The magazine cover below was posted here on the same day I had come across one of its articles. March 1,1979
"The desire to share with Jesus Christ in the vindication of Jehovah’s universal sovereignty became a most powerful motivating force in the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It strengthened them to endure the worst persecution that ever befell Jehovah’s Witnesses—during World War II. So Jehovah’s visible organization came off victorious once again to his vindication. For dedicated, baptized persons to share in that victory, what did it take? Faith in Jehovah’s theocratic organization. Did the remnant of spiritual Israelites and their theocratic companions, the “great crowd” of Christ’s “other sheep,” have such victorious faith? Yes!"
Those were the days, apparently. I see no further “victories” of such on the horizon for the Watchtower at this time. Unless, they twist the Russian situation into one of victory, proclaiming their faith in “Jehovah’s organization” helped them endure the persecution that has come upon them. However, many JWs have attempted to flee the country, which doesn’t reflect well on the power of their “haven of refuge”. (WT 82 9/15 pp. 17-22)
How does persecution and horrific deaths of JWs equate to an earthly organization gaining victory, and justifying God? This “mountainlike” organization was not able to protect them from the terrible Nazi onslaught, nor has it been able to do so today in Russia. Instead of God justifying himself, the organization justified or vindicated its existence as worthy of praise, as the recipient of one’s unrelenting faith, even in the face of persecution and death. At the willing sacrifice of many on its behalf, it appears powerful, mighty and victorious. This is how I see the disgusting truth behind the underlying message in the opening Watchtower quote.
The organization has a few descriptive terms:
Jehovah’s “earthly organization” professes to be “no part of the world”:
As in the first century, so in this twentieth century, Jehovah has an earthly organization. It can be identified by its fruits. Unlike the many religious organizations that are part of the world that is alienated from God and that profess to be his organization, IT HAS NOT ALLIED ITSELF WITH THE POLITICAL GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD. It, therefore, shares none of the responsibility for the unchristian things done by those governments. w65 7/15 p. 427-428
A “visible theocratic organization” that has established a “worldly” identity:
Being adapted to modern conditions and requirements and being obliged to render to Caesar Caesar’s things, the visible theocratic organization today HAS A LEGALLY ESTABLISHED SERVICE AGENCY, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, incorporated in 1884 under the laws of the state of Pennsylvania, United States of America. w54 9/1 p. 533
Now notice what the 1884 “official magazine Watch Tower” has to say about organization:
“We belong to NO EARTHLY ORGANIZATION; hence, if you should name the entire list of sects, we should answer, No, to each and to all. We adhere only to that heavenly organization—‘whose names are written in heaven.’ (Heb. 12:23; Luke 10:20.) All the saints now living, or that have lived during this age, belonged to OUR CHURCH ORGANIZATION: such are all ONE Church, and there is NO OTHER recognized by the Lord. Hence any EARTHLY ORGANIZATION which in the least INTERFERES with this UNION OF SAINTS is CONTRARY to the teachings of Scripture and OPPOSED TO THE LORD’S WILL—‘that they may be ONE.’ ( Joh 17:11.)”
What a beautiful, captivating truth, which led God’s anointed people into eventual idolatry. We now see that the Watchtower no longer follows this mission statement, but highlights the organization as absolutely necessary to acknowledge as one’s salvation. Amos 3:5; Luke 21:34-36; Rev 20:7-9
w72 6/1 pp. 328-333 – “As we approach the universal war of Armageddon it is vital to stay close to Jehovah’s mighty organization.”
We have a mighty, mountainlike, theocratic, even “spirit-directed” organization, still unable to protect its people. Judges 10:14; Rev 13:1,7,11,15
We also see that the “union of saints” is not possible, since a false priesthood/elder body has INTEREFERED with their ability to be one body under their Head, Jesus Christ. The Watchtower now states “such efforts (to bond) would cause DIVISIONS within the congregation and work against the holy spirit, which promotes peace and unity”. ( w16 January p. 24) This is so strictly enforced that the elders have been given authority to spiritually “kill” any who reject their ruling position and the organization’s pseudo stance as “theocratic”. Col 1:18; Eph 5:23,26,27,30-32; 1 Pet 4:10; 1 Cor 12:24-26; Rev 13:15,16; Matt 24:48-51
A lot has happened since 1884 when Russel wrote his words in the Watchtower, hasn’t it, JWs. He would be disfellowshipped today if he were to voice this belief to the present governing body.
Only when all the parts of the body submit to Christ as head, will they find harmony, affection, agreement, and unity,
according to the arrangement of God, who supplies order and peace. 1 Cor 14:33; 1:10; 7:17; 14:32,40; Rom 9:16
Those who have humbly submitted to the Body's arrangement by God (1 Cor 12:18; 11:29,31,32), have found that order and peace, and relief from the confusion which is the condition of those still under "Babylon the Great",
whose very name, means "confusion" ("Babylon"). (2 Cor 12:20; 1 Cor 1:11,12; 3:3; 4:6,18; James 4:1; 1 Cor 11:19)
There is little time left for the anointed to recognize what is required of them and to conform,
leaving behind their rebellion, idolatry, and spiritual fornication, to make peace with God (Isa 1:18-20). If they do, their sins will be washed away (Isa 48:20; Jer 31:11; Matt 24:12).
and they will be given a white robe....sealed as a vessel of Truth (Zech 3:1-10; Isa 4:2; Ezek 17:22; Zech 4:10). Pearl Doxsey - "Unity of Christ's Body/Armageddon"
According to the 1884 WT, INTERFERENCE against the union of the saints is the SIGN OF OPPOSITION to the Lord’s will; and aptly describes the “Man of Lawlessness” who OPPOSES and EXALTS HIMSELF above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the TEMPLE of God, showing himself that he IS God.” 2 Thess 2:4 It is a “disgusting thing standing in the holy place”/Temple of God, an “abomination” representing the spirit-directed “image” of divine authority, which IS the organization. Ezek 44:6-9; Dan 9:27; Exod 20:3-6; Rev 13:11,15,4
“They have placed their abominations in the house that bears My name and have defiled it. 35 They have built the high places of Baal in Ben Hinnom Valley to sacrifice their sons and daughters in the fire, (or “pass through the fire”) to Molech—something I had not commanded them. I had never entertained the thought that they do this detestable act causing Judah to sin! Jer 32:34,35
Today, to “pass through the fire” indicates to me a dedication and sacrifice of oneself to submit to evil; a fiery proof, contrary to refinement leading to personal victory in Christ. It is the condemnation based on the Word of God. Spiritual harlotry and idolatry results when one puts faith in a present day “Molech”, above our required faith in God. 2 Kings 17:17; Lev 18:21; Ezek 20:31; Jer 3:6,7;2 Pet 2:3; 1 Cor 3:13-15; Jer 23:29
Baal means “Master”; Molech has the meaning of “master” “king”, but also "the most common word for chief magistrate" (“commander of an army”)
Revelation tells us of two Beasts, two Masters, a dual spiritual power over God’s saints and many peoples during the last days. Dan 2:31,33,40-43; 7:7; Rev 13:1,2,11-13
They revere or “worship” the first Beast, putting faith in its magnificent “spirit-directed” abilities, to lead them into a promised peaceful paradise. Rev 13:4,14,15; Ezek 13:10; Hos 4:12 For this offer, they are willing to face persecution and the loss of physical life if necessary, on behalf of ”Jehovah’s visible theocratic organization”.
The army which the “Beast with two horns” gives authority to, is the “abomination” spoken of in Dan 11:31. Rev 9:1-6;13:12 With eyes that are open, this transgression against God’s Temple is well observed as ‘sitting in’ and ruling over the anointed Temple of God, as directed to do so by the Beast/false prophet/Harlot. 2 Thess 2:3,4;1 Pet 2:5,9; 1 Cor 3:16,17; Rev 19:20
It is the Man of Lawlessness – an army of elders or “magistrates” which has received authority to oppress and “conquer” the anointed ones. Dan 8:24; Rev 13:7
Is the Watchtower Beast/Master truly “conquering” the saints? Yes. Conquering is the language of war, which we are presently in; the war of Armageddon. Luke 21:20; Matt 24:3,24,25; 9-11,13,21; Dan 12:1,4
They are overcome by demonic expressions issued from the “dragon”, the Beast, and the second Beast/false prophet/Harlot. Rev 16:13,14; Eph 6:12 For those who stand up to both Beasts, the “kings” and their “magistrates”, and who are persecuted for defending their faith in God and truth in Jesus Christ, they are symbolically “killed”; yet, they come alive in Christ. Mal 3:5; Eph 2:3-8; Rev 11:3,7,11; Matt 19:29
It is known among all JWs, that those who take their stand against the GB’s decrees carried out by the elders, are disfellowshipped, which the organization considered a spiritual “death”. This is the irony in teachings by this Beast. Those who sacrifice their life on behalf of “Jehovah’s organization” are viewed as the victorious ones. Those who sacrifice their symbolic life for their testimony to Christ are considered worthy of eternal destruction. Jer 23:14; Matt 26:65; Heb 13:13; 12:2; 1 Pet 4:14,16; Rom 6:5; Matt 5:11; John 15:21; Acts 5:41; Rev 3,5,6
A movie was made a while back about the prophet Jeremiah. It is a movie of drama and scriptures combined, but there is one scene at the temple, that I will never forget. Jeremiah is speaking to Zedekiah the last king of Judah, before the temple was destroyed and Israel went into exile to Babylon. He had earlier pleaded for the nation to submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s rule, but Judah was ready to battle against him. (Jer 38:14-23)
Jeremiah: “Obey I beseech thee, the voice of the Lord which I speak unto thee and your life will be saved, and the city will not be burned.”
Zedekiah: “So, now you’re speaking for the Lord again. Well, never mind, our armies are prepared.”
Jeremiah: “How can you continue to LIE to yourself as well as your people?”
Zedekiah: “TRUTH is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Jeremiah: “The word of the Lord which I speak to thee, IS the truth.”
Zedekiah: “The Lord which you ask me to seek…is SILENCE. If God has something to say to me, why does he send you to tell me?”
Jeremiah: “Why would the Lord speak to you, unless you’ve committed your life to HIM.”
Zedekiah: “I HAVE.”
Jeremiah shakes his head, turns swiftly toward a set of large wooden double-doors, and flings them open to reveal statues of idols.
He says, “Instead of making monuments to false gods, make your LIFE a living monument to the word of God.”
Zedekiah: “It is as my people desire.”
Jeremiah: “You are KING! They look to YOU for leadership! Your pursuit of your own pleasure, wealth and power HAVE TAUGHT THE PEOPLE TO TRUST IN FALSE GODS!”
He raises his voice even further,
“YOU HAVE LED THEM TO BELIEVE THAT THE ONE TRUE GOD…IS NOT ENOUGH!”
JWs, is God alone NOT ENOUGH for you to put faith in? Can you see that the faith you give to a most unique idol, a “spirit-directed” visible organization, can lead to your downfall? Your leaders have convinced you to trust in a false god! The people in Jeremiah’s time believed that the presence of the “temple of the Lord” would save them, even though they harbored their idols. Jer 7:3-5, 9,10
What is your temple today? Is it the organization? It appears so, yet if the anointed were not in the Watchtower from the beginning, there would be no difference in your religion than any other in Christendom. You may have forgotten who they are, these anointed “living stones” whom God expects their sacrifices to be heard and in harmony with pure truth in Christ. However, an “abomination”, a false priesthood of elders, has muscled its way in to rule over God’s Temple priesthood. Ultimately, JWs DO practice the same hypocritical worship as Judah in Jeremiah’s time, by proclaiming their trust and faith in God, while also having full trust and faith in the organization, and the “kings” who brought them into a falsehood called “truth”. Your leaders have sought out pleasure and wealth in material possessions, that they admire and praise (Warwick). Luke 4:5-7 They have slowly developed an unquestionable power over God’s anointed and YOU, TEACHING you to revere a monumental idol. This idol has made the brazen promise of eternal life to those who “worship” it. As Zedekiah said in the movie, “truth is in the eye of the beholder”. 2 Thess 2:9-12
When Joshua went up against Ai, they were defeated because one member “committed a trespass” regarding the “things set apart for destruction”, the “accursed”, the “doomed” that he brought into the camp. Deut 13:17
Josh 7:110-12 –“Israel has sinned. They have violated My covenant that I appointed for them. They have taken some of what was set apart. They have stolen, deceived, and put those things with their own belongings.12 THIS IS WHY THE ISRAELITES CANNOT STAND AGAINST THEIR ENEMIES. They will turn their backs and run from their enemies, because they have been set apart for destruction. I will no longer be with you unless you remove from among you what is set apart.”
The ”accursed thing” happened to be an eye-catching Babylonian garment. Luke 16:15 A garment from Babylon - the destroyer, an accursed city doomed to destruction. Ps 137:8 Garments in God’s word carry a symbolic meaning. It can clarify who or what we identify with; wickedness or righteousness. Ezek 18:20; Isa 61:10; Ps 109:29 By choosing one or the other, it signifies who we are willing to “sacrifice” our life for.
Even the rank and file "JW" is eager to surrender their "garment"/individuality/identity, to the Beast they admire...
as it says in the baptism vow...
"Do you understand that your dedication and baptism IDENTIFY YOU ("enrobes/dresses you"), as one of "Jehovah's Witnesses" in association with his "spirit-directed" organization?" (John 20:22) (Rev 13:15; 16:13-16; 19:20)
Yes... they desire an identity that belongs to and is associated with, the powerful...
and so they too, surrender their robes of individuality/personal reputation of integrity before God, to "don" their new garment/identity, as one of "Jehovah's Witnesses", under blind obedience to it's hierarchy under the wicked steward/harlot. Pearl Doxsey - "Our Outer Garment"
God pointed out to Joshua that His covenant had been violated. His decrees that he had specifically said should be followed to guarantee their safety, were transgressed. Josh 1:7,8;6:18,19 Today, God’s covenant with the anointed priesthood has been violated by allowing uncircumcised priests to present the “daily sacrifices” . Deut 21:5; Ezek 44:7; Mal 2:5-9 This is an “accursed thing”, doomed to destruction, that is present among the anointed and YOU. 2 Thess 2:7,8
“Babylon’s” Harlot daughters direct the Watchtower Beast to lead YOU in supporting the “abomination” that defiles the House that bears God’s name. 1 Cor 3:16,17; Rev 17:3-6
YOU wear the garment that indicates who you serve, which is the Beast/Man of Lawlessness. Surely JWs, you must see that putting “faith in Jehovah’s theocratic organization” is bolstering lawlessness and idolatry! Should we suffer persecution on behalf of an idol, an idolatrous “MOUNTAIN” that is the SOURCE of persecution for those anointed ones who DESIRE TO BE ONE UNDER CHRIST?
