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UZBEKISTAN: Three-year imprisonment for religious literature?

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Stanislav Kim could be jailed for up to three years if convicted of having "illegal" religious literature in his home in Urgench. In Bukhara, two Jehovah's Witnesses were jailed for ten days and, with 28 others, fined for "illegal" literature and worship meeting.

Police in Urgench [Urganch] in Uzbekistan's north-western Khorezm Region appear about to hand to court a criminal case against a local Baptist to punish him for "illegal possession" of religious literature in his home. Stanislav Kim could face up to three years' imprisonment if convicted. The Investigator who prepared the indictment refused to tell Forum 18 if Nikolai Serin, another Baptist questioned as a witness in the case, also faces prosecution. Courts routinely punish people for "illegal" religious literature as well as holding meetings for worship.

Khorezm authorities also raided a Baptist worship meeting in February. In late March the host and her non-believing husband were fined for possessing "illegal" literature in their home when the meeting was raided.

Meanwhile in the southern Bukhara Region on 27 January, 30 Jehovah's Witnesses were punished for meeting for worship and possessing religious literature officials claimed was "illegal". They received fines totalling more than 1,050 times the minimum monthly wage or 136,752,000 Soms (390,000 Norwegian Kroner, 42,000 Euros or 47,000 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate). Two of the Jehovah's Witnesses - Andrei and Yelena Yu - were fined 30 times the minimum monthly wage each and given 10-day jail terms for exercising their freedom of religion and belief.

Against its international human rights obligations, Uzbekistan imposes strict censorship on all religious publications and all aspects of their distribution. There is a de facto ban on religious literature of any faith in homes and if found such literature is frequently ordered to be destroyed. State pressure is so great that for their own safety some religious believers have destroyed their own sacred texts (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).

Imprisonment for religious literature?

On 27 June Investigator Lieutenant Sarvar Artykov of Urgench City Police in Khorezm Region prepared and signed the indictment (seen by Forum 18) against local Baptist Stanislav Kim. He is accused of "illegal possession" of Christian literature under Criminal Code Article 244-3.

Article 244-3 punishes "Illegal production, storage, import into the territory of Uzbekistan with a purpose to distribute or distribution of religious materials, committed after enforcement of an administrative penalty for a similar violation" with a fine of 100 to 200 times the minimum monthly wage or corrective labour of up to three years.

"The Investigator warned us that Stanislav might be fined or even jailed for up to three years," Nikolai Serin, Kim's fellow-Baptist from Navoi Region, told Forum 18 on 27 June. Police told Serin and Kim that Urgench City Court will hear the case in up to fifteen days (by about 10 July), Serin added.

Both Kim and Serin are members of separate Council of Churches Baptist congregations. Council of Churches Baptist churches do not – as Uzbekistan against its human rights obligations requires – seek state permission to exist (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).

Urgench Police questioned Serin on 26 June as a witness in the case, he noted. On 19 June Police in Navoi had already raided his home there and confiscated his Christian books. Navoi Police told him that a case had been opened against him under Administrative Code Article 184-2, which punishes "Illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious materials" with a fine for individuals of 20 to 100 times the minimum monthly wage, as well as confiscation of the materials and any equipment used to produce them.

"We've done nothing criminal, but only exercised our Constitutional rights which allow us peacefully to practice our faith, which does no harm to anyone," Serin insisted to Forum 18. He said that when he told Investigator Artykov, who is leading the case, that he refuses to be a witness, the Investigator warned him that "I also may be punished with up to three years' imprisonment unless I cooperate with the Police."

Serin did not sign any Police reports or statements prepared by Urgench Police during questioning either on 17 May or 26 June, he told Forum 18.

"Extremist"?

Investigator Artykov argues in the 27 June indictment that the materials found in Kim's home "contain ideas of converting believers of one confession to another, which is against Article 5, Part 3 of the Religion Law". He concludes therefore that Kim "stored illegal religious materials in his private flat".

The indictment says that among the items officers seized from Kim was a Russian-language book "To Mecca", which "propagates the Protestant religion". The book is a "testimony of a former [non-Uzbek] Muslim man who became a Christian", Serin told Forum 18. He confirmed that Kim had a copy.

The "expert analysis" by the government's Religious Affairs Committee says that the book "does not contain ideas against Uzbekistan's Constitutional order, or of an extremist or separatist nature". But it claims that the book "can be used for missionary purposes", Serin noted.

Arslan Ruzimov, Chief of Khorezm Regional Police Criminal Investigation Department, adamantly defended the charges against Kim. Asked on 28 June why the authorities want to imprison him, he told Forum 18 from Urgench: "The religious expert analysis found the materials confiscated from Kim to be extremist."

Told that the confiscated literature consisted of Christian magazines, children's stories, song-books and Kim's personal notes, and asked what specifically is "extremist" in those materials, Ruzimov could not answer. "They have a lawyer, they can ask him to defend them," he retorted. Asked why Serin was pressured to be a witness against Kim, his co-believer, he did not answer. He then declined to talk to Forum 18.

Investigator Artykov also used a July 2001 conviction in a non-religious criminal case to justify the unrelated new case. Kim was sentenced that year to 20 years' imprisonment as an alleged accomplice in an intentional killing. Artykov argues that although Kim was freed from his sentence, "he continued violating the Law".

Serin told Forum 18 that Kim was released from prison in 2009, and that "he became a believer while in prison." He said that "it looks like the authorities want to imprison him again, which is why they bring up his criminal conviction from the past in the indictment."

Investigator Artykov told Forum 18 on 28 June that the case against Kim has not yet been handed to the Court, but refused to answer Forum 18's other questions. Asked whether any charges were brought against Serin, as well as why a criminal case was opened against Kim simply for having Christian books and materials in his home, Artykov replied: "If you want to know the answers then send your representative to our office. I will not answer your questions over the phone." Artykov also did not say when the Police will refer the case to the Court.

Why criminal charges?

The indictment explains that police opened a criminal case against Kim because this is the second case against him within one year for possessing "illegal" religious literature.

Urgench City Criminal Court fined Kim ten times the minimum monthly wage, 1,184,000 Soms, on 8 August 2015 under Administrative Code Article 184-2, according to the June 2016 indictment. The Court ordered part of the Christian literature confiscated from him to be destroyed and the rest to be handed over to the Khorezm Department of the state-backed Muslim Board.


Secret police and anti-terrorism police raid and confiscations

The latest trouble began for Kim on 17 May, when Major Shukhrat Masharipov of Urgench Anti-Terrorism Police and two unidentified officers raided his home in the city, Serin told Forum 18. The indictment indicates that the two officers represented the National Security Service (NSS) secret police. The officers pretended to be conducting a passport inspection.

Without showing a search warrant, officers confiscated Christian literature, including the book "To Mecca", one copy each of "Herald of Truth" magazine, two Baptist song books ("Hold on to Christ" and "Youth for Christ"), a book of Christian children's stories, and several notebooks with personal notes.

Serin told Forum 18 that he was present during the Police raid on Kim's home, since he happened to be visiting him that day.

Six hour interrogation

Officer Masharipov and the other officers took Kim's and Serin's passports and left, demanding that the two appear at Urgench Police Station the next morning.

On 18 May, Major Masharipov and Police Investigator Shavkat Bekjanov questioned the two Baptists for six hours, Serin told Forum 18. "They suggested that we write statements but we refused." The Police told the Baptists that as Kim had been found for the second time "illegally possessing" Christian literature in his home, this time he may be jailed. The two were released from the Police Station that evening.

February Khorezm raid and fines

On 17 February in Gullanbog, in Yangiaryk District of Khorezm Region, two plain-clothes Anti-Terrorism Police officers and the local ordinary police officer raided the home of Oybek and Gulnara Rahimov as 15 Council of Churches Baptists were meeting for worship.

"When the local police officer saw we were worshipping, he called for a police squad," Baptists told Forum 18 on 15 April. Police then began filming those present and took down their names. Police also confiscated a Bible, a children's Bible, one other Christian book and two Baptist song-books.

All the meeting participants were taken to Yangiaryk District Police Station, where they were questioned for three hours.

Oybek Rahimov is not a Baptist and was not at home during the raid. But that did not stop Judge Yerpolat Berdiyev, Chair of Bogot District Criminal Court, on 22 March fining both wife and husband 10 times the minimum monthly wage each. Baptists have particularly expressed outrage at the fine imposed on Oybek.

Judge Berdiyev also ordered the destruction of Christian literature confiscated from the Rahimovs' home. Courts frequently order that such confiscated religious literature be destroyed (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).

Asked why the Baptists were raided, Bogot District Police on 8 June referred Forum 18 to Anti-Terrorism Police officer Dilshot Fayzullayev. However, asked the same day why officers conducted the raid, fines and confiscations, he refused to answer.

Neither Bogot District Court, nor Judge Berdiyev, answered their phones on 9 June.

Two short-term prisoners of conscience, 30 large fines

Meanwhile, in Kogon in Bukhara [Bukhoro] Region on 27 January, 30 Jehovah's Witnesses received fines totalling more than 1,050 times the minimum monthly wage or 136,752,000 Soms (390,000 Norwegian Kroner, 42,000 Euros or 47,000 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate). Two of the Jehovah's Witnesses - Andrei and Yelena Yu - were fined 30 times the minimum monthly wage each and given 10-day jail terms for exercising their freedom of religion and belief.

The fines and jailing of the two prisoners of conscience followed an early January raid by Kogon Anti-Terrorism Police and the ordinary police on the home of Aziz Pulatov. Jehovah's Witnesses were meeting together for worship, they told Forum 18 on 8 June.

Numon Tukhtayev, Deputy Head of Kogon Anti-Terrorism Police, refused on 8 June to explain why the raid took place. The same day the ordinary police similarly refused to explain their actions.

Judge Zarif Sherov, Chair of Kogon Criminal Court, found the accused guilty under Administrative Code Articles 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons") and Article 240 ("Violation of the Religion Law"), Part 1 ("Carrying out of unauthorised religious activity, evasion by leaders of religious organisations of registration of the charter of the organisation, the unauthorised organisation and conduct of worship by religious ministers, and the organisation and conduct of special children's and youth meetings, as well as vocational, literature and other study groups not relating to worship").

Aziz Pulatov and Fazliddin Tukhtayev were fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage each; Akpar Pulatov, Shahzoda Pulatova, Mukaddas Rakhmatova, Zuhra Tashayeva, and Malyuda Kuldasheva were fined 50 times the minimum monthly wage each; Shahnoz Gulomova, Shahzoda Mavlyanova, Mukhabbatkhon Mirzayeva, Mokhidil Zairova, Gulnora Norova, Dilfuza Kobilova, Orom Khaydarova, Soliya Niyazova, Mahliyo Zhurayeva, Ibodillo Zhurayev, Gulchehra Ibadova, Shoista Mamedova, Shahin Norov, Zarina Kosimova, Munavvar Mardonova, Azamzhon Ismatilloyev, Farida Amonova, and Zarina Amonova were fined 30 times the minimum monthly wage each; and Gulbahor Mavlonova, Nilufar Ibrohimova, and Mizhgona Ismatillayeva were fined 5 times the minimum monthly wage each.

Judge Sherov denied that he had jailed prisoners of conscience Andrei and Yelena Yu. "I do not know about the jailing," he claimed to Forum 18 on 9 June.

However, the Judge admitted that he had imposed fines totalling 1,050 times the minimum monthly wage. Asked why he did this to people exercising their freedom of religion and belief, Sherov stated: "I explained to them during the hearing that the fines were given based on the existing law."

Asked about the restrictions the Religion Law, Administrative and Criminal Codes put on the exercise of freedom of religion and belief, the Judge replied: "I cannot comment on that". He then said "let them appeal if they do not agree with our decision" before declining to talk further to Forum 18. (END)

Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2192

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      Mahalla committees, theoretically independent but in practice under state control, are used to maintain controls over anyone trying to exercise freedom of religion and belief in their city district (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

      When Tajiyev arrived at the Mahalla Committee at 4.45 pm, four officers were present: Mamur Sobirov; Mukhammad Rakhimov and Shavkat Bekjanov from Urgench Police's Department for the Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism; and Officer Ravshan Sobirov.

      "The officer gave his name as Ravshan Sobirov, but is possible that this is not his real name. He is the one who tortured Tajiyev," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "We believe he is an undercover secret police officer."

      Officers of the then National Security Service secret police (renamed the State Security Service in March 2018) have often been involved in punishing individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

      While questioning him "Sobirov made powerful blows to Tajiyev's head and face during the whole process, which went on for nearly four hours until 10.30 pm," Jehovah's Witnesses complained. Sobirov "humiliated Tajiyev, his wife, and his female fellow-believers with swear words, and also issued threats, saying that we will destroy all of you."

      During their interrogation, officers also named several female Jehovah's Witnesses, describing them to Tajiyev as "immoral women". In Central Asia, the authorities brand female members of religious organisations they do not like as "immoral women".

      The authorities use threats to rape female members of religious communities they do not like to put psychological pressure on the leaders and members of such communities (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

      Asked about the case, duty officers at Urgench City Police (who did not give their names) referred Forum 18 on 23 April to Officer Ravshan Sobirov. He denied to Forum 18 that he was involved in Tajiyev's case. "I do not know that person," he claimed to Forum 18 on 23 April. "I did not question him."

      Told that Jehovah's Witnesses complained about him to the authorities numerous times, and asked why he questioned and tortured Tajiyev, Sobirov repeated his previous answer. He did not wish to talk further to Forum 18.

      "Officer Mukhammad Rakhimov along with other officers of our Department carried out their responsibility to investigate the case," Khamra Masimov, Chief of Urgench Police's Department for the Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism, told Forum 18 on 23 April. "But our officers did not violate the law."

      Asked what role Officer Ravshan Sobirov played in the investigation, Masimov refused to answer. "I do not know you, and I cannot discuss the case with you over the phone." He then declined to talk further with Forum 18 and asked it to send questions in writing.

      Rakhimov is the same officer, who in January harassed local Protestant Nargiza Khusainova on the street and tried to pressure her to become an informer for the police (see F18News 6 April 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2367).

      Forced to sign police report denying torture 

      After four hours of interrogation and beating on 10 October 2017, officers "under threats of more severe injuries to his body", forced Tajiyev to sign the police report saying that he had no complaint against the Police, and that officers had not beaten or psychologically pressured him, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. Tajiyev "was afraid that the police officers could cause him physical or mental disabilities".

      State emergency medical centre refuses medical examination

      Tajiyev's relatives were afraid to take him to Urgench City Hospital because of the police. They instead took him to Tashkent the next day, 11 October 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. They brought him to the Republican (State) Centre of Emergency Medical Services in Tashkent. "When Ayliyev (Tajiyev's co-believer) told the medical workers that the injuries were made by the Police officers of Urgench City, they refused to examine Tajiyev."

      Gulchohra Turayeva, medical worker on duty who answered the phone of the Republican Centre of Emergency Medical Services on 24 April, told Forum 18 that "by the Law we have to examine patients and only then inform the police if need be. We cannot refuse patients, particularly with serious injuries." Asked why then Tajiyev was refused medical examination in the Centre, she referred Forum 18 to the Centre's Administration.

      Asylbek Khudayarov, General Director of the Emergency Centre, claimed to Forum 18 on 25 April that Tajiyev "wanted to be hospitalised, but we can only do diagnosis, which is why we refused services to him."

      When Forum 18 asked why the Centre did not examine Tajiyev and whether the Police involvement in the case was the reason, Khudayarov did not answer. "Please, send your questions in writing," he said and declined to talk further to Forum 18.

      Private clinic also refuses treatment

      Relatives then contacted one of Tashkent's private clinics, Medical Diagnostics Services. But it too refused to examine Tajiyev.

      Lola Kaharova, General Director of Medical Diagnostics Service, told Forum 18 on 24 April: "We as a private clinic do not usually refuse services to patients unless we do not have the exact specialists."

      Asked why Tajiyev was refused diagnosis of his brain, Kaharova responded: "Maybe we did not have the specialists on that particular day." Asked whether this happened because of police involvement in Tajiyev's case and whether she could check their records for 11 October 2017, she told Forum 18 that Tajiyev "must write us a complaint".

      Diagnosed with concussion of brain

      Only after a search for available hospitals, the following day, 12 October 2017, Tashkent City Hospital No. 7 accepted Tajiyev. There he was diagnosed with closed cranium cerebral injury (concussion of the brain), Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

      Complaints and official responses

      On 30 October 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses asked Urgench City Prosecutor's Office for a copy of the Prosecutor's approval of the police search of Tajiyev's home. On 10 November 2017, Prosecutor Umurbek Madrakhimov passed on the request to Urgench City Police. However, the Police did not reply.

      On 15 November 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to President Mirziyoyev and the National Centre of Human Rights in Tashkent. The following day they filed a further online complaint through the presidential website.

      On 25 November 2017, Urgench City Prosecutor's Office summoned Tajiyev, subjecting him to a four-hour interrogation. "During the questioning he was warned not to go on writing complaints but was promised that the authorities will punish Officer Sobirov."

      On 28 November 2017, Akmal Saidov, Director of the National Centre for Human Rights, referred the Jehovah's Witness complaint to Khorezm Regional Prosecutor's Office.

      On 13 December 2017, Oybek Shamuratov, Khorezm Region's Deputy Prosecutor, in response to the complaint to President Mirziyoyev, wrote to the Jehovah's Witnesses: "We found no unlawful actions carried out by Officer Mukhammad Rakhimov." Jehovah's Witnesses objected to Forum 18: "We did not complain against Officer Rakhimov but against Officer Sobirov."

      On 16 December 2017, Urgench City Prosecutor's Office merely referred Jehovah's Witnesses to Prosecutor Shamuratov's 13 December response. The letter was signed again by Prosecutor Madrakhimov.

      Seeing the inaction of the Regional authorities, Jehovah's Witnesses refiled their complaint on the presidential website in late December. They complained about the Regional authorities' unwillingness to investigate the torture properly and punish the responsible officials. They also drew the President's attention to the fact that "Tajiev was beaten not by Officer Rakhimov but by Officer Sobirov."

      On 7 January 2018, Deputy Prosecutor of Khorezm Region, Shamuratov again responded that Officer "Rakhimov did not violate the Law". Jehovah's Witnesses pointed out to Forum 18 that again the Regional Prosecutor's Office indicated a "wrong name."

      On 17 January, Jehovah's Witnesses again complained to the National Centre for Human Rights, which it referred to the General Prosecutor's Office. This in turn told the Centre on 29 January that it had referred the complaint to Khorezm Regional Prosecutor's Office.

      On 28 February, Deputy Prosecutor of Khorezm Shamuratov told Jehovah's Witnesses: "We halted the investigation of the complaint, because there are no new circumstances of the case."

      The last response Jehovah's Witnesses received was on 3 March from Urgench City Prosecutor's Office: "We found that the Police Officers' actions were not unlawful."

      Will authorities implement anti-torture Acts?

      Asked why the General Prosecutor's Office will not properly investigate Tajiyev's case in light of the Presidential anti-torture Decree and changes to the Criminal Code, Prosecutor Samir Rakhmanov of the General Prosecutor's Office did not respond. "No new cases of torture took place after the Decree, otherwise we would have investigated and published information on that," he claimed to Forum 18 on 26 April.

      Asked why then despite so many complaints from Jehovah's Witnesses, including those made between December 2017 and March 2018, the authorities will not properly investigate Tajiyev's torture and punish the perpetrators, Rakhmanov referred Forum 18 to Prosecutor Vakhib Sharopov.

      Forum 18 had already talked to Sharopov of the General Prosecutor's Office on 24 April on the torture of Tajiyev. Called again on 26 April, he told Forum 18: "I passed on your information to the appropriate Prosecutors, who are at the moment studying the case to prepare action. We will need at least 10 days for this."

      Asked why the authorities will not register Jehovah's Witness communities across Uzbekistan, why police and other authorities keep pressuring and torturing their members, and why the authorities will not punish officials responsible for Tajiyev's torture, officials at the reception and press service of the Presidential Administration on 26 April referred Forum 18 to Shakhzod Islamov, who oversees religious issues, and Sardor Ibrahimkhojayev, who oversees legislative issues.

