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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."

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.

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.

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."

TURKMENISTAN: "The right to acquire and use religious literature .. of their choice"?

The MSS secret police raided homes in at least four towns in Lebap Region on 21 July, the first day of the Muslim festival of Id al-Adha. Officers seized religious books, telling Muslims they can have only the Koran at home. "When they find any religious book, even if it conforms with Turkmenistan's religious literature standards, MSS officers begin to question individuals," one resident told Radio Free Europe. A Lebap Region police officer insisted to Forum 18 that the MSS secret police conducted the raids, not the ordinary police. Russian Orthodox attempts to register six new parishes have seen no progress.

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 police, the State Committee for Women and Family Affairs, and the Interior Ministry all refused to explain to Forum 18 why male police officers nationwide are not stopped from deliberately and publicly bullying and harassing women wearing a hijab.

UZBEKISTAN: "The regime wants to shut people up"

A Tashkent court ordered Fazilkhoja Arifkhojayev held in three-month pre-trial detention 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".

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.

UZBEKISTAN: Police raid mosque, teacher jailed for 15 days

On 27 May, Asliddin Khudaiberdiyev was jailed for teaching five boys and six adult men how to read the Koran and pray. The jailing followed a police and secret police raid on a Samarkand Region mosque as Muslims were preparing to worship. The raid came as the regime publicly announced and implemented increased restrictions across the country on under-18s attending mosques. Also, Religion Law changes are still going through parliament but the regime continues to hide the text its parliament is discussing.

UZBEKISTAN: Parents told not to teach Islam to their children

In late April the Deputy Headteacher of a Bukhara school rang Muslim parents to say that the ordinary police and the SSS secret police had visited to ask "how religiously devout families and children are". Parents were warned of unspecified consequences if they teach Islam to their children, or any of their children wear the hijab. Human rights defenders have heard unconfirmed accounts that the ordinary police and SSS secret police are making similar visits to schools in other parts of the country to ask similar questions.

TURKMENISTAN: 16 conscientious objectors freed, Muslim prisoners of conscience remain

All 16 known jailed conscientious objectors were freed under amnesty on 8 May. The 16 – all Jehovah's Witnesses – were serving terms of one to four years. However, no Muslims jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief are known to have been amnestied. Nor has the regime given any indication that it will heed repeated UN calls to introduce a civilian alternative to compulsory military service, though Jehovah's Witnesses say no new criminal cases against conscientious objectors have been handed to prosecutors. Forum 18 was unable to reach any officials.