Jesus replied to them, “HAVE FAITH IN GOD. 23 Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this MOUNTAIN, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, IT WILL BE DONE FOR HIM. Mark 11:22,23
The Lord reigns! Let the earth rejoice;
let the many coasts and islands be glad.
2 Clouds and thick darkness surround Him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
3 Fire goes before Him
and burns up His foes on every side.
4 His lightning lights up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
5 The mountains melt like wax
at the presence of the Lord—
at the presence of the Lord of all the earth.
6 The heavens proclaim His righteousness;
all the peoples see His glory.
7 All who serve carved images,
those who boast in idols, will be put to shame.
All the gods must worship Him. (“gods” – “angels”, Heb 1:6,14; Mal 2:7)
8 Zion hears and is glad,
and the towns of Judah rejoice
because of Your judgments, Lord.
9 For You, Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth;
You are exalted above all the gods.
10 You who love the Lord, hate evil!
He protects the lives of His godly ones;
He rescues them from the power of the wicked.
11 Light dawns for the righteous,
gladness for the upright in heart.
12 Be glad in YHVH, you righteous ones,
and praise His holy name. Psalm 97
By Guest Nicole
Two South Korean men who refused to do military service have had their convictions overturned in a landmark ruling against the government.
Cho Rak Hoon and Kim Hyung Geun were freed by an appeals court in the southern city of Gwangju today. They had been sentenced to 18 months in prison for refusing military service at their trials, in June 2015 and May 2016 respectively, according to Amnesty International.
By Guest Nicole
Turkmenbashi City Court jailed 19-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Mekan Annayev for the maximum two years for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. Five others have already been jailed in 2018, one in an apparent show trial. Two more young men face trial in August.
The city court in Turkmenbashi in western Turkmenistan has handed down the longest known prison sentence so far in 2018 to punish refusal to conduct compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. At the request of the prosecutor, Judge Myrat Garayev handed 19-year-old Jehovah's Witness Mekan Annayev the maximum two-year jail term, he told Forum 18 from the court on 23 July.
During one meeting at the city's military conscription office in October 2017, officials had called in the city's chief imam to conduct "explanatory work" with Annayev in an apparent attempt to pressure him to undertake military service, even though Annayev is not a Muslim (see below).
In all five other known jailings of conscientious objectors in 2018, courts handed down one-year jail terms. All those sentenced were – like Annayev – Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 30 July 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2400).
Two more Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors face trial in August. The trial of Isa Sayaev was due to have begun on 9 August in the northern Dashoguz Region. The trial of Ruslan Artykmuradov is due to begin in Lebap Region on 13 August (see below).
Prosecutor's Offices are considering similar criminal cases against other Jehovah's Witness young men for refusing military service on grounds of conscience, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.
The trial of one of those jailed in July was held in the District Military Conscription Office. It remains unknown if this was to show other local young men the punishment for failing to abide by call-up notices (see below).
Forum 18 wished to ask the Human Rights Ombudsperson Yazdursun Gurbannazarova, who was named by the government-appointed parliament, why individuals who cannot do military service on grounds of conscience cannot undertake alternative, civilian service and why they are jailed. However, her telephone went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 10 August.
No conscientious objection, no alternative service
Turkmenistan offers no alternative to its compulsory military service. Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years. Article 58 of the 2016 Constitution describes defence as a "sacred duty" of everyone and states that military service is compulsory for men. Turkmenistan ignored the recommendation of a July 2016 legal review of the draft Constitution by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation that it should include a provision for alternative, civilian service (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).
Young men who refuse military service on grounds of conscience face prosecution under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. This punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces in peacetime with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or two years' corrective labour (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2244).
In March 2017, at the end of its review of Turkmenistan's record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee again called on the authorities to end punishments for those unable to perform military service on grounds of conscience and introduce an alternative, civilian service (CCPR/C/TKM/CO/2).
"The State party should revise its legislation without undue delay with a view to clearly recognizing the right to conscientious objection to military service," the Committee declared, "provide for alternative service of a civilian nature outside the military sphere and not under military command for conscientious objectors, and halt all prosecutions of individuals who refuse to perform military service on grounds of conscience and release those who are currently serving prison sentences."
Officials refused to explain to Forum 18 why they did not implement the UN recommendation. With the two jailings in January 2018, less than a year after the UN report was issued, Turkmenistan began imprisoning conscientious objectors again after a break of four years (see F18News 23 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2363).
Turkmenbashi: maximum 2-year jail term
The Conscription Office in Turkmenbashi, a port city on the Caspian Sea, summoned Jehovah's Witness Mekan Orazdurdiyevich Annayev (born 22 June 1999) to Balkan Regional Conscription Office for military service in June 2017 (when he reached the age of 18). The Conscription Office summoned him twice in October 2017 and again in March 2018 and twice in April 2018, according to the indictment seen by Forum 18.
In response to two of the summonses, Annayev went to the city Conscription Office, telling officers that he could not conduct military service on grounds of conscience. The indictment records that he quoted Jesus' words from the Gospel of Matthew: "Put away your sword, for all who live by the sword shall die by the sword."
On 26 October 2017, the indictment notes, Annayev "arrived at the military conscription office with his parents and brother. Explanatory work was conducted with him with the participation of the Chief Imam of Turkmenbashi." Annayev repeated his refusal to perform military service on grounds of conscience.
Curiously, the indictment notes that Annayev is not a member of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, the country's ruling party.
On 4 June 2018, after establishing that Annayev was medically and psychologically fit for military service, had no criminal record and was not on the register of alcoholics or drug addicts, Trainee Assistant to Turkmenbashi Prosecutor L. Saltykova brought charges against him under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. Annayev's trial was held at Turkmenbashi City Court on 26 June, four days after his 19th birthday.
During Annayev's trial, the court's chief judge Rustam Atajanov came to the courtroom and interrupted Judge Garayev, who was presiding over the hearing. "Atajanov began rudely questioning Mekan Annayev and accusing him and all Jehovah's Witnesses of being traitors," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "He even demanded, loudly screaming, to throw two attendees out simply for whispering." After Judge Atajanov left, the hearing continued.
At the end of the trial, the state prosecutor asked the court to sentence Annayev to two years' imprisonment. "In most other cases, state prosecutors usually ask to sentence young Jehovah's Witnesses to one year of imprisonment," Jehovah's Witnesses noted.
Judge Garayev acceded to the prosecutor's request and sentenced Annayev to two years' imprisonment in an ordinary regime labour camp. As Annayev had not been under arrest before the trial he was arrested after the verdict was handed down and taken away to begin his sentence.
Judge Garayev refused to explain to Forum 18 on 23 July why he had punished Annayev for refusing military service on grounds of conscience or why he had given him the maximum penalty. He also refused to discuss the conduct of the trial, including why the chief judge had interrupted proceedings.
Annayev did not appeal against his conviction to Balkan Regional Court, the court told Forum 18 on 23 July.
Two more Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors face trial in August under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1 after refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience.
The trial of Isa Sayaev was due to have begun on 9 August at Koneurgench City Court in the northern Dashoguz Region. Forum 18 was unable to reach the court on 10 August to find out if the trial took place as scheduled.
The trial of Ruslan Artykmuradov is due to begin in Lebap Region on 13 August, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.
Was July trial a show trial?
Three Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors are known to have been jailed in July under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. Each was given a one-year ordinary regime labour camp sentence. One of the three, Ikhlosbek Valijon oglu Rozmetov (born 26 November 1997), was convicted on 11 July at Gurbansoltan eje District Court in Dashoguz Region (see F18News 30 July 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2400).
According to the verdict seen by Forum 18, Judge Sh. Almazov of Gurbansoltan eje District Court held the trial in the conference hall of the District Military Conscription Office. It added that the trial was open. The verdict gives no reason for the decision to hold the trial there.
Forum 18 was unable to reach Gurbansoltan eje District Court or the Military Conscription Office to find out who had attended the trial apart from the accused, prosecutors, lawyers and witnesses and whether the trial was meant to send a signal to local young men of what happens to those who refuse compulsory military service.
The verdict notes that Rozmetov had not been under arrest in the run-up to the trial (he had been required to sign a declaration not to leave the area). He was arrested in the courtroom after the verdict was delivered to be taken away to begin his sentence.
Imminent transfer to Seydi Labour Camp?
The latest jailed conscientious objectors are likely to be sent to serve their sentences at the ordinary regime labour camp LB-K/12 in the desert near Seydi, in Lebap Region. Many other prisoners of conscience jailed to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief have been held in the camp.
The two imprisoned Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors - Arslan Begenchov and Kerven Kakabayev – were sent there after their January convictions (see F18News 23 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2363).
Also held at Seydi Labour Camp is fellow Jehovah's Witness Bahram Hemdemov. He was arrested during a March 2015 raid on his home, after which he was tortured. He is serving a four year prison term from 19 May 2015 on charges of allegedly inciting religious hatred, which he strongly denies, but his real "crime" seems to have been hosting a meeting for worship (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).
The address of the Seydi Labour Camp is:
746222 Lebap velayat
By Guest Nicole
YELM, Wash. — Authorities on Wednesday were investigating after someone tried to set fire to the Kingdom Hall of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Yelm.
This comes after four other recent attacks onÂ Kingdom Halls of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Thurston County that are being investigated as hate crimes.
In the latest incident, authorities were called around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday to the report of an attempted arson at the Kingdom Hall on Vail Road SE in Yelm.
The ensuing investigation closed a large section of Vail Road for most of the day.
Church elders had arrived to find fire logs stacked up against an outside wall that was smoldering. They doused the logs with water and prevented any further damage to the building.
The elders reported finding a suspicious device placed on the ground on the west side of the building. It Â“had the appearance of being an explosive device,Â” so deputies called the bomb squad to the scene.
People living nearby the church told Q13 News they were told by law enforcement to evacuate for their own safety.
Â“I got woken up by my roommate Zachary saying there was a device on the church next door to our house and we needed to evacuate,Â” said Richard McIntire.
McIntireÂ’s shared his concern about living so close to whatÂ’s become a repeated target.
Â“I donÂ’t understand why people have to target churches,Â” he said.
Neighbors in rural Yelm expressed their worries about the attacks and hoped police would soon make an arrest before someone gets hurt.
By late afternoon investigators determined the suspicious device wasnÂ’t dangerous. The Thurston County SheriffÂ’s Office laterÂ tweeted, Â“The suspicious device was made to look like a real bomb but in the end, it was found to be fake.Â”
Read more:Â https://q13fox.com/2018/08/08/possible-explosive-device-found-after-attempted-arson-at-kingdom-hall-in-yelm/
Today Presidents Trump and Putin meet for summit, and the New York Times tells of an exiled Jehovah's Witness who proposes Trump ask Putin a simple question: "Why are Russians who pay their taxes, follow the law and embrace the Christian values promoted by the Kremlin being forced to flee their country?"
A simple [and single] question. To propose that Trump do this is exactly the non-confrontational style of Jehovah's Witnesses, and is proof in itself that they are not extremist. Moreover, because the goal is so modest, it is not impossible that it could happen. Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia is not everywhere, but where it is, it is draconian, with police dressed in riot gear breaking down doors to arrest them.
Meanwhile (and irrelevant), I did a google search of "New York Times Jehovah's Witnesses." The second hit is an article from 1958, telling of (I think) the largest Christian assembly in history.
Remember, Google is personalized. Your results may vary.
By Guest Nicole
(Moscow) – Law enforcement authorities acrossÂ RussiaÂ have carried out a sweeping campaign against JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in recent months, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities have carried out dozens of home searches, raids, interrogations, and other acts of harassment and persecution.
The authorities are holding 18 men in pretrial detention on charges of organizing, participating in, or financing the activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” solely for their religious activities. Several others are facing the same charges and are under house arrest or subject to travel restrictions. The charges carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence. RussianÂ authorities should release those in detention immediately, drop the charges, and halt the persecution of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses.
Â“The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses are simply peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion,Â” saidÂ Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Â“The JehovahÂ’s Witness faith is not an extremist organization, and authorities should stop this religious persecution of its worshipers now.Â”
Human Rights Watch interviewed four lawyers defending JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in five regions and a representative of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses. Human Rights Watch also reviewed court documents, media reports, Russian government statements, and Federal Security Service (FSB) photos and videos purporting to show the raids.
The raids and arrests stem fromÂ an April 2017 Russian Supreme Courtruling that banned all JehovahÂ’s Witnesses organizations throughout Russia. The ruling declared the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses Administrative Center, the head office for 395 JehovahÂ’s Witnesses branches throughout Russia, an extremist organization and ruled that all 395 be shut down. The ruling, which affects more than 100,000 JehovahÂ’s Witnesses across Russia, blatantly violates RussiaÂ’s obligations to respect and protect religious freedom and freedom of association.
Russian authorities should reverse the ban on the organizationÂ’s activities and remove the Â“extremistÂ” designation, Human Rights Watch said. Meanwhile, they should leave JehovahÂ’s Witnesses free to practice their faith.
JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia and other former USSR countries have faced persecution in the past. During the Soviet era, they were arrested and imprisoned in labor camps, including in Siberia. Within the past decade,Â worshipers across Russia have faced persecution, intrusive home searches, andÂ arrests, and have been denied rights to freedom of assembly, association, and religion.