      Both Islamov and Ibrahimkhojayev refused to respond to Forum 18's questions on 26 April. Ibrahimkhojayev referred Forum 18 to the Justice Ministry.

      Asked the questions, Shakhrukh Nuraliyev, Press Secretary of the Justice Ministry, referred Forum 18 on 26 April to Akmal Khamdamov of the Ministry section overseeing religious organisations.

      "I don't know why the President's Office referred you to us, because we are not an investigative organ," Khamdamov told Forum 18 on 26 April. Asked why the authorities will not register Jehovah's Witness communities across Uzbekistan, he was quick to answer, "They have registration in Uzbekistan."

      Told that Jehovah's Witnesses are registered only in one town in Tashkent Region, Chirchik, while their other communities across Uzbekistan have been denied registration, and that it is illegal to meet for worship without registration, and asked what they should do, Khamdamov was silent. He then said, "I cannot say anything, I do not know why they referred you to us."

      National Centre for Human Rights "not competent to investigate human rights violations"

      Dilnoza Muradova, Assistant to Akmal Saidov, Chair of the state-sponsored National Centre for Human Rights in Tashkent, told Forum 18 on 24 April that it had sent an enquiry to the General Prosecutor's Office about Tajiyev's torture. However, the General Prosecutor's Office response did "not say anything about any the investigation of the police actions".

      Told that Jehovah's Witnesses twice complained to her Human Rights Centre, and asked what steps it took – if any - to help Tajiyev, Muradova replied: "The Centre is not competent to investigate human rights violations – it's the duty and competence of the state organs, to which we always refer complaints."

      Asked what the role of the Centre is, and how it can help victims whose rights were violated, Muradova responded: "We inform the authorities about the violations, and they inform us on the course of their investigation."

      Asked why the authorities will not begin implementing the new anti-torture acts by punishing the police officers and compensating Tajiyev for damages he suffered, Muradova replied: "He needs to write to us and the authorities about it."

      Told that Tajiyev already wrote numerous complaints to her Centre and other state agencies, Muradova was quick to reply, "We will now prepare another letter asking the General Prosecutor's Office to open a new investigation into the police actions."

      Prosecutor's officials refuse to discuss torture

      Prosecutor Timur Gofurov answered the phone on 23 April of Gulnoza Rakhimova, Chief of the General Prosecutor's Office Public Relations and Legal Information Section in Tashkent. Asked why the General Prosecutor's Office will not properly investigate Tajiyev's case and make Officer Sobirov who tortured Tajiyev and the other police officers responsible, Gofurov claimed to Forum 18 that Khorezm Regional Prosecutor's Office "investigated that case properly and replied to the complaints."

      "If Jehovah's Witnesses are not satisfied, they can still file a new complaint," Gofurov added.

      Urgench City Prosecutor's officials (who did not give their names) refused to discuss the case with Forum 18 between 23 and 24 April and told Forum 18 that Prosecutor Madrakhimov had been "transferred to Tashkent to the General Prosecutor's Office." They also refused to put Forum 18 through to any other officials.

      Asked whether Prosecutor Madrakhimov was indeed transferred to the General Prosecutor's Office, Sharopov of the Prosecutor General, claimed to Forum 18 on 24 April: "I do not know, since there are so many departments and officials in the Office."

      Asked about Tajiyev's case, Sharopov took down the details and promised Forum 18 that "We will do our best to properly investigate the case."

      Khorezm Prosecutor's officials (who did not give their names) between 23 and 24 April refused to discuss the case with Forum 18 or put it through to Prosecutor Shamuratov or other officials.

      Will new ban end "routine" torture?

      At its most recent consideration of Uzbekistan's record, in October and November 2013, the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (CAT/C/UZB/CO/4) expressed its concern "about numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations that torture and ill-treatment are routinely used by law enforcement, investigative and prison officials, or at their instigation or with their consent, often to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings".

      Uzbekistan told the UN Committee Against Torture in its report due in 2017, submitted on 16 January 2018 (CAT/C/UZB/5), that 29 state officials were convicted in 2015 for committing torture, 21 in 2016 and 8 in the first quarter of 2017. Sentences ranged from a fine to suspended sentences to prison terms. Thirteen state officials were sacked between January 2016 and June 2017 after criminal cases of torture were lodged against them.

      However, the report notes that few complaints against "illegal actions" by police were upheld (only 23 of 438 in 2016 and 5 of 39 in January-March 2017).

      The government's report claims that legislation has been tightened "to strengthen procedures for compensating the victims of crime, including torture".

      On 30 November 2017, President Mirziyoyev signed a Decree on "supplementary measures for reinforcement of guarantees of rights and freedoms of citizens in judicial-investigative activity". This banned using evidence obtained by torture and other inhuman treatment, as well as making inadmissible the use of such evidence by the judiciary or other investigative organs.

      Further amendments came in April 2018. On 4 April, President Mirziyoyev signed into law changes and new provisions in the Criminal Code criminalising torture, including psychological pressure, during investigation by Police and other law-enforcement agencies. The amendments came into force on 5 April on publication in the state-sponsored newspaper "Halq Suzi" (People's Tribune).

      According to the new legal provisions, law-enforcement officers who are aware of torture and take no action will also be made responsible as accomplices. Punishments for torture include imprisonment of between 3 and 10 years.

      However, human rights defenders are not optimistic about the changes. Yelena Urlayeva, a human rights defender from Tashkent, told centre1.com, an independent Uzbek news agency, on 11 April that "there are still many cases of torture by the law-enforcement agencies". The ban on torture initiated by President Mirziyoyev does "not work in reality, because only a few [officials] want to change," she added.

      Tatyana Dovlatova, another local human rights defender, told the agency that "many still keep silent about their torture because the law-enforcement agencies threaten them and their family members, telling them that their complaints will only worsen the situation." (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2374
    • By Bible Speaks
      PORTUGAL
      Based on legal arguments that revolve around violations of several articles of the Portuguese Constitution and the Religious Freedom Act, a petition has been launched to the Portuguese parliament to extinguish the legal entity that represents the Jehovah's Witnesses in Portugal and eliminate this community from the national registry of religions recognized and protected by law.
      The petition does NOT seek to prohibit Jehovah's Witnesses as a whole in the country. The petition denounces the institutional policy of shunning former members as a violation of basic human rights and psychological torture, and asks lawmakers and Portuguese judicial authorities to take measures to stop this abuse and suspend legal recognition of the entity. the branch until the shunning policies are changed.
      The petition is now gathering votes. 1000 votes assure that the author (s) of the petition will receive a hearing in parliament to present their case; 4000 votes ensure that the parliament will debate the petition during its session.
      You can see the petition here: http://peticaopublica.com/mobile/pview.aspx?pi=ExtRegistoATJ

    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Tales redadas y  búsqueda de literatura religiosa continúan. Los testigos de Jehová le dijeron a Forum 18 que entre septiembre de 2016 y julio de 2017 habían sufrido 185 redadas en sus reuniones de adoración y registros de hogares privados. Esto resultó en 155 condenas por ejercer la libertad de religión y creencias, 148 multas (19 de ellas entre 50 y 100 veces el salario mínimo mensual) y siete encarcelamientos de corto plazo. La policía torturó severamente a 15 testigos de Jehová y asaltó sexualmente a mujeres. La tortura y la impunidad de los torturadores continúan, dirigidas contra musulmanes, protestantes, testigos de Jehová y personas de otras religiones. Las mujeres son atacadas y, en otro caso de tortura, la policía le dijo a un testigo de Jehová que las quejas no hacen ninguna diferencia ya que "quedaremos impunes" (ver F18News 12 de octubre de 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2325) .
       
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      A Muslim hairdresser and one of his regular customers with his family is being intensively investigated by Uzbekistan's Anti-Terrorism Police for sharing a Muslim book electronically. Several Protestants also have been fined – two illegally threatened - for keeping Christian material in their own homes.
      Muslim Hairdresser Abduboki Yunusov and regular customer Gayrat Ziyakhojayev is being investigated by Uzbekistan's Anti-Terrorism Police for sharing a Muslim book electronically. The two Muslims and their families have been illegally searched and intensively questions since April to this month (October) (see below).

      Liliya Sitdikova and her son Vildan Sitdikov, both members of Tashkent's officially registered Seventh-day Adventist Church, have been fined for keeping their own Christian material in their own home (see below).

      In Urgench local Protestant Sharofat Allamova is facing attempts to illegally fine her twice for keeping her own Christian books in her home. Local Protestants think that this may be bacause she present during a raid on a meeting for worship of local Protestants (see below).

      And an Andijan Protestant has also been ordered to pay the same fine for having Christian books in her home twice (see below).

      Approved and then banned Islamic book sparks intensive questioning

      Hairdresser Abduboki Yunusov and regular customer Gayrat Ziyakhojayev is being investigated by Uzbekistan's Anti-Terrorism Police for sharing a Muslim book electronically. On 2 April police in the capital Tashkent's Uchteppa District questioned Yunusov and some of his family, some being fined Muslims who are anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18.

      This followed an incident in March when one of Yunusov's cousins was stopped late at night on the street and searched. Islamic materials were found on his phone and police then began from April to this month (October) repeatedly interrogating Yunusov, his family, and Ziyakhojayev, who are all Muslims. Police have claimed they will bring prosecutions, but have not specified the charges. This is not unusual in Uzbekistan's "justice system" (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

      State-approved and then state-banned book?

      Some years ago Ziyakhojayev bought a book entitled Islam between Two Fires, which had passed state censorship and was published by the still-operating Mavoronnahr publishing house. He had shared the book, which is critical of non-Islamic missionary movements, with Yunusov. In May police found the book on Yunusov's phone and then summoned Ziyakhojayev for questioning in July.

      In July police claimed to Ziyakhojayev that the book was banned and had been sent for "expert analysis" to the Religious Affairs Committee. Alleged "expert analysis" is often used by the authorities as an excuse to confiscate and destroy religious literature (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

      Ziyakhojayev was also questioned repeatedly in August and on 12 and 16 October. Senior Lieutenant Dilmurod Akhmedov of Uchteppa's Anti-Terrorism Police questioned Ziyakhojayev. Akhmedov on 16 October stated that police had found the book on Yunusov's phone.

      In January police confiscated a car from a Seventh-day Adventist Pastor because he did not pay illegal fines for giving religious books away. The books were approved by the Religious Affairs Committee, which apparently changed its mind so as to fine the Pastor (see F18News 10 February 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2255).

      Illegal search

      Uchteppa Anti-Terrorism Police, led by Senior Lieutenant Akhmedov, on 12 October raided Ziyakhojayev's parents' flat in the District, but without a search warrant signed by the District Prosecutor's Office. Such violations of the rule of law are common in Uzbekistan (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314). Police confiscated his father's two computers, and sent them for "expert analysis" to the Religious Affairs Committee.

      Senior Lieutenant Akhmedov and Major Jahongir Gaziyev, the head of Uchteppa Anti-Terrorism Police refused to discuss the case with Forum 18 on 25 October. Both put the phone down and did not answer subsequent calls.

      Tashkent Police and Anti-Terrorism officers (who would not give their names) on 25 October claimed that no-one called Yusupov works for them. 

      As this and many similar "Anti-Terrorism Police" cases illustrate, the regime's definition of "terrorism" includes people exercising their human rights (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

      Severe state censorship, harsh punishments

      There is severe state censorship of all religious literature, and the import and production of literature – including the Koran and the Bible - is strictly controlled. This includes material on mobile phones, tablets, personal computers, memory sticks and other electronic devices and media, with compulsory prior censorship by the Religious Affairs Committee. Officials often search mobile phones and other electronic devices in the hunt for religious materials. Punishments can be severe, and from around 2013 the authorities have often jailed for up to five years or fined Muslims (including foreign citizens) found with the Koran and Muslim sermons on their mobile phones (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

      Tashkent fine for keeping own Christian material in own home

      On 2 June Liliya Sitdikova and her son Vildan Sitdikov, both members of Tashkent's officially registered Seventh-day Adventist Church, were fined 2,995,500 Soms or 20 times the minimum monthly under Administrative Code Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons"). Judge Bobyr Inagamov of Mirabad District Criminal Court also ordered the destruction of the notebooks and computers with Christian material confiscated from the family, local Adventists who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18.

      Numerous court verdicts seen by Forum 18 order that such literature – including Muslim books or Christian Bibles - be destroyed, which is often carried out by burning see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314). 

      The Adventists appealed, but on 27 September Judge Mumin Astanov of the Supreme Court upheld the fine and destruction.

      Judge Inagamov of Mirabad District Court refused to answer, when asked by Forum 18 on 26 October why Christians and other religious believers cannot keep religious books or materials in their private homes or on their electronic devices. "You need to ask that question to the Supreme Court", he claimed. When Forum 18 repeated the question, he claimed that "I gave my reasoning in the decision." He then refused to talk further to Forum 18.

      Judge Astamov of the Supreme Court also would not answer, when asked by Forum 18 twice on 26 October why Christians and other religious believers cannot keep religious books or materials in their private homes or on their electronic devices. He asked Forum 18 to call back the next morning, but did not answer his phone when repeatedly called again on 27 October.

      Raids, literature searches, torture continues

      Such raids continue and searches for religious literature continue. Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 that between September 2016 and July 2017 they had experienced 185 raids on their meetings for worship and searches of private homes. These resulted in 155 convictions for exercising freedom of religion and belief, 148 fines (19 of them for between 50 and 100 times the minimum monthly wage), and seven short-term jailings. Police severely tortured 15 Jehovah's Witnesses and sexually assaulted women. Torture and impunity for torturers continues, directed against Muslims, Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses and people of other faiths. Women are targetted for assault, and in another torture case police told a Jehovah's Witness that complaining makes no difference as "we will remain unpunished" (see F18News 12 October 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2325).

      Urgench illegal fine order as reprisal?

      On 21 August Sharofat Allamova, Protestant from Urgench [Urganch] in the north-western Khorezm Region, received a summons dated 14 August from Urgench Bailiff D. Yuldashev that she must in person pay a May 2012 fine to the Bailiff. Allamova was fined on 18 May 2012 for keeping her own Christian books in her home (see F18 News 6 August 2012 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1729).

      But under the law the maximum time for Bailiffs to make such demands is three years after a fine, local Protestants who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. Local Protestants told Forum 18 that Allamova did not pay the fine "because she is only guilty of peacefully exercising her freedom of religion and belief as guaranteed by the Constitution".

      After the May 2012 fine the authorities then brought criminal charges against her, for the same "crime" of keeping her own Christian books in her own home. In April 2013 she was sentenced to 18 months' corrective labour, for the "illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious literature". She was placed in a low-paid state job, her salary being further reduced by having to pay 20 per cent of it to the state during her sentence (see F18News 21 May 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1838).

      Local Protestants think that Bailiffs may have summoned Allamova because she was present during a raid on a meeting for worship of local Protestants. Urgench Police armed with automatic weapons raided the meeting, took all present to the Police Station, and strip searched all the women (see F18News 7 August 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2304).

      Urgench Bailiffs (who refused to give their names) on 26 October refused to discuss their actions with Forum 18. They also claimed that they have no Bailiff called Yuldashev.

      Pastor Ahmadjon Nazarov, who led the Urgench meeting for worship, was put under surveillance and followed to a neighbouring region where another meeting was raided. A Bible was ordered to be destroyed, and one person was tortured. Police replied to complaints about torture: "We do not care, you can complain anywhere" (see F18News 19 October 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2326). On 13 October Judge Zh Sultanova of Khorezm Regional Court upheld fines and short-term jail sentence imposed on five of the Protestants.

      Andijan Protestant ordered to pay same fine twice

      On 14 September 2014 police and the NSS secret police raided a meeting for Sunday worship of state-registered Baptists in Andijan [Andijon]. The police halted the worship meeting, confiscated the Christian books they found, threatened those present (see F18News 1 October 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2003). On 17 October Zamira Kurbangaliyeva was fined 538,175 Soms under Administrative Code Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons"). She paid the fine plus a 5,381 Soms payment fee on 30 March 2015, and has documentation seen by Forum 18 of this payment.

      But on 23 August 2017 Andijan City Court Bailiff Sardor Goipov, in a letter received on 9 September, ordered Kurbangaliyeva to pay the fine again. The letter threatens that if she does not pay the same fine twice that she will also be fined 1,497,750 Soms, or 10 times the minimum monthly salary, local Baptists who wish to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. 

      Bailiff Oybek (who would not give his last name) of Andijan's Bailiffs Department on 26 October claimed to Forum 18 that Bailiff Goipov opened the case because he did not have the receipt for the payment. He then claimed that the case was closed after Kurbangaliyeva presented them. He refused to answer when Forum 18 pointed out that the Bailiffs had been given the receipt in March 2015 and asked why she was ordered to pay the same fine again. Other calls to Andijan Bailiffs on 27 October were not answered. (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2329
    • By The Librarian
      It is now possible JW's will appeal again to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, however, Vladimir Putin has already said Russia need not abide by external rulings of non-Russian courts.
      Play-by-play details of the courtroom scene earlier today here:
       
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      The Uzbek authorities and the religious organization «Jehovah’s Witnesses» (the activity of its main centre is recognised as extremist and banned in Russia) are engaged in a constructive dialogue about its activities in the Republic, told RIA Novosti on Thursday, the Committee on religious Affairs under the government of Uzbekistan.
      In April, the US Commission on international religious freedom has identified 16 countries, including Uzbekistan, in a number of countries-violators of religious freedoms for the use of the law against extremism for restricting the activities of the «Jehovah’s Witnesses».
      The Committee on religious Affairs of Uzbekistan said that the Deputy Chairman of the Committee of Utkir Hasanbaev met with representatives of the governing Board of «Jehovah’s Witnesses» in the United States Kenneth Flodine and the European Association of organization Lorenzo Trapanese. «Flodin thanked for reception and conveyed the information and told about the purpose of his visit, which was to discuss the activities of the religious organization «Jehovah’s Witnesses» in the Republic. They also expressed satisfaction from the talks with the leadership of the Committee,» — said the representative office.
      According to him, during the meeting the Uzbek side noted that legislation of Uzbekistan in compliance with all the norms of international covenants and agreements on human rights concerning freedom of conscience. «Following the talks, the sides agreed to continue relevant consultations on the discussed issues. The meeting was held in constructive and friendly atmosphere,» added the Committee.
      Uzbekistan’s law enforcement bodies have repeatedly detained by representatives of the «Jehovah’s Witnesses» for illegal involvement in the ranks of the locals and the secret meetings in different regions of the country. «Jehovah’s witnesses» was just one city of Chirchik near Tashkent. By law, they have the right to hold meetings only in places besides conducting religious propaganda is prohibited. Under Uzbek law, the detainees are brought to administrative responsibility and fined up to 100 times the minimum wage (about 4.5 thousand dollars).
      In Uzbekistan registered more than 2,2 thousand religious organizations, of which more than 90% are Muslim. However, in carrying out activities 157 Christian organizations, eight Jewish communities, six Baha’i communities, one hare Krishna society and one Buddhist temple.
      «Jehovah’s witnesses» is an international religious organization with headquarters in Brooklyn (new York). As reported on the website of Jehovah’s witnesses, «Witnesses» exist in Russia more than 100 years. Since 2004, the courts were closed a number of communities and local offices, «Jehovah’s Witnesses» in the regions — the Belgorod, Samara, Rostov and Orel oblasts and other constituent entities of the Russian Federation. Russia’s Supreme court on 20 April as extremist activity «administrative center of Jehovah’s witnesses in Russia» — the head of the organization, managing the branches of «Jehovah’s Witnesses» in Russia.
      http://chelorg.com/2017/06/29/uzbekistan-and-jehovahs-witnesses-have-a-dialogue-about-the-activities-of-the-organization/
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Emmanuel Thomas l Monday, May, 08, 2017 ASTANA, Kazakhstan – A 61 year old Jehovah’s Witness, Teymur Akhmedov has been sentensed to five year jail term in Kazakhstan for sharing his religious beliefs with others. He was sentenced May 2, 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan. At the time he was sentenced. 
      http://news.clickysound.com/religious-freedom-kazakhstan-jails-sick-61-year-old-jehovahs-witness-for-preaching/
    • By Kurt
      GENEVA (4 April 2017) – Moves by the Russian Government to ban the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses using a lawsuit brought under anti-extremism legislation have been condemned as “extremely worrying” by three United Nations human rights experts*. 
      “This lawsuit is a threat not only to Jehovah’s Witnesses, but to individual freedom in general in the Russian Federation,” the experts said. 
      “The use of counter-extremism legislation in this way to confine freedom of opinion, including religious belief, expression and association to that which is state-approved is unlawful and dangerous, and signals a dark future for all religious freedom in Russia,” they stressed. 
      The condemnation follows a lawsuit lodged at the country’s Supreme Court on 15 March to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Centre ‘extremist’, to liquidate it, and to ban its activity.  
      A suspension order came into effect on that date, preventing the Administrative Centre and all its local religious centres from using state and municipal news media, and from organizing and conducting assemblies, rallies and other public events. 
      A full court hearing is scheduled for 5 April and if the Supreme Court rules in favour of the authorities, it will be the first such ruling by a court declaring a registered centralized religious organization to be ‘extremist’. 
      Concerns about the counter-extremism legislation have previously been raised in a communication by the three experts to the Russian authorities on 28 July 2016.  
      The Suspension Order imposed on 15 March is the latest in a series of judicial cases and orders, including a warning sent to the organization last year referring to the ‘inadmissibility of extremist activity’. This has already led to the dissolution of several local Jehovah’s Witness organizations, raids against their premises and literature being confiscated.  
      “We urge the authorities to drop the lawsuit in compliance with their obligations under international human rights law, and to revise the counter-extremism legislation and its implementation to avoid fundamental human rights abuses,” the UN experts concluded. 
      (*) The experts: Mr. David Kaye (USA), Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Maina Kiai (Kenya), Special Rapporteur on freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, and Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives), Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.  
      The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.  
      UN Human Rights, country page: Russian Federation  
      - See more at
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18
      A car has been confiscated from a Protestant because he did not pay illegal fines for giving religious books away. The books were approved by the Religious Affairs Committee, which apparently changed its mind so as to fine the Pastor. Raids and fines continue.
      Bailiffs in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent in January confiscated a car from Seventh-day Adventist pastor Andrei Ten because he did not pay an August 2016 fine for giving religious books away. The books had originally been approved by the Religious Affairs Committee, which then apparently changed it mind so as to fine the Pastor. He was denied the chance to appeal against the fine, and an extra fine was imposed for not paying the first fine. The confiscated could be worth more than three times the value of the fines (see below).

