KAZAKHSTAN: Hare Krishna demolitions held off – for now
Even though a Hare Krishna commune was told by phone today (4 May) that court executors were on their way to re-start demolitions of Hare Krishna-owned homes, none had arrived by late afternoon today, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The latest demolition threat repeated an official warning given yesterday. This morning, the electricity supply to the commune's homes was cut off – but was then restored after 30 minutes. The only official who spoke to Forum 18, in the Justice Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee, refused to give his name and insisted that the dispute is economic and not religious discrimination. Asked why a range of religious minority communities in Kazakhstan face official intolerance - including raids, official bans on their activity, fines, detentions, arbitrary denial of legal status and denigration in official publications - the unnamed official responded: "This is disinformation. We have no information about such occurrences. Accusations of discrimination are challengeable in law." The unnamed official insisted to Forum 18 that "no violations of international standards" take place in Kazakhstan.
The Sri Vrindavan Dham commune - located in the village of Seleksia in Zhetisu rural area of Karasai district and named after the "beautiful forest of Vrindavan" in India where Krishna spent his youth - originally had 66 Hare Krishna-owned homes, plus a 47.7-hectare (118 acre) farm.
Following telephone threats on 3 May to re-start demolition of the devotees' homes (see F18News 3 May 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=951), representatives from the local media, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Centre in Almaty, and the US Embassy visited the community today.
The Hare Krishna community this morning rang the General Prosecutor's Office, the Presidential Administration and the state Religious Affairs Committee to protest about the demolitions. But they were given "the usual story that no senior officials could speak to us," Varfolomeyev told Forum 18. The General Prosecutors Office claimed that, legally, they could not intervene in local court proceedings, so there was nothing that they could do.
But 30 minutes after the electricity supply was cut off, the power supply to the commune was restored.
Later, the deputy chair of the state Religious Affairs Committee, Ludmila Danilenko, told the Hare Krishna community that she had spoken to the Almaty Regional Hakimat (administration), and they had stated that they had no involvement in sending Karasai District Court executors to the commune. The Hare Krishna community told Forum 18 that they think that the decision to send the court executors was made within the Karasai Hakimat, and that Anatoli Portnyagin, who has represented the Hakimat in court cases against the commune, may have made ordered the latest demolition threats.
On 4 May, Forum 18 tried to reach Gulnara Sultonova, head of the Internal Policy Department at the Karasai Hakimat, and her subordinate, Ryskul Zhunisbayeva, who heads the Department's section dealing with religious organisations. However, both telephones went unanswered.
Officials at the office in Astana of the Human Rights Ombudsperson Bolat Baikadamov told Forum 18 on 4 May that he is abroad until the end of May, currently in the United States. They refused to say where he is and the purpose of the visit. Baikadamov's subordinate, Vyacheslav Kalyuzhny, refused absolutely to comment to Forum 18 on the latest moves against the Hare Krishna commune. He also refused to comment on Baikadamov's contradictions of his own statements to the Hare Krishna community (see F18News 3 May 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=951).
The official who answered the phone on 4 May of Eraly Tugzhanov, head of the Justice Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee, refused to give his name. However, he insisted to Forum 18 that the dispute over the Hare Krishna commune is economic and is not based on religious discrimination. Asked why only Hare Krishna devotees have had their houses confiscated, bulldozed and threatened he retorted: "Do you think other people apart from the Krishnaites have broken the law?" He insisted that the dispute will be resolved "according to the law".
Asked why a range of religious minority communities in Kazakhstan face official intolerance - including raids, official bans on their activity, fines, detentions, arbitrary denial of legal status and denigration in official publications - the unnamed official responded: "This is disinformation. We have no information about such occurrences. Accusations of discrimination are challengeable in law." The unnamed official insisted to Forum 18 that "no violations of international standards" take place in Kazakhstan.
Kazakh authorities at all levels have repeatedly refused to accept responsibility for their religious freedom violations, or for resolving them (see F18News 31 January 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=905), even denying that demolishing the commune is a religious freedom violation (see F18News 1 December 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=881).