In 2010, theÂ European Court of Human Rights ruled against RussiaÂ for closing the Moscow branch of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses and refusing to allow the group to re-register. The court found violations of articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect freedom of religion and association, respectively. In addition to awarding monetary damages, the court said that Russia should review the domestic decisions that led to the violations. Russia has refused to carry out the judgments in that case andÂ several othersÂ brought by members of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses. On the contrary, Russia has continued to persecute JehovahÂ’s Witnesses, seeking the groupÂ’s complete dissolution in Russia.
From April to June 2018, law enforcement raids targeted JehovahÂ’s Witness communities in at least 11 regions throughout Russia, from Saratov region in southwestern Russia to Primorsky Krai in RussiaÂ’s far east. Police carried out the raids, often accompanied by a combination of FSB officials wearing masks, armed personnel of the Interior Ministry Special Task Police Force or National Guard, and representatives from the Investigative Committee, RussiaÂ’s criminal investigation service. Â
The authorities, who obtained search warrants or entry permits in most cases, confiscated personal computers, mobile phones, bank cards, passports, religious literature, and, in some cases, housing deeds. Dozens of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses, including at least one child, were taken to local investigative offices for questioning. Others were detained and later charged.
A lawyer representing a JehovahÂ’s Witness who is in pretrial detention in Murmansk Region told Human Rights Watch that the authoritiesÂ’ actions contradict religious freedom guarantees in the Russian Constitution. Â“The [Russian] constitution says that you canÂ practice your faith togetherÂ with others, but as it turns out, thatÂ’s a crime,Â” said Yegiazar Chernikov, of the Sverdlovsk LawyersÂ’ Association.
In at least two regions, armed officers threatened the worshipers with firearms, in one case pointing a gun at a personÂ’s head, a lawyer familiar with the incident told Human Rights Watch.
A JehovahÂ’s Witnesses representative told Human Rights Watch that approximately 160 JehovahÂ’s Witnesses have fled Russia to seek refuge abroad.
On June 20, RussiaÂ’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights announced that it hadÂ asked the prosecutor generalÂ’s officeÂ to verify the legality of criminal prosecutions against JehovahÂ’s Witnesses practicing their faith. A week earlier, several of the spouses of the men in pretrial detention hadÂ sent a letter to the chair of the council, Mikhail Fedotov, urging him to ask President Vladimir Putin to end the raids and arrests and to restore freedom of religion in Russia.
Over 150 Russian activists, journalists, and academics Â– including several members of Memorial, RussiaÂ’s foremost human rights group Â–Â signed and publishedÂ an open letter urging the authorities to immediately release those in detention and to reverse the Supreme CourtÂ’s decision to liquidate the JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ organization.
JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia Â– like all people in Russia Â– should be able to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of religion and association, Human Rights Watch said. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Russian Constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Russia is a party.
Under international law, freedom of religion includes the freedom to practice oneÂ’s religion or belief both individually and in community with others, in public or in private, and through worship, practice, and teaching. Russia already has many rulings against it for its failure to respect the freedom of religion of faith communities and minority religious groups, such as theÂ Church of Scientology, theÂ Salvation Army, and theÂ JehovahÂ’s Witnesses
Â“Russia should do right by its national and international obligations to respect freedom of religion,Â” Denber said. Â“Russian leadership should make sure that law enforcement is honoring and protecting that right, not trampling on it.Â”
Raids Aimed at Intimidation
The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses are a peaceful religious community. The consistent show of force in raids in many locations in Russia was disproportionate and seemed aimed at sending a strong message of intimidation, Human Rights Watch said.Â
In most regions, the authorities arrested people they singled out as leaders and organizers of the local JehovahÂ’s Witnesses community for such actions as recruiting new members and distributing religious literature that the authorities label Â“extremist.Â”
On May 16 in the Orenburg Region, in southwest Russia, law enforcement personnel searched 18 homes in four cities and charged nine people. Two are in pretrial custody and another is under house arrest.
On May 17 in Birobidzhan, in southeast Russia, representatives of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses reported that about 150 law enforcement personnel raided the homes of at least nine JehovahÂ’s Witnesses, confiscating photos, bank cards, money, and computers. An officialÂ reportedly saidthat the operation was code-named Â“Judgment Day.Â” One person was arrested and charged with organizing activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” but wasÂ released from pretrial detentionÂ eight days later.
On April 18 in the town of Polyarny in the Murmansk Region, in northwest Russia, armed law enforcement agents raided at least seven homes and arrested two men. They took several others into custody for questioning and later released them. Police also took a 16-year-old girl into custody and questioned her at the local investigative unit for several hours. AÂ video posted on the Murmansk Investigative CommitteeÂ’s websiteÂ shows men wearing camouflage uniforms and helmets forcing open a door to an apartment.
The arrest and raid campaign took place as the trial of aÂ JehovahÂ’s Witness who is a Danish citizen, Dennis Christensen, continues in Orel, a city in western Russia. Christensen, who was arrested in May 2017, is being tried on charges of organizing activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” and faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence if convicted. He hasÂ filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rightsalleging, among other things, that his arrest constituted unlawful interference with his right to freedom of religion.
Another JehovahÂ’s Witness in Orel, 55-year-oldÂ Sergei Skrynnikov, was charged on May 8, 2018, with participating in the activities of an Â“extremist organization.Â”
A lawyer who is defending three JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in two regions said that throughout the past eight months, FSB agents in the Orenburg Region and the Republic of Bashkortostan conducted wiretapping, videotaping, and other surveillance of JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ activities Â– for which they said they had warrants Â– as part of the investigation. In some cases, the lawyer said, authorities placed recording devices in JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ homes.
Earlier in 2018, police raided more than two dozen JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ homes in Belgorod and Kemerovo. Two JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Belgorod are facing extremism charges.
Saratov and Shirokoe, Saratov Region
On June 12, authorities in Saratov Region, southwestern Russia,Â raided at least seven homesÂ of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in the city of Saratov and village of Shirokoe. According to the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia,Â special forces officers broke down doorsÂ and confiscated computers, books, notebooks, photographs, bankbooks, and passports. The authorities took at least 10 people to FSB offices for questioning.
ThreeÂ were detained and chargedÂ with organizing activities of an Â“extremist organization.Â” They are: 43-year-old Konstantin Bazhenov, 35-year-old Aleksei Budenchuk, and 33-year-old Felix Makhammadiyev. On June 14, the Frunzensky District Court placed all three in pretrial detention until August 12.
Tomsk, Tomsk Region
Law enforcementÂ raided several homes and cars belonging to JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in TomskÂ between 10 a.m. on June 3 and about 2 a.m. the next day, the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia reported. Officers confiscated Bibles, mobile phones, tablets, computers, photographs, money, bank cards, and other personal possessions. They took about 30 people to the police anti-extremism center for questioning.
According to a statement by the Tomsk Investigative Committee, the searches were part of a joint FSB and Internal Affairs Ministry investigation into meetings of JehovahÂ’s Witness residents in Tomsk. Investigative authorities allege that worshipers studied prohibited, Â“extremistÂ” religious materials and carried out organized religious activities in violation of the Supreme CourtÂ’s ruling against the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses Administrative Center.
Representatives of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that 48-year-old Sergei Klimov was detained after a search of his home on June 3, was charged with organizing activities of an Â“extremist organization,Â” and will remain in pretrial detention until August 4.
Magadan, Magadan Region
The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in RussiaÂ reportedÂ that on May 30, FSB and law enforcement officers arrested Konstantin Petrov, 31; Yevgeny Zyablov, 41; and Sergei Yerkin, 61, after searching their homes in the city of Magadan (Magadan Region). On the same day, authorities in Khabarovsk (Khabarovsky Krai) detained Ivan Puyda, 39, based on a court order from Magadan. All four are accused of organizing activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” and will remain in pretrial detention until July 29.
Naberezhnye Chelny, Republic of Tatarstan
Police and FSB officials searched the homes of 10 JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in the city of Naberezhnye Chelny, in south-central Russia, on the evening of May 27. The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in RussiaÂ reportedÂ that the searches lasted Â“well into the night.Â”
Investigators arrestedÂ Ilham Karimov, 37; Vladimir Myakushin, 30; Konstantin Matrashov, 25;Â Â Â Aydar Yulmetyev, 24, on suspicion of organizing and participating in the activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” and placed them in pretrial detention until July 25. The Naberezhnye Chelny City Court displays records of all four hearings.Â According to the religious freedom monitoring group Forum 18, Karimov, Myakushin, and Matrashov have appealed their pretrial detention.
Perm, Perm Krai
The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia reported that on the evening of May 22, Aleksandr Solovyev, 48, and his wife, Anna, wereÂ detained at the railway stationÂ in Perm, in the Ural Mountains region, after returning from a trip abroad. Law enforcement then searched the coupleÂ’s home and reportedly seized property deeds, photographs, several Bibles, and a Wi-Fi router.
Anna was released, but her husband was held for two days. He was released on May 24, and the Sverdlovsk District Court ordered him confined to house arrest.Â According to Forum 18, he is being investigated on charges of participating in the activities of an Â“extremist organization.Â”
Before the 2017 Supreme Court ruling banning the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses Administrative Center, Solovyov chaired the Perm JehovahÂ’s Witnesses congregation,Â according to the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia website.
Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Region
On May 17 in Birobidzhan, southeast Russia,Â police raided the homes of at least nine JehovahÂ’s Witnesses. The raids were carried out by approximately 150 law enforcement officers. An officialÂ reportedly saidthat the operation was code-named Â“Judgment Day.Â”
On May 18, 55-year-old Alam Aliev was placed in pretrial detention until July 13 under suspicion of organizing activities of an Â“extremist organization.Â” TheÂ FSB statedÂ that its request to detain Aliev Â“was motivated by the fact that the crime is classified as graveÂ” and because Â“[t]he suspect may impede the criminal proceedings, put pressure on witnesses, and also evade investigative and judicial authorities.Â” Following an appeal by AlievÂ’s lawyer,Â Aliev was released from detention on May 25Â but still faces charges.
Orenburg, Orenburg Region
On May 16 in Orenburg Region, Investigative Committee authorities, FSB officials, and armed National Guard officers searched 18 homes in four cities. Vitaly Svintsov, a lawyer representing two JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in the region, told Human Rights Watch that nine people were charged with organizing or participating in the activities of an Â“extremist organization.Â” Two of them, Aleksandr Suvorov and Vladimir Kochnev, both 38, remain in pretrial custody until July 14. Twenty-six-year-old Vladislav Kolbanov remains under house arrest. The other six remain under travel restrictions while the investigation is ongoing, Svintsov said.
Photographs of some of the raidsÂ posted on the Orenburg Investigative Committee websiteÂ show FSB officials and riot police in bulletproof vests and masks approaching JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ residences.
A statement by the Orenburg Investigative Committee said that investigative operations were Â“carefully planned and organizedÂ” by law enforcement with the aim of Â“seizing documents and items relevant to the criminal case, as well as identifying other persons involved in unlawful activities.Â”Â Investigators allegeÂ that the suspects Â“organized activities of a subdivision of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses [Administrative Center] by calling and holding meetings, organizing the recruitment of new members, and communicating the contents of religious literature to meeting participants.Â”
Shuya, Ivanovo Region
Forum 18 reportedÂ that law enforcement raided four homes in the town of Shuya, western Russia, early on the morning of April 20.
Dmitry Mikhailov, 33, wasÂ arrested on May 29, over a month after his home was searched and placed in pretrial custody until July 19. He is being accused of Â“financing extremist activities.Â” Â
On April 20, the Ivanovo Region Investigative CommitteeÂ released a statementÂ about the home searches, alleging that since the beginning of 2018, JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Shuya had been studying literature Â“containing statements degrading human dignity . . . and elements of propaganda of the exclusivity of one religion over another.Â”
Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai
Several homes belonging to JehovahÂ’s Witnesses wereÂ reportedly raidedon April 19 in the far-east city of Vladivostok.
Human Rights Watch was able to confirm that on April 23Â Valentin Osadchuk, 42, was placed under arrest by Frunzensky District Court on charges of participation in the activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” after authorities searched his home and confiscated computers, notebooks, and other devices. He remains in pretrial detention until September 20. Representatives of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that five others face the same charges but remain at liberty subject to travel restrictions.
Polyarny, Murmansk Region
On the evening of April 18 in the town of Polyarny in the Murmansk region, armed law enforcement raided at least seven homes and arrested two JehovahÂ’s Witnesses, Roman Markin, 44, and Viktor Tifimov, 61. Others whose homes were searched were taken to the local investigative unit for questioning and later released without charge.
The Murmansk Region Investigative CommitteeÂ stated on its websitethat National Guard officers and FSB officials who led the home searches confiscated computer drives and religious literature. AÂ video posted to the websiteÂ shows men wearing camouflage uniforms and helmets forcing open a door with a pry bar. The Investigative Committee said that beginning in April 2017, the suspects had allegedly Â“organized activities of the religious organization [JehovahÂ’s Witnesses] by convening and holding meetings, organizing the recruitment of new members, and leading studies of religious texts at meetings.Â”
MarkinÂ’s lawyer, Arli Chimirov, told Human Rights Watch that armed officers broke down MarkinÂ’s door and told him and his 16-year-old daughter, who was at home with him, to lie on the floor while law enforcement threatened them with firearms and searched the apartment. MarkinÂ’s daughter was escorted to the investigative unit and was questioned for several hours along with her mother, who arrived some time later.
On April 23, 2018, the Polyarny District Court placed Markin in pretrial custody until June 11. MarkinÂ’s lawyer unsuccessfully appealed the decision. According to court documents on file with Human Rights Watch, investigative authorities requested that Markin be placed in pretrial detention because of the risk that he Â“may continue criminal activities, threaten participants in the legal proceedings, hide or destroy evidence, and also fail to attend preliminary court hearings.Â” On June 4, MarkinÂ’s pretrial detention was extended to October 11.