      In Nukus, police are pressuring a local Protestant to sign a record officers want to dictate admitting to the "offence" of having religious literature in his home (see below).

      A total of 19 Jehovah's Witnesses across Uzbekistan are known to have been fined between August 2016 and January 2017 for possessing religious literature and other materials. In the same period, customs officers have confiscated religious books and electronic devices containing religious material from 17 Jehovah's Witnesses arriving in the country (see below).

      Severe state censorship

      Uzbekistan enforces strict censorship of all religious publications and all aspects of their distribution. The authorities also impose a de facto ban on religious literature of any belief in homes or in public places. If found such literature is frequently ordered to be destroyed. State pressure is so great that for their own safety some religious believers have destroyed their own sacred texts. The so-called "expert analyses" used to justify such freedom of religion and belief violations are often flawed, or even violate published law. The resulting court trials also often violate the rule of law (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1862).

      The harshest punishments for the possession of banned religious literature, including on electronic devices, are normally imposed on Muslims. For example, in late 2016 courts imprisoned two more foreign citizens – for five years and three years - for having Islamic sermons on their mobiles as they entered Uzbekistan. One was tortured. Three Tashkent Muslims were given suspended prison sentences, after the father of one was "severely tortured" (see F18News 19 December 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2241).

      Car confiscated for unpaid illegal fines

      In August 2016 police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police arrested four men riding in a taxi in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. They then confiscated copies of a religious book which the Religious Affairs Committee had in writing stated that, after "expert analysis", was allowed to be imported and distributed in Uzbekistan.

      One of the men, Pastor Andrei Ten of the registered Seventh-day Adventist Church, was summoned to a police station and asked to write a statement that he gave out copies of the book. He was only then shown a second "expert analysis" in which the Religious Affairs Committee contradicted itself banning the book. Pastor Ten was on 19 August fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage, the other three men being each fined five times the minimum monthly wage (see F18 News, 4 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2221).

      Denied chance to appeal

      Pastor Ten has not been given a copy of the 19 August 2016 decision fining him, so denying him a chance to appeal. Neither his 25 August complaint to Olmazor District Court and 28 December cassation appeal to Tashkent City Court were answered, Adventists who wish to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 1 February.

      Instead Judge Musa Yusupov sent the decision, which had not entered into force, for execution to bailiffs.

      Asked why the Judge did this, Aziz Rakhimov, Judge Yusupov's Assistant, on 9 February 2017 claimed that: "I myself gave a copy to Ten three days after the decision". He then declined to discuss the case further.

      On 18 January Ten received two letters. The first was a decision to exact the administrative fine imposed in August 2016. The second was a new 19 December 2016 decision imposing an extra fine of 10 times the minimum monthly wage, or 1,497,750 Soms, for failure to pay the first fine. The second fine was signed by Bailiff Imamjan Tuychiyev under the Code of Administrative Offences' Article 198-1 ("Failure by a debtor to obey executive orders").

      On 19 January Bailiff Tuychiyev with five colleagues broke into the grounds of Ten's home. They waited for Ten, and when he returned home at 8 pm illegally confiscated his car. "Pastor Ten doesn't know where they took the car," Adventists stated.

      Bailiff Tuychiyev claimed to Forum 18 on 8 February that "we did everything according to the law". Told that Ten was not given a copy of the original court decision and so could not pay the first fine, and that his complaint and cassation appeals were ignored, Tuychiyev replied: "That's not our problem. You need to ask the court which ordered us to exact the fine."

      Told that the market value of Ten's car could be up 30 million Soms, several times the level of the fine, Bailiff Tuychiyev answered: "I am not a market specialist. When he pays the total sum of the fine he can get it back."

      Pressure to admit to "offence"

      Nine police officers, only one of whom was in uniform, broke into Bakhbergen Abdikarimov's flat in Nukus in the afternoon of 27 November 2016. The police did not have a search warrant, so both their breaking into his home and subsequent search were illegal. Police confiscated one Christian book, three CD and DVD discs - one of which contained a video of Abdikarimov's wedding - and one memory chip, local Protestants who wish to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 2 February.

      Police then took Abdikarimov to Nukus Police Station and questioned him for three hours. The unnamed officers demanded that he write a statement they would dictate, in which he would claim to be illegally storing Christian books in his home. Abdikarimov refused to do this and the police then released him.

      Since then Nukus Police have been "constantly making phone calls to summoning him to Nukus Police Station", Protestants stated. The police are still trying to force Abdikarimov to sign a police report incriminating himself for allegedly violating Administrative Code Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons").

      Major Isak Soliyev of Nukus Police's Criminal Investigation Division refused to discuss the case on 9 February. He asked Forum 18 to call back in one hour, and when called claimed: "We don't know you, and we cannot talk to you over the phone".

      Fines follow literature, electronic device seizures

      Police raided and searched homes of 43 Jehovah's Witnesses across Uzbekistan for religious literature between August 2016 and January 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. This resulted in the confiscation of 43 publications and electronic devices and 19 Jehovah's Witnesses being fined. A recent example took place in Jizakh Region. Judge Sherzod Peshmirzayev of Jizakh City Criminal Court fined 23-year old Muborak Abdurakhmanova on 22 December 2016 for reading Jehovah's Witness literature. The Judge fined her 20 times the minimum monthly wage or 2,995,500 Soms under Administrative Code Article 184-2, the Court's Chancellery told Forum 18 on 9 February. 

      Jizakh Regional Administration's official website on 27 January published an article titled "Regret of a woman of thoughtless actions." It instructs readers that "one must not act based on one's impulses but on science and a world view", before adding that: "Wilfulness and thoughtless actions can bring any person like Abdurakhmanova into the court room." The article claims that Abdurakhmanova admitted in Court that she "became interested in Jehovah's Witnesses, and recorded on her mobile phone video-films made by the followers of this sect. She also made notes in her notebook on various religious topics."

      Abdurakhmanova "studied the Bible, listened to sermons by Jehovah's Witnesses and sang religious songs for one year", the article said. She "illegally kept" the religious materials in her phone until 18 November 2016, when police confiscated it from her.

      A Jizakh Criminal Court Chancellery official (who would not give his name) refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. Calls to Judge Peshmirzayev went unanswered on 9 February.

      Uzbekistan frequently raids, arrests, fines, and jails people exercising freedom of religion and belief who possess religious literature. For example, two Protestant five-day prisoners of conscience were ordered in November 2016 to pay 15 per cent each of a month's minimum salary as "compensation" for state prison costs (see F18News 1 December 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2235).

      Customs seize religious literature

      Between August 2016 and January 2017, Uzbek customs officers confiscated religious literature and electronic devices from 17 Jehovah's Witnesses entering the country. Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 on 8 February that "in 2006 the Religious Affairs Committee forbade the import of any Jehovah's Witness publications after a shipment of Bibles were confiscated by customs officers (see F18News 24 October 2007 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1039).

      Asked why the Religious Affairs Committee bans the import of such religious texts, and why customs officers keep confiscating religious literature from people, Begzod Kadyrov, Committee Chief Expert, replied: "Come to our office". He then put the phone down. (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2255
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18
      Prosecutors state Yevgeny Kim faces up to 10 years' imprisonment for studying a Muslim theologian's works with friends. His criminal trial began in Blagoveshchensk on 25 January after a year in prison. Two Jehovah's Witness elders face "inciting religious hatred" criminal charges in Moscow Region.
      Thirteen months after his December 2015 arrest by the FSB security service, the trial of 42-year-old Muslim Yevgeny Kim began yesterday (25 January) in Blagoveshchensk in the Far Eastern Amur Region, Forum 18 has learned. Kim is charged with "extremism" offences for meeting with others to study the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi. The trial is due to resume on 7 February. Amur Regional Prosecutor's Office said in November 2016 that Kim faces up to 10 years' imprisonment.

      Kim is among 11 Muslims (all of them men) being prosecuted for meeting to study Nursi's works in four separate cases across Russia. Another case is expected to reach court in the next few months in Novosibirsk, while the FSB security service is still investigating cases in Makhachkala and Krasnoyarsk. Three of the defendants, including Kim, remain in pre-trial detention, while another six are under travel restrictions (see forthcoming F18News article).

      On 8 December 2016, Forum 18 wrote to all the regional FSB branches responsible for these prosecutions, asking how long those in detention were likely to remain there and when exactly court proceedings would begin. Forum 18 received no reply by 26 January 2017.

      Meanwhile, Jehovah's Witnesses are again facing criminal charges under "anti-extremism" legislation for exercising their right to freedom of religion and belief. Vyacheslav Stepanov and Andrei Sivak, both community elders in Moscow Region, are undergoing a re-trial for alleged incitement of religious hatred, of which they were initially fully acquitted in March 2016 (see below).

      Kim, Stepanov, Sivak and most of the other Muslims under investigation have had their assets frozen as alleged "terrorists and extremists", even though they have not been convicted of any crime (see below).

      Nursi cases

      All four ongoing prosecutions of Muslims who study Nursi's works have arisen from circumstances similar to those of previous cases: people who have met to read and discuss Nursi's books are accused of creating "cells" of the banned "extremist" organisation "Nurdzhular", which Muslims in Russia deny exists.

      Prosecutors then bring charges under Criminal Code Article 282.2, either under Part 1 ("Organisation of the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity") or Part 2 ("Participation in the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity") (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215).

      The 11 accused Muslims are being prosecuted under the pre-July 2016 version of Criminal Code Article 282.2. If convicted under Part 1, courts could hand down fines of 300,000 to 500,000 Roubles, compulsory labour of up to five years or prison sentences of up to six years. If convicted under Part 2, courts could hand down fines of up to 300,000 Roubles, compulsory labour of up to three years, or prison sentences of up to four years.

      Each 100,000 Roubles is the equivalent of 14,000 Norwegian Kroner, 1,550 Euros, or 1,650 US Dollars.

      Increased penalties

      So-called Yarovaya "anti-terrorism" legal changes came into force on 20 July 2016 (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). They increased the then-existing Article 282.2 penalties to:

      Part 1 ("organisation") – a fine of 400,000 to 800,000 Roubles; or 2 to 4 years' income; or 6 to 10 years' imprisonment with a ban on working in one's profession of up to 10 years and restrictions on freedom for 1 to 2 years;

      Part 2 ("participation") – a fine of 300,000 to 600,000 Roubles; or 2 to 3 years' income; or compulsory labour for 1 to 4 years with a ban on working in one's profession for up to 3 years or with restrictions on freedom for up to 1 year; or 2 to 6 years' imprisonment with a ban on working in one's profession for up to 5 years or with restrictions on freedom for up to 1 year.

      No prosecutions under these amended terms are known to have begun between 20 July 2016 and late January 2017.

      Financial penalties even if not convicted

      Officials have placed both Jehovah's Witness defendants and nine of the 11 Muslims currently being prosecuted on the list of "terrorists and extremists" maintained by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring). Banks are thereby obliged to freeze their assets. From 30 January 2014 the law has been relaxed to allow small transactions not exceeding 10,000 Roubles per month. (For a detailed description of this financial blacklisting, see Forum 18's Russia Extremism survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215).

      Blagoveshchensk Nursi

      Yevgeny Lvovich Kim (born 5 October 1974) is being prosecuted in a criminal case initiated by the FSB security service. The FSB accuses Kim of having organised religious gatherings in Blagoveshchensk between September and November 2015. At these he allegedly "decided to quote from" and discuss Nursi's collection of writings "Risale-i Nur" ("Messages of Light"), according to a December 2015 court document granting the FSB permission for a property search, seen by Forum 18 (see F18News 21 January 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2141). Law enforcement interpreted this as "disseminating the religious ideas of the international religious association Nurdzhular, [while] fully aware of the fact that .. [it] had been recognised as extremist and its activities prohibited on the territory of the Russian Federation".

      Sharing such "extremist" texts, even in private homes, can make those involved liable to criminal and administrative prosecution. Muslims who read Nursi's works deny that the alleged organisation Nurdzhular exists (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215).

      FSB-ordered "expert analysis" found that what Kim and others said at these meetings was "aimed at inciting religious hatred", promoted the "superiority of the Turkic peoples", and contained "negative evaluations" of Armenians and Russians. "Expert analyses" can be biased and may be produced by people who are not, in fact, "experts" (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215).

      Kim and several friends were detained and interrogated after an armed unit of the FSB raided Kim's flat on 26 December 2015, during a gathering to celebrate the birthday of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed (see F18News 21 January 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2141). All but Kim were later released.

      Among those also detained was Kim's friend Anton Pavlovich Starodubtsev (born 4 April 1980). He has since complained of the treatment they received during both arrest and questioning, including threats and attempted blackmail, and has categorically denied any involvement in extremist activity, (see F18News 11 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2166).

      The FSB arrested Kim initially under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1. A 30 November 2016 statement on the Amur Regional Prosecutor's Office – which did not name Kim – revealed, however, that charges had also been added under Criminal Code Article 282, Part 1. The announcement said Kim denied any wrongdoing. It added that he faces up to 10 years' imprisonment if convicted.

      Prosecutors also charged Starodubtsev under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 2 ("participation in an extremist organisation", but his whereabouts remain unknown. FSB investigators have added both Kim and Starodubtsev to the Rosfinmonitoring list of "terrorists and extremists".

      Criminal Code Article 282, Part 1, punishes "actions aimed at the incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of a person or group", based on "sex, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, or social group" (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). Kim's additional charge under Article 282, Part 1, is unusual for a Nursi-related case. Forum 18 knows of only two other individuals who read Nursi's writings who have been taken to court for this alleged offence since the works began to be banned in 2007 – Ilham Islamli was convicted under Article 282, Part 1, alone in August 2010; in September 2011, Rashid Abdulov was convicted under Article 282, Part 2(v), as well as Article 282.2, Part 1 (see F18News 14 October 2011 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1625).

      Kim is being prosecuted under the pre-July 2016 Article 282, Part 1, which means he faces the following possible punishments under this Article: a fine of 100,000 to 300,000 Roubles or 1 to 2 years' income; or community service (obyazatelnaya rabota) for up to 360 hours; or correctional labour (ispravitelnaya rabota) for up to 1 year, or compulsory labour (prinuditelnaya rabota) for up to 4 years; or imprisonment of up to 4 years.

      Blagoveshchensk trial begins

      Kim's trial began at Blagoveshchensk City Court with a preliminary hearing on 13 January. The first full hearing was on 25 January, according to court records. The next hearing is due on 7 February, his lawyer Natalya Terekhova told Forum 18 from Blagoveshchensk on 26 January.

      Meanwhile, Kim remains in custody at Blagoveshchensk Investigation Prison No. 1, where he has been held since 26 December 2015.

      The address of Blagoveshchensk's Investigation Prison, where Forum 18 believes Kim to be detained, is:

      675007 Amurskaya Oblast
      Blagoveshchensk
      Seryshevsky pereulok 55
      Sledstvenny Izolyator No. 1
      Russia

      Forum 18 telephoned the prison in the evening of 26 January in Blagoveshchensk and asked whether Kim was being allowed to pray and have access to the Koran and other religious literature. The duty officer said he could not answer any questions as it was outside working hours.

      Why the campaign against Nursi readers?

      Nothing in Nursi's writings appears to advocate hatred, violence, or the violation of any human right. Despite this, numerous Russian lower courts have ruled that various Russian translations of his works (and of some other Islamic and Jehovah's Witness texts) are "extremist", and have had them added to the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Materials(see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215).

      The grounds for Russia's ongoing nationwide campaign against readers of Nursi's works are obscure, with quite different reasons offered for banning Nursi writings and "Nurdzhular" in different contexts. The primary cause, however, appears to be state opposition to "foreign" spiritual and cultural influence (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215).

      Little or no reasoning is given in the court decisions which have added Nursi's works to the Federal List, Forum 18 notes. Among the few specific instances of "extremism" cited, for example, are Nursi's descriptions of non-Muslims as "frivolous", "philosophers" and "empty-talkers". Yet the freedom to criticise any religious or non-religious belief is a central part of the freedom of religion and belief (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215).

      Sergiyev Posad Jehovah's Witnesses

      After Moscow Regional Court overturned their original acquittal on 26 May 2016 at the request of prosecutors, Jehovah's Witness elders Vyacheslav Yuryevich Stepanov (born 20 March 1977) and Andrei Petrovich Sivak (born 28 March 1974) are once again due to appear at Sergiyev Posad City Court. Both are charged with inciting religious hatred under Criminal Code Article 282, Part 2. Their re-trial began in August 2016, but most hearings have been postponed. Judge Liliya Baranova ordered further "expert analysis" in November, and the first (twice delayed) hearing of the new year is due to take place on 20 February, according to the court website.

      Criminal Code Article 282, Part 2, punishes publicly performed "actions aimed at the incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of a person or group", based on sex, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, or social group", when committed a) with violence or the threat of violence; b) by a person using their official position; c) by an organised group (of which Stepanov and Sivak are accused).

      As their alleged offences took place before amendments to the Criminal Code increased extremism-related sentences in February 2014 and July 2016, Stepanov and Sivak face the following possible punishments:

      a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 Roubles or 2 to 3 years' income; or community service for up to 480 hours; or 1 to 2 years' correctional labour (ispravitelnaya rabota); or up to 5 years' compulsory labour (prinutdelnaya rabota); or up to 5 years' imprisonment.

