30 July 2021
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 male Deputy Head of Dushanbe's Shohmansur Police – whose officers detained hijab-wearing women – refused to explain why no action was taken to stop male police officers bullying women.
23 July 2021
As more human rights defenders are jailed, others protesting against election falsification and regime violence are also targeted. The Belarusian Orthodox Church has fired many priests including Archbishop Artemy of Grodno, who spoke of a "general purge" as "not all church figures support the existing regime". Among others targeted, Catholic priest Fr Vyacheslav Barok fled to Poland. A public prosecutor claimed it is illegal to give Fr Barok a copy of an official warning he was read. The regime tried to stop singing of the hymn Mighty God and organised instead a pro-regime "prayer day".
21 July 2021
A Tashkent court jailed Fazilkhoja Arifkhojayev for three months 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".
16 July 2021
The regime's many political prisoners are frequently denied clergy visits and access to religious literature, against both Belarusian law and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules). Arrested in March, Olga Zolotar repeatedly requested a visit from a Catholic priest, but the Investigative Committee refused. Finally, in June officials allowed a visit by the Vatican nuncio. "The denial of access of priests to political prisoners who are religious, and the use of discriminatory and repressive measures against them are unacceptable .. and grossly violate one of the fundamental human rights," Christian Vision notes.
8 July 2021
Azerbaijani military forces have blocked Armenian Church pilgrims' access to Sunday worship at Dadivank Monastery since 2 May, citing first coronavirus, then a blocked road because of a landslip. "They do not want Dadivank to function as a Christian monastery, but they can't say directly that they don't want this," says Nagorno-Karabakh's Bishop, Vrtanes Abrahamian. "So they use technical issues." The Monastery, in Azerbaijani territory close to the ethnic Armenian-controlled unrecognised entity of Nagorno-Karabakh, is home to six monks and is protected by Russian peacekeepers.
5 July 2021
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.
30 June 2021
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.
25 June 2021
Courts have handed suspended sentences of between two and seven years on "extremism"-related charges to 70 Jehovah's Witnesses as a result of the 2017 Supreme Court ban on their activity. A Muslim who reads Said Nursi's works has completed a two-year suspended sentence. Courts have fined 11 Jehovah's Witnesses and two Muslims on the same "extremism"-related charges. While 29 Jehovah's Witnesses and 1 Muslim have been given jail terms, suspended sentences are now the most common form of punishment.
23 June 2021
While 28 Jehovah's Witnesses have been jailed since the Supreme Court's 2017 ban, 69 have received suspended sentences. This includes the oldest person convicted of "extremism" for exercising freedom of religion and belief: 80-year-old Boris Burylov, with a suspended sentence of two years and six months. Igor Turik, sentenced with him, received the longest suspended sentence: seven years. "A suspended sentence means that you need to live under stress for many years, and the sentence can be changed to a real one," a Jehovah's Witness lawyer noted.
17 June 2021
On 16 June, President Ilham Aliyev signed into law Religion Law and Administrative Code changes introducing new restrictions on freedom of religion and belief. These include requiring the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations to approve the appointment of all non-Islamic religious leaders and to take part in the re-attestation of all clerics of the state-controlled Caucasian Muslim Board every five years. "Most provisions of the amendments are quite restrictive and raise the question as to whether they are the right policy," human rights defender Rasul Jafarov commented. "Our opinion is that they are not, as they violate all international standards."
16 June 2021
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg issued judgments in May and June in eight freedom of religion or belief cases, finding that Azerbaijan had violated human rights and ordering compensation. One of the lawyers in seven of the cases, Asabali Mustafayev, said that all involved were "a little dissatisfied" with the ECtHR judgments, as the Court had not looked at all aspects of the violations included in the cases. Nine other freedom of religion and belief cases from Azerbaijan are awaiting judgments.
15 June 2021
After the latest European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments that Azerbaijan violated freedom of religion and belief, the regime is imposing more restrictions in Religion Law changes. "The judgment of the Court alone is not enough for justice," a lawyer who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. "The government's failure to fulfil its ECtHR obligations is a serious issue," says another lawyer, Asabali Mustafayev. "The Council of Europe and other international organisations are not insistent enough, so the government gets away with flouting [its obligations]."
9 June 2021
As of 9 June, 20 Jehovah's Witnesses and 1 Muslim convicted on extremism-related criminal charges are in jail or in detention awaiting appeals. Another Jehovah's Witness is under house arrest and will be jailed if her appeal fails. Another Muslim who met with others to study Nursi's works is in detention awaiting deportation after serving his jail term. Twice as many prisoners of conscience are serving sentences or are in detention awaiting appeals for exercising freedom of religion or belief as in November 2020.
