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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

TAJIKISTAN: Criminal cases against human rights defenders, relatives threatened

Exiled human rights defenders Anora Sarkorova and her husband Rustamjon Joniyev face criminal charges, and have been placed on Russia's Federal Wanted List. Officials have threatened relatives with arrests. Both have written about the regime's multiple serious violations of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, committed against Ismaili Muslims in Mountainous Badakhshan Region. "This will not break us, and we will continue reporting on human rights violations," Sarkorova told Forum 18. In Khujand police raided a Protestant Church and are questioning its members and leaders.

UZBEKISTAN: Muslim prayer rooms closed, Bukhara Baptists unable to meet

The regime has blocked Bukhara's registered Baptist Union Church from meeting since May 2021, but it hopes to be given a new building in 2024. "When we tried to rent other places to meet, we were refused," Baptists said. The Interior Ministry has closed public Muslim prayer rooms nationwide, using excuses such as escaped prisoners may use them. An Interior Ministry official could not explain to Forum 18 how Muslims who want to pray the five-times-a-day namaz prayers can pray if they are in public places.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Harsh" Religion Law changes to reach parliament soon?

A draft Amending Law (seen by Forum 18) amending nine Codes and Laws on the exercise of freedom of religion or belief would, if adopted in its current form, impose new restrictions on the exercise of freedom of religion or belief. The head of the NSC secret police, Yermek Sagimbayev, has told deputies of the non-freely-elected parliament: "The initiative on the need to harshen legislation in the area of regulating religious activity has more than once been discussed at a government level."

TAJIKISTAN: Religious freedom survey, December 2023

Tajikistan restricts freedom of religion and belief, along with interlinked freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Forum 18's survey analyses violations including: ban on and punishments for all exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission (including among Ismailis in Mountainous Badakhshan); state control of Islam; severe limitations on numbers of mosques; jailing of Muslim prisoners of conscience on alleged "extremism" charges; impunity for torture; denial of a civilian alternative to military service; and state censorship of religious materials.

KYRGYZSTAN: Raids, closures of mosques, madrassahs, Muslim critics arrested

After raids and closures of mosques and madrassahs in Osh Region, three members of the Al-Sarakhsi Mosque community who protested have been arrested and face criminal trial. The men have been held in Osh's Investigation Prison since 18 October. A Justice Ministry "expert analysis" claims the men "discredited the authorities' actions by saying that the 'law-enforcement agencies interfered in mosque matters and acted against Muslims'". One of the men's fathers commented: "If we live in a democratic state, a person should not be criminally prosecuted for expressing their opinion."

KYRGYZSTAN: Repressive draft new Religion Law out for public discussion

The Chair of the State Commission for Religious Affairs, Toygonbay Abdykarov, insisted to Forum 18 that the proposed new Religion Law it prepared "may be restrictive, but we have all the reasons for it to be so". It would continue to require all religious communities to gain state registration before being allowed to exercise freedom of religion or belief, but would require re-registration every 5 years. An Amending Law would impose Violations Code fines for a greater range of "offences". The public have until 9 December to submit comments.

KYRGYZSTAN: Six-month jail term for questioning official religious policy

On 13 September, Protestant Aytbek Tynaliyev completed his six-month jail term. Arrested in May, a Chuy Region court convicted him in July for "inciting religious enmity" for social media posts sharing his faith and questioning the authorities' religious policy. Prosecutor Kaliya Rysbek kyzy refused to say how exactly Tynaliyev insulted Islam and why she called for a two-year jail term. The two Justice Ministry religious "experts", who supported the prosecution case in court, would not explain why they considered Tynaliyev's comments represented "disinformation about the religion of Islam".

UZBEKISTAN: New punishments "correspond to international standards"?

Senator Batyr Matmuratov would not say why Criminal and Administrative Code amendments to increase punishments related to exercising freedom of religion or belief, adopted by both chambers of parliament in September, were not first published for public comment. He falsely claimed that all laws "correspond to international standards". Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov reportedly warned state officials not to attend mosque, though his spokesperson denied this. From the summer, police resumed detentions on the street of Muslim women wearing religious clothes, including the hijab and niqab, and men growing beards.

KAZAKHSTAN: Prisoners of conscience refused conditional early release

At least 3 of the 8 current known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief have had applications for conditional early release rejected on grounds their families regard as arbitrary. In June, a Kyzylorda court rejected Dadash Mazhenov's request, apparently citing his unpaid fees for the "expert analyses" used to convict him. "These fees were just an excuse," his family told Forum 18. The Head of Labour Camp No. 68, Kaiyrbek Ilyasov, refused to discuss why Mazhenov was refused conditional early release.

KAZAKHSTAN: Still jailed despite 2021 UN "immediate" release call

In September 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for 9 Muslims jailed for participating in an online religious discussion group to be "immediately" freed and compensated for their imprisonment. Two years on, none has been freed or compensated. The General Prosecutor's Office, the Religious Affairs Committee, the Foreign Ministry and the government-controlled National Human Rights Centre all failed to explain why. Officials say they regard such UN opinions as "recommendations which they are not obliged to implement", says human rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis.

TAJIKISTAN: Secret Supreme Court hearing bans Jehovah's Witnesses

A 2021 secret Supreme Court ban on Jehovah's Witnesses as allegedly "extremist" was not revealed until over a year later. "The participation of the organisation was not necessary," a Supreme Court official told Forum 18. Despite a 2022 UN Human Rights Committee View that the reasons to ban Jehovah's Witnesses were not lawful, appeals were rejected by a military court and on 31 August 2023 by the Supreme Court. A Court official refused to explain why the Court refused to heed the UN Human Rights Committee finding.

KAZAKHSTAN: Prisoners of conscience still in jail, others under multiple long-term punishments

3 Muslim prisoners of conscience remain jailed 2 years after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for their release "immediately". 5 other Muslim men are in jail for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Also: 6 former prisoners of conscience are serving the rest of their sentences at home under restrictions; 5 other former prisoners of conscience have bans on unspecified or specified activities; 31 others who have completed jail terms or restricted freedom sentences still have bank account access blocked.