      Officials have placed both Stepanov and Sivak under travel restrictions, Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Ivan Belenko told Forum 18 on 19 January.

      So-called Yarovaya "anti-terrorism" legal changes came into force on 20 July 2016 (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). They increased the then-existing Article 282 penalties to:

      Part 1 – a fine of 300,000 to 500,000 Roubles; or 2 to 3 years' income; or compulsory labour (prinutdelnaya rabota) for 1 to 4 years with a ban on working in one's profession for up to 3 years; or 2 to 5 years' imprisonment;

      Part 2 – a fine of 300,000 to 600,000 Roubles; or 2 to 3 years' income; or compulsory labour (prinutdelnaya rabota) for 2 to 5 years with a ban on working in one's profession for up to 3 years; or 3 to 6 years' imprisonment.

      Sergiyev Posad: earlier prosecution ended in acquittal

      The Sergiyev Posad District Prosecutor's Office opened their original case against Stepanov and Sivak in April 2013. This case appears to have been based on covert video surveillance of the defendants and their congregation dating from the autumn of 2010, according to the 4 March 2016 court verdict seen by Forum 18.

      Sivak and Stepanov were brought to Sergiyev Posad City Court only in August 2015. The period of the initial investigation was "artificially extended", Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Belenko explained to Forum 18 on 10 January, when Sivak and Stepanov were added to the Interior Ministry wanted persons database on three occasions without any grounds and without their knowledge.

      The two men were acquitted at Sergiyev Posad City Court on 4 March 2016 when Judge Yelena Aminova found them not guilty of organising gatherings, "veiled under the guise of 'religious meetings'", with the aim of "inciting hatred and enmity against followers of all religions other than adherents of the 'Jehovah's Witnesses' religious organisation, and humiliating human dignity on the grounds of religion". According to the written verdict, prosecutors also accused them of "contrasting the 'Jehovah's Witnesses' religion to other religions, declaring [the latter] 'false', [and] evaluating them very negatively, as well as appealing to citizens to refuse their civic responsibilities and commit illegal actions" – claims for which the judge concluded there was no evidence in the recordings presented to the court.

      The judge dismissed the "expert analysis" performed by Natalya Kryukova, Director of the Centre for Socio-Cultural Analysis in Moscow (which held that Stepanov and Sivak's sermons in the recordings bore signs of "extremism"). The Judge instead agreed with the findings of the Justice Ministry's Legal Expertise Centre, which were that services had "an educational, discursive character" and that "views inherent in the religion are evaluated as true and correct, which is an integral important feature of religious discourse". Judge Aminova concluded that "A different assessment of [Sivak and Stepanov's] speeches defies common sense and logic".

      "The court recognised [the defendants'] right to rehabilitation," Belenko told Forum 18 on 10 January, "including compensation for moral damages and the reinstatement of labour, pension, housing, and other rights."

      Forum 18 called Sergiyev Posad District Prosecutor's Office on 26 January to ask why the original acquittal was challenged and why the two men are considered dangerous. When Forum 18 mentioned the case against Stepanov and Sivak, the phone was immediately put down. (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2250
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Jon Steingart
      Nov. 15 — Murphy Oil USA Inc. violated federal religious discrimination law when it fired a Jehovah’s Witness who refused to comply with a district manager’s command to wish customers a merry Christmas, a new lawsuit in Tennessee alleges ( Appleyard v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc. , W.D. Tenn., No. 1:16-cv-01290, complaint filed 11/10/16 ).
      Many employers deal with religious diversity in their workforce and customer base. About 71 percent of the U.S. population identify as belonging to some form of Christianity, with the rest being of another religion or unaffiliated, government data show.
      Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate Christmas, plaintiff Richard Appleyard said in the complaint. Their faith also prohibits them from wishing others a merry Christmas.
      “Civil rights laws require employers to provide religious accommodations for the religious practices of their workers and that includes accommodating religious objections to performing job duties,” Daniel Mach, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 15.
      Manager Belittled Worker’s Religion
      A Murphy Oil district manager made disparaging remarks about Appleyard’s faith before the Christmas season, according to the complaint, filed Nov. 10 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. Appleyard said the company’s stated reason that it fired him from his position as a gas station cashier because his register was short was a pretext for religious discrimination.
      Murphy Oil USA Inc. is a subsidiary of Murphy USA Inc. that operates gasoline stations. In 2013, Murphy USA was spun off from parent company Murphy Oil Corp., which is an oil and gas exploration and production company.
      ‘A Lot of Different Options.’
      Accommodations may come in different forms, the head of another religious freedom organization told Bloomberg BNA. An employee who can’t perform a job duty because of a religious objection may be able to direct customers to a colleague, Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said Nov. 15. Liberty Counsel says it’s a Christian ministry whose purpose is to preserve religious liberty.
      Asked whether there could be situations when sending customers to a co-worker might not be an feasible accommodation, Staver said it would only be a problem “if you only have one single source of information communicating to the public, maybe a single receptionist.” He added, “Even then it would seem as though a reasonable accommodation would be to allow the person to say season’s greetings.”
      “It seems like there’s a lot of different options,” Staver said.
      Michael Weinman of the Weinman Thomas Law Firm in Jackson, Tenn., who represented Appleyard, didn’t immediately respond to a Nov. 15 request for comment.
      An attorney hasn’t entered an appearance for Murphy Oil USA. Parent company Murphy USA didn’t immediately respond to a Nov. 15 request for comment.
      To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington atjsteingart@bna.com
      To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino atmaulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com
      For More Information
      The complaint is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Appleyard_et_al_v_Murphy_Oil_USA_Inc_Docket_No_116cv01290_WD_Tenn.
      http://www.bna.com/jehovahs-witness-says-n57982082791/
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Uzbekistan arrested four men, confiscating a book a government "expert analysis” stated was permitted. Adventist Pastor Andrei Ten was later shown a second "expert analysis” banning the book and fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage, the other three being each fined smaller amounts.
      Police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police on 2 August arrested four men riding in a taxi in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. They then confiscated copies of a religious book, "The Great Controversy”, which the Religious Affairs Committee had in writing stated that after "expert analysis” was allowed to be imported and distributed in Uzbekistan.

      On 8 August one of the men, Pastor Andrei Ten of the registered Seventh-day Adventist Church, was summoned to a police station and asked to write a statement that he gave out copies of the book. He was only then shown a second "expert analysis” in which the Religious Affairs Committee contradicted itself banning the book. Pastor Ten was on 19 August fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage, the other three men being each fined five times the minimum monthly wage (see below).

      Many similar cases take place in Uzbekistan against physical and electronic religious literature held by people of many beliefs, often involving sometimes very large fines and jail sentences. In some cases, rape threats and physical abuse has been used by male officials against female religious believers (see below).

      Arrested in taxi

      On 2 August, police and NSS secret police officers in the Olmazor District of Tashkent detained Pastor Andrei Ten, Olimzhan Mirzamambetov, Anarvoy Ergashev and Rahim Tursunov while they were riding in a taxi. Pastor Ten is from the officially registered local Seventh-day Adventist Church, but Mirzamambetov, Ergashev and Tursunov are not part of this Church and had been hired to do work on its building, Adventists who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 12 September. Officers searched the men and confiscated from each of them a copy of a Russian translation of "The Great Controversy”, a book by Ellen White. She was one of the founders of what would become the Adventist Church.

      Adventists told Forum 18 that the Religious Affairs Committee had on 2 May written to the Bible Society stating that, after "expert analysis”, it was allowing "The Great Controversy” to be imported and distributed in Uzbekistan.

      Uzbekistan imposes strict censorship on all religious publications and all aspects of their distribution. There is a de facto ban on religious literature of any faith in homes and if found such literature is frequently ordered to be destroyed. State pressure is so great that for their own safety some religious believers have destroyed their own sacred texts (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).

      Contradictory "expert analysis”

      On 8 August, six days after the men were stopped in the taxi and the books confiscated from them, Officer Shavkat (who did not give his last name) of Olmazor District Police phoned Pastor Ten. Shavkat asked Ten to come to Olmazor Police Station at 5 pm the same day. When Ten came to the Police Station, Officer Shavkat demanded that he write a statement that he gave the books to the three men.

      After Pastor Ten wrote the statement, police then showed him another "expert analysis” by the Religious Affairs Committee. This contradicted the first "analysis” and stated that "The Great Controversy” is banned.

      So-called "expert analyses” are often flawed, or even violate published law. Court trials also often violate the rule of law (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862). Shovkat Khamdamov, Press Secretary of the Religious Affairs Committee in Tashkent, refused to tell Forum 18 on 27 September why the Committee contradicted itself on the book "The Great Controversy”. He referred Forum 18 to Begzod Kadyrov, Chief Expert of the Committee. Khamdamov also refused to answer Forum 18's other questions, and put the phone down. The phones of Kadyrov and other Committee officials were not answered on 27 September.

      Cases launched

      After showing Pastor Ten the contradictory "expert analysis”, Olmazor Police then opened cases against all four men under the Code of Administrative Offences' Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons”).

      Olmazor Police told Forum 18 on 26 September that the only officer named Shavkat who works for Olmazor District Police is Deputy Chief of Olmazor Police Myrzajanov. Forum 18 on 26 September called the mobile phone number from which Ten was called. Officer Shavkat (who refused to give his last name) answered the phone. But after Forum 18 started asking about the case he then claimed that it was a "wrong number” and put the phone down. Subsequent calls went unanswered.

      Deputy Police Chief Myrzajanov's land line phone number went unanswered on 26 September.

      "Anti-terrorism” ?

      Asked why cases were opened against Ten and the other three men, Olmazor Police Department on 26 September referred Forum 18 to Makhmud Tolipov, the head of the local Anti-Terrorism Police. Police did not explain what so-called "anti-terrorism” has to do with these cases.

      Asked about the case on 27 September, Anti-Terrorism Police officer Tolipov refused to comment. "These are internal issues of Uzbekistan,” he claimed to Forum 18. "Talk to our Foreign Ministry and they will explain them to you.” He put the phone down.

      Four fines

      On 19 August Judge Musa Yusupov of Olmazor District Criminal Court of Tashkent fined Pastor Ten, Mirzamambetov, Ergashev and Tursunov. Ten was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage, 13,024,000 Soms. The other three men were each fined five times the minimum monthly wage, 651,200 Soms. (Large discrepancies exist between the market and official currency exchange rates.) "Judge Yusupov unlawfully ordered the confiscation of the books,” the Adventists stated.

      Olmazor Court officials (who would not give their names) between 26 and 27 September refused to comment on the case or put Forum 18 through to Judge Yusupov.

      Many fines, jail sentences, rape threats and assaults

      Many similar cases take place in Uzbekistan. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses have told Forum 18 that between January and July 2016 at least 51 Jehovah's Witnesses across all of Uzbekistan were fined for "offences” related to the possession of religious literature. Fines imposed varied between three and 60 times the minimum monthly wage. They commented that "the use of or even the mere possession of the Bible” outside the building of their only state-registered religious community, in Chirchik, "is considered to be an administrative violation”.

      Only belief communities that have state registration are allowed to exist, violating international human rights law (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1862). 

      These kind of fines and other punishments for having religious literature affect people of many beliefs. One Baptist, Stanislav Kim, was on 26 August given two years corrective labour living in his home for having religious books at home (see F18News 29 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2219). Similarly, two Jehovah's Witnesses were on 27 January jailed for 10 days and, with 28 others, fined for "illegal” literature and meeting for worship (see F18News 28 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2192).

      Materials in electronic form are also targeted, Jehovah's Witnesses noting that religious literature and electronic devices were confiscated from the homes of two Jehovah's Witnesses in Chirchik on 11 May and from two others in Fergana on 11 June. No prosecutions appear to have followed. Bakhtiyor Khudaiberdiyev was arrested on 9 January at Tashkent Airport for having suras [verses] from the Koran and other material on his phone, and at least two Muslims are serving five-year prison terms for the Koran and sermons in their mobile phones (see F18News 7 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2165).

      During some of raids and confiscations in 2016, male police threatened female Jehovah's Witnesses with rape and also physically assaulted women (see F18News 25 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2182). Torture is "routine” in Uzbekistan, the United Nations (UN) Committee has found (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1862). (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2221
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Just teenagers at the time, all three are Jehovah's Witnesses, and they refuse to compromise their integrity.

      On September 24, 1994, three young men, all teenagers, were rounded up and sent to a concentration camp. Their crime? They refused military service on the grounds of their strongly held religious convictions – an entitlement that ironically, one year later, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights reinforced as an acceptable concession that all world nations should adhere to.
      Nevertheless, down to this very day, Paulos Eyassu, Negede Teklemariam and Isaac Mogos – all Jehovah’s Witnesses – remain jailed in the Sawa prison camp in the country of #Eritrea, eastern Africa. Without the benefit of any legal framework, the men were detained without cause, without due process and incredulously, have never been formally charged with any crime.
      The prisoners have spent their youth behind bars.
      The three detainees are all now in the 40s. They have given up the primes of their lives – the chance to wed and start a family – and their opportunity to worship their God shoulder to shoulder with fellow believers. They quietly remain steadfast in their determination to endure for what they know in their hearts is pleasing in God’s eyes.
      “It is in Eritrea, more than anywhere else in the world, that Jehovah’s Witnesses experience the most intense persecution,” says a report on the Jehovah’s Witnesses web site, JW.org. The three men are among 55 other Jehovah’s Witnesses jailed in Eritrea for either conscientious objection to conscription military service or for their peaceful religious activity.
      By this, all will know you are my disciples...
      In a country like Eritrea – where a citizen and a solder and perceived as one and the same – Jehovah’s Witnesses stand out in stark contrast. They will endure prison camps, beatings and torture, but they will not join military ranks. They steadfastly believe in “beating their swords into plowshares” and not “learning war anymore,” says the book of Isaiah. Their international brotherhood practices love for one another. (John 13:34, 35) No Jehovah’s Witness would ever be found in a battlefield, looking across at a fellow Witness, waiting to kill one another or anyone else. Jesus said in the verse cited above that all would know who his disciples are, if they have "love among themselves." If only all major religions practiced what they preached.
      US Department of State report.
      According to a US Department of State commentary on religious freedoms in Eritrea, citizens there are generally “tolerant of those practicing other religions; exceptions included negative societal attitudes toward Jehovah's Witnesses… and conscientious objectors to military service based on religious beliefs.” Jehovah’s Witnesses are the largest recognized religious organization whose members welcome disciplinary alternatives as opposed to taking up arms in wars.
      The State department report also details how government officials actively and intentionally single out Witnesses of Jehovah and subject them to unlawful actions and targeted discrimination. “Although members of several religious groups were imprisoned in past years for failure to participate in required national military service, the government singled out Jehovah's Witnesses to receive harsher treatment than that given to others,” the report cites, adding that many of the religion’s members have been detained for more than a decade and a half – a term “far beyond the maximum legal penalty of two years for refusing to perform national service.”
      In addition, Jehovah's Witnesses in Eritrea have had their business licenses revoked without cause, been evicted out of government-subsidized housing units and been denied common government paperwork needed for travel, such as passports and visas.
      Philip Brumley, general counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses: “It is our fervent hope that the government of Eritrea will release all Witness prisoners, including these three men who have been detained for 20 years, and bring an end to the persecution of our fellow believers.”
      http://us.blastingnews.com/news/2016/09/imprisoned-for-their-faith-these-three-men-have-been-jailed-in-eritrea-for-over-22-years-001139317.html
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Felix Corley, Forum 18
      Police raided Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov's home in Dashoguz in July 2014, seized religious literature (subsequently destroyed), beat him, placed him in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre where he was injected with unknown drugs (from which he fled). Arrested in June 2016, he was imprisoned for one year.
      Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov has appealed against a one-year prison term handed down on 18 August in the northern city of Dashoguz for allegedly assaulting a police officer back in July 2014. Police subsequently destroyed Bibles and other religious literature seized from him during a raid on his home, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18. His fellow-Jehovah's Witnesses insist the 32-year-old Masharipov is innocent of any wrongdoing and was targeted for his faith.

      Masharipov had fled in July 2014 from forcible detention in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre in Dashoguz, where he was injected with harmful unknown drugs, "out of fear for my life and my health". He was arrested in the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] on 30 June 2016 and was transferred to Investigation Prison in Dashoguz ahead of his trial.

      Other prisoners of conscience

      Masharipov is one of two known Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience. The 53-year-old Bahram Hemdemov is serving a four-year sentence on charges of inciting religious hatred, charges he denies (see F18News 5 July 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).

      An unknown number of Muslims are also believed to be imprisoned to punish them for exercising freedom of religion or belief. One of those apparently being held incommunicado in Turkmenistan's high-security Ovadan-Depe prison in the desert north of Ashgabad is Bahram Saparov, a fellow Muslim told Forum 18. He had led a Hanafi Sunni Muslim community in the eastern city of Turkmenabad [Turkmenabat] (formerly Charjew) until his imprisonment in late 2013. About 20 others were sentenced to long prison terms with him. Their fate remains unknown (see forthcoming F18News article).

      Another Muslim reportedly imprisoned for exercising freedom of religion or belief died in labour camp near Turkmenabad in 2013. Artur Atayev, who used the first name Ali, was imam of an unregistered Sunni Muslim mosque in the Khitrovka district of Ashgabad, someone familiar with his work told Forum 18. His body was never returned to relatives for a funeral. Imam Atayev was arrested in September 2008 soon after an armed clash between a local gang and security forces. The individual familiar with his work insisted he had not been involved in the gang (see forthcoming F18News article).

      In addition to those imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, the authorities regularly hand down corrective labour sentences to those unable to perform compulsory military service on grounds of religious conscience. The men must live at home under restrictions and a fifth of their wages are seized by the state. The most recent such known corrective labour sentence was handed down to Jehovah's Witness Dayanch Jumayev in Ashgabad in February 2016. He was sentenced to one year of corrective labour (see F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).

      Ashgabad arrest

      Masharipov – who is unmarried – is an ethnic Uzbek who lived in Dashoguz until he moved away from the city in 2014 to avoid arrest. In May 2004 he was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of his religious faith. He was among four Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors freed from prison under amnesty in April 2005 (see F18News 22 April 2005 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=548).

      Police officers arrested Jehovah's Witness Masharipov on 30 June 2016 in a park in Ashgabad, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. He was then transferred back to his home city of Dashoguz, where he was held in the city's Interior Ministry's Investigation Prison (DZD/7).

      Police had been hunting for Masharipov since summer 2014 to punish him for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. On the morning of 3 July 2014, six police officers and officials had come to his home in Dashoguz as part of "preventive measures" because of his "adherence to the Jehovah's Witness religion", the August 2016 court verdict notes.

      One of those raiding Masharipov's home was Hudainazar Artykov, an official of the Religious Affairs Department of the Regional Hyakimlik (administration)

      The police officers asked Masharipov to hand over all his literature about religion. He "voluntarily" gave them 22 copies of the New Testament and other books, 15 religious leaflets, 42 religious discs, 7 exercise books with religious notes, 304 pages of religious notes, a religious calendar and a computer notebook containing six or seven Jehovah's Witness films. Masharipov told the officers he had been given these items by an unknown individual on a visit to Uzbekistan. Officers also seized his mobile phone.

      The officers then demanded that Masharipov go with them to the police station for – in the words of the verdict - "explanatory work" and "preventive measures in connection with his adherence to the Jehovah's Witness movement", but he refused.

      Police officer Gurban Khanov claimed that once outside the block of flats, Masharipov tried to run away. Officers then grabbed him by the arm to try to put him in the police car. Khanov claimed Masharipov tore the lower button and left epaulette from his police uniform before they managed to get him into the car.

      Masharipov was charged under Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1 with assaulting a police officer, "although it was the police officers who had subjected him to rough physical mistreatment," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "Mansur Masharipov has previously endured abuse, even torture, for his peaceful religious activities."

      Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1 punishes "The threat of murder or use of violence not dangerous to life or health in relation to a law-enforcement or military officer or those close to them in connection with the carrying out of their duties in protecting law and order". Punishment is corrective labour or a prison term of up to two years.