TifimovÂ’s lawyer, Yegiazar Chernikov, told Human Rights Watch that beginning in October 2017, investigators had been collecting as evidence audio and video recordings of conversations among JehovahÂ’s Witnesses. Chernikov said that on several occasions, a woman involved in the investigation invited Tifimov to her home, where audio and video recording devices were in place, and asked him questions given to her by investigative authorities and designed to incriminate him.
Tifimov was originally detained until June 12, 2018, but his pretrial detention was extended until October 11.
Ufa, Republic of Bashkortostan
The religious freedom groupÂ Forum 18 reportedÂ that approximately 60 law enforcement officers, some of them armed, raided eight homes in the city of Ufa, south-central Russia, on the morning of April 10. Investigators confiscated personal belongings, books, and photographs. The lawyer representing one of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses who was detained said that authorities threatened worshipers with weapons,Â in one case holding an automatic weapon to a personÂ’s head.
At least 20 people were reportedly taken to the Lenin District Investigative Department for questioning and fingerprinting but were later released. One girl was called for questioning, but when she showed up for the meeting with her mother and the director of her school, the investigator failed to appear.
On April 12, Anatoly Vilikevich, 32, was arrested on suspicion of organizing activities of an Â“extremist organization,Â” and placed in pretrial detention. VilikevichÂ’s lawyer, Vitaly Svintsov, who appealed the order, told Human Rights Watch that on June 21 the Supreme Court of Bashkortostan overturned the lower courtÂ’s decision and placed him under house arrest.
A statement by theÂ Bashkortostan Republic Investigative Committeealleged that Vilikevich had organized a local chapter of the banned JehovahÂ’s Witnesses Administrative Center. Investigators who searched his home confiscated Â“prohibited literature,Â” the statement said.
Since 2007, dozens of pieces of JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ literature have been banned and placed on the federal registry of banned extremist materials. Pictured here, stacks of booklets distributed by a local leader of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation in the Siberian town of Gorno-Altaysk are seen during a court session on December 16, 2010.
Â Â©2010 Reuters/Alexandr Tyryshkin
By Guest Nicole
Officials from the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization say Russian law-enforcement officers have carried out “mass searches” on members’ homes in the Urals region of Orenburg and in the Far Eastern city of Birobidzhan.
Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, on May 17 said 150 law-enforcement personnel raided more than 20 adherents’ homes in Birobidzhan, the capital of Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region.
The raids came after searches had been carried out on May 16 in the Orenburg region near the border with Kazakhstan in which 18 Jehovah’s Witnesses were questioned and three were taken into custody, Lopes said.
The spokesman said a criminal case had been initiated against an adherent of the Christian sect, Alam Aliyev, and that a trial was expected on May 18.
Russia’s Supreme Court in July 2017 upheld a ruling that the Jehovah’s Witnesses should be considered an extremist organization, effectively banning the denomination from the country.
The original ruling, issued in April 2017, was the first time an entire registered religious organization had been prohibited under Russian law.
Long viewed with suspicion in Russia for their positions on military service, voting, and government authority in general, the Jehovah’s Witnesses -- which claim some 170,000 adherents in Russia and 8 million worldwide -- are among several denominations that have come under increasing pressure in recent years.
The sect began operating in Russia and across the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Russia's treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses has raised concerns from governments and religious organizations in the West.
“The treatment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects the Russian government’s tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country’s political stability,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said after the Supreme Court ruling last year.
By James Thomas Rook Jr.
FSB starts detaining Jehovah’s Witnesses on Kola, dozens flee to Finland
Criminal cases are initiated after FSB and Rosgvardia raided six addresses in the closed navy town of Polyarny.
By Thomas Nilsen - The Independent Barents Observer
April 20, 2018
Last April, a ruling by Russia’s Supreme Court banned all Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations throughout the country, arguing the religious group to be extremist.
On Friday, Murmansk regional authorities’ newspaper Murmanski Vestnik reports about raids made by FSB and the National Guard of Russia (Rosgvardia) in Polyarny on the Kola Peninsula.
Two local residents were detained under suspicions of being members of the administrative centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, organizing teaching and meetings where reading of banned religious literature took place. Searches were carried out at six addresses in Polyarny.
The town is home to a naval yard and several of the diesel-powered submarines and other warships of the Northern Fleet have Polyarny as homeport.
The extremist law banning Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia provides for a maximum sentences of 6 to 10 years in jail.
Meanwhile, a wave of practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses are fleeing Russia. More than a thousand people are now seeking asylum in several European countries, including Finland, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported earlier this winter.
It all started last summer, and that’s when the first Witnesses sought asylum in Finland, spokesperson Veikko Leininen with the organization’s Finnish branch told the newspaper. Many dozens at least are still to come, he said.
Press adviser Therese Bergwitz-Larsen with the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) can’t go into details about particular reasons for asylum seekers coming to Norway.
Unfortunately, we can’t say anything in general on the background for reasons to apply for asylum, since the number [from Russia] is so small, Bergwitz-Larsen tells the Barents Observer.
Statistics from UDI show that 15 persons came from Russia the first three months this year. In 2017, 58 Russian asylum seekers came to Norway.
In Russia, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses are estimated to about 175,000. That be, before the organization was declared extremist. Viewed with skepticism for denying military service, voting and refusal to take blood, the members are seen as both a threat to themselves, their children and public safety.
Also during Soviet times, the Witnesses were persecuted.
Human Right Watch recently called on Russian authorities to drop charges against Danish citizen Dennis Christensen adherent for practicing his faith. Christensen has been in pretrial custody for 11 months in the town of Orel. Human Right Watch argues that Russia is a member of Council of Europe and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, and therefore is obligated to protect the rights to freedom of religion and association.
My note: Russia passed a law in 2015 that basically stated that any CE or ECHR resolution or ruling they disagreed with could be ignored. I think it is a very good idea when governments start rounding up people for gas chambers, concentration or slave labor camps, or prison ... just be somewhere else.
You may have to abandon everything you and your family ever worked for, with the clothes on your back, but at least when they upholster the living room furniture you left behind ... it won't be with YOUR SKIN.
Portuguese parliament petitioned to extinguish the legal entity that represents Jehovah's Witnesses due to their shunning practiceBy Bible Speaks
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
By Outta Here
Cant see this under Russian news yet:
'Religious Freedom in Russia is Dead': Jehovah's Witnesses Ban As Extremists Upheld in Russian Supreme Court of AppealsBy 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:
By The Librarian
Turkmenistan’s government is called upon to honor its commitments to protect human rights, including freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
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.
By B Myers
Russia’s Supreme Court Begins High-Profile Case Against Jehovah’s Witnesses
NEW YORK—Today, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation began consideration of a claim from the Ministry of Justice to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The Court announced a recess, and the hearing will resume Thursday, April 6, 2017, at 2:00 p.m. The Witnesses had filed a counterclaim with the Court on March 30, 2017, against the Ministry of Justice. Today, however, the counterclaim was dismissed by the Court prior to the recess of the hearing. The Court also refused to allow experts to testify about the basis for the claim of the Ministry of Justice and refused to allow those who witnessed the falsification of evidence against local religious organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses to testify.
The high-profile nature of the case is sparking coverage by international news outlets, including an article in Time magazine posted online on April 4 (“Russian Supreme Court Considers Outlawing Jehovah’s Witness Worship”) and a front-page article in the print edition of The New York Times (“Pacifist, Christian and Threatened by Russian Ban as ‘Extremist’”) on April 5.
“We certainly hope that Russia’s Supreme Court will uphold the rights of our fellow believers in Russia to freely carry out their peaceful worship,” adds David A. Semonian, a spokesman at the Witnesses’ world headquarters in New York. “Millions of people around the world will be watching carefully to see how the case progresses and if Russia acts to protect its own law-abiding citizens who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
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
March 21, 2017
DOCUMENT: URGENT VIDEO APPEAL OF VASILY KALIN IN CONNECTION WITH LAWSUIT TO BAN JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Unprecedented news has become the occasion for this appeal. The Ministry of Justice has taken it upon itself to close and to declare criminal a whole religion—the Jehovah's Witnesses. A lawsuit has already been filed in the Supreme Court of Russia. They ask for the supreme measure of punishment for all 396 of our organizations, including our Administrative Center. We are talking about their liquidation and finding them to be extremist.
A special point is to confiscate from believers all of their houses of worship and other property. While the Ministry of Justice wants to do this immediately.
For 175 thousand adherents of our religion, they are possibly facing the most trying period of their life.
I recall the April night in 1951. At the time eight and a half thousand believers of our religion, that is, practically ALL, were deprived of their homes and taken to Siberia for permanent settlement. The life of thousands of believer was irreparably broken. Hundreds and hundreds passed through the camps. But they did not renounce their faith. And they did not become bitter. They always remained peaceful people, as Christ also commanded. Subsequently the state recognized us as victims of political repressions. And how blasphemously we again find ourselves in the position of dangerous criminals!
If the Ministry of Justice achieves its [goal], believers will face up to 10 years in prison! Recently, after the liquidation of a registered congregation in Taganrog, 16 of our brothers and sisters in the faith were sentenced to large fines and several even to a 5-year suspended prison term—just for joint reading of the Bible. A new indictment may lead them to real prison terms.
For what? What are these people guilty of? That they, as seems to somebody, study the Bible "incorrectly"? That they consider their faith the only truth? Or are they guilty of not resorting to violence, following the gospel command ment: "put the sword into its sheath"?
The accusation of Jehovah's Witnesses for extremism is absurd and savage.
We ask you who may influence the course of events, look the facts in the face objectively and impartially.
Finally, we are reminded of an episode described in the Acts of the Apostles. Christians were condemned on false charges. One of the judges of the Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, said of them to his colleagues: "Leave these people in peace; let them go. If their aim and their act is from man, it will die of itself; but if it is of God, you will not be able to destroy them. And you would turn out to be fighting against God himself!" (Acts 5:38,39)
Chairman of Governing Body
of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia
Russian transcription posted on website of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, 21 March 2017
“I was just a boy when Stalin exiled my family to Siberia merely because we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is sad and reprehensible that my children and grandchildren should be facing a similar fate. Never did I expect that we would again face the threat of religious persecution in modern Russia,” says Vasiliy Kalin, as Russia petitions the Supreme Court to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Of course, it’s all going to go against us eventually in this system of things. When Jesus said his followers would be hailed before courts, it wasn’t so that they could receive ‘good citizenship’ plaques. When Jesus himself was dragged before Pilate, he didn’t sweet-talk his way out of it, did he?
It’s all the doings of the ‘house’ church. Many countries have house churches, who agree to be strictly subservient to the state. Russia, once officially atheist, found they could not stamp out the urge to worship, so they settled on the house church, which they seek to harness as a force for national unity. “What can we do for you?” they ask the house church. “Take out the competition,” is the reply.
Putin doesn’t care, most likely. It’s not his thing. “Give the house church what it wants,” he reasons. “That way I keep them out of my hair.” After all, he has a country to run. It was just that way with Pilate, who tried to get Jesus off, but in the end, gave in to fanatics.
‘What are they saying about me, here?’ said Paul to the Jewish leaders in Rome. ‘Are they digging up any dirt on me?’ But there was no internet in the first century, and snail mail was snail mail. “We have not received letters about you from Judea, nor have any of the brothers who came from there reported or spoken anything bad about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thought are, for truly as regards this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere,” they told him. (Acts 28:21-22)
It is a mark of true religion today. Depend upon it to be “spoken against everywhere.”
Surely, the house church make Russia look like utter fools on the world stage. You cannot view jw.org, banned in Russia and Russia alone, and think for one moment that it is extremist. One would think that ISIS would have taught the Russians what extremism is. Still, while we hate persecution and we pray for our Russian brothers under trial, persecution does often turn out for advancement of the good news. “Why are they making trouble for the Jehovahs?” some people ask. “They’re nice people.”
"In their literature, there are some very harsh statements and very insulting statements about other faiths," says Alexander Dvorkin, a former Russian Orthodox priest who now teaches the history of religion and cult studies at St. Tikhon University in Moscow. "Of course, every religion has the right to criticize other faiths, but that should be done in a non-insulting manner, especially if you are talking about [my faith] the faith of the majority." (brackets mine)
The reason you can and should criticize other faiths is that, as any non-religious person knows, religion has historically served as chief cheerleader of war and killing. That’s why a growing number of persons would like to ban it.
“Dvorkin says that the Jehovah's Witnesses are not Christian because they don't believe in the divinity of Christ.” (from NPR) Got it? It’s also violence at the hands of Trinitarians. A more intolerant bunch you will never see.
9 March 2017
A Jehovah’s Witness in London. ‘These were some of the most persecuted Christians of the 20th century.’
The small Siberian town of Birobidzhan is set in a mosquito-infested swampland on the far eastern end of the Trans-Siberian railway. It was to places such as this that the Soviets exiled various undesirables. In April 1951 more than 9,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses were rounded up and sent to Siberiaon Stalin’s instruction. They were allowed to take 150kg of their possessions with them. Everything else was confiscated by the state.
You may walk past embarrassed as Jehovah’s Witnesses try and hand you cringeworthy religious literature on the high street. But these were some of the most persecuted Christians of the 20th century. And their persecution continues.
A couple of months ago, the Russian police raided the Birobidzhan branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and “discovered” extremist literature. The Jehovah’s Witnesses describe the incident thus: “Masked special police disrupted a religious meeting and planted literature under a chair in the presence of the attendees.” The police ordered the place to be permanently closed.
A few weeks later, the Russian ministry of justice demanded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses HQ hand over all information on their 2,277 Russian congregations. After a brief examination of what the police allegedly found, it concluded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were showing signs of “extremist activity”. Congregations in Belgorod, Stary Oskol and Elista have all been shut down. Bibles have been
impounded at customs, their literature banned. Many expect that the Russians are gearing up for an outright ban.
