14 November 2005
Uzbekistan's Post Office routinely opens parcels of religious books and magazines sent from abroad, sends examples to the state Religious Affairs Committee, then collects them with a Committee decision as to whether or not to ban the title, writes to the sender and the failed recipient to explain why titles have been rejected, and (sometimes) returns them at Uzbek Post Office expense, Forum 18 News Service has found. Kural Tulebaev, Director of the main Post Office which receives foreign parcels, as well as customs officials have both denied that this is censorship. "We're just following the law," Tulebaev told Forum 18. His Customs Service colleagues were just as adamant: "The law requires that all of it is checked by the Religion Committee," a senior inspector told Forum 18, "the law is the law." The Religious Affairs Committee has refused to explain how it makes censorship decisions, or why it censors religious literature in defiance of international human rights commitments.
14 October 2005
Kazakhstan continues to try to suppress non-state controlled Muslim organisations, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The latest attempt by the state-controlled Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Kazakhstan (the Muftiate) to close down the independent Union of Muslims in Kazakhstan (UMK) is a court case, due to begin on 17 October. The Muftiate claims that a newspaper interview given by the UMK's head, Murat Telibekov, cost the Muftiate the astonishing figure of 10 million tenge [487, 244 Norwegian Kroner, 62,320 Euros, or 74,690 US Dollars]. Hare Krishna devotees also continue to experience state hostility. The latest government attempt to close down a Hare Krishna farm on the outskirts of Almaty is an accusation that the community acquired the land in 1992 using forged documents. "It is quite evident to us that the head of the administration is simply carrying out orders from higher up," the Society for Krishna Consciousness in Kazakhstan told Forum 18.
29 September 2005
A Muslim in the Ili-Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in China's north-western Xinjiang region has complained of ever tighter restrictions on Muslims, even since the ban on the Sala Sufi order in August and closure of two local mosques. "Now that the Sufi believers have been dealt with, traditional Sunni Muslims are being persecuted," Abdu Raheman told Forum18. He says the authorities have arrested some Muslims in possession of "unauthorised" religious literature and have ordered some Muslim young men to shave off their beards. Forum 18 learnt that priests and those active in Catholic parishes have been put under surveillance, while – in the absence of native priests - Orthodox Christians complain they are still being denied a priest from abroad. One Protestant said an underground church would not even try to register as it feared repercussions on its members when registration is refused.
8 September 2005
In Taraz in southern Kazakhstan, Baptist pastor Pyotr Panafidin refuses to register his church on principle – now a punishable offence in the wake of July amendments to the religion law - and on 2 September he was fined more than three months' average wages. Trying in vain to register his Protestant church in the Caspian port of Atyrau is Pastor Rustam Kairulin. The application was rejected for the sixth time in July. "Every time, officials find some fault in our documents," he told Forum 18 News Service. "But I think these are just quibbles – in fact, the authorities don't want Christianity to become widespread in the region." On 6 August officials raided a Protestant church in nearby Gulsary which has been refused registration four times and ordered church members to write statements on why they were attending an unregistered religious community.
23 August 2005
Murat Telibekov, head of the non-state controlled Union of Muslims of Kazakhstan (UMK), is facing a further court case, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, as part of what Telibekov believes are attempts to close down non-state controlled Muslim organisations. Telibekov has made accusations of corruption at the Nur-Mubarak Islamic Cultural University, which is controlled by the Egyptian and Kazakh governments, and the university has launched a legal case against both Telibekov and a Kazakh TV station which interviewed him about his claims. Shamsudin Kerim, vice-rector of the Nur Mubarak University, told Forum 18 that "the UMK is an illegal organisation. It's just a bogus outfit. The only organisation that can represent the interests of Muslims is the [state-controlled] Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Kazakhstan."
4 August 2005
Kazakhstan's new "national security" requirement that all religious activity must be registered contradicts itself, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Both Professor Roman Podoprigora, a legal expert, and Aleksandr Klyushev, of the Association of Religious Organisations in Kazakhstan, note that Article 6-2 of the amended Religion Law, in Professor Podoprigora's words, "says that formal registration [or notification] is adequate, which directly contradicts Articles 4 and 9 of the same law, which says that juridical registration is compulsory!" Klyushev thinks that this is a legal loophole, and Professor Podoprigora believes that the contradiction arose because parliament did not notice it. Ninel Fokina, of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, argues strongly that the new Law is against the Kazakh Constitution. Religious minorities continue to voice deep anxiety. "It's as if they were playing chess with us," Valentina Volkova of the Hare Krishna community told Forum 18.