      Did police assault and lodge false charges against Masharipov?

      Masharipov's fellow Jehovah's Witnesses gave Forum 18 in late July 2014 a different account of what happened on the day he was detained (see F18News 1 August 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1981).

      Once the search was complete, one of the plain-clothed police officers grabbed Masharipov from behind by the neck, "choking him so he could not breathe, and then dragged him into a waiting vehicle". Once in the vehicle, the officers "began to beat him repeatedly on his head and on his body above his kidneys".

      At 12 noon the police took Masharipov to Dashoguz City Police Station, where he was again beaten. From there he was taken to a supervisor's office where the police began to openly discuss what pretext they would use to justify placing him in detention. They brought in police officer Ruslan Jumaniyazov (who had been present during the raid), who said he would claim that Masharipov had ripped off his shoulder insignia while resisting arrest.

      At 1 pm Masharipov was returned to Dashoguz City Police Station, where he was again beaten. "The police threatened they would place him in a 'harem' cell with male prisoners where he would be raped," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 back in July 2014.

      The police gave Masharipov a document in Turkmen, which he does not understand, and forced him to sign it. They claimed the document contained a report that they had seized religious books during the search of his flat. The officials included three officers from the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police and one representative of the religious affairs department of the Regional Hyakimlik.

      Police again threatened that they would charge Masharipov with ripping off the insignia of a police officer. Local policeman Merdan Khanov (also present during the raid) stated that he would testify to this effect.

      In the afternoon, the police took Masharipov to Dashoguz City Prosecutor's Office. The prosecutor took a statement from Masharipov and he was then returned to Dashoguz City Police Station and again beaten.

      Some of the same police officers in Dashoguz were also involved in accusing another local Jehovah's Witness of tearing off the insignia from an officer's uniform. The same Artykov from the regional religious affairs department testified that Bibi Rahmanova had assaulted the officer in July 2014 within days of Masharipov's detention. She received a four-year prison term the following month, but had her sentence suspended on appeal in September. This meant she was ordered to serve the rest of her sentence at home under travel restrictions (see F18News 28 October 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2009).

      The duty officer at Dashoguz City Police refused to discuss with Forum 18 in August 2014 the treatment of Masharipov by its officers.

      Tortured with drugs

      At 6 pm on 3 July 2014, police took Masharipov to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre in Dashoguz. "This was done as a pretext to justify his detention," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "The medical staff administered four injections to Mansur Masharipov, one in each buttock and two below his shoulder blades." His arms and legs became paralysed and he vomited throughout that evening and the following day. He also began to suffer a high fever and severe headaches.

      Fearing further torture, Masharipov escaped from the Drug Rehabilitation Centre on 5 July 2014 and fled from Dashoguz.

      Dashoguz sentence

      Following the arrest of Masharipov in Ashgabad on 30 June 2016, police and prosecutors revived the criminal case against him. As well as accusing him under Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1, Dashoguz City Prosecutors' Office also considered accusations under Criminal Code Article 177 ("Incitement of social, ethnic or religious hatred"). However, on 1 August Prosecutors abandoned charges under this Article.

      On 18 August, Judge V. Amanov of Dashoguz City Court heard the case against Masharipov not in the court, but at a hearing held in the city's Housing Trust. Judge Amanov found Masharipov guilty under Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1. He sentenced him to one year in a general regime labour camp, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18. Masharipov denied the allegations against him in court.

      Police officer Gurban Khanov, described as the "victim", testified in court and called for Masharipov to be punished. The verdict notes that a 5 July 2014 medical report on Gurban Khanov had not found any injuries.

      Also testifying in court was regional religious affairs official Artykov. He told the court that Police had already destroyed the New Testaments and other religious literature confiscated from Masharipov during the raid on his home in July 2014. However, the verdict also quotes an 8 July 2016 letter from the Muftiate representation in Dashoguz Region to say that the confiscated books had been handed over to the government's Commission for Work with Religious Organisations and Expert Analysis of Resources Containing Religious Information, Published and Printed Production before being destroyed.

      Forum 18 has been unable to obtain a copy of the Muftiate letter, which is Page 118 of the case file.

      The Commission was established in summer 2015 to replace the Gengesh (Council) for Religious Affairs, the government body controlling religious communities (see F18News 18 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2169).

      The verdict does not explain why Masharipov's religious literature was destroyed.

      The verdict ordered that his confiscated computer and mobile phone should be transferred to the state.

      The prison term was deemed to run from 30 June, the date of his arrest, with each day in pre-trial detention counting as the equivalent of two days' labour camp.

      Forum 18 was unable to reach Judge Amanov at Dashoguz City Court on 21 September. It was also unable to reach regional religious affairs official Artykov the same day.

      Appeal lodged

      On 30 August, Masharipov lodged an appeal against his conviction – seen by Forum 18 - to Dashoguz Regional Court. He denied the police account that he had used force against them, noting that because of his faith "for me an individual, their worth, life, rights and freedom are of great value". He added that "my religion teaches and helps me to relate to other people with deep respect and love".

      Masharipov recounted the beatings and rape threats from police officers after his 3 July 2014 detention. He added that later that afternoon, when he was brought out of the Prosecutor's Office, he tried in vain to run away. He was then beaten again "right on the street". Beatings continued once officers had taken him back to the police station.

      Masharipov also recounted that at the Drug Rehabilitation Centre, staff gave him four injections "after which I felt sick, I had a headache and a high temperature and it was almost impossible for me to move". "On 5 July 2014, out of fear for my life and my health, and with the aim of preserving them, I fled from the Drug Rehabilitation Centre."

      Masharipov – who says he does not smoke or drink alcohol – questions why he was sent to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre with no court decision. He notes that on 7 July 2014 he sent complaints about the Police conduct to the Interior Ministry and, the following day, to the General Prosecutor's Office. On 30 March 2015 he sent a complaint to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

      In his appeal Masharipov also complained about procedural violations. He said he had not been given the opportunity to acquaint himself with the accusations against him, and that the July 2014 house search had been conducted without a search warrant from the Prosecutor's Office.

      Masharipov insists that the case against him violates the protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief outlined in Turkmenistan's Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkmenistan is a party.

      No-one at Dashoguz Regional Court would confirm to Forum 18 on 21 September whether any appeal hearing has yet been set in Masharipov's case.

      If Masharipov's appeal is rejected, he is likely to be sent to serve his sentence at the general regime labour camp in the desert just outside the eastern town of Seydi in Lebap Region.

      UN appeal

      Jehovah's Witnesses lodged an urgent appeal on 11 July 2014 about Masharipov's case to the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Geneva.

      The appeal – seen by Forum 18 – gives details of the abuses in Masharipov's case and includes photographs of scars on his arms, legs, stomach, back and one cheek which Jehovah's Witnesses say were inflicted on him in police detention.

      The appeal also covered abuses against three other Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 1 August 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1981).

      No charges against police officers

      The verdict in Masharipov's case also reveals that Prosecutors considered criminal cases against two police officers involved in the July 2014 raid. Dashoguz City Prosecutors' Office considered criminal charges against Gurban Khanov and Jumaniyazov under Article 181 ("Misuse of official powers"), Article 182 ("Exceeding official powers") and Article 182-1 ("Torture").

      Dashoguz City Prosecutors' Office dropped these charges on 1 August 2016. The verdict gives no reason for the decision.

      Under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Turkmenistan is obliged to arrest and try under criminal law any person suspected on good grounds of having committed torture. (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2217
    • Guest Nicole
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legislation this week that severely restricts freedom of religion by prohibiting any religious speech or evangelization outside of places of worship.
      “This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church,” said Dr. Hannu Haukka, president of Great Commission Media Ministries, reports National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). “Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history.”
      The new law, which goes into effect July 20, is actually an amendment to a package of laws against terrorism and extremism approved by the Russian Parliament’s upper chamber. As a result of the legislation, faith sharing in homes, in the media, online, or any place other than a government recognized church is prohibited.
      The measure is expected to especially affect evangelical groups and Jehovah’s Witnesses who often share faith in homes rather than traditional churches.
      In a column at the Daily Signal, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) wrote the new law is “an affront to free people everywhere.”
      “We need to begin telling the truth about an increasingly aggressive actor in global affairs,” he said. “This Russian law would be an affront to free people everywhere—at home and abroad—who believe that rights of conscience—the rights to free speech and to freedom of religion—are pre-political.”
       
       
       
      Religious freedom attorneys and human rights groups are already preparing an appeal to Russia’s Constitutional Court, reports Forum 18. The legislation drew widespread protests and religious leaders are uncertain how they can fulfill the law’s obligations.
      “Today is indeed a black day on the calendar,” lawyer Vladimir Ryakhovsky of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice posted on his Facebook page. “Hope was that Vladimir Putin would not in the end sign this law. A law which openly contradicts the gospel command ‘go and make disciples’ and, in addition, violates the constitutional rights of citizens.”
      Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the Presidential Council on Civil Society Development and Human Rights, protested the new amendments directly to Putin, asserting that they “create unjustified and excessive restrictions on the freedom of conscience of believers of all religions, and encroach upon the fundamental constitutional principle of non-interference by the state in the internal arrangements of religious associations.”
      Financial penalties for violating the law are reportedly up to 50,000 roubles for individuals and up to one million roubles for organizations.
      “We are distressed by the law and see it as repressive for believers in our country, because the law contradicts the Bible,” said a spokeswoman for the Council of Churches – Baptists. “We must assume there will be repression and persecution.”
      “The United States government and all other nations that profess a commitment to religious freedom should urge Russia to repeal this unjust law, NRB President Dr. Jerry A. Johnson said. “Let’s pray this new iron curtain of Christian persecution in Russia will be lifted quickly and without harm to our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
      http://www.breitbart.com/faith/2016/07/10/putin-signs-measure-revoking-religious-freedom/
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Turkey violated the right to freedom of religion of a group of Jehovah Witnesses in İzmir and Mersin through “direct interference” by refusing to grant them appropriate places of worship. 

      The Association for Solidarity with Jehovah Witnesses and others appealed against the ECHR against Turkey in June 2010 and complained that national authorities refused to grant a place of worship status to their houses of worship while also rejecting their requests to provide access to places of worship. 

      In the appeal, the association claimed Turkey violated the group’s right to freedom of religion (Article 9), right to a fair trial (Article 6) and freedom of assembly and association (Article 11). The group added that they did not benefit from the right to an effective remedy (Article 13) and were discriminated against over their membership to a minority religious community – a violation of prohibition of discrimination (Article 14). 

      The aforementioned difficulties arose from a Turkish Law No. 3194 on Urban Planning which prohibits the opening of places of worship on sites which were designated for other purposes in local development plans.

      The same law also established a number of conditions to build places of worship. Accordingly, even a small place of worship must have a surface area of at least 2,550 square meters. 

      The private premises which were used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the southern province of Mersin and the Aegean province of İzmir were closed down by authorities for being “unlawful.” Appeals by the believers for the allocation or use of alternative premises as places of worship were also turned down by courts. 

      In its decision, the ECHR ruled that “the impugned rejections by the authorities amounted to such a direct interference with their freedom of religion that it was neither proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued nor necessary in a democratic society.”

      Noting that states are largely free to implement urban planning policies, the court nevertheless underlined that the needs of minority communities were not taken into consideration by state authorities. 

      “Domestic courts had taken no account of the specific needs of a small community of believers,” the ECHR said, adding that Turkey’s practices were in violation of Article 9 of the convention. 

      Violations of the remaining articles on which the Jehovah Witnesses complained should also be declared admissible, the court said, but found no need to examine their merits because they were already sufficiently covered.

      Turkey was ordered to pay 1,000 euros to the applicants in non-pecuniary damages in addition to 4,000 euros to cover their costs and expenses.
      Source: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-violated-religious-freedoms-of-jehovah-witnesses-echr.aspx?pageID=238&nID=99591&NewsCatID=509
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      The judge who upheld a large fine on a Jehovah's Witness for attending a worship meeting rejects the victim's argument that the fine violates the European Convention on Human Rights, telling Forum 18 his "decision is correct". Azerbaijan is obliged to uphold the Convention.
      An appeal court judge who rejected a victim's argument that fining individuals for participating in worship meetings violates the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms has defended his decision. "We believe our decision is correct and legal," Judge Mirbahaddin Huseynov of Sheki Appeal Court told Forum 18 on 2 June from the court. On 22 April he upheld a large fine on Jehovah's Witness Eldar Aliyev. Told that Azerbaijan – as a member of the Council of Europe – is obliged to respect rights to freedom of religion or belief set out in the Convention, Judge Huseynov put the phone down.

      The fine on Aliyev comes as officials continue to raid meetings for worship or religious study held away from state-registered places of worship. At least three police raids on Jehovah's Witness meetings in homes in different cities in 2016 have led to court cases, literature seizures and warnings. While 27 court cases which followed one raid ended in acquittals, others cases continue.

      Sunni Muslims who study using the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi have been pressured to stop study meetings. "They're under strong surveillance," one Muslim told Forum 18 from Baku on 31 May. "They're constantly warned not to meet, and if maybe five or six get together they immediately start to face pressure."

      Police have frequently raided meetings of Muslims who study Nursi's works. Five men were imprisoned for taking part in a meeting in April 2014 in a Baku home to study their faith which was broken up in an armed police raid. Two of the five - Ismayil Mammadov and Eldeniz Hajiyev - remain in prison (see F18News 27 April 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2173).

      Meanwhile, in April and May police again prevented Muslims from praying in the yard around the Lezgin Mosque (also known as the Ashur Mosque) in Baku's Icherisheher (Old City).

      "They didn't stop people praying around the mosque at Friday prayers on 27 May, but they did so in the weeks before that," one mosque member told Forum 18 from Baku on 1 June. The Sunni mosque is small and is often too full for all those wishing to attend Friday prayers to find space inside.

      The Lezgin Mosque has repeatedly been threatened with closure and from whose congregation five men – including the Imam – were jailed as prisoners of conscience (see F18News 8 October 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2109).

      Mingachevir: religious meeting raided

      On the afternoon of 9 January, police officers abruptly stopped a Jehovah's Witness meeting held in Aliyev's home in the north-western town of Mingachevir. Bursting into the house, officers shouted at the more than 20 people present, demanding they stop the meeting, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Police officers told those present that the meeting was "unlawful" and that a permit was required to hold such meetings. Representatives of the regional administration, the city and the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations participated in the raid.

      Officers confiscated from those present personal copies of religious publications, including Bibles. The State Committee official stated that the Bible is a banned publication and must therefore be confiscated.

      The Old Testament, Nursi's 14-volume "Risale-i Nur" (Messages of Light) collection of writings, and several Jehovah's Witness publications were included on a police list of alleged "banned" religious literature, based on State Committee "expert analyses" (see F18News 6 May 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1955).

      The State Committee does not publish any list of books it has banned, despite promises by the then State Committee Head in April 2013 that it would do so "soon" (see F18News 2 May 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1830).

      After seizing religious literature from those present at the Mingachevir Jehovah's Witness meeting, the police took all attendees to the town's Police Station, where officers questioned and ordered them to write statements. The police held them until 10.30 pm, after having deprived them of their liberty for six hours.

      Major Elkhan Farajov of Mingachevir Police Public Safety Department drew up a record of an "offence" against Aliyev under Article 299.0.2 of the then Administrative Code (Article 515.0.2 of the new Administrative Code – see below), according to case materials. This Article punishes "Violating rules established by legislation on holding religious meetings, marches, and other religious ceremonies" with fines on individuals of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats. The case was then handed to court.

      Mingachevir: fine and action against parents

      On 3 March, Mingachevir City Court Judge Huseyn Mirzaliyev convicted Aliyev and fined him 1,500 Manats (8,400 Norwegian Kroner, 900 Euros or 1,000 US Dollars). The average monthly wage for employees in the first three months of 2016 was 485 Manats, according to the State Statistical Committee. The fine therefore represents more than three months wages for employees, though far more for those (like Aliyev) without formal work.

      On 22 April, Judge Huseynov of Sheki Appeal Court rejected Aliyev's appeal, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The Judge dismissed Aliyev's arguments that the punishments had violated his rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion for all, "either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his [sic] religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance".

      After the raid, police officers summoned parents and children of the participants of the religious meeting. Police informed one of the parents, Arzu Ibrahimova, that they had issued a record of an administrative "offence" against her. They added that all materials under Article 51 of the old Administrative Code, which punished "Failure by parents and guardians to fulfil upbringing and educational responsibilities", were transferred to the Commission on Cases and Protection of Juveniles.

      Gakh: religious meeting raided, administrative charges

      On 23 March, police officers in the north-western town of Gakh [Qax] raided the home of Givi Khusishvili. They abruptly stopped the observance of the Memorial of Christ's death, the most sacred religious event of the year for Jehovah's Witnesses. Police officers showed what purported to be a court order authorising their search and confiscated personal copies of religious publications, including Bibles, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18.

      Officers then took all the attendees to the local police station, interrogated them, and ordered them to write statements. Police drew up records of an "offence" under the Administrative Code on dozens of those present. All were released soon after 9 pm.

      A 23 March statement on the Interior Ministry website claimed that Khusishvili had violated the procedure for organising and holding religious meetings. It claimed the meeting had therefore been "prohibited by law". It said that of the 56 people present, more than 44 were local, while 9 were from Zakatala [Zaqatala], the region north of Gakh. Five were from Baku. The Interior Ministry said the 19 DVDs, two videos and 219 items of religious literature seized during the search had not been approved by the State Committee.

      Many acquittals, but other cases in court

      Cases under Administrative Code Article 515 against 27 attendees were handed to Gakh District Court. However, the Court's Judge Atabay Kichibayov dismissed all the cases for lack of an "offence", his assistant told Forum 18 from the court on 27 May. Ten of them were heard and dismissed on 24 May, the remaining 17 on 27 May.

      "We are pleased that Judge Atabek Kichibayov pronounced just and legal decisions to halt the cases for lack of an administrative offence," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 29 May.

      The same Judge Kichibayov acquitted a Jehovah's Witness in a case in May 2014 (see F18News 3 June 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1964). In the case of a former imam in October 2015, the Judge gave an official warning rather than a fine for "illegal" religious meetings (see F18News 26 January 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2142).

      However, police handed to Zakatala District Court the records of an "offence" against the participants who had come down for the meeting from Zakatala. "We are still awaiting these hearings," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

      Zakatala District Court said one case under Administrative Code Article 515 – against a woman named Qurbanova – has already been handed to court and has been assigned to Judge Arif Ismayilov. Court officials refused to give Forum 18 any other details on 31 May.

      Records of an "offence" against the participants from Baku were handed to the local police in the district of the capital where they live.

      Sahil: religious meeting raided

      On 17 January, police officers burst into the home of Marina Asadova in Sahil, a settlement on the Caspian Sea south-west of Baku. They abruptly halted a meeting for worship. Officers took Asadova to the local Police Station. Once the officers verified that religious publications they had seized were labelled with State Committee censorship stamps, they took Asadova back to her home.

      The police recorded the identity of all the Jehovah's Witnesses who had been present before releasing them. The police warned Asadova not to host such religious meetings again.

      Police across Azerbaijan frequently raid Jehovah's Witness worship meetings. Following a 14 November 2015 police raid on a meeting in the home of Nijat Panahov in Gyanja [Gäncä], 12 of those present were each fined 2,000 Manats. In December 2015, the city's Appeal Court rejected all 12 appeals (see F18News 16 December 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2134).

      New Administrative Code

      The new Administrative Code entered into force 1 March 2016. Proposed by President Ilham Aliyev, it had been adopted by the Milli Mejlis (Parliament) on 29 December 2015 and signed into law by the President on 15 February 2016. The new Code was officially published two days later in the government newspaper "Azerbaycan".

      Article 299 of the old Code was transferred almost unchanged into Article 515 of the new Code. It retains the same high fines for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief (see full text below).

      Article 300 of the old Code was shortened. Parts 1 and 3 appear as Article 516 of the new Code. The new Article 516 retains the punishment at the previous level for sending individuals abroad for religious education without State Committee permission and selling approved religious literature and materials away from approved places where they are allowed to be sold - though it introduces a new additional punishment of deportation when these "offences" are conducting by those who are not citizens (see full text below).

