyanov on 6 November put the phone down as soon as he was asked why Sergienko and Koryakina were put under house arrest.
Forum 18 was not given the opportunity to ask police and prosecutors why they are apparently making no effort to find, arrest and prosecute the real criminals, if the crimes took place.
Appeal against acquittal
Prosecutor Kenzheyev and Tatyana Tomina, the legal representative of Smirnova, Merkulova and Beze, have appealed against the acquittal.
Tomina claimed in her appeal, seen by Forum 18, that one of the Jehovah's Witnesses' lawyers, Shane Brady, was not authorised to participate in hearings in Kyrgyzstan. Judge Kamchibekov dismissed this claim. Indeed, Brady has legally represented the Jehovah's Witnesses in a 4 September hearing of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (see F18News 24 October 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2008).
Tomina also claims that the Court did "not take into account Smirnova's husband's testimony" - even though this was only about how much money was claimed to have been taken, and he admitted that he only heard about the loss of money days after the event and did not witness any alleged visit by the acquitted Jehovah's Witnesses.
The appeal case, Judge Kamchibekov stated, should be heard in the Regional Court within five to six weeks. He also told Forum 18 that "unfortunately, their house arrest continues until the acquittal decision enters into force". Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 12 November that they submitted an objection to the appeal to Osh Regional Court in early November.
"This has nothing to do with the case"
Another argument Tomina uses in her appeal is that the Court consider that Jehovah's Witnesses "do not have registration in Osh, Jalalabad and Batken regions" and that "the defendants in violation of the Religion Law distributed religious literature and have visited homes". As Judge Kamchibekov observed to Forum 18, "this has nothing to do with the case".
The Judge also stated that "nowhere in law does it say that a registered organisation such as Jehovah's Witnesses cannot share their beliefs with others, and that they cannot knock on doors or visit people". He observed that Jehovah's Witnesses "do not enter people's homes by force or without the householders' consent".
Jehovah's Witnesses and other belief communities routinely endure harassment, up to and including violence, with the complicity of the authorities (see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013).
Tomina told Forum 18 on 11 November that she appealed against the acquittal of the two Jehovah's Witnesses "because I believe my clients and Koryakina and Sergienko defrauded them". Asked whether she really thinks that the two women could conjure live snakes out of chicken eggs as claimed by her clients, Tomina loudly responded "you defend the Jehovah's Witnesses and I defend the Russian Orthodox."
Asked why Smirnova, Merkulova and Beze all asked her to represent their claim in Court, and who directed the women to her, Tomina replied "the investigators". When asked why the authorities decided that the plaintiffs needed her as a legal representative, she replied: "why you as a journalist are not just writing what people tell you and keep investigating the technical issues. It is not your business."
Tomina also told Forum 18 that she had "asked one of the defendants, a Russian woman, why she instead of being Russian Orthodox converted to Jehovah's Witnesses". Asked what that has to do with the case, Tomina stated that "I wanted to prove that she cannot be trusted by the Court as I suspect that she became a Jehovah's Witness for material gain".
Asked whether she does not think that the whole case is fabricated, and that the Jehovah's Witnesses are being punished for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Tomina did not reply. (END)
For more background information see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013.
More reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Kyrgyzstan can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=30.
A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1351.
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4 November 2014
Before the January 2015 UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service notes ongoing violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights. These include: a ban on exercising freedom of religion or belief with others without state permission; obstacles such as unreasonably high numbers of required founders and some apparent reprisals against communities including Jehovah's Witnesses and Baha'is wishing to gain state registration; increasing state control of the Muslim community; raids on some religious communities; the banning of the Ahmadi Muslim community; restrictions on conscientious objection to military service; harassment and mob violence against non-Muslims with the authorities' complicity, including preventing the dead being buried; state censorship related to freedom of religion or belief; arbitrary expulsions of foreigners; and threats to property. Officials seem unwilling to implement domestic and international legal obligations, with government proposals for Religion Law and Administrative Code changes contradicting a UN Human Rights Council recommendation to "remove all restrictions incompatible with article 18 of the Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights]".
30 October 2014
Some officials in Kyrgyzstan appear unwilling to act on their domestic and international legal obligations, Forum 18 News Service notes. Commenting on a UN Human Rights Council recommendation to "remove all restrictions incompatible with article 18 of the Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights]", State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) lawyer Zhanibek Botoyev told Forum 18: "Go and bring some order to your own countries and Norway. We are a sovereign country here, and you cannot command us what to do or what not to do". In relation to a Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling on where a religious organisation may operate, in a case brought by Jehovah's Witnesses, Botoyev claimed that the ruling did not mean what it clearly states it does. The SCRA has also forced a Russian Orthodox Church catechist, Vakhtang Fyodorov, to leave the country and with the State Property Fund continues to try to confiscate a Protestant church's building.
24 October 2014
Kyrgyzstan is proposing to harshen its Religion Law and give even more power to the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA). The proposals that have attracted most criticism so far from human rights defenders and religious and belief communities include: increasing the number of founders required for registered religious organisations to be founded from 200 to 500 and all such organisations to be re-registered; requiring anyone working in any capacity in any religious organisation to have an annually renewed SCRA license; and requiring every institution offering religious education to have an SCRA license. It is also proposed that existing punishments in the Administrative Code for exercising freedom of religion or belief be increased to up to the rough equivalent of 14 months' average salary. The proposals go directly against the UN Human Rights Committee's March recommendation that planned changes to the Religion Law should "remove all restrictions incompatible with article 18 of the Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights]".