“Unfortunately, in today’s Russia, the will to confine Russians to restricted and state-determined religious beliefs has proved increasingly strong,” is how Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia, described what has been going on. “Fabrication is always both repellent and a sign of desperation at the absence of credible proof of extremism.”
So what is it about Jehovah’s Witnesses that the Russians find so objectionable? This week, I decided not to avoid the eye of the couple who hand out literature at my tube station. So many times I’ve ignored them, and their Olympic smiling endurance, brushing past grumpily. Reading about their history, I now feel guilty about my lack of respect.
On open display was What Does the Bible Really Teach?, the book that the Russian authorities often plant in kingdom halls as an excuse to shut them down. I flicked through. It’s really not my thing. And the graphics are criminally cheesy. But it’s pretty bog-standard Christian fundamentalism, with an emphasis on the end of the world.
“What makes the Jehovah’s Witnesses different?” I asked the smiling man.
“We take the Bible literally,” he replied.
“But so do others. What makes you distinctive?”
“Take ‘thou shalt not kill,’” he replied. “We don’t participate in war.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses were taken to Nazi death camps for that very reason. They
refused to swear loyalty to a worldly government and refused to serve in the military. They wouldn’t say Heil Hitler either. So within months of the Nazis coming to power, their meetings were ransacked and a Gestapo unit was set up to register all known Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their children were taken off them to receive a proper patriotic German education. And they were given their own purple triangle to wear as identification. In 1942, Wolfgang Kusserow was beheaded in Brandenburg prison by the Nazis for refusing to fight. “You must not kill,” he said at his trial. “Did our creator have all this written down for the trees?”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are right to fear what is happening to them again, right now, in Russia. They have seen it all before. It should be a warning to all of us that the idea under which they are now being persecuted is that of “extremism”. It’s a word that draws its persuasive force from those who would use their religion to plant bombs and sever heads. So anti-terror legislation is now also being used to target those whose faith is only “extreme” in terms of its commitment to non-violence. The Russians are using the fear of Islamism as an excuse to crack down on all religious activity that refuses to bow the knee to Mother Russia.
“My parents were exiled to Siberia,” said Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a spokesman for the Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses. “They worshipped even while they were in those camps. We will continue too.” Respect, I say.
Anti-terror legislation is being used to target those whose faith is only ‘extreme’ in terms of its commitment to non-violence. It should be a warning to us all.
Russia: alleged "missionary activity" prosecutions continue
Russia's a nation of laws, just like here, and there's no legal barrier now for those who hate us to shut down the Branch. The brothers lost a critical legal appeal at Moscow City Court.
Putin may not even know about it. He's had a lot on his plate lately.
Places like Russia favor the 'house' church. They don't necessarily believe it, they likely don't, but they favor it because it's a force for national unity. 'What can we do for you?' they ask. 'Take out the competition,' is the reply from the Church.
How could any brother in Russia not think it a remarkable coincidence? The enemies of Jehovah's Witnesses are fully empowered to close Bethel. And at Witness meetings worldwide this week was played the movie about how the Assyrian army was poised to destroy Jerusalem, and in one night a single angel destroyed them all. Yet the movie was made two years ago, and the Bible reading schedule that determines when to play it is many years old!
Hezekiah, the Israelite King, wasn't overconfident. He didn't assume God was going to bail him out - for maybe he wouldn't. He just knew that he was to trust fully in God and remain faithful. But I hate to see the brothers go through more harassment, if not total shut-down. They've been through so much already.
'Hey, remember that angel we dispatched to Jerusalem? I'm impressed with his portfolio. Check on his availability, won't you?' Is there that sort of discussion somewhere?
Will it work that way? Or will world opinion prevail upon leaders there to carry on as every other nation does, Russia being the only nation on earth to ban JW.org. It's laughable. The house church makes them look like utter fools before the world. (not to mention it kills us) Nobody can watch JW.org and think it is, even to the tiniest degree, extremist.
Our brothers bear up under persecution when they must, and it often brings honest-hearted (and courageous) people into the fold. People say 'why are they making trouble for the Jehovah's? They're nice people.'
Tom Irregardless and Me.
By Guest Nicole
Turkmenistan has ignored some questions by the UN Committee Against Torture about tortured Muslim and Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience, but provided details of a Sunni Muslim prisoner's three trials. The country also continues to deny the right to conscientious objection to military service.
Young Muslim leader Bahram Saparov serving a 15-year-prison term in Turkmenistan's isolated top-security Ovadan-Depe Prison, in the Karakum Desert 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat], has been tried and sentenced three times, a delegation from Turkmenistan's government claimed to the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (CAT). The most recent trial, the government claimed, was in June.
The government delegation completely ignored the Committee's questions as to why prisoner of conscience Saparov – and other prisoners – are being held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners, and why his three trials were not in open court (see below).
The government delegation also did not mention the approximately 20 people sentenced with prisoner of conscience Saparov at his original trial, as well as the serious physical torture inflicted on him (see below).
The government delegation also did not reply to questions from the Committee Against Torture about why prisoner of conscience Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov had been tortured, including by severe beatings and injections with unknown drugs. It also ignored Committee questions about the torture of the other current Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Bahram Hemdemov, and of Jehovah's Witness former prisoners of conscience Mahmud Hudaybergenov and Ahmet Hudaybergenov (see below).
Committee Against Torture questions about whether independent investigations of torture complaints were carried out were also ignored by the government. 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 (see below).
Turkmenistan's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Atageldi Haljanov, also denied the internationally recognised right to conscientiously object to compulsory military service, as Turkmenistan has repeatedly done at the UN. Six conscientious objectors – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses – are known to have been convicted and sentenced in Turkmenistan so far in 2016. A full review of the country's record by the UN Human Rights Committee is due to take place in March 2017 (see below).
No time to discuss cases?
The Committee Against Torture's Co-rapporteurs on Turkmenistan had raised the cases of prisoners of conscience Saparov, Masharipov and Hemdemov at the first 2016 hearing on Turkmenistan's record before the Committee in Geneva on 21 November. The Co-rapporteurs also reminded the seven-member government delegation of questions on other cases it had failed to answer in the government's 22 August written responses ahead of the hearings.
Ambassador Haljanov of Turkmenistan's Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva gave the partial responses of the government delegation on named individuals during the 22 November session. However, he claimed to the Committee that he did not have time to discuss the cases of prisoners of conscience Saparov and Masharipov, and that the government delegation would submit its responses in writing. It did so on 24 November.
Forum 18 tried to reach Ambassador Haljanov at Turkmenistan's Mission to the UN in Geneva. The woman who answered the phone on 5 December refused to put Forum 18 through to Ambassador Haljanov because "I do not know you". She asked Forum 18 to send written questions.
Forum 18 asked Ambassador Haljanov in writing mid-morning Geneva time on 5 December about his delegation's responses to the Committee Against Torture on prisoners of conscience Saparov and Masharipov.
On Saparov, Forum 18 asked why the government delegation's response did not explain why he is being held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners, and why the government did not explain why Saparov had not been tried in open court where the evidence against him could be heard. Forum 18 asked for copies of the three verdicts against him. Saparov led a Hanafi Sunni Muslim community in Turkmenabad. He and about 20 members of his group were given long prison sentences in May 2013. He and at least two others were transferred to Ovadan-Depe Prison, where torture is frequent and prisoners are held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners (see F18News 26 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2218).
On Masharipov, Forum 18 asked why the government delegation's response did not say anything about the torture he endured (severe beatings, injections with unknown drugs in a drug rehabilitation centre) and why it did not explain why he is being punished for exercising his rights to freedom of religion or belief. Police raided Jehovah's Witness Masharipov's home in Dashoguz in July 2014, confiscated (subsequently destroyed) religious literature, severely tortured him, injected him in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre (from which he escaped) with unknown drugs. He was jailed after June 2016 arrest for one year (see F18News 21 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2217).
Although Ambassador Haljanov rejected suggestions during the hearing that the Turkmen government is "closed" and insisted that it cooperates with foreign and local media, Forum 18 had received no response to its questions to him by the end of the working day in Geneva on 6 December.
Another member of the government delegation to the Committee Against Torture hearings, Pirnazar Hudainazarov, Chair of the Mejlis (Parliament) Legislative Committee, refused to speak to Forum 18. Reached on 6 December, he told Forum 18 to address its questions to the Foreign Ministry before it was able to ask any questions. He then put the phone down.
Prisoner of conscience Saparov: Sentenced 3 times, repeated severe torture
The 34-year-old prisoner of conscience Saparov – who is married with three children - led a Hanafi Sunni Muslim community in the eastern city of Turkmenabad [Turkmenabat] (formerly Charjew) in Lebap Region until his imprisonment in March 2013.
Saparov organised meetings in homes from 2007 to study the five pillars of Islam and the attitude of Islam to the family and neighbours. Up to 10 young people initially joined the group, but it later grew to about 60 people in two groups.
Saparov and members of his group soon came to the attention of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police. In 2008 and 2009, MSS officers frequently summoned them individually for interrogation. Officers tortured some of the group.
The police and MSS secret police arrested Saparov and about 20 others on 9 March 2013 and all were convicted at a mass, closed trial in May 2013. After his conviction, Saparov was initially imprisoned at the labour camp in Tejen, south-east of the capital Ashgabad. He was transferred to the top-security Ovadan-Depe prison in October 2014.
An individual who saw prisoner of conscience Saparov in the prison in late 2014 – the last time he is known to have been alive – barely recognised him. "Bahram's face – and the faces of the other prisoners in the block – were unrecognisable because of the beatings," one source told Forum 18. "Officers in uniform came weekly from Ashgabad in helmets and riot gear and beat the prisoners." Two others known to have been sentenced with him - Adylbek and Meylis (last names unknown) - were also seen alive in the prison about the same time (see F18News 26 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2218).
After the arrest of Saparov and the 20 or so others, police and MSS secret police are believed to have arrested further group members. Forum 18 has been unable to find out what happened to them.
Prisoner of conscience Saparov: Serious charges
In its 24 November information to the Committee Against Torture on Saparov's case, the government delegation claimed that the Muslim leader had been sentenced on 22 May 2013 at Lebap Regional Court to 15 years' imprisonment under a range of serious charges.
According to the government delegation, Saparov was sentenced under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Conspiracy to seize power"), Article 175, Part 2 ("Calls to violent change of the constitutional order"), Article 177, Part 3 ("Incitement of social, ethnic or religious hatred"), Article 275, Parts 1 and 2 ("Creation of an organised group, criminal association or other criminal structures or participation in their activity") and Article 291 ("Theft of extortion of weapons, military materiel, explosive substances and explosive devices"). This last charge was subject to Article 14, which covers cases where an individual did not manage to carry out the crime through circumstances that did not depend on themselves.
Under Criminal Code Article 63, Part 1, which covers how to aggregate punishments when more than one crime is involved, Saparov was given a punishment under each Article separately.
The government delegation claimed that on 4 July 2014 – while already imprisoned – prisoner of conscience Saparov was tried and punished again on the basis of alleged "the appearance of new facts (testimonies against him)" relating to an earlier period. The government delegation did not reveal where this trial took place, but it may have been in Tejen Prison where he was then being held.
Prisoner of conscience Saparov was again sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. He was again convicted under Criminal Code Article 275, Part 2 ("Creation of an organised group, criminal association or other criminal structures or participation in their activity"), as well as Article 227, Part 4 ("Theft"). This time Article 63, Part 5 was used, under which a previous criminal sentence is subsumed into the punishment given in the latest case.
The third trial took place on 7 June 2016, the government delegation told the Committee Against Torture. Again it took place on the basis of an alleged "appearance of new facts (testimonies against him)" relating to an earlier period. Again the government delegation did not reveal where this trial took place, but this may have been in Ovadan-Depe Prison where, according to the government delegation, he is still being held.
At this third trial, prisoner of conscience Saparov was given a further 15 year prison term again under Criminal Code Article 227, Part 4 ("Theft"), as well as Article 231, Part 2 ("Robbery"). Article 63, Part 5 was again used, subsuming the two earlier punishments into the latest 15-year sentence.
Prisoner of conscience Saparov: Closed trials, held incommunicado
The government delegation claimed in its response to the Committee Against Torture that Saparov's relatives have been able to hand in 55 food parcels for him. The government delegation did not mention any meetings with relatives.
Human rights defenders told Forum 18 that it is highly unlikely that any food parcels have been allowed since Saparov's transfer to Ovadan-Depe. They point out that the prison is isolated, closed and kept under strict secrecy. Many prisoners sent there have not been heard of for many years and may have died there, possibly under torture.
Human rights defenders note that prisoners in ordinary labour camps, such as Tejen, can receive visits and food parcels, though prison staff often demand bribes for this. Prison conditions are harsh and include the torture of prisoners (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1676).
The government delegation completely ignored the Co-rapporteurs' questions on why many prisoners in Turkmenistan – including Saparov – are held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners, and why trials are closed.
Saparov's prison address:
Upravlenie politsii Ahalskogo velayata
Prisoner of conscience Masharipov: No reply on torture
The 32-year-old Masharipov, an ethnic Uzbek Jehovah's Witness from the northern city of Dashoguz, was sentenced to one year's imprisonment on 18 August in his home city for allegedly assaulting a police officer back in July 2014, charges he denies. Following his 2014 arrest, he was tortured. He escaped from a Drug Rehabilitation Centre where he was being injected with unknown drugs that harmed his health. He was re-arrested in Ashgabad in June 2016 before being transferred back to Dashoguz for trial (see F18News 21 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2217).
Evidence of torture inflicted on prisoner of conscience Masharipov was in 2014 submitted to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (see F18News 1 August 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1981).
Despite being asked both in advance and by Committee Against Torture Co-rapporteurs during the first day of hearings before the Committee on 21 November, the government delegation failed to say whether any independent investigation had been conducted into the torture of Masharipov.
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 (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1676).