20 July 2005
Baptists, other Protestants, Ahmadiya Muslims, non-state controlled Muslims and Hare Krishna devotees have all come under increasing pressure in the wake of Kazakhstan's breaking of international human rights standards with its harsh new "national security" law, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Amongst current cases known to Forum 18, a Protestant church has had its rental contact cancelled by a local authority; a Baptist pastor is on trial for refusing to register his church; the head of the minority Ahmadiya Muslim community has fled the country for fear of arrest; attempts are being made to close down the independent non-state controlled Union of Muslims of Kazakhstan (UMK); and a local authority has refused to allow a Hare Krishna festival to be celebrated.
20 July 2005
An Uzbek pastor of a Kazakh church, Rashid Turebaev, has been told by police to leave the city of Karaganda "immediately or there would be serious trouble," Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Turebaev has in the past been told by officials that he does not need to re-register his place of residence, but in a sudden reversal has now been fined for not re-registering. He is pastor of the registered Living Vine Methodist Church, and the National Security Service secret police has pressured him to pass on information about foreign citizens – especially Americans - who belong to his congregation. The police have accused Turebaev, without any evidence, of doing unregistered missionary work and struggled to reply to Forum 18's questions as to how Turebaev's work could under the law be seen as missionary activity, and why their has been a sudden change in the official attitude.
15 July 2005
New "national security" amendments signed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 8 July have brought in tight new restrictions on religious activity that violate Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments. All unregistered religious activity is declared illegal and those leading or taking part in unregistered religious meetings can be fined. Missionary activity by local people and foreigners is illegal unless missionaries are from a registered religious organisation and have individual registration from the authorities of the local area where they operate. Literature for use by missionaries requires prior censorship from local authorities. The OSCE had urged that the ban on unregistered religious activity should be excluded from the law. "Unfortunately this was not done," an official of the OSCE mission in Almaty told Forum 18 News Service. The OSCE is preparing a detailed critique of the "overly restrictive" new law.
7 July 2005
The leader of the independent Union of Muslims in Kazakhstan (UMK), Murat Telibekov, has told Forum 18 News Service that mosques only join the official Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan (the Muftiate) under state pressure. Telibekov has been fined for writing to a newspaper as head of the UMK, before it received state registration. The authorities freely admit that they want all mosques to be under the Muftiate's control. Baktybai Duisebekov, head of the Internal Policy Department of South Kazakhstan Regional Administration, told Forum 18 that this is because "religious rituals in north and south Kazakhstan differ from each other. If all mosques were governed from one central point, we could get away from these inconsistencies." He did not explain why such "inconsistencies" need to be removed by the government. Forum 18 has found that tension exists between ethnic Uzbek Muslims and the Muftiate in South Kazakshtan region.
8 June 2005
The New Generation Pentecostal church in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty cancelled a conference due to have begun on 12 June after the church's Latvian-based chief pastor was denied a Kazakh visa. The Kazakh consulate in Latvia told Pastor Aleksei Ledyayev, who was born in Kazakhstan, that a visit to his homeland was "not desirable" but refused to give a reason. "We're asking the authorities for an explanation – and we'll lodge a fresh application for Pastor Aleksei to get a visa," Viktor Ovsyannikov, pastor of the Almaty church, told Forum 18 News Service. Ledyayev was added to the entry ban list by Russia in 2002 and is also barred from Belarus. Others barred from Russia on religious grounds remain barred in Kazakhstan, though Lutheran bishop Siegfried Springer, deported from Russia in April, told Forum 18 he has received a visa for Kazakhstan.
1 June 2005
As participants prepare for the forthcoming OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance, Forum 18 News Service notes that religious believers face intolerance in the form of attacks on their internationally agreed rights to religious freedom – mainly from their governments – in many countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states religious communities are still being vilified, fined and imprisoned for peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are being broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied state registration and hence the domestic legal right to exist. Events in Uzbekistan offer one warning of what the persistent intolerance of religious freedom and other internationally agreed human rights can lead to.