      Parts 2 and 4 of the old Article 300 are now "crimes". The new Article 516 therefore removes the administrative punishments for religious "propaganda" by people who are not citizens and for distributing uncensored religious literature and materials.

      Criminal Code Article 167-2 – adopted in December 2011 - punishes: "Production, sale and distribution of religious literature, audio and video materials, religious items and other informational materials of religious nature with the aim of import, sale and distribution without appropriate authorisation".

      December 2015 amendments to the Criminal Code added a new Article 168-1, which punishes "violation of the procedure for religious propaganda and religious ceremonies". Part 1 punishes the conducting of Islamic rites by a citizen who has received their education abroad with one year's imprisonment or a fine of between 2,000 and 5,000 Manats. Part 2 punishes "religious propaganda by foreigners and stateless persons" with imprisonment of between one and two years. Either of these "crimes" committed repeatedly or by prior agreement among a group of people is punishable by between two and five years' imprisonment (see F18News 16 December 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2134).

      Article 515. Violation of the procedure for creating or running religious organisations

      515.0. Violation of the procedure for creating or running religious organisations:

      515.0.1. Religious association's leader evading registration of the association with the relevant executive authority [State Committee];

      515.0.2. Violating rules established by legislation on holding religious meetings, marches, and other religious ceremonies;

      515.0.3. Clergy and members of religious associations holding special meetings for children and youth, organising labour, literary, or other clubs and groups unassociated with holding religious ceremonies;

      515.0.4. Religious association operating outside of its registered legal address;

      515.0.5. Religious association carrying out activities not in accordance with its statute –

      entails fines of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats on individuals, 7,000 to 8,000 Manats on officials.

      Article 516. Violation of legislation on freedom of religion

      516.0. Violation of legislation on freedom of religion:

      516.0.1. Sending citizens abroad to study in religious educational establishments, exchange of religious ministers without prior consent of the relative executive authority [State Committee];

      516.0.2. Selling religious literature (printed or on electronic devices) audio and video materials, religious merchandise and products, or other religious informational materials, authorised for sale in an order established by the Law on Freedom of Religion of the Azerbaijan Republic, outside specialised sale outlets established with the consent of the relevant executive authority [State Committee and local administration] -

      entails confiscation of the literature, merchandise and products or other materials being the immediate object of the administrative violation and imposition of penalty in the amount of 2,000 to 2,500 Manats on individuals, 8,000 to 9,000 Manats on officials, 20,000 to 25,000 Manats on legal entities; imposition of penalty in the amount of 2,000 to 2,500 Manats and administrative deportation of foreigners and stateless persons from the Azerbaijan Republic. (END)
      Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2184
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Of four female Jehovah's Witnesses detained by Samarkand police for meeting for worship, one faced rape threats, Forum 18 has learnt. Three were fined for "illegal" religious literature. Two Protestants – one spent 16 days in prison - have fled Uzbekistan to escape "police persecution".
      Individuals across Uzbekistan continue to face fines for religious literature found during police raids in homes. Samarkand City Criminal Court in the central Samarkand Region on 15 March handed down huge fines to three Jehovah's Witnesses women for religious materials found on their tablet device, Forum 18 notes. During nearly 24 hours in detention at Samarkand City Police in early February, officers hit the women and demanded that they renounce their faith, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. Officers threatened one with rape.

      Two Protestants - Latipzhon Mamazhanov and Murot Turdiyev - have chosen to flee Uzbekistan with their families after what fellow Protestants have described to Forum 18 as continuous pressure from the authorities.

      The Court and Police in Fergana are searching for Mamazhanov to punish him for a second time for the same "offence" of possessing religious literature. Local Protestants complained to Forum 18 that he became very sick during 16 days in prison in Fergana in March.

      Between February and March Almalyk City Police raided Turdiyev's home in Almalyk, cut off its electricity, ambushed his home waiting to catch him, threatened him with a criminal case, and asked him to become a police informer. Also Fergana Police seized his car for 12 days, and Fergana Court warned him (see below).

      Tight controls

      Uzbekistan retains tight state controls on all exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Printed literature, videos and DVDs of religious content have long been subjected to harsh prior compulsory state censorship. Police and secret police officers frequently raid homes and confiscate religious literature from their owners, including Arabic-language Korans, and Uzbek and Russian-language Bibles and New Testaments. Courts frequently order that such confiscated religious literature be destroyed (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862). A court in Tashkent ordered Bibles and New Testaments destroyed in December 2015.

      Prisoners of conscience Zuboyd Mirzorakhimov, a Tajik citizen, and Zoirjon Mirzayev are both serving five year prison terms for having Muslim sermons on their mobile phones when they entered Uzbekistan (see F18News 21 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2160).

      Mass raids, fined, short-term jailings

      Across Uzbekistan the authorities continue raiding individuals' homes – including those of Protestants of various denominations and Jehovah's Witnesses - and confiscating their religious literature. On 17 May, officers raided Council of Churches Baptists in Khorezm Region.

      Between January and May, at least 14 Protestants and 49 Jehovah's Witnesses are known to have received fines of up to 100 times the minimum monthly wage under Administrative Code Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons").

      A fine of 100 times the minimum monthly wage – currently 1,302,400 Soms – is equivalent to 3,700 Norwegian Kroner, 400 Euros or 450 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate.

      In one case in Nukus in the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, 14 Protestants received total fines of 350 times the minimum monthly wage or 45,584,000 Soms (130,000 Norwegian Kroner, 14,000 Euros or 15,600 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate). In another case, 30 Jehovah's Witnesses received fines totalling more than 1,050 times the minimum monthly wage or 136,752,000 Soms (390,000 Norwegian Kroner, 42,000 Euros or 47,000 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate). Two of the Jehovah's Witnesses were also given ten-day jail terms.

      A total of 52 Jehovah's Witnesses are also known to have been fined for "illegal" religious activity in the first three months of 2016 (see forthcoming F18News article).

      Samarkand literature fines follow raid on religious meeting

      Judge Zafar Kholikulov of Samarkand City Court on 15 March fined three female Jehovah's Witnesses for meeting for worship in a home in February. Each was fined 50 times the minimum monthly wage, 6,512,000 Soms. They were punished under Administrative Code Article 184-2 for possessing "illegal" literature.

      On the evening of 3 February Samarkand Police arrested the three together with another local resident with whom they were meeting for worship and religious study. Police held the four women at a Samarkand Police Station for almost 24 hours. The Police confiscated their tablet device and passports before releasing them in the afternoon of 4 February.

      While in detention, two of the women were "physically abused", while another female Jehovah's Witness was "subjected to sexual harassment", Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 on 25 April.

      Asked why Judge Kholikulov fined the Jehovah's Witnesses, the official who answered his phone on 23 May, replied that he (refused to give his name) is the Assistant to the Judge, and that he is "on a vacation." He declined to comment on the decision and tell Forum 18 whether the Court investigated the police abuses. He referred Forum 18 to the Chancellery.

      A Chancellery official (who refused to give his name) looked up Kholikulov's decision, but refused to explain the reasons of the fines. "I cannot comment," he told Forum 18 on 23 May.

      Police torture female Jehovah's Witnesses

      At Samarkand's Police Station No.6 in early February, the four women were questioned by Officer Sanjar Esanov, Chief of the Station, Lieutenant Askarali Boykobilov and Officer Sobir Rakhimov (both of whom are Esanov's subordinates), as well as Officer Khusrav Shamsiyev of Samarkand's Anti-Terrorism Police.

      The officers who questioned the women were "drunk and very aggressive", Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. "They demanded that the women deny their faith." Lieutenant Boykobilov "roughly grasped the shoulders of [one of the women] and kept pushing her". Another was also "pushed", and Officer Shamsiyev "slapped her on the face".

      Chief Officer Esanov took another of the four women to a dark room and "strangled her and hit her on the body", Jehovah's Witnesses complained. Officer Rakhimov also slapped her face. Officer Esanov threatened to "undress her and rape her, after which he will take her out of the room naked so the others could see. Then he began unbuttoning her overcoat but she resisted and he stopped."

      Police Chief Esanov adamantly denied to Forum 18 that he or his colleagues abused the Jehovah's Witnesses. "It's all a pack of lies. Police in Uzbekistan never act in such a way," he told Forum 18 from Samarkand on 23 May.

      The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Uzbekistan acceded to in 1995, defines torture as: "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity".

      Under Article 6 of the Convention Uzbekistan is obliged to arrest any person suspected on good grounds of having committed torture. Under Article 4 Uzbekistan is obliged to try them under criminal law which makes "these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature" (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).

      Asked why police arrested the four women, Esanov responded: "Ask the Court, everything is explained in its decision."

      Told that Forum 18 has documented many cases where police in Samarkand and elsewhere in Uzbekistan have arrested and abused individuals for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief - including Jehovah's Witnesses - and asked why Police and other authorities violate individuals' human rights, Chief Esanov paused and Forum 18 could hear him consult his officers. "If you disagree with us then talk to the Court," he responded, before declining to talk to Forum 18 further.

      Families flee "police persecution"

      Two members of the same Protestant Church, Latipzhon Mamazhanov from Fergana in eastern Uzbekistan and Murot Turdiyev from Almalyk in Tashkent Region, have fled Uzbekistan after continuous pressure from the authorities, their fellow-believers complained to Forum 18 on 12 May. Both were "sick and tired of the police persecution, and therefore took their families and left Uzbekistan," they said.

      Mamazhanov was arrested and jailed on 12 March for 15 days in Fergana, the same day police illegally raided his home and those of other local Protestants searching for religious literature. He was released only on 28 March, one day after he should have been released under the law. Mamazhanov was imprisoned in the Region's Kuva District Police Detention Centre where up to seven inmates were put in a cell designed for two people, no sanitary and hygiene rules are followed, and food is given only once a day. He and other prisoners who insisted they were innocent of crime were also tortured several times (see F18News 13 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2167).

      After his release from prison, Mamazhanov "felt very sick and found he had developed several diseases", Protestants complained to Forum 18. They said that during his imprisonment he lost seven kilos in weight, developed shingles and experienced stomach problems. "The prison made him practically an invalid," Protestants lamented.

      Harsh treatment and even torture in prisons is common (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).

      Protestants note that Mamazhanov suffers from hepatitis, diabetes, osteochondrosis of his back and spine, and two hernias of his spine.

      New case against Mamazhanov?

      Since early May Fergana City Court and Police have attempted to bring Mamazhanov before the Court to hand him an administrative fine for the 12 March confiscation of religious literature from his home, his fellow-believers told Forum 18. "He was already jailed after that Police raid and confiscation, and now the authorities are looking to punish him a second time for the same alleged offence," local Protestants complained to Forum 18.

      An official of Fergana City Court Chancellery (who did not give her name) told Forum 18 that the Police had brought a case against Mamazhanov under Administrative Code Article 184-2, but that the Court referred it back to the Police for further investigation. She declined to give any further information.

      Rustam Yegamberdiyev, Chief of Criminal Police of Fergana Region, on 24 May referred Forum 18 to the Anti-Terrorism Police. "I don't know the details, ask them, they are leading the case," he said.

      Asked about the case, Anvar Myrzayev, Chief of the Anti-Terrorism Police in Fergana, refused to talk to Forum 18. "I don't know you, and it's a wrong number," he said. Subsequent calls to him on the same day went unanswered.

      Asked about the case on 24 May, duty officers (who did not give their names) at Fergana Police refused to put Forum 18 through to any other officials, but referred Forum 18 to Myrzayev.

      Police threaten Turdiyev with criminal case

      Police detained Turdiyev, together with Mamazhanov's brothers, in Fergana on 12 March as they tried to defend Mamazhanov against the unlawful police actions. Police confiscated his car the same day. The car was returned to him 16 days later, on 28 March, when Judge Shukhrat Sotivoldiyev who gave the administrative arrest to Mamazhanov issued Turdiyev with a warning (see F18News 13 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2167).

      On 28 April, one month after the Fergana Court warning, two plain-clothes officers of the Criminal Police in Almalyk stopped Turdiyev while he was trying to get in his car, local Protestants told Forum 18. Turdiyev was taken to Almalyk Police Station where he was questioned.

      Officer Alisher (last name not given) of the Criminal Police questioned Turdiyev, demanding that he write a statement. Turdiyev was "threatened that he will be put in prison unless he stops writing complaints about police actions," local Protestants complained. Officer Alisher told Turdiyev that "Police will plant drugs or bullets on him, and open a fabricated case against him." However, Turdiyev refused to do so or sign the police report. Officers, "seeing that they could not achieve what they want", then released him.

      Turdiyev's home ambushed by Police

      While Turdiyev was being tried by the Fergana Court on 28 March, one police officer in uniform and several plain-clothes officials came to his home in Almalyk at 8 am and "began pounding and kicking on the doors for one hour." Turdiyev's "neighbours came out to the noise and asked them why they behaved in such an unruly way." The officials answered that "they want to see Turdiyev and check up on his flat."

      The officials then "took turns putting their ears to the door to see whether or not Turdiyev was in the flat." After this they turned off electricity to Turdiyev's flat and left. However, "unidentified Police officers set up an ambush not far from the home, and began waiting to catch him."

      When Turdiyev returned from Fergana to Almalyk on 1 April, he found out that all the food in their refrigerator was spoiled because the electricity had been cut off. Food, which included beef, sausage, and lard and products, cost Turdiyev some 107,000 Soms.

      Turdiyev harassed earlier

      Two officers of Almalyk Police also earlier on 20 February raided Turdiyev's home at 6.30 am under the guise of a passport inspection in the building, Protestants complained to Forum 18.

      They checked the passports of Turdiyev, his wife and children, as well as the title deed of their flat, taking copies of it. "We found out later that in the entire building, police checked up only on Turdiyev's flat. This shows that there was no passport regime check-up. The police only wanted to harass him and his family."

      Turdiyev was on the same day "against his will" taken to Almalyk Police Station. There an officer who would not give his name but said he was Chief of the Criminal Police "demanded that he write a statement explaining why he travels abroad, which countries and for what purpose he visited, why he chose to buy a flat in Almalyk, why he was registered with his family and lives in Almalyk." Police also demanded that he should write about the lifestyle of his family members, their sources of money, and about his family and other relations.

      The Police Chief then asked Turdiyev to become an informer for the police, Protestants complained. However, Turdiyev refused to do so.

      Asked why the police are pressuring Turdiyev, Ravshan Amilov, Chief of Almalyk's Criminal Police, claimed to Forum 18 on 24 May that "I know him but we do not have such facts." When Forum 18 asked why his colleagues ambushed Turdiyev's home and turned off his electricity, as well as why he was brought to the Criminal Police and threatened with a criminal case, Amilov did not say. "I will ask the terrorism Police about the case and you call us back some time later," he said.

      Jahongir Baltayev, Chief of Almalyk Anti-Terrorism Police refused to talk to Forum 18 on 24 May. "It's a wrong number," he replied. Told that Almalyk Police gave his number to Forum 18, he put the phone down. (END)
      Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2182
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      If prosecutors proceed with their threat to liquidate the Jehovah's Witness headquarters near St Petersburg, thousands of local congregations across Russia could also face prohibition of their activities and individuals could be vulnerable to criminal charges for expressing their beliefs, Forum 18 notes.
      The Jehovah's Witnesses' principal body in Russia is under threat of dissolution as an "extremist" organisation after the deadline in an official warning from the General Prosecutor's Office expired on 2 May, Forum 18 notes. If prosecutors decide to pursue liquidation, thousands of local Jehovah's Witness congregations across Russia could also face prohibition of their activities and individuals could be vulnerable to criminal charges for expressing their beliefs.

      If dissolution of the Administrative Centre is pursued, this would be the first instance of a registered, centralised religious organisation with active subdivisions being liquidated for "extremism", Forum 18 notes.

      Lawyers have until 2 June to challenge the warning in court, the Administrative Centre told Forum 18 from St Petersburg. Lawyers for the Administrative Centre are planning to lodge a challenge.

      Forum 18's questions to the General Prosecutor's Office – including whether liquidation of the Administrative Centre would amount to a prohibition on all Jehovah's Witness activity across Russia – had not been answered by the end of the working day in Moscow on 24 May (see below).

      "Slanderous accusations"

      Jehovah's Witnesses have strongly denied the accusations of extremism. "The slanderous accusations of ‘extremism' against us are simply being used to mask the true religious intolerance of those who disagree with our beliefs," Administrative Centre representative Vasiliy Kalin said on the jw.org website on 27 April. "We are not extremists."

      "For Jehovah's Witnesses to be lumped together with extremist groups and for their literature to be listed with works of violent terrorists is an affront to decency and justice," New York-based General Counsel Philip Brumley added in the same article.

      The use of "extremism" laws has been the biggest single threat to freedom of religion or belief in Russia for some years. Particular victims of this have been Muslims (including those who read the works of the late Turkish theologian Said Nursi) and Jehovah's Witnesses (see Forum 18's Russia "extremism" surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1724).

      The Administrative Centre

      The Administrative Centre of Jehovah's Witnesses of Russia, based on the outskirts of St Petersburg, has been registered as a "centralised religious organisation" since 1999. Jehovah's Witnesses were first officially registered under Soviet law in 1991, but have been present in Russia since the late 19th century.

      "Engaging in extremist activity is not permitted"

      The Administrative Centre of Jehovah's Witnesses received the formal warning "that engaging in extremist activity is not permitted", dated 2 March 2016, from Viktor Grin, Deputy General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation. The warning is explicitly predicated on the alleged "extremist" activities of the local communities (and their members) which the Centre oversees and supports.

      The warning, seen by Forum 18, instructs the Centre to take "specific organisational and practical measures" within a period of two months in order to prevent further offences under the Extremism Law. It cautions that the Centre will be subject to dissolution if it does not eliminate existing violations or if new evidence of extremism is detected over the following twelve months.

      The document does not elaborate on what such "organisational and practical measures" may be or how they will be monitored.

      Potential consequences

      Forty-seven entities currently appear on the Justice Ministry's list of banned and/or liquidated terrorist and extremist organisations (which is dominated by extreme nationalist groups and includes some Ukrainian political organisations).

      Seven of these are former registered religious organisations, which operated only on a local level (such as the Borovsk Muslim community in Tyumen and the Taganrog, Samara and Abinsk Jehovah's Witness congregations).

      A further eleven are religious associations which were never officially registered, such as the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat and "Nurdzhular", which Muslims in Russia deny even exists – nevertheless, Muslims who read the works of Said Nursi are regularly prosecuted for "continuing its activities" (see F18News 11 April 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2166).

      In an article of 27 April on their international website, Jehovah's Witnesses point out that, if liquidated, the Administrative Centre will be closed, it will be added to the federal list of extremist organisations and its property will be turned over to the State.

      "Because of their affiliation with the Centre, all religious associations of Jehovah's Witnesses - 406 local religious organizations (legal entities) and over 2,500 congregations – may also face liquidation," Jehovah's Witnesses complain. "As a result, Witnesses throughout Russia could lose their Kingdom Halls (houses of worship)." They also warn that "Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia could find themselves in a scenario in which they are free to believe as they wish but not free to practice their religion with others".

      This would, the Office of the General Counsel fears, amount to a ban on all Jehovah's Witness activity in Russia. It confirmed to Forum 18 on 23 May that dissolution of the Administrative Centre would be grounds for liquidation of all registered Jehovah's Witness organisations in the country, although separate legal proceedings would have to be opened against each of them.

      When a registered religious organisation is liquidated, it loses its status as a legal entity and concomitant rights such as the ability to own or rent property, employ staff and hold a bank account. Although an unregistered community should legally be able to continue to operate as a religious group, which does not require registration, and meet privately for worship and study, this carries the risk of criminal charges if their organisation was liquidated on grounds of extremism.

      Sixteen Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog were convicted on 30 November 2015 of "continuing the activities of a banned extremist organisation" (see F18News 3 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2128). Rostov Regional Court rejected their appeals on 17 March 2016 and the convictions have now come into force.