In its 24 November written submission to the Committee, the government delegation merely recounted the known details of prisoner of conscience Masharipov's imprisonment and adding that he is an "adherent" of the unregistered Jehovah's Witnesses. (Religious communities without registration are not allowed to exist, in dfince of Turkmenistan's international human rights obligations - see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1676.) The government delegation then noted that Masharipov is being held in Seydi Labour Camp.
The government delegation claimed Masharipov receives "regular" visits in prison from relatives. It said a short visit had taken place on 3 November and a longer visit from his brother Ulugbek on 19 November. It added that Masharipov had been allowed food parcels on 23 August and 22 September.
Prisoner of conscience Hemdemov: No reply on torture
Similarly, the government delegation failed to answer repeated questions about reports that fellow-Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Hemdemov had been tortured in pre-trial detention.
Police arrested Hemdemov during a March 2015 raid on his home, following which they tortured him. The 53-year-old Jehovah's Witness is serving a four-year sentence handed down in May 2015 on charges of inciting religious hatred, charges he denies. He is being held in the general regime section of the Seydi Labour Camp (see F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).
In its 22 August written submission to the Committee Against Torture, the government delegation claimed that Hemdemov, "with a view to the promotion and incitement of religious enmity .. engaged in his home with members of this group in propaganda activities, thereby inciting religious discord and enmity towards another religion".
During the November Committee hearings, the government delegation did not even mention Hemdemov, despite a repeated request from the Co-rapporteurs for information on whether any independent investigation had taken place into the torture of him.
Prisoners of conscience Masharipov and Hemdemov's address in prison is:
746222 Lebap velayat
Prisoners of conscience Hudaybergenovs: Still no reply on torture
In advance of the hearings, the Committee Against Torture also asked the government delegation about the torture of two Jehovah's Witness former prisoners of conscience, the brothers Mahmud Hudaybergenov and Ahmet Hudaybergenov.
In March and October 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of four young men by imprisoning them for refusing compulsory religious service on grounds of religious conscience. The Committee also ruled that beatings and other maltreatment of the Hudaybergenov brothers, as well as of Zafar Abdullayev and Sunnet Japparov represented torture. Turkmenistan has failed to recompense these victims of human rights violations or change laws and procedures to prevent such violations recurring (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).
The 22 August written response from the government delegation failed to even mention the Hudaybergenov brothers and the torture they had undergone.
Five Muslim prisoners: No response on torture reports
Ahead of the November hearings, the Committee Against Torture asked the government delegation if any investigation had been undertaken into an incident in February 2015 in which five Muslim prisoners at Seydi labour camp were allegedly subjected to severe beating by prison guards.
Five Muslim men imprisoned on charges of religious extremism, who arrived in Seydi strict regime labour camp in February 2015, were severely physically tortured on arrival. Forum 18 was unable to establish if they – and a group of about 10 Muslim men transferred from that labour camp to the top-security Ovadan-Depe prison in December 2014 – are prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freeom of religion and belief (see F18News 18 February 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2039).
In its 22 August response to the Committee, the government delegation claimed: "There is no information concerning the incident". Reminded by the Committee of the allegations of torture against the five Muslim men during the November hearings, the government delegation did not reply.
Harsh prison conditions, torture
Prisoners generally have to endure harsh conditions, especially for those unable or unwilling to pay bribes to secure access to reasonable living quarters, food or washing facilities. Although the general regime Seydi Labour Camp (where those imprisoned for exercising freedom of religion and belief are often held) has its own prison mosque, prisoners are afraid to attend, according to a former prisoner in the camp. "The mosque is open to any prisoner, but Muslim prisoners won't go for fear of being branded a ‘Wahhabi'," the former prisoner told Forum 18. "So at Friday prayers there are usually only about four or five people." The former prisoner added that the prison library – which prisoners make good use of - has no religious literature (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).
The term "Wahhabi" is widely used in Central Asia for any devout Muslim, regardless of whether they do or do not commit or espouse violence or are Wahhabis.
Torture of prisoners is widespread. Prisoners branded as "Wahhabis" are given harsh treatment and are often confined in special sections of prisons. In February 2015 in the strict regime Seydi Labour Camp, Muslim prisoners convicted of alleged "Wahhabism" were subjected to brutal torture through physical attack. One man suffered a broken hand, while another suffered a broken rib and damage to his lung (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).
In 2011 the UN Committee Against Torture found that, in Turkmenistan "persons deprived of their liberty are tortured, ill-treated and threatened by public officers, especially at the moment of apprehension and during pretrial detention, to extract confessions and as an additional punishment after the confession" (see UN reference CAT/C/TKM/CO/1 http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4ef0540f2.html).
In March and October 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of four further Jehovah's Witness young men by imprisoning them for refusing compulsory religious service on grounds of religious conscience. The Committee also ruled that beatings and other maltreatment (such as a head being repeatedly bashed against a wall) of Zafar Abdullayev, Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Ahmet Hudaybergenov and Sunnet Japparov is torture and the government needs to provide reparations (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).
The UN Human Rights Committee adopted five further decisions in July 2016 that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of five more Jehovah's Witness former prisoners of conscience, including by the use of torture against them (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).
Latest rejection of conscientious objection to military service
Ambassador Haljanov also denied individuals' internationally recognised right to conscientiously object to compulsory military service. Turkmenistan has repeatedly denied this right to the UN, for example the Human Human Rights Committee (see eg. F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196). "Unfortunately there are citizens in our society who refuse their constitutional duty towards their homeland," he told the Committee Against Torture at the 22 November hearing.
Six conscientious objectors – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses – are known to have been convicted and sentenced in Turkmenistan so far in 2016 to punish them for refusing to perform compulsory military service on religious grounds. Five received two-year suspended sentences. The sixth received a one-year corrective labour sentence, where he lives at home under restrictions and a fifth of his wages are confiscated.
All six young men were sentenced under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. This punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces in peacetime with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or two years' corrective labour (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).
No conscientious objection, no alternative service
Ambassador Haljanov told the UN Committee Against Torture in November 2016 that before bringing to court individuals who refuse military service on grounds of conscience, "complex measures are undertaken by a range of organisations in Turkmenistan, including youth organisations, local authorities, parents and elders to explain to them their constitutional duty".
Turkmenistan offers no alternative to its compulsory military service. Article 58 of the new 2016 Constitution describes defence as a "sacred duty" of everyone and states that military service is compulsory for men. Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220). A proposed Alternative Service Law was reportedly drafted in 2013, but officials have been unable to tell ForumF18News 29 September 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2002).
Turkmenistan has repeatedly, for example between 2012 and 2015, rejected UN Human Human Rights Committee calls for the country to allow conscientious objection to military service, along with other manifestations of freedom of religion and belief (see eg. F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196). In July 2016 the Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan violated the rights of five further Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These decisions bring to 9 the number of such findings by the Committee against Turkmenistan in conscientious objection-related cases. The Committee also adopted a list of issues for consideration of Turkmenistan's record under the ICCPR (UN reference CCPR/C/TKM/Q/2 http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2FC%2FTKM%2FQ%2F2&Lang=en). A full review of the country's record by the Human Rights Committee is due to take place in Geneva in March 2017 (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov signed a new Constitution into law on 14 September. It ignored recommendations in a July 2016 legal review of the proposed Constitution by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Among other human rights and freedom of religion and belief concerns, the review recommended that the Constitution should make explicit mention of the right to opt for an alternative to military service (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).
The latest April 2016 Religion Law also repeated the ban on conscientious objection to military service. Members of several religious communities complained that "no religion" is allowed during military service (see F18News 18 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2169). The latest revision of the Religion Law totally ignores a 2010 OSCE legal review of the then Religion Law, which criticised many of its provisions for violating international human rights standards. The Review called for many changes, including to allow conscientious objection to compulsory military service, as well as an end to the ban on the exercise of freedom of religion and belief without state permission, and the ban on private teaching of beliefs (see F18News 20 December 2010 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1523). (END)
By Guest Nicole
"The Orthodox Church wants a diocese and resident bishop in Turkmenistan," an Orthodox told Forum 18. "But it hasn't yet happened." The Deanery Secretary, a Russian priest, was forced to leave. And the Armenian Apostolic Church is still unable to regain a former church.
The Russian Orthodox Church appears no nearer to achieving its goal of a fully-fledged diocese in Turkmenistan, despite an early November visit by two foreign-based hierarchs. "The Orthodox Church wants a diocese and resident bishop in Turkmenistan," a lay Orthodox Christian from the country, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18. "This was raised officially by current [Moscow Patriarchate] Metropolitan Kirill when he visited Ashgabad in 2008, before he became Patriarch. But it hasn't yet happened."
Fr Grigory Bochurov, a Russian citizen who has served from 2012 in Turkmenistan as Secretary of the Patriarchal Deanery and senior priest of Ashgabad's St Nikolai Church, was forced to leave by the authorities in June 2016 (see below).
Turkemnistan, in defiance of its international human rights obligations, has a long-term policy of isolating belief communities from their co-believers outside the country (see below).
And despite repeated attempts, the Armenian Apostolic Church has still not regained its former church in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), despite a November 2012 promise by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to return it (see below).
Archbishop Feofilakt (Kuryanov), the Russian-based "temporary" administrator of the Turkmen parishes on behalf of the Moscow Patriarchate, and Metropolitan Vikenty (Morar) of Tashkent, who lives in the Uzbek capital and is head of the Central Asian Metropolitan Area, were allowed a four-day visit to the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] from 3 to 6 November 2016.
Fr Mikhail Stolyarov, spokesperson for the Moscow Patriarchate's Uzbek Diocese, explained that Metropolitan Vikenty had travelled alone to Turkmenistan, as often happens on his pastoral visits. "I wasn't there," he told Forum 18 from the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 29 November. "But as far as I know, no meetings were held with officials during the visit. At least, the Metropolitan didn't mention any. So nothing could have been discussed with them."
Archbishop Feofilakt is allowed to visit Turkmenistan on short visits several times a year, including earlier in 2016. However, this was the first visit Metropolitan Vikenty has been allowed to make to Turkmenistan since 2013 (see F18News 23 May 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1840). "The Church tried to invite Metropolitan Vikenty once a year, without much success," a lay Orthodox Christian noted (see below).
No serving Russian Orthodox Patriarch has ever visited Turkmenistan.
Isolating belief communities
The Turkmen government's policy of isolating its citizens (including belief communities from their fellow-believers in other countries), together with tight restrictions on which religious communities are allowed legally to exist, means religious communities have only highly limited opportunities to invite foreign religious figures.
Only registered religious communities have the right to apply to invite foreigners for religious purposes, though such applications are rarely successful (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676).
Any one registered community can generally only invite one foreigner or small group of foreigners (such as a husband and wife) per year, religious community members told Forum 18 from Ashgabad. "In addition, there is always a time limit," one community member explained. "A guest is usually allowed to stay for three days, maximum five days, never more."
At least two Protestant communities were able to have such brief visits in 2016, Protestants told Forum 18. In the past, other registered Protestant churches, as well as the Baha'i and Hare Krishna communities have been able to have such short, rare visits by foreign citizens.
The state-controlled Sunni Muftiate (Muslim Spiritual Administration) - the only form of the majority religion Islam permitted – appears only to invite foreigners on very rare occasions. Islamic communities outside the framework of the Muftiate are not allowed to exist, and therefore (like Jehovah's Witnesses and many Protestant churches) cannot invite foreign citizens (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676).
Registered religious communities are generally not able to invite foreign citizens to live and serve in Turkmenistan. The enforced departure from Turkmenistan in spring 2015 of Fr Grigory Bocharov, the Secretary of the Patriarchal Deanery who had arrived from Russia (see below), appears to leaves only one Russian Orthodox priest from Russia remaining, Forum 18 notes.
The one exception is for the small Catholic community, which is served by foreign priests resident in Ashgabad. However, these priests have diplomatic status as staff of the Holy See's Nunciature (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676).
Religious communities which might want to invite pastoral leaders or qualified religious teachers to live and serve in Turkmenistan are thus unable to do so.
Similarly, the only institution allowed to train clergy of any faith in the country, the small Muslim Theological Section in the History Faculty of Magtymguly Turkmen State University in Ashgabad, is not allowed to have any foreign staff (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676).
No Russian Orthodox diocese for Turkmenistan
The dozen or so Russian Orthodox parishes in Turkmenistan were transferred by the Church's Holy Synod in October 2007 from the jurisdiction of the then Central Asian Diocese based in the Uzbek capital Tashkent after heavy pressure from the Turkmen authorities. They were formed into a Deanery directly subject to the Patriarch (see F18News 19 October 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1037).
On behalf of the Patriarch, the Turkmen Deanery has been led since October 2008 by the "temporary administrator", Bishop Feofilakt (Kuryanov). He has retained his responsibility for "temporarily" overseeing the Deanery over more than eight years, despite having episcopal responsibilities in Russia, first as assistant bishop in the Moscow diocese, then bishop of Smolensk and, finally, bishop of Pyatigorsk from March 2011. Feofilakt became an Archbishop in 2014.
The Russian Orthodox Holy Synod established individual dioceses for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – led by their own resident bishops – in July 2011.
While the dozen or so parishes in Turkmenistan would form a small diocese, it would still be bigger than the Tajikistan diocese, which has just six parishes (one of them on a Russian military base). Similarly, the Azerbaijan diocese has fewer parishes than in Turkmenistan.
As a participating State of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Turkmenistan has an obligation to respect and facilitate everyone's freedom of religion or belief and linked fundamental freedoms.
The Concluding Document of the Vienna Meeting 1986 of Representatives of the Participating States of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe commits participating states to "respect the right" of religious communities to "organize themselves according to their own hierarchical and institutional structure".
It also commits participating States to respect their right to "select, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their respective requirements and standards as well as with any freely accepted arrangement between them and their State" (see Forum 18's compilation of OSCE commitments on freedom of religion or belief http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1351).
What or who is delaying establishing Orthodox diocese?
Forum 18 was unable to reach any Turkmen officials to find out whether the state is preventing the Russian Orthodox Church from structuring itself in the country as it chooses and naming a resident leader of its choice.