7 June 2021
In July 2020, Valentina Baranovskaya suffered a stroke. In February 2021, Abakan City Court jailed the 70-year-old for two years to punish her for meeting fellow Jehovah's Witnesses for worship, a verdict her lawyer described as "devoid of all sympathy and compassion". Her son was jailed for six years. Baranovskaya is the oldest - and first female - Jehovah's Witness to be jailed since Russia banned all their activity. Two in their sixties - Yury Savelyov and Aleksandr Ivshin – are serving long jail terms.
28 May 2021
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.
17 May 2021
Religion Law amendments – which come into force in October – ban those the state considers to be "extremists" from participating in religious groups. They also ban commercial entities (such as bookshops) from including a religious affiliation in their name unless they were founded by a centralised religious organisation (or, for NGOs, get their approval). Olga Sibiryova of the Moscow-based SOVA Center warns that "the wording of the amendments is very imprecise and leaves room for interpretation" by police and prosecutors.
13 May 2021
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.
12 May 2021
From October, when new Religion Law amendments come into force, all clergy, religious teachers and missionaries working for registered religious organisations who have trained abroad will need to undertake a course in "state-confessional relations in the Russian Federation". They will then need to be re-certified by a centralised religious organisation before being permitted to begin work for the first time. How the amendments will be applied in practice "is a big question", commented Stanislav Kulov of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice.
10 May 2021
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.
30 April 2021
A Samarkand court fined Shia Muslim Rashid Ibrahimov about two weeks' average wages for having Shia religious material on his mobile phone. The phone was confiscated. A court official said Shia Muslims were punished because of the Religion Law. A prisoner of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion and belief has been tortured with beatings on the soles of his feet. Another prisoner of conscience, Tulkun Astanov, has been given medical treatment, but his current location is unknown.
28 April 2021
Azerbaijan's military blocked Armenian pilgrims visiting Dadivank Monastery for Sunday worship on 25 April and the ordination of a priest. The monastery is in territory returned to Azerbaijani control after 2020 fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian peacekeepers accompany pilgrims to Dadivank, but "They too were surprised" by the sudden denial of access, says Nagorno-Karabakh's Ombudsperson, Gegham Stepanyan. The ordination had to be moved to another monastery. Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry has not responded on why it blocked access to Dadivank.
21 April 2021
The State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations would acquire a veto over non-Islamic religious communities' appointment of leaders under Religion Law amendments due for their first parliamentary reading on 23 April. It would also be involved in re-attesting Muslim Board clerics every five years. Only communities with a religious centre (headquarters) – requiring five state-registered communities in different locations – would be allowed to apply to have foreign citizens as religious leaders, establish religious educational establishments or organise visits by their adherents abroad.
15 April 2021
Kordai District Court fined two more ethnic Dungan Muslims seven weeks' average wages each for teaching the Koran to children. The court issued eight such fines between 2018 and 2020, all to Dungan Muslims. More than half the administrative fines for teaching religion to children in Kazakhstan are in Kordai District. Police chief Maksat Erezhepov insists these prosecutions were "in line with the law". "Any actions that contradict the law will face severe measures." Both he and the regional religious affairs official deny any "ethnic factor" in the prosecutions.
13 April 2021
The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria's Theological Institute lost its higher education licence on 6 April, the third flagship Protestant educational institution to lose the right to conduct formal religious education. Another Lutheran seminary is fighting against the stripping of its licence through the courts. "The issue has been serious and has caused a lot of extra work and expense," a staff member of one of the institutions told Forum 18. State education inspectorate Rosobrnadzor has not replied to Forum 18's questions. Religion Law changes will from October make extra training of foreign-educated clergy compulsory, but if a religious community has no educational institutions in Russia it is unclear where or how such extra training is possible.
9 April 2021
Courts fined at least 18 people in 2021 for distributing religious literature, texts, videos, audio and items in places and ways the regime declares illegal under its compulsory religious censorship. Most fines were of three weeks' average wages. "People don't have the right to distribute religious materials in any form whatsoever, whether text, video or audio," insists Kayrulla Kushkaliyev of Atyrau's Religious Affairs Department – which brought six prosecutions. The UN Human Rights Committee found an import ban on ten Jehovah's Witness publications violated Polat Bekzhan's rights.
31 March 2021
A Tashkent court fined a Baptist for offering Christian magazines to neighbours in her home and ordered the magazines destroyed. A Muslim was jailed for 10 days after police found a lecture from a state Islamic institution on his phone. And a police officer threatened another Muslim with jail or a psychiatric ward for a video criticising the "no serious changes" on human rights, and the public's silence "because of fear of the authorities" about human rights violations.
30 March 2021
Of the four jail terms handed down in Crimea to punish the exercise of freedom of religion or belief, 54-year-old Jehovah's Witness Viktor Stashevsky received the longest so far. A Sevastopol court jailed him on 29 March for six and a half years, with a further seven years under restrictions, which are due to end in 2034. Seven more Crimean Jehovah's Witnesses are facing "extremism"-related prosecutions. Two were transferred in March from Investigation Prison to house arrest after nearly six months.