Among other religious minorities facing hostility are Baptists, one of whose pastors was jailed for three days in March for leading an unregistered congregation (see F18News 13 March 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=931). A state crackdown on Baptist and Pentecostal Christians was described by police as "the fight against terrorism and religious groups without registration" (see F18News 28 February 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=921).
Varfolomeyev of the Hare Krishna community told Forum 18 that he does not think that demolitions will now take place today. He pointed out that, under Kazakh law, five days written notice of demolitions must be given. However, as in the current situation, the authorities may not respect this.
Numerous court cases have been started by the authorities against Hare Krishna community, who have told Forum 18 that "we cannot win court cases as the judiciary is simply a puppet in the hands of influential persons." (see F18News 3 May 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=951).
Kazakhstan is currently planning to even more severely restrict religious freedom via a new Religion Law, and the KNB secret police are planning separate restrictions on religious freedom via the Anti-terrorism Law (see F18News 21 February 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=916). (END)
For a personal commentary on how attacking religious freedom damages national security in Kazakhstan, see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=564
For more background, see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=701
A survey of the religious freedom decline in the eastern part of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) area is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=806 and a survey of religious intolerance in Central Asia is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=815.
A printer-friendly map of Kazakhstan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=kazakh
3 May 2007
The Hare Krishna community in Kazakhstan is expecting bulldozing of its embattled commune near Almaty to re-start tomorrow, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Court executors phoned Viktor Golous, the leader of the commune, today to tell him that demolition will take place tomorrow morning (Friday 4 May) at 10 am (Kazakh time). Golous was told to tell the threatened homeowners this, as the court executors claimed that they "could not find them." Golous rang the national General Prosecutor's Office, the state Religious Affairs Committee, and Karasai District Court officials to try to stop the demolition. But they told him that the demolitions would go ahead. Kazakh officials routinely deny responsibility for the state's actions. The country's Human Rights Ombudsperson, before witnesses at an OSCE conference, claimed that the Hare Krishna community's problems will be solved by the Presidential Administration, later announcing to Kazakh media a claimed solution. But when Kazakh Hare Krishna devotees contacted the Ombudsperson, he completely denied his own earlier claims. A Hare Krishna source, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, commented to Forum 18 on this that "the government is sending signals to the world that the issue is being dealt with in order to secure its OSCE bid."
23 April 2007
The criminal trial of imprisoned Baptist leader Vyacheslav Kalataevsky may begin very soon, his wife has told Forum 18 News Service. "The court will not tell me officially when the trial is due to start, but we have indications it could be on 2 or 4 May," Valentina Kalataevskaya told Forum 18. Kalataevsky was arrested at his home by the MSS secret police on charges of illegally crossing the border. His wife is convinced that "although officials don't mention it, I believe there is a religious motivation to the case." In 2001 he was expelled from Turkmenistan, where he was born and lives, during a campaign of expulsions of foreign passport holders engaged in religious activity. Since Kalataevsky's arrest on 12 March, his wife has been denied access to him. There has also been no progress in the case of Merdan Shirmedov, a Protestant denied permission to leave Turkmenistan to join his pregnant wife in the USA. Officials have refused to discuss these cases, and the case of the imprisoned former Chief Mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, with Forum 18.
3 April 2007
Kazakhstan's religious minorities have expressed deep concern to Forum 18 News Service about two official documents: the "State Programme of Patriotic Education," approved by a decree of President Nazarbayev; and a Justice Ministry booklet "How not to fall under the influence of religious sects." Yevgeny Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights and the Rule of Law is "shocked" by them and told Forum 18 that they "provide the moral, or more accurately immoral, basis for officials to justify their negative attitudes towards non-traditional religions". Law professor Roman Podoprigora notes that a new development is that official intolerance "was in an official regulatory act – a Presidential Decree." He described the Justice Ministry booklet as "too intolerant and stupid for comments." Aleksandr Klyushev of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan commented that "The worst thing about this booklet is that it has been prepared by the Justice Ministry and is being freely distributed." Amongst the booklet's claims is that "transferring to other religious faiths represents treason to one's country and faith."