The telephone of Mekan Akyev, head of the government's Commission for Work with Religious Organisations and Expert Analysis of Resources Containing Religious Information, Published and Printed Production, went unanswered each time Forum 18 called between 28 and 30 November. The telephone of one of the Deputy Chairs, Gurbanberdy Nursakhatov, also went unanswered, though local people told Forum 18 he was out of the country.
Forum 18 asked a spokesperson for the Moscow Patriarchate about what is delaying the establishment of a diocese in Turkmenistan, and whether the Deanery is likely to be turned into a Diocese soon. He chose his words very carefully in his response. "What exists exists," he told Forum 18 from Moscow on 28 November. "If something changes, a new structure might be required."
Asked how much the Moscow Patriarchate is pushing the Turkmen authorities to be allowed a diocese, the official – who did not give his name – responded: "The structure is important for us, but carrying out religious services is the most important thing." Asked about the current state of negotiations, he added: "I'm not saying if there are or aren't discussions in the Moscow Patriarchate on this, but if there were we wouldn't discuss it publicly."
Asked why the Russian-based Archbishop Feofilakt is still the administrator of the Patriarchal Deanery, the Moscow Patriarchate official noted that he had been "temporary" administrator for some years. He did not explain why this provisional status has remained unchanged for more than eight years.
Will synod be able to meet in Ashgabad?
The Turkmen Deanery is part of the Russian Orthodox Central Asian Metropolitan Area, led by Metropolitan Vikenty (Morar), who is based in Tashkent. The Metropolitan Area is made up of the dioceses of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, together with the Patriarchal Deanery in Turkmenistan.
Unlike the Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan dioceses, which he has been able to visit at least once a year, Metropolitan Vikenty has found it more difficult to visit the parishes in Turkmenistan. He first visited the Turkmen parishes in November 2012, then again in April 2013. However, his next visit did not take place until November 2016.
Fr Stolyarov, spokesperson for the Uzbek diocese, insisted that Metropolitan Vikenty faces no obstruction visiting Turkmenistan when required. "If we submit a request for such a visit, that request will be met," he told Forum 18.
The synod of the Central Asian Metropolitan Area – with the bishops of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as Archbishop Feofilakt representing the Turkmen Deanery – has met in Tashkent and the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. Although Archbishop Feofilakt expressed the hope at the March 2015 synod that the next meeting could be held "in sunny Ashgabad", this did not happen.
Deanery Secretary forced out
Fr Grigory Bochurov, a Russian citizen from Pyatigorsk diocese, served from 2012 in Turkmenistan as Secretary of the Patriarchal Deanery and senior priest of Ashgabad's St Nikolai Church. Bishop Feofilakt named him to both posts in September 2012.
In a December 2014 meeting in Ashgabad with Charygeldi Seryaev, head of the government's then Gengesh (Council) for Religious Affairs, Archbishop Feofilakt praised Fr Bochurov's "constructive work" in coordinating the work of the parishes in Turkmenistan. Fr Bochurov was also present at the meeting.
However, in spring 2015 the Turkmen authorities refused to extend Fr Bochurov's permission to remain in Turkmenistan, the lay Orthodox Christian told Forum 18. The priest was forced to leave Turkmenistan and return to Russia, where he resumed duties in the Pyatigorsk diocese. It appears the Church tried to appeal to the Turkmen authorities to overturn the enforced departure, but with no success.
Finally bowing to the inevitable, Archbishop Feofilakt issued a decree on 20 June 2016, removing Fr Bochurov from his post as senior priest at Ashgabad's St Nikolai Church and also from his post as Secretary to the Patriarchal Deanery in Turkmenistan.
"No changes" for Armenian Apostolic Church
Despite repeated attempts, the Armenian Apostolic Church has so far been unable to regain its former church in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), confiscated during the Soviet period and partially destroyed in the mid-2000s. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's November 2012 promise to return what remains of the church and allow it to be restored and reopened for worship have never been fulfilled (see F18News 23 May 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1840).
On 12 September 2016, the exiled news website Chrono-tm.org published photographs of the exterior and interior of the half-ruined church in Turkmenbashi. Outside stands a notice "Old Armenian Gregorian church. Historical-Cultural Monument, Registered by the State BN6 10-211".
"No changes have occurred," a spokesperson for the Moscow-based Armenian Apostolic Diocese (which includes Central Asia) lamented to Forum 18 on 29 November. The spokesperson added that Archbishop Yezras Nersisyan is planning to visit Central Asia soon, "we hope in December". Asked if the Archbishop will finally be able to visit Turkmenistan and try to restart the Church's activity there, the spokesperson responded: "We'll see."
The Armenian Apostolic Church has parishes in Samarkand and Tashkent in Uzbekistan and Almaty in Kazakhstan. The church in Turkmenbashi is the only surviving church building in Turkmenistan.
The Armenian ambassador to Turkmenistan tried to arrange an invitation for a priest to visit in 2015, but was unsuccessful, an Ashgabad-based Christian told Forum 18. The last time an Armenian priest is known to have visited was in 1999, when he was only able to hold services and conduct baptisms on Armenian diplomatic territory (see F18News 26 October 2004 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=439). (END)
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 email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino firstname.lastname@example.org; Terence Hyland at email@example.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.
Note: These posts are for the purpose of indexing JW Broadcasting Program Parts for easy access and look up on this site, as JW Broadcasting does not yet have a search function. Most parts have been linked directly to the video for that part, for easy access. You may like to use these links for personal or family study. Enjoy!
Presenter: Bro. Anthony Morris III GB
Translation: Namibia RTO Dedication report Length 5:22 mins
Theme Talk: “Jehovah’s Servants Will Be Persecuted” Length 22: 53 mins
Enduring Trials: Sis. Aynura“With Jehovah, I Am Not Alone” Length 6:18 mins
Truth Transforms Lives: Sis. Kimiko Nakagawa “Love Convinced the Saul of Sado” Length 7:14 mins
Discussion: Child Abuse Length (approx) 8 mins
Become Jehovah’s Friend: Protect Your Children Length 1:52 mins
Apply Bible Principles: Choosing a Career With Eternal Future Length 4:58 mins
Truth Transforms Lives: Bro. Michael Lemoine “I Put the Truth On Trial” Length 7:16 mins
Original Song: Glad I Passed the Test Length 2:22 mins
Closing Video: Mahaut & Marie-Galante Congregations, Dominica
Full Length 1:09:03 mins
*Full length time includes intermediary comments
By Guest Nicole
Raids on Jehovah's Witness premises now take place more than three times per month. These raids on doctrinally pacifist religious communities often involve many heavily armed and camouflaged officials, with the "discovery" of apparently planted banned "extremist" literature. Legal dissolution of communities can follow.
Law enforcement raids on Jehovah's Witness premises have reached a rate of more than three per month in 2016, Forum 18 has found. These unannounced raids, often involving large numbers of heavily armed riot police as well as the FSB security service and "Anti-extremism" investigators, frequently occur during meetings for worship and use disproportionate force. The "discovery" of literature prohibited as "extremist" often occurs during searches. One of many such raids took place in the village of Nezlobnaya in the southern Stavropol Region on 20 September (see below).
Jehovah's Witnesses have credibly insisted, with video evidence, that this literature has been planted by the authorities. As well as being distressing to congregations, such raids with the "discovery" of "extremist" literature can also set in motion a chain of legal repercussions up to and including the dissolution of communities (see below).
The current wave of raids take place without any advance warning to the communities concerned. One difference from visits from Prosecutors Office officials is that the community concerned is notified in advance by post of these visits.
One indicator of the unnecessary nature of the weapons (including infantry assault rifles) and force used by camouflaged state officials in the many raids is that Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide are a doctrinally pacifist community, whose young male members will not do compulsory military service or any other military-connected activity. Jehovah's Witnesses follow their pacifist principles even if the government concerned jails and tortures conscientious objectors to military service, and their families and co-believers (see eg. in Turkmenistan F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).
Increasing raids and prosecutions targeting Jehovah's Witnesses
Police have raided Jehovah's Witness places of worship for at least 10 years. A raid on a meeting for worship in April 2006 led to the liquidation of their Moscow community. After a long legal struggle, the community was in 2015 re-registered after an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg (see F18News 28 August 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). However, such raids appear to have increased in frequency and heavy-handedness over the last year, Jehovah's Witness spokesman Yaroslav Sivulsky commented to Forum 18 on 20 October 2016.
This is in line with a general intensification of law enforcement scrutiny of Jehovah's Witnesses, Forum 18 notes. This has included rising numbers of prosecutions under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") and Article 20.2 ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket"), as well as the dissolution of several local communities as allegedly "extremist organisations" (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215).
Appeal against "extremism" warning fails
In March 2015 the Jehovah's Witnesses' Administrative Centre in St Petersburg received a formal warning from the General Prosecutor's Office of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity". The warning was explicitly predicated on the alleged "extremist" activities of the local communities (and their members) which the Centre oversees and supports (see F18News 24 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2181).
On 12 October 2016, Tver District Court in Moscow rejected the Administrative Centre's attempt to have the General Prosecutor's warning ruled unlawful. The Centre now plans to appeal to Moscow City Court, Sivulsky told Forum 18 on 20 October. It expects the appeal to be heard in two or three months. In the meantime, Sivulsky added, they understand that the warning is not legally enforceable until after any appeal ruling.
If the Administrative Centre's appeal fails and prosecutors pursue liquidation, it seems likely that assorted Jehovah's Witness bodies throughout the country may also face dissolution because of their association with the Centre. Jehovah's Witnesses have more than 400 local religious organisations (legal entities) and over 2,500 congregations, according to their main website jw.org . The Centre itself would be added to the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations (which is dominated by far-right and violent nationalist groups, though it already includes five liquidated Jehovah's Witness congregations) and its property would be turned over to the state.
The warning states that the Centre will be subject to dissolution if it does not take "specific organisational and practical measures" within two months to eliminate violations of the "Extremism Law", or if new evidence of "extremism" is uncovered. It does not elaborate, however, on what such measures may be or how they will be monitored. It appears that any subsequent extremism-related conviction of an individual or local community (once the appeal process is exhausted) may provide grounds for liquidation.
On 3 October, a ninth local Jehovah's Witness congregation, in Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Region, was ruled an "extremist" organisation and ordered to be liquidated.
On 18 October, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation rejected the Oryol Jehovah's Witness community's appeal against its liquidation, ordered by Oryol Regional Court in June 2016.
Increasing raids and prosecutions targeting many communities
If an item is on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, possession of it carries the risk of a fine or imprisonment for up to 15 days, and confiscation of the banned literature. The Federal List as of September 2016 ran to over 3,69 items, often does not include full bibliographical details, and is irregularly updated, making it difficult for anyone to keep abreast of recent bans (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215).
Courts continue to rule texts "extremist", opening the way for more prosecutions for their possession or "mass distribution". These include the Google Translate Russian version of a collection of sayings of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, a video commenting on the attempted seizure by bailiffs of saints' relics from the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, and Jehovah's Witness texts (see F18News 20 March 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2049).
No-notice raids on religious communities' premises are not confined to Jehovah's Witnesses. Prosecutions of Muslims under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") often arise after police, prosecutor's office officials, and/or FSB officers have searched a mosque "to check compliance with anti-extremism legislation" and discovered "extremist" literature, according to court verdicts seen by Forum 18 (see eg. F18News 25 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2171).
Armed raids on homes, sometimes during prayer meetings or religious celebrations, have often been part of criminal investigations of Muslims who read the works of late Turkish theologian Said Nursi (see eg. F18News 29 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2193).
Institutions run by Protestant churches, such as drug rehabilitation centres have sometimes been obliged to close for after fire safety or sanitation inspections found apparently minor and easily resolvable infringements (see eg. F18News 26 March 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1943).
In October 2012, bailiffs in the Vladimir Region town of Suzdal disrupted a Russian Autonomous Orthodox Church service in an attempt to seize the relics of two saints kept in the church building (see F18News 3 December 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2020).
Since the introduction in July 2016 of the so-called "anti-missionary law", which severely restricts the public sharing of beliefs, law enforcement agencies have raided religious events they suspect of violating the new legislation's regulations. Hare Krishna devotees and Protestants have also been prosecuted for sharing beliefs in public (see F18News 26 August 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2211).
A police raid on a Tver sanatorium where Ghanaian Protestant leader Ebenezer Tuah was performing baptisms in a rented hall led to his being prosecuted for conducting "missionary activity" without the necessary documents. He was found guilty on 1 August and fined 50,000 Roubles, the maximum for a foreign citizen (see F18News 26 August 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2211).
Police in St Petersburg detained Archbishop Sergei Zhuravlyov of the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church while he was giving a sermon at a Messianic Jewish community. The police had received a message suggesting that Zhuravlyov was trying to convert Jews to Orthodoxy. A court fined the Archbishop 5,000 Roubles on 5 September.
Particular focus on Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witness communities appear at present to be bearing the brunt of law enforcement attention of this type, involving the disruption of meetings for worship, the use of force, and the alleged falsification of material evidence.
Police raided 30 Kingdom Halls or other meeting places between January and August 2016, Jehovah's Witnesses' Administrative Centre noted in September. A further five were raided as of 21 October, bringing the total to 35 known raids so far this year. This is a marked increase on the Administrative Centre's figure of 10 for January-August 2015 (14 for 2015 in total). Throughout 2015, 89 known individuals and communities of all beliefs throughout Russia were prosecuted for possession of allegedly "extremist" religious literature (see F18News 25 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2171).
The Jehovah's Witnesses in 2013 and 2014 reported eight such raids in each year. Throughout 2014, 65 known individuals and communities of all beliefs throughout Russia were prosecuted for possession of allegedly "extremist" religious literature (see F18News 31 March 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2052).
Armed raids, planting of banned materials
Law enforcement officers raid Jehovah's Witness meetings at a variety of locations – purpose-built Kingdom Halls, properties rented long-term for worship purposes, temporarily rented business centres or Houses of Culture, and sometimes individuals' homes.