26 March 2021
The UN Human Rights Committee adopted two decisions in favour of four Jehovah's Witnesses, requiring not only that Azerbaijan repay their fines and court fees but review "its domestic legislation, regulations and/or practices" to ensure similar violations cannot recur. Dozens of European Court of Human Rights judgments in freedom of religion or belief cases similarly require changes to law and practice to implement the decisions. The regime has given no public indication of any changes to law and practice to prevent further violations.
19 March 2021
On 16 March the regime jailed another conscientious objector to military service for two years, the eighth such 2021 jailing. Like six of the other 2021 jailings, 21-year-old Jehovah's Witness Rasul Rozbayev is being punished for the second time on the same charges. The jailings ignore a December 2020 appeal by four UN special procedures. A March 2020 regime report to the UN insisted that defending the country "is the sacred duty of every citizen".
16 March 2021
Police detained about ten Muslim men in Farap in January who they believed were following their faith too closely, such as by praying every day. Officers "used swear words and behaved crudely towards those they detained." Police forcibly shaved one man, made him drink alcohol, and fined him with no explanation. About ten more were held for praying in a home. Officials warned school children not to take part in (unspecified) "illegal" religious groups and residents received a similar warning.
12 March 2021
Members of religious communities and human rights defenders criticise the draft new Criminal Code due to come into force on 1 January 2022. This would continue to punish those who exercise freedom of religion or belief without state permission. A "disguised old Criminal Code with no real changes", Protestants complain. Muslims describe it as "our government's old tricks". Solmaz Akhmedova of the Human Rights Alliance noted that "they just made some decorative changes, and used less religious terminology."
10 March 2021
Prison authorities have repeatedly denied seriously ill Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Shamil Khakimov the specialised medical treatment he needs. The 70-year-old has a bad leg "which smells like rotten meat" and has had coronavirus symptoms. The UN Mandela Rules for prisoners' treatment say medical decisions must be made by doctors, and the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee against Torture have both called for Tajikistan to implement the Rules. Yet the prison governor told Forum 18: "I do not know what the Mandela Rules are." A Supreme Court official similarly denied knowledge of the Mandela Rules.
5 March 2021
Independent imam Sirojiddin Abdurahmonov, who was also jailed in 2010, was jailed in February for five and a half years along with an unknown number of others. Conscientious objector Rustamjon Norov's appeal against a three and a half year jail sentence is due on 11 March, and a judge has refused to explain why he allowed a Russian Orthodox nun with no connection to the case to testify for the prosecution.
25 February 2021
Of the 13 individuals fined under Russia's "anti-missionary" laws in 2020 in Russian-occupied Crimea, 10 were imams leading meetings for worship in mosques outside the framework of the Russian-backed Crimean Muslim Board. "What will the state's next step be?" Seitosman Karaliyev asked in November 2020, after another imam was fined for not having documents approving his role leading the community. "Without an original certificate, will we no longer be allowed to conduct dua (prayer service) or jenazah (burial service)?"
24 February 2021
Seven Muslim men who met in Tashkent to discuss Islam were in January 2021 transferred to various prisons to begin jail terms of between 11 and four years. Nine men were given restricted freedom sentences. "It is no use for us to make another appeal as nothing will change," a relative told Forum 18. In this and other cases there are credible claims of torture and the use of agent provocateurs to bring false charges.
19 February 2021
Bailiffs accompanied by police used an angle grinder and a crowbar on 17 February to gain access to Minsk's New Life Pentecostal Church to evict it. Officials told the Church they were enforcing a 2009 court order. Aleksey Petrukovich, who signed the enforcement order, refused to explain why the eviction happened, and why force was used. "I am indignant. This is a hostile takeover of church property with the excuse of official papers," Sergiy Melyanets, a member of a different Church who witnessed the eviction, told Forum 18.
17 February 2021
Six Jehovah's Witnesses jailed on "extremism"-related charges applied for early release after serving half their jail terms, but have been unsuccessful. Prison administrations opposed the applications with what Jehovah's Witnesses describe as "fabricated evidence" of violations of prison rules. Four of the prisoners were accused of smoking in the wrong place, but Jehovah's Witnesses do not smoke. Another Jehovah's Witness jailed since 2018 and a Muslim reader of Nursi's works jailed since 2017 should both become eligible to apply in summer 2021.
16 February 2021
All the more than 60 Jehovah's Witnesses brought to criminal trial on "extremism"-related charges since the 2017 nationwide ban have been convicted, with several being jailed. Appeals have not overturned any convictions. In a few cases, appeal courts increased or reduced the punishment. Muslims who met to read the works of Said Nursi similarly convicted on "extremism"-related charges have also tended to be unsuccessful at appeal. Raids, house searches, criminal cases, prosecutions and convictions continue.