      "The worst thing is that, after the elimination of a local religious organisation, believers face prosecution simply for reading the Bible," Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Kalin complained in a press release of 12 April.

      Communities already under threat

      The General Prosecutor's Office warning notes that several Jehovah's Witness communities have already been liquidated, have had liquidation suits opened against them, or have been warned of the possibility of liquidation, all for alleged "extremist" activity. The only specific form of such activity it mentions is the distribution of prohibited religious literature.

      These moves – and the increase in prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses under Administrative Code Article 20.29 (distribution of extremist materials – see F18News 25 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2171) and Article 20.2 ("unapproved" public events – see F18News 18 May 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2179) mark a recent intensification of law enforcement efforts to curtail Jehovah's Witness activity, Forum 18 notes (see F18News 22 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2161).

      Before 2014, only one Jehovah's Witness congregation (in Taganrog, Rostov Region, in 2009) had been dissolved on charges of "extremist" activity. In 2014, the Samara community was dissolved, followed by the Abinsk community (Krasnodar Region) in March 2015, Tyumen in October 2015, and Belgorod, Stariy Oskol (also in Belgorod Region), and Elista (Republic of Kalmykiya) in February 2016.

      Proceedings against the Cherkessk Jehovah's Witnesses were initiated in May 2015 and have been delayed multiple times by other civil cases involving the congregation (see F18News 28 August 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095).

      Prosecutors have also submitted liquidation suits against Jehovah's Witness communities of Arkhangelsk and Oryol on 8 April and 12 May 2016 respectively. No hearing dates have yet been set in Oryol. The next hearing at Arkhangelsk Regional Court is due on 2 June. This is despite the fact that Arkhangelsk Jehovah's Witness leader Aleksandr Parygin applied to the Justice Ministry in October 2015 to have the community dissolved at its own request (see F18News 22 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2161).

      The Belgorod, Stariy Oskol, and Elista congregations are now awaiting the outcome of appeals to Russia's Supreme Court. Hearings in the first two cases are scheduled for 9 and 16 June respectively. The Elista community's appeal was registered on 22 April and the court has not yet given a hearing date.

      The Supreme Court has already overturned the liquidation order with respect to the Tyumen Jehovah's Witnesses. It ruled on 15 April that the evidence presented and the small size of the community "do not give reason to believe that the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Tyumen has led to the need to choose the exceptional measure of liquidation of the organisation", based principally on the fact that "The liquidation of a social or religious association or other organisation is an exceptional measure which should be proportionate to the violations permitted by the legal entity and the consequences they provoke. Repeated violation of the law in itself cannot form the basis for a court decision on the liquidation of a legal entity."

      According to the written verdict, seen by Forum 18, the Supreme Court also accepted that the Tyumen community had expelled a member found guilty under Administrative Code Article 20.29 and had repeatedly shown its members a list of publications included on the Federal List and acquainted them with the requirements of the Extremism Law.

      At least nine more Jehovah's Witness communities have received warnings of "the inadmissibility of extremist activity" from prosecutor's offices since spring 2015, Forum 18 has found. Three of these – Tikhoretsk (Krasnodar), Chapayevsk (Samara), and Shakhty (Rostov) – are in regions which have already seen the liquidation of Jehovah's Witness congregations on grounds of "extremism" (in Abinsk, Samara, and Taganrog respectively).

      The other six are in Kaluga, Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Region, Vilyuchinsk on the Far Eastern Kamchatka peninsula, Teykovo in Ivanovo Region, Stavropol, and Prokhladny in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya. Four communities (Tikhoretsk, Teykovo, Chapayevsk, Prokhladny) are so far known to have gone to court to have the warnings recognised as unlawful, all unsuccessfully.

      If communities or their members are convicted again (usually within 12 months) under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials"), they risk liquidation proceedings.

      The warning sent to the Administrative Centre claims that warnings about extremist activity have also been issued to Jehovah's Witness communities in the Kemerovo and Novosibirsk Regions and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District in Tyumen Region.

      Jehovah's Witness literature banned

      Over 80 Jehovah's Witness texts, as well as the international jw.org website (in addition to numerous Muslim, several Falun Gong and one Catholic book), have been declared "extremist" and placed on the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Materials.

      Possession of an item on the Federal List carries the risk of a fine or imprisonment for up to 15 days, and confiscation of the banned literature. Jehovah's Witnesses described the inclusion of their publications on the Federal List as a "miscarriage of justice" in a press statement of 12 April.

      The Federal List now runs to over 3,500 items, often does not include full bibliographical details, and is irregularly updated. Checking whether a particular item is on the List can be difficult or even impossible (see F18News 27 July 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2084).

      Prosecutions under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") have increased (see F18News 25 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2171). The import into Russia of Jehovah's Witness literature (not deemed "extremist") is routinely blocked (see F18News 14 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2133). A court in Vyborg is currently considering a request by prosecutors to outlaw the Jehovah's Witness edition of the Bible as an "extremist" text (see F18News 5 May 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2174).

      All community dissolutions have followed a similar path, Forum 18 notes. They have involved the discovery of "extremist" literature, charges under Article 20.29, prosecutors' warnings, and allegations of repeat offences, leading to prosecutors seeking liquidation through the courts.

      On 15 February 2016, Jehovah's Witnesses stated on their website jw.org that Russia's law enforcement agencies "have increasingly resorted to fabricating evidence to justify charges of extremism against Jehovah's Witnesses", claiming that the "extremist" materials found in their homes and Kingdom Halls are in fact planted by the police (see F18News 2 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2154).

      General Prosecutor's Office response

      On 28 March, the General Prosecutor's Office rejected the Jehovah's Witnesses' request for a meeting to discuss the warning. Since then, the Administrative Centre has received no further communication from prosecutors, spokesperson Ivan Belenko told Forum 18. He added that they have complained directly to the General Prosecutor Yury Chaika, but have had no reply.

      Forum 18 sent a fax to the General Prosecutor's Office in the afternoon of the Moscow working day of 19 May, asking the following questions: 

      1. What "concrete organisational and practical measures" should the Administrative Centre take to prevent further violations?

      2. Could any violation by a local community or member of a community be grounds for the liquidation of the Administrative Centre in the twelve-month period after the warning was issued?

      3. If the Administrative Centre is liquidated, will all local religious organisations of Jehovah's Witnesses also be automatically dissolved, or would separate court proceedings be necessary?

      4. Would the liquidation of the Administrative Centre amount to a prohibition on all Jehovah's Witness activity on the territory of the Russian Federation?

      Forum 18 had received no reply as of the end of the Moscow working day of 24 May. (END)
      Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2181
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Turkey violated the right to freedom of religion of a group of Jehovah Witnesses in İzmir and Mersin through “direct interference” by refusing to grant them appropriate places of worship. 

      The Association for Solidarity with Jehovah Witnesses and others appealed against the ECHR against Turkey in June 2010 and complained that national authorities refused to grant a place of worship status to their houses of worship while also rejecting their requests to provide access to places of worship. 

      In the appeal, the association claimed Turkey violated the group’s right to freedom of religion (Article 9), right to a fair trial (Article 6) and freedom of assembly and association (Article 11). The group added that they did not benefit from the right to an effective remedy (Article 13) and were discriminated against over their membership to a minority religious community – a violation of prohibition of discrimination (Article 14). 

      The aforementioned difficulties arose from a Turkish Law No. 3194 on Urban Planning which prohibits the opening of places of worship on sites which were designated for other purposes in local development plans.

      The same law also established a number of conditions to build places of worship. Accordingly, even a small place of worship must have a surface area of at least 2,550 square meters. 

      The private premises which were used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the southern province of Mersin and the Aegean province of İzmir were closed down by authorities for being “unlawful.” Appeals by the believers for the allocation or use of alternative premises as places of worship were also turned down by courts. 

      In its decision, the ECHR ruled that “the impugned rejections by the authorities amounted to such a direct interference with their freedom of religion that it was neither proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued nor necessary in a democratic society.”

      Noting that states are largely free to implement urban planning policies, the court nevertheless underlined that the needs of minority communities were not taken into consideration by state authorities. 

      “Domestic courts had taken no account of the specific needs of a small community of believers,” the ECHR said, adding that Turkey’s practices were in violation of Article 9 of the convention. 

      Violations of the remaining articles on which the Jehovah Witnesses complained should also be declared admissible, the court said, but found no need to examine their merits because they were already sufficiently covered.

      Turkey was ordered to pay 1,000 euros to the applicants in non-pecuniary damages in addition to 4,000 euros to cover their costs and expenses.
      Source: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/Default.aspx?pageID=238&nid=99591&NewsCatID=509

    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service
      Three Jehovah's Witness communities are trying to challenge lower court orders that they be liquidated as "extremist" and are awaiting Supreme Court decisions. The cases brought to six the number of their communities banned as "extremist". Court moves to liquidate a seventh were launched in May 2015. Since spring 2015 at least seven further Jehovah's Witness communities have received written "extremism" warnings from prosecutors, a frequent prelude to liquidation suits, Forum 18 News Service has found. A Jehovah's Witness community in Arkhangelsk applied to liquidate itself in October 2015, just weeks before Regional Governor Igor Orlov told the local Russian Orthodox Diocese website of "ongoing work to ensure the de-legalisation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Arkhangelsk Region". All these moves mark an intensification of law enforcement efforts to curtail Jehovah's Witness activity, Forum 18 notes. One Muslim community is known to have been similarly liquidated, with a second being issued a warning.
      Three further Jehovah's Witness communities are facing enforced dissolution after courts ruled that they were "extremist" organisations and their activities must cease. The congregations of Tyumen in Siberia, Belgorod in southern European Russia, and Stariy Oskol, also in Belgorod Region, are now awaiting the outcome of appeals to Russia's Supreme Court in Moscow. Court proceedings have resumed to liquidate another community, in Cherkessk in the North Caucasus. These moves - and the "extremism" warnings prosecutors have issued to at least seven further communities across Russia - mark an intensification of law enforcement efforts to curtail Jehovah's Witness activity, Forum 18 News Service notes.

      The Cherkessk Jehovah's Witness community has been threatened with liquidation for much of the last year (see F18News 28 August 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095).

      Although not essential, one frequently employed mechanism in the process of dissolving a religious organisation is a formal warning from a prosecutor's office of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity", Forum 18 notes. Violation of the terms of such a warning can trigger a liquidation suit. Another seven Jehovah's Witness communities which have received such warnings and are therefore in danger of dissolution should law enforcement agencies detect any further "extremism"-related offences, Forum 18 has found.

      One Muslim community (in Borovsky village in Tyumen Region) is also known to have been liquidated on grounds of "extremism". Another (in Tayshet in Irkutsk Region) was issued with a warning in December 2014 after its imam was fined for allegedly distributing "extremist" literature.

      Before 2014, only one Jehovah's Witness congregation (in Taganrog, Rostov Region, in 2009) had been dissolved on charges of "extremist" activity. In 2014, the Samara community was dissolved, followed by the Abinsk community in March 2015, Tyumen in October 2015, and Belgorod and Stariy Oskol in February 2016. Proceedings against the Cherkessk Jehovah's Witnesses were initiated in May 2015 and are still ongoing.

      Familiar path of administrative cases, warnings, "repeat offences"

      The most recent dissolutions have followed a familiar path, Forum 18 notes, involving the discovery of "extremist" literature, charges under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code (mass distribution of extremist literature), prosecutors' warnings, and allegations of repeat offences, leading to prosecutors seeking liquidation through the courts.

      The three liquidation orders in Tyumen, Belgorod and Stariy Oskol, the attempted liquidation in Cherkessk, and the "extremism" warnings prosecutors have issued to communities all over the country all mark an intensification of law enforcement efforts to curtail Jehovah's Witness activity.

      Many Jehovah's Witness texts (as well as numerous Muslim, several Falun Gong and one Catholic book) have been declared "extremist" and placed on the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Materials. Possession of an item on the Federal List carries the risk of a fine or imprisonment for up to 15 days, and confiscation of the banned literature. The Federal List now runs to over 3,000 items, often does not include full bibliographical details, and is irregularly updated. Checking whether a particular item is on the List can be very difficult or even impossible (see Forum 18's Russia "extremism" religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1724).

      Prosecutions under Administrative Code Article 20.29 have also increased (see F18News 2 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2154), the import into Russia of Jehovah's Witness literature (not deemed "extremist") is routinely blocked (see F18News 14 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2133), and a court in Vyborg is currently considering a request by prosecutors to outlaw the Jehovah's Witness translation of the Bible as an "extremist" text.

      Consequences

      When a registered religious organisation is liquidated, it loses its status as a legal entity and concomitant rights such as the ability to own or rent property, employ staff and hold a bank account. An unregistered community should legally be able to continue to operate as a religious group, which does not require registration, and meet privately for worship and study, but this can carry the risk of criminal charges.

      Sixteen Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog were convicted on 30 November 2015 of "continuing the activities of a banned extremist organisation" (see F18News 3 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2128). Rostov Regional Court rejected their appeals on 17 March 2016 and the convictions have now come into force.

      "Unregistered" religious groups are now also under increased monitoring by the authorities. Since 24 July 2015, they have to notify the authorities of their existence, membership, and address(es) at least once every three years (see F18News 17 September 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2101).

      Belgorod and Stariy Oskol

      Judge Irina Naumova of Belgorod Regional Court upheld the regional prosecutor's suits against the Stariy Oskol and Belgorod Jehovah's Witnesses on 10 and 11 February 2016 respectively, ruling that both congregations were "extremist organisations", according to court records.

      Both communities, which had been registered in the region since the 1990s, have submitted appeals to the Supreme Court, but no hearing date is yet known. Although the verdicts have not yet come into force, the communities' activities have already been suspended, the Administrative Centre of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia said in a press release on 11 February. The Centre expressed its "concern that 11 Jehovah's Witnesses from Stariy Oskol and 11 of their fellow believers from Belgorod have been subjected to religious discrimination". It complained that the court had not permitted them to present their own evidence "showing the artificiality of the prosecutor's charges".

      In a statement of 11 February, Belgorod Regional Prosecutor's Office accused the Jehovah's Witnesses of "violations .. associated with the dissemination of extremist content (advocating the superiority or inferiority of a person on grounds of religious affiliation or attitude to religion) .. an inclination to refuse medical assistance to people in a life-threatening condition on religious grounds, and the destruction of family and kinship relations on the basis of religious differences".

      Forum 18 called the Regional Prosecutor's Office on 17 March to ask why it was seeking to have the two congregations dissolved and whether their former members would still be able to meet informally for worship. However, a spokeswoman explained that all enquiries from foreign organisations had to be directed to the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation.

      The Belgorod Jehovah's Witnesses received a warning from the city prosecutor's office on 11 March 2015. According to court documents seen by Forum 18, this specified that "the religious organisation should not acquire and should not distribute any material deemed extremist; that it has neither the right nor the opportunity to follow any inhabitants of Belgorod who are not members; and that they should acquaint themselves with the Federal List of Extremist Materials"; and required compliance with current legislation.

      The community made an unsuccessful attempt to challenge this at the city's October District Court on 22 July 2015, followed by an unsuccessful appeal at Belgorod Regional Court on 12 November. On 30 December, the regional prosecutor's office submitted its liquidation suit, claiming that the Jehovah's Witnesses had violated the terms of the warning.

      Prosecutors issued the warning because of a concert held on 11 January 2015 at Dubovsk Palace of Culture in Belgorod District, during which a participant showed the audience "My Book of Bible Stories" (banned by Rostov Regional Court, 11 September 2009) and "The Bible: God's Word or Man's?" (banned by Factory District Court, Kemerovo, 28 October 2010) and encouraged them to share these texts with the public.

      The Jehovah's Witness community did not dispute these events, but argued in court that they had not been party to the rental of the Palace of Culture and could not be held responsible for the autonomous actions of an individual adherent.

      The regional prosecutor's 30 December 2015 request to have the Stariy Oskol Jehovah's Witnesses dissolved also came after the community had unsuccessfully challenged an "extremism" warning earlier in 2015.

      According to court documents seen by Forum 18, the Stariy Oskol City Prosecutor issued the warning when law enforcement agents confiscated from four community members a number of books thought to be on the Federal List, plus others which "contained direct references to literature" on the List. The latter had been published after the relevant "extremism" rulings – therefore, the publishers had "knowingly included extremist material".

      Stariy Oskol City Court rejected the community's request to have this warning ruled unlawful on 7 April 2015. The community appealed unsuccessfully at Belgorod Regional Court on 30 July 2015.

      A group of local "anti-sect" activists, Youth Emergency Assistance, has claimed credit for triggering the Belgorod liquidation suits by repeatedly filming Jehovah's Witnesses in the streets and informing police of the distribution of allegedly "extremist" literature. The group has posted videos on its VKontakte page of members confronting Jehovah's Witnesses who have set up literature stands, then calling the police, who arrive and take the Jehovah's Witnesses away, often accompanied by the activists.

      Russia's Federal Tax Service does not yet list either the Stariy Oskol or Belgorod communities as being in the process of liquidation, and neither yet appears on the Justice Ministry's list of "extremist" organisations.

      Tyumen

      On 24 March, the Tyumen Jehovah's Witnesses will attempt to have the dissolution of their community overturned by the Supreme Court. Tyumen Regional Prosecutor's Office sought the liquidation when the community allegedly violated the terms of an "extremism" warning by distributing "extremist" literature and was fined 50,000 Roubles on 12 March 2015 (they appealed unsuccessfully against this on 15 May 2015). The warning had been issued after community member Vladimir Morev was convicted under Administrative Code Article 20.29 in June 2014.

      On 16 October 2015, Judge Natalya Levina upheld the prosecutors' suit. This "extreme" decision "could seriously affect the rights of believers", the Administrative Centre of Jehovah's Witnesses commented in a press statement of 25 February 2016. It insisted that the accusations of "extremist" activity were based on the "false statements of unidentified persons that [community members] allegedly distributed publications from the list of extremist materials".

      Forum 18 wrote to the Tyumen Regional Prosecutor's Office on 4 March asking why it wanted to have the community dissolved, why Jehovah's Witnesses are considered dangerous, and whether former members of the congregation will still be able to meet informally for worship. The prosecutor's office passed this on to Tyumen Regional Department of the Justice Ministry, and head of department Anna Kashchuk responded on 18 March.

      Kashchuk did not answer Forum 18's questions directly, only confirming the relevant dates in the case and the fact that the Jehovah's Witnesses had received a warning, and noting that because of the pending appeal, the court ruling has not yet come into force and "Because of this, the process of liquidation of the religious organisation .. has not begun". In response to Forum 18's enquiry as to whether members of a liquidated community may continue to meet informally, Kashchuk merely cited Article 7 of the 1997 Religion Law on the nature and activities of "unregistered" religious groups.

      The Federal Tax Service lists the Tyumen community as being "in the process of liquidation", despite the pending Supreme Court appeal, but it does not yet appear on the Justice Ministry's list of "extremist" organisations.

      When Forum 18 called the Tyumen Kingdom Hall on 18 March, an automated message in Russian and English said the number was no longer in use.

      Arkhangelsk: ensuring the "de-legalisation of Jehovah's Witnesses"

      The "Central" Jehovah's Witness community of Arkhangelsk is also in the process of liquidation as of 5 December 2015, according to Federal Tax Service records. This resulted from leader Aleksandr Parygin's request to the Justice Ministry on 28 October 2015 to have his congregation formally dissolved.

      Although this liquidation was not demanded by prosecutors, the Arkhangelsk Jehovah's Witnesses have come under increasing scrutiny over the last year from law enforcement, local authorities, and "anti-sectarian" activists.

      Regional Governor Igor Orlov told local Russian Orthodox Diocese website arh-eparhia.ru on 7 December 2015 of "ongoing work to ensure the de-legalisation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Arkhangelsk Region". He noted that Jehovah's Witnesses were "banned in several regions", and confirmed that the Arkhangelsk authorities "are following the same path".