Not all raids involve riot police or the halting of meetings for worship, as officers have been known to wait until the meeting is over on a few occasions. But the raids usually involve the disproportionate use of force, disproportionate numbers of officials, the needless disruption of meetings for worship, and either the expulsion of worshippers from the building or their containment in one room. Those present are expelled or confined to one room to prevent observation of searches, Jehovah's Witnesses comment. Officials have also demanded that those present lie down with their faces to the ground, to avoid what officials do being observed.
Forum 18 sent written questions to the FSB security service in several regions in which raids have been carried out in the last few months, asking: why these raids were launched, why heavily armed units were used, and why it was deemed necessary to disrupt meetings for worship. No reply has yet been received.
Simultaneous raids have sometimes been carried out in the same town or region. This happened to multiple Jehovah's Witness communities in: Petrozavodsk and Kostomuksha in Karelia in July 2016; in Vladikavkaz, Mozdok, and Alagir in North Ossetiya in May 2015; and also on multiple places of worship and believers' homes in Budyonnovsk in Stavropol Region in August 2016.
Jehovah's Witnesses state that the law enforcement practice of planting literature began as early as January 2013 and has become part of a coordinated campaign against them. According to a 30 September statement, they are aware of at least 60 cases of the planting and falsification of evidence.
"Currently, more than 80 Jehovah's Witness publications appear on the Federal List of Extremist Materials", the Administrative Centre commented on 1 April 2016. "Jehovah's Witnesses believe this is a mistake and seek in the courts to exclude their books and pamphlets from this list. Nevertheless, they do not import, distribute, or store these publications. Believers check carefully to ensure that these materials do not appear in places of worship."
That officials plant evidence has also been credibly claimed by Muslims who read the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi. For example, this seems to have occurred in relation to a mosque in Mordovia whose mufti was subsequently fined (see eg. F18News 1 May 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1953).
Typical heavily armed raid, evidence apparently planted
A typical example of the many raids, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18, took place in the village of Nezlobnaya in the southern Stavropol Region on 20 September. The raid also demonstrates the unnecessary levels of weapons and numbers of officials used in such raids.
CCTV footage released by the Nezlobnaya Jehovah's Witness community – available at - shows about 12 fully masked male officials, wearing black and green camouflage uniforms and carrying apparent infantry assault rifles, climbing the fence surrounding the Kingdom Hall. They then begin to force their way through the door using metal-cutting equipment, without giving anyone inside a chance to open it. It is early in the morning (c. 7.30 am) and no meeting for worship has yet bagun, but people are present in the building.
In further footage from various indoor CCTV cameras, the heavily armed, masked and camouflaged state officials can be seen spreading out through the building and starting to search it. In the worship hall itself, the video appears to shows two masked men putting books or brochures into a corner cupboard. This material is then uncovered about half an hour later (according to the CCTV timestamp) by another man in civilian clothes.
When committee member Yevgeny Vernik arrived, officers refused to let him see any paperwork authorising the search. "When I asked [the senior officer] to show me a copy of the order, he rudely demanded that I leave the building," Vernik complained.
Local Jehovah's Witness chair Pavel Puzyrev claims in the video released by the Administrative Centre that his community regularly performs its own searches to check for banned literature, and that there had been nothing in the cupboard the previous day. About 10 law enforcement agents also searched Puzyrev's home, where he alleges they planted banned items from the Federal List in the kitchen. He has since been charged under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials").
Telephones at Stavropol Region police information department went unanswered whenever Forum 18 called on 20 and 21 October.
Other recent raids illustrate the disruption of meetings for worship caused by such raids. In St Petersburg on 11 October, at least 25 law enforcement officers, including "Anti-Extremism" Police, entered a Kingdom Hall during evening worship. Officers announced that the building was to be searched for "extremist" literature. They covered the CCTV cameras with masking tape, before emptying cupboards and taking up the floor, the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre noted on 12 October. Several men were taken to the police station for questioning.
Although on this occasion prohibited literature was not found, police confiscated personal Bibles, tablets, and phones.
Forum 18 called St Petersburg Police on 21 October to ask why the search had been carried out and why interrupting a service had been deemed necessary. A spokeswoman directed Forum 18 to the head of the information department, Vyacheslav Stepchenko, but telephones in his office went unanswered.
In Petrozavodsk in Karelia on 28 July 2016, the FSB security service and armed OMON riot police raided an evening service, the Administrative Centre reported the following day. Officers seized worshippers' phones and other electronic devices and allegedly pushed some worshippers to the floor and kicked them. A search of the premises followed, which uncovered items of banned literature on the Federal List. There then followed a long period of questioning. The last Jehovah's Witness was released after midnight.
As a result, the community was fined 50,000 Roubles under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") at Petrozavodsk City Court on 3 October.
Asked by Forum 18 on 21 October why the raid had taken place, why armed officers had been used, and why it had been necessary to disrupt religious worship, a spokesperson for Karelia Police said it was "difficult to give such information". She suggested sending questions by email, which Forum 18 did in the early afternoon of the Karelia working day of 21 October.
Court proceedings, fines, possible community dissolution
As well as the immediate impact of an unexpected and heavy-handed raid, consequences for Jehovah's Witness communities can extend to court proceedings, financial penalties, and possible dissolution and confiscation of community assets.
If law enforcement officers find – or claim to find - prohibited literature during a search, administrative charges under Administrative Code Article 20.29 may follow. For legal entities such as religious organisations, conviction under this Article now carries a fine of 100,000 to 1 million Roubles. For individuals, the fine is 1,000 to 3,000 Roubles or up to 15 days' imprisonment; for people acting in an official capacity, 2,000 to 5,000 Roubles (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215).
Prosecutors may also issue warnings that, should further "extremist activity" be detected, they will seek the liquidation of the community as an "extremist organisation" – this may then be triggered by subsequent raids or prosecutions of individual believers.
Rented premises used by the Oryol community were searched three times in 2015 – including the disruption of a service in December 2015 by six officers of the police and FSB – and banned religious literature was found hidden inside stage steps and under a tablecloth. Jehovah's Witnesses insist that this must have been planted there earlier, as the officers allegedly did not bother checking anywhere else.
The community was fined multiple times under Administrative Code Article 20.29 and received a warning of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" with the threat of liquidation if violations were not eliminated. In June 2016, the regional branch of the Justice Ministry successfully sought the community's dissolution. The Supreme Court rejected the community's appeal against the ruling on 12 October 2016.
Some 20 law enforcement officers "burst into the premises" of the Jehovah's Witness community in Saransk on the evening of 13 October, according to the Administrative Centre, and searched it for two hours, confiscating believers' phones and the building's CCTV equipment.
"Turning their backs to the security camera, they planted Federal List material in a cupboard, which they themselves then ‘found'," Jehovah's Witnesses complained on 17 October. Jehovah's Witnesses note that, a few days previously, an FSB officer had called to check the CCTV – he "carefully examined the location of video cameras and other equipment, and assured those present that everything was fine".
The Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Mordovia had already issued an extremism warning to the Saransk community on 27 September. If charges are brought as a result of the latest raid, the community could face liquidation.
Nine communities ordered liquidated – only one successful appeal
A total of nine local Jehovah's Witness organisations have so far been ordered by courts to be dissolved: Taganrog, September 2009; Samara, May 2014; Abinsk, March 2015; Tyumen, October 2015; Belgorod, February 2016; Stary Oskol, February 2016; Elista, February 2016; Oryol, June 2016; Birobidzhan, October 2016 (see eg. F18News 22 March 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2161).
The Taganrog, Samara, Abinsk, Belgorod, and Stary Oskol communities appear on the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations.
Only one liquidation order – against the Tyumen community – has been subsequently overturned by Russia's Supreme Court. All other appeals so far have been unsuccessful.
Two further attempts at liquidation have been unsuccessful – in Arkhangelsk, which was refused by the Regional Court in June 2016, and in Cherkessk, where proceedings were opened in May 2015, were delayed by other civil cases involving the congregation (see F18News 28 August 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). They now appear to have been dropped.
At least 10 other communities are known to have received formal warnings of "the inadmissibility of extremist activity" since spring 2015 (some of which have now expired). Three of these – Tikhoretsk (Krasnodar), Chapayevsk (Samara), and Shakhty (Rostov) – are in regions which have already seen the liquidation of Jehovah's Witness congregations (in Abinsk, Samara, and Taganrog respectively). The other seven are in Kaluga, Vilyuchinsk on the Far Eastern Kamchatka peninsula, Teykovo in Ivanovo Region, Stavropol, Novorossiysk, Saransk in Mordovia, 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.
Severe consequences, increasing legal restrictions
The loss of legal status can have a severe impact. Under 2015 changes to the Religion Law, all religious communities that do not have legal status must notify the authorities of their existence and activity. This includes providing the names and addresses of all their members and addresses where any meeting takes place (see F18News 17 September 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2101). Such a requirement is against Russia's international human rights obligations, as outlined in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)/Venice Commission Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious or Belief Communities (see http://www.osce.org/odihr/139046). Russia is both an OSCE participating State and a Venice Commission member state.
Communities dissolved for "extremism" also face the possibility of criminal prosecution of their former members for continuing to meet, as happened in Taganrog among other places (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). A further consequence, introduced in July 2016 by an amendment to the Religion Law, is a ban on former members of "extremist" religious organisations carrying out broadly defined "missionary activity" (see F18News 8 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2197). (END)
By Guest Nicole
34 attendees at an "illegal" home meeting for worship on the most sacred annual observance for Jehovah's Witnesses were fined nearly a year's official minimum wage. The leader of a Sunni mosque in Baku forcibly closed in July has failed to overturn his fine.
In mid-September the final seven of 34 Jehovah's Witnesses lost their appeals against fines of more than three months' average wages each. The 34 were punished for participating in a 23 March meeting for worship in a home in the north-western town of Gakh [Qax] which the authorities claim was "illegal". Similarly, on 23 September the leader of a Sunni mosque in the capital Baku failed in his attempt to overturn a similar fine for leading an "illegal" religious community. The authorities forcibly closed down the mosque as "illegal" in July.
The 34 Jehovah's Witnesses were punished for attending a meeting for worship commemorating the Memorial of Christ's death, the most sacred annual observance for Jehovah's Witnesses. Police raided and halted the observance (see below).
Of the 35 individuals, 34 were each fined 1,500 Manats (15,400 Norwegian Kroner, 830 Euros or 1,900 US Dollars). This is more than eleven times the minimum monthly wage, or three months' average wages for those in formal work. However, many of those fined are without formal work and for them the fines represent even more of a punishment, Forum 18 notes. The other individual was fined 1,800 Manats.
The Sunni Omar bin Khattab Mosque in Qobustan in southern Baku, forcibly closed in July, was built on the Simirov family's private land and had functioned since 1990. The family have gone to court to try to protect the Mosque and plot of land from possible seizure (see below).
The enforced closure is part of what appears to be the state's determination to close Sunni mosques across the country. The closure came just days after the state forcibly closed the Lezgin Mosque in Baku's Old City on the excuse that "repairs" were needed. Earlier in July, a Sunni Mosque in a village in the northern Quba Region was ordered to close for all activity except Friday prayers. A privately-built Sunni home mosque which had functioned for 20 years was closed in January in the town of Shirvan, south-west of Baku (see F18News 20 September 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2216).
Controls in defiance of international human rights commitments
In defiance of its international human rights obligations, Azerbaijan insists that exercising freedom of religion or belief without permission from the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations is illegal. Those who violate these strict controls – including by meeting for worship in homes or talking to others of their faith – are punished.
Alongside this insistence that state permission is required, the State Committee refuses to process registration applications from many religious communities seeking legal status. Many communities which applied in 2009 - when the Religion Law was amended and mandatory re-registration was again imposed – are still waiting for the State Committee to process these applications (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2081).
International human rights bodies have repeatedly called on Azerbaijan to revoke these restrictions. On 26 April the United Nations Human Rights Committee prepared questions to Azerbaijan ahead of the consideration of its record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 20 and 21 October in Geneva (CCPR/C/AZE/Q/4).
The Committee asked Azerbaijan to "indicate any steps taken towards abolishing the requirement of registration for religious communities. Please also describe any measures taken to amend the 2009 religion law with a view to bringing it into full compliance with the Covenant." It also asked if the government has taken any steps to abolish the requirement that all Muslim communities be subject to the state-backed Caucasian Muslim Board.
The government submitted its response to the Human Rights Committee on 14 July and it was made public on 9 August (CCPR/C/AZE/Q/4/Add.1). The government response failed to address these questions. It merely claimed that "the registration procedure is very simple" and blamed religious communities themselves when the State Committee failed to process their applications.
The government insisted to the Human Rights Committee that Muslim communities must be subject to the Muslim Board because the law demands it. It did not explain why the law prevents Muslims from forming communities as they might like.
Gakh: Religious meeting raided
On 23 March, police officers in Gakh raided the home of Givi Khusishvili. They abruptly stopped the observance of the Memorial of Christ's death. Police officers showed what purported to be a court order authorising their search and confiscated personal copies of religious publications, including Bibles.
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 against six of the men 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 (see F18News 2 June 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2184).
Gakh: Police protests overturn acquittals
In early May, Police opened cases against 34 attendees under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. This punishes "A religious association operating outside of its registered legal address" with a fine for individuals of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats. Cases against 27 were opened by Gakh Police and against seven by Zakatala Police.
Masim Adigozelov and Sahaddin Hasanov, two of the officers of Zakatala Police, refused to explain to Forum 18 on 5 October why they had opened the administrative cases against the Jehovah's Witnesses. Both put the phone down without responding to any questions.
Cases against 27 attendees from Gakh were handed to Gakh District Court. However, the Court's Judge Atabay Kichibayov dismissed all the cases for lack of an "offence". Ten of them were heard and dismissed on 24 May, the remaining 17 on 27 May (see F18News 2 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2184).
Gakh District Police appealed against the May acquittals of the 27 attendees to Sheki Appeal Court. Between 28 July and 