15 February 2021
A court in Lebap Region jailed 20-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Nazar Alliyev for one year for refusing compulsory military service. He is the seventh to be jailed in 2021 so far and joins 14 other jailed conscientious objectors (9 of them serving second sentences). "We deeply regret the criminalization of conscientious objection," four UN human rights Special Procedures wrote to the Turkmen government in December 2020, adding that Turkmenistan "must provide meaningful alternative service". The regime has not responded to the UN.
12 February 2021
Prisoners suffer bans on praying the namaz and reading the Koran, torture for praying the namaz or fasting during Ramadan, denials of medical care, failure to carry out medical treatment families have paid for, and inadequate and insanitary conditions. "Why did the authorities punish him simply for praying the namaz? What day and age do we live in?" one tortured prisoner's relatives asked. "There are no problems in Uzbekistan's prisons today", claimed Aziza Kenzhayeva of the Interior Ministry's Chief Directorate for the Enforcement of Punishments.
2 February 2021
In 134 known administrative prosecutions in 2020, 114 individuals (one twice), three charities and one company were punished for worship meetings, offering religious literature and items (including online), sharing or teaching faith, posting religious material online, or praying in mosques. At least 14 fines were imposed in January 2021. Deputy Chair Anuar Khatiyev of the regime's Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss why individuals should face prosecution and punishment for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.
29 January 2021
After serving sentences as "extremists" for meeting to study and worship, three former prisoners of conscience face expulsion. One was deported, one may be expelled later in 2021, and one remains in detention as he is now stateless and no country has agreed to take him. "I think that the authorities – that is, de facto, the security services – perceive this measure not as an additional punishment, but as a way to get rid of the problem," says Aleksandr Verkhovsky.
26 January 2021
Five conscientious objectors to compulsory military service who had already served sentences were jailed again in trials on 18 and 19 January. Courts gave all five two-year terms, four of them in strict-regime labour camp, bringing to six the number jailed so far in 2021. All had offered to perform an alternative civilian service, but Turkmenistan does not offer this. Nine of the 14 known jailed conscientious objectors – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses – are serving second sentences.
22 January 2021
After repeatedly defending Muslims' freedom of religion and belief, including demonstrating outside President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's residence, Tulkun Astanov has been jailed for five years. A state report accused him of following "sources of biased news such as Radio Free Europe", and publishing "unsubstantiated and exaggerated" information. Prisoner of conscience Astanov is being banned in jail from reading the Koran and praying the namaz.
15 January 2021
Conscientious objectors increasingly face second prosecutions for continuing to refuse compulsory military service. On 11 January, a court in Lebap Region sentenced 20-year-old Jehovah's Witness Ruslan Artykmuradov to two years in a strict regime labour camp, his second jailing on the same charges. On 30 December 2020, Danev District Prosecutor's Office informed four other Jehovah's Witnesses they face second prosecutions. All had offered to do an alternative, civilian service.
7 January 2021
Despite his offer to perform alternative civilian service, Khujand Military Court today (7 January) jailed Rustamjon Norov for three and a half years, the longest known sentence. The court claimed the 22-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector falsified his medical history to evade compulsory military service, charges he denies. While held in a military unit in October 2020, he was threatened with torture if he did not put on a military uniform.
5 January 2021
Arrested in December 2020, 20-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Ruslan Artykmuradov is awaiting trial in Turkmenabat's Pre-Trial Detention Prison for refusing compulsory military service. He offered to do an alternative civilian service, but Turkmenistan does not offer this, despite repeated United Nations calls. Artykmuradov has already served a one-year jail term on the same charges. If convicted, he will become the 25th conscientious objector known to have been jailed since 2018.
24 December 2020
On 24 December, the regime allowed Belarus' senior Catholic leader, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, to return to his own country after barring him for 16 weeks. He will lead Christmas Masses in Minsk. The return followed a plea from Pope Francis, delivered to Aleksandr Lukashenko by the former Nuncio on 17 December. Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei – who had been present at the meeting – spoke of "a range of negative elements" connected with the Archbishop.
23 December 2020
The Samarkand police "Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism Department" has opened a case against Shia Muslim Rashid Ibrahimov, twice questioning him without a written summons. Officers sent material from his phone, including texts of sermons, to the Religious Affairs Committee for "expert analysis". "Depending on that, they may bring administrative or criminal charges against him," a source told Forum 18. Officials are hostile to Shia Islam. Human rights defender Doctor Alimardon Sultonov is challenging his 14-month restricted freedom sentence.
22 December 2020
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; severe limitations on numbers of mosques; jailing of Muslim, Jehovah's Witness and Protestant prisoners of conscience on alleged "extremism" charges; impunity for torture; jailing of conscientious objectors; and state censorship of religious materials.