      The FSB security service raided community premises and members' homes three times in April 2015, seizing religious literature. The community received a formal warning on 11 June 2015 of "the inadmissibility of extremist activity". They tried unsuccessfully to have this overturned at Central District Court on 30 October 2015 and Arkhangelsk Regional Court on 4 February 2016, according to court decisions seen by Forum 18.

      In September 2015, a witness in another FSB operation "voluntarily" gave his interrogators a copy of a banned Jehovah's Witness text, alleging that he had received it from community member I. Antufyev. Antufyev was consequently fined 1,500 Roubles on 2 October 2015 (with an unsuccessful appeal on 5 November). This conviction left the community vulnerable to a liquidation suit by prosecutors.

      Some 50 people held an "anti-sectarian" demonstration outside the Arkhangelsk Kingdom Hall on 13 March 2016, local TV station "Pomorye" reported in a special "anti-sectarian" bulletin the same evening (which used FSB film of a Jehovah's Witness literature seizure). Demonstrators' placards referred to bans on Jehovah's Witnesses in other Russian towns and proclaimed "No to religious extremism in Arkhangelsk Region!". The activists intended to produce a resolution demanding that the Arkhangelsk Jehovah's Witnesses should be outlawed, and deliver it to the governor and the prosecutor's office.

      Yaroslav Sivulsky of the Administrative Centre of Jehovah's Witnesses commented to the Moscow-based SOVA Centre on 14 March: "Jehovah's Witnesses in Arkhangelsk are confronted with the same tactics of law enforcement agencies which have taken place in other cities, including Samara and Belgorod – the planting of religious literature from the list of extremist materials, as well as false testimony."

      Forum 18 contacted the Arkhangelsk Regional Prosecutor's Office on 18 March and began to ask about moves against Jehovah's Witnesses in the region. However, the spokeswoman who took the call said she did not have the right to answer and immediately put the phone down. The prosecutor's office press service responded to Forum 18's written enquiry on the same day by saying that "We can consider requests from federal and foreign media only through the General Prosecutor's Office of Russia".

      Activists from the Lev Protiv movement are planning a similar request to prosecutors to seek a ban on Jehovah's Witnesses in Kirov Region, the SOVA Centre reported on 11 March.

      Seven other communities warned

      Seven more Jehovah's Witness communities have received warnings of "the inadmissibility of extremist activity" from prosecutor's offices since spring 2015, Forum 18 has found. Three of these – Tikhoretsk (Krasnodar), Chapayevsk (Samara), and Shakhty (Rostov) – are in regions which have already seen the liquidation of Jehovah's Witness congregations on grounds of "extremism" (in Abinsk, Samara, and Taganrog respectively).

      The other four are in Kaluga, Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Region, Vilyuchinsk on the Far Eastern Kamchatka peninsula, and Teykovo in Ivanovo Region. Three communities (Tikhoretsk, Teykovo, and Chapayevsk) have so far gone to court to have the warnings recognised as unlawful, all unsuccessfully.

      If a community or its members are subsequently convicted under Administrative Code Article 20.29 (usually within a period of twelve months), this presents the danger of liquidation proceedings.

      In Tikhoretsk, Jehovah's Witnesses have so far narrowly avoided this. After community member Vasily Platon was fined on 24 February 2015 for distributing banned texts on two separate occasions, the community received a warning on 24 March 2015. The community unsuccessfully challenged the warning on 13 July, with an unsuccessful appeal on 24 September. Subsequently, Yekaterina Kuznetsova and Zinaida Leontyeva were also convicted under Article 20.29 on 17 December, but their case was returned for re-examination and they were acquitted on 4 March 2016.

      Charges or conviction under Article 20.29 are not, however, necessary for prosecutors to issue a warning in the first place. In Shakhty, the Jehovah's Witness congregation received an "extremism" warning simply because materials offered in the street by members L. Klimenko and L. Suleva displayed the jw.org website address. (The two were fined under Administrative Code Article 20.2, Part 2, for holding an "unsanctioned picket" - see F18News 22 February 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2151.) The jw.org site (for the international Jehovah's Witness community) was banned and blocked in Russia in all language versions because it carried the texts of brochures ruled "extremist" by Russian courts (see F18News 8 June 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2071).

      Other liquidated communities

      According to the Federal Tax service's listings, 28 Jehovah's Witness congregations have been dissolved since 2004 (23 since the beginning of 2012), not counting those known to have been liquidated on grounds of alleged "extremism".

      A religious organisation can trigger its own dissolution for reasons unrelated to freedom of religion or belief – the Federal Tax Service lists two (in Voronezh and Yuzhnoye in Irkutsk Region) which have done so because of restructuring and merging with other congregations.

      Prosecutors and local authorities can also pursue the liquidation of a religious organisation because of non-"extremism"-related legal infringements – the "Harvest" Pentecostal Church in St Petersburg, for instance, was liquidated after it allegedly violated educational regulations (see F18News 26 March 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1943). (END)
      Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2161
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service
      Tashkent Regional Customs Department held Kazakh citizen Boris Prokopenko for two days in mid-March after discovering religious materials on electronic devices as he entered Uzbekistan, fellow Baptists complained to Forum 18 News Service. Freed after an "expert analysis" found nothing "extremist", he still faces administrative prosecution. "Aren't you exaggerating by saying he was detained? He was only staying with us temporarily since we were waiting for the expert analysis from the Religious Affairs Committee," Chief Customs Inspector Tahir Nasirkhodjayev told Forum 18. He denied any violation of Prokopenko's rights, as "we only enforce the Law, which demands us to stop and clarify what kind of religious materials people carry with them". Six Muslims were fined after being stopped in December 2015 for carrying "illegal" religious materials on their mobile phones, customs officials told Forum 18. Such punishments are part of the rigid control of religious materials entering and being transported within the country on mobile phones, tablets, personal computers, memory sticks and other electronic devices and media. At least two Muslims are serving five-year prison terms for the Koran and sermons in their mobile phones.
      Uzbekistan continues its rigid control of religious materials entering and being transported within the country on mobile phones, tablets, personal computers, memory sticks and other electronic devices and media, Forum 18 News Service notes. This control parallels the control of printed and other religious materials. Uzbek Customs officials on 13 March stopped a Baptist from neighbouring Kazakhstan, Boris Prokopenko, at a border-crossing between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, for carrying religious materials on electronic devices. Officials kept him for two days at Tashkent Regional Customs Department. They released him after opening an administrative case against him.

      Meanwhile, six Muslims were fined after being stopped in December 2015 for carrying "illegal" religious materials on their mobile phones, Tashkent City Customs Department told Forum 18 on 10 March. Officials refused to give specific details of any of the cases (see below).

      Forum 18 tried to find out whether it is legal or illegal for individuals to have religious material in electronic devices and why individuals are punished – often severely – if they do. However, the state Religious Affairs Committee in Tashkent refused to discuss the issue and cases with Forum 18.

      Artykbek Yusupov, Chair of the Committee, Press-Secretary Shovkat Hamdamov and Sobitjon Nasimov, Chief of the "Expert analysis" Section, all refused to talk to Forum 18 on 16 March. Shukhrat, as he introduced himself, the official who answered the phone of Zulhaydar Sultanov, Chief of the International Relations Section, said that Sultanov is "not available" to talk and that he himself "cannot comment" on the issues since "I am only a volunteer worker".

      A January 2014 Cabinet of Ministers Decree on religious literature requires the State Customs Committee and the State Borders Protection Committee (part of the National Security Service secret police) to seize all religious materials being imported. They are to be sent for "expert analysis" by the Religious Affairs Committee. Only if it approves them are such materials allowed to be handed back to travellers (see F18News 12 February 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1928).

      Searches, seizures, fines, prison terms

      Printed literature, videos and DVDs of religious content have long been subjected to harsh prior compulsory state censorship. Police and secret police officers frequently raid homes and confiscate religious literature from their owners, including Arabic-language Korans, and Uzbek and Russian-language Bibles and New Testaments. Courts frequently order that such confiscated religious literature be destroyed, as happened to Bibles and New Testaments in Tashkent in December 2015. In March 2016, a Christian in Fergana [Farghona] in eastern Uzbekistan was jailed for 15 days after a police search for religious literature (see F18News 18 March 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2159).

      The growth in the use of electronic devices in recent years has seen officials devote increasing attention to them. Officials often search mobile phones and other electronic devices in the hunt for religious materials. When they find such content - including holy books, sermons or religious music - punishments can range from long prison terms (especially when the material is Muslim) to administrative fines.

      Prisoner of conscience Zuboyd Mirzorakhimov, a Tajik citizen arrested in Uzbekistan in 2013 for carrying the Koran and Muslim sermons on his mobile phone, is serving a five-year prison term. Also serving a five-year prison term handed down in 2014 is Zoirjon Mirzayev, originally from Fergana. He was arrested at a Tashkent Region train station on returning from Russia to his native Uzbekistan, after customs officials found 29 sermon recordings (see F18News 17 February 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2149).

      In 2015 the authorities stopped the import of 50,000 religious materials into Uzbekistan and opened 1,200 cases, the state news agency UzA on 11 January 2016 cited State Customs and other law-enforcement agencies as declaring. "Extremist religious materials were found on mobile electronic devices of many citizens traveling back from abroad," it complained.

      Two individuals were stopped at Tashkent airport after religious sermons were found in their phones, while two more individuals were stopped at a train station after materials officials claim were "extremist" were found in their phones (see below).

      In another instance, an Uzbek citizen who returned to the country in late 2015 was fined for religious content in a mobile phone, friends told Forum 18, asking that the individual not be identified. Officers had discovered the religious materials when the mobile phone was checked as the individual re-entered the country. An administrative case was prepared and a court fined the individual 30 times the minimum monthly wage, 3,907,200 Soms.

      However, when an officer at a regional airport discovered Christian materials in an individual's mobile phone in early 2016, the officer merely deleted the material before handing back the phone, the individual told Forum 18.

      Also Police in Samarkand Region in summer 2015 stopped two Jehovah's Witnesses in a park for carrying a tablet device which contained religious materials. A Samarkand Court then fined the two (see below).

      Two day detention, administrative case for religious materials on device

      On 13 March Uzbek Customs officials stopped Prokopenko, a Kazakhstan citizen, at Gisht-Kuprik border-crossing point between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, his fellow Council of Churches Baptists told Forum 18 on 16 March.

      Prokopenko, who came to visit Baptist friends in Uzbekistan, was stopped "because customs officials found a leaflet in his pocket during a search. The leaflet had the word Christ on it, and so the officials took him to a separate room, where his luggage was thoroughly checked." Officials then found that the electronic book and memory stick he carried with him had on them Christian materials in Russian.

      "Boris was taken from Gisht-Kuprik Station to the Tashkent Regional Customs Department in Tashkent City, and detained for two days," the Baptists complained. Customs officials sent his religious materials for an "expert analysis" at the state Religious Affairs Committee. Officials also opened an administrative case against him.

      When they released him on 15 March, officials did, however, return Prokopenko's electronic book and memory stick as he left the Department, the Baptists added.

      "Aren't you exaggerating by saying he was detained?"

      Tahir Nasirkhodjayev, Chief Customs Inspector of the Department, told Forum 18 that an administrative case was opened against Prokopenko under Administrative Code Article 227-22 for not declaring that he carried with him religious materials. This carries a fine for individuals of five to ten times the minimum monthly wage and confiscation of the items. "But we may confine ourselves to only giving him a warning, since he is not an Uzbek citizen," he claimed.

      Asked why his Department detained Prokopenko for two days, Inspector Nasirkhodjayev responded: "Aren't you exaggerating by saying he was detained? He was only staying with us temporarily since we were waiting for the expert analysis of his materials from the Religious Affairs Committee. And then we let him go after we received an answer that nothing extremist was found in his materials."

      Asked if he does not think this a violation of Prokopenko's rights, Inspector Nasirkhodjayev replied: "No, because we only enforce the Law, which demands us to stop and clarify what kind of religious materials people carry with them." Asked whether he does not think the controls on religious literature enshrined in the Religion Law and the Cabinet of Ministers Decree violate the rights of individuals, he referred Forum 18 to the state Religious Affairs Committee. He refused to discuss the issue further.

      Cases for religious sermons in mobile phones

      After searching the mobile phones of I. Khamidov and M. Salimov, two passengers arriving from Ufa, Customs officials at Tashkent airport discovered respectively ten and thirty "illegal" religious sermons on various topics, state-controlled news agency UzA on 11 January cited State Customs and other law-enforcement agencies as declaring. Cases were opened against the two. UzA did not say when the incident occurred or whether the cases were administrative or criminal.

      Asked what charges were brought against Khamidov and Salimov, officials of Tashkent City Airport Customs (no names were given) on 10 March referred Forum 18 to its Investigations Department. Investigator Ilhom (who did not give his last name) told Forum 18 the same day that Chief Investigator Akmal Jalilov was "not available at the moment" and asked it to call back in 30 minutes. Called back, the same officer told Forum 18: "Even if we are investigating the cases, we cannot inform you over the phone. Please send us a letter."

      "Importing into Uzbekistan illegal religious materials on electronic devices"

      Two individuals returning to Uzbekistan from Russia – identified as F. Bekmatov and Sh. Odilov - were stopped by customs officials at Keles train station in Tashkent, UzA also reported. Bekmatov was travelling from Moscow and Odilov from Ufa. Searches "revealed extremist religious video materials on the mobile phone propagating violence".

      UzA did not identify the video materials, so it is impossible to find out whether the materials were indeed violent or not.

      Cases were opened against both Bekmatov and Odilov. UzA did not say when the incident occurred or whether the cases were administrative or criminal.

      Asked what charges were brought against Bekmatov and Odilov, Keles Station customs officials, who would not give their names, refused to discuss the cases. They referred Forum 18 on 10 March to Tashkent City Customs Investigations Department.

      Asked about the cases against all four men, Shavkat Salihov, Chief of Tashkent City Customs Investigators, claimed to Forum 18 on 10 March he could not find "such names or such cases". However, he admitted that "six cases were opened in December 2015 for importing into Uzbekistan illegal religious materials on electronic devices". Salihov declined to give any names or more specific details of the cases but said that all cases were administrative and the punishments consisted of fines.

      Asked whether he does not think the censorship is a violation of the rights of travellers, Salihov referred Forum 18 to the Religious Affairs Committee. "We as Customs organs only enforce the Law, and the Law makes the Religious Affairs Committee responsible for the import of any religious materials into the country. They must give their prior consent to any import."

      Fined for religious materials in tablet device

      On 2 July 2015, Kattakurgan City Criminal Court of Samarkand Region punished two local Jehovah's Witnesses, Galina Podtikhova and Nilufar Bulatova, for carrying religious materials on their tablet device in a local park, Muzaffar Azykulov of the Court Chancellery told Forum 18 on 14 March 2016. Each was fined ten times the minimum monthly wage, 1,184,000 Soms, under Administrative Code Article 184-2.

      Asked why the Court fined the two, Azykulov told Forum 18: "Police found religious materials on their tablet device." Asked why individuals cannot carry an electronic device containing religious materials on the street without committing an "offence", he refused to say. He also refused to identify the Judge who heard the case, or to put Forum 18 through to any other Court officials.

      The Police had stopped the two women in the park on 22 June 2015 after noticing that they carried a tablet device, Samarkand Regional Administration's official newspaper "Samarkand Herald" reported on 23 January 2016.

      Shukhrat Anorov, the author of the report, described the Jehovah's Witnesses as "sectarians" whose "activity was stopped" by the Police. He attacked the Jehovah's Witness organisation saying that it is "aiming at enslaving the conscience of man". The report said that the tablet device was "confiscated for the benefit of the state by the Court decision," and that "illegal religious materials were stored on it". (END)
      Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2160
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Early in its existence, the Soviet Union turned Vladimir Lenin’s dictum that “religion is the opium of the people” into official policy.
      Atheism was what Lenin wanted for the Soviet empire, and it’s what it got.
      Assuring such an outcome were laws discouraging faith — such as requirements that religions register with the state — and denying Communist Party membership to anyone religious.
      Many people expected a flowering of faith when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991.
      But it hasn’t happened, largely because the countries that emerged from the ashes of the USSR have repressed most religions, the main exceptions being Russian Orthodox Christianity and certain brands of Islam.
      The repressed have included denominations of Christianity that are widespread in other countries, such as Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians.
      As with other regrettable trends in the former Soviet Union, Russia has set the tone for the repression of religion.
      Countries as diverse as Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia have followed the Russian example.
      Russia’s enactment of a law governing religion in 1997 has made it difficult for faiths besides Russian Orthodox Christianity to survive, let alone thrive.
      Religions were required to register in Russia before 1997. The new law required them to reregister by 2001, and made it more difficult for them to do so. About 2,000 were unable to comply with the new regulations, and were disbanded.
      The Russian Orthodox Church was required to reregister, too. But because the law gave it special status as Russia’s traditional faith, and because most government officials viewed it as the country’s only legitimate religion, it had no trouble reregistering.
      Vladimir Putin’s lock on Russia’s leadership since 2000 has given the Russian Orthodox Church an even more commanding position in the country’s religious picture.
      Putin has publicly called the church, which he attends, a vital part of Russian life and tradition.
      Not surprisingly, Russian Orthodox Church leaders have hailed him as a great leader.
      Belarus is one of the former Soviet countries that has passed a religious law modeled after Russia’s.
      The legislation bans faiths that are not registered with the government, requires government approval of all religious materials, prevents non-citizens from leading religious organizations, and prohibits most religious meetings in private homes.
      As in Russia, the law assures that the Russian Orthodox Church holds a commanding position in the country’s religious life.
      Russia passed anti-terrorism legislation in 2002 and 2007 that critics say has been used to repress non-Orthodox faiths.
      It was billed as legislation to help law enforcement go after religious and nationalist extremists, but it has been used to prosecute members of such peaceful faiths as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hare Krishnas.
      Kazakhstan passed sweeping anti-terrorist legislation after a series of radical-Islamist attacks unnerved the country in 2011.
      Although ostensibly designed to help law enforcement go after extremists, the law has been used to shut down religions that Kazakhstan deems “non-traditional.” Only five faiths fall into its “traditional” category: Russian Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.
      The law requires a faith to have 50 members to obtain official recognition at the local level, 500 members to obtain recognition at the regional level and 5,000 members to obtain recognition at the national level. If it fails to mount those numbers, it it considered to be operating illegally.
      The Kazakhstan legislation had the repressive effect critics had predicted. In the year after it was passed, the number of denominations the government sanctioned fell from 46 to 17.
      People of faith both inside and outside Kazakhstan couldn’t help but note the irony that President Nursultan Nazarbayev had long trumpeted the country’s ethnic and religious tolerance — and part of the evidence he offered was that Kazakhstan recognized more than 40 faiths. Despite the post-2011 crackdown, Nazarbayev continues to paint Kazakhstan as a faith-tolerant society.
      Armenia’s main brand of Christianity enjoys the same privileged position that Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan’s do.
      At one time the government used to excuse Armenian Apostolic Church clergy and seminarians from the country’s mandatory military service. But it jailed members of denominations who refused to serve because they were conscientious objectors — in particular, Jehovah’s Witnesses.
      Changes in the law have led to conscientious objectors being allowed to perform alternative public service under civilian — rather than military — leadership.
      Meanwhile, Armenian schools require students to take a course on the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
      The course is mandatory; students cannot opt out on religious grounds.
      Although the course is supposed to be about the role the church has played in Armenia’s development, in practice it is often focuses on the church’s precepts and beliefs, critics say.
      In other words, it is a proselytizing and faith-affirmation tool, according to the detractors.
      As the examples from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia show, the former Soviet Union has a long way to go in bestowing religious freedom on all its citizens.
      In fact, the trend in the past 10 to 15 years has been to shrink rather than expand such freedom.
      The only hope for those who embrace non-traditional faiths is that the repression will ease as time passes.
      Armine Sahakyan is a human rights activist based in Armenia. A columnist with the Kyiv Post and a blogger with The Huffington Post, she writes on human rights and democracy in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
       
      Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/armine-sahakyan/hopes-of-religious-freedo_b_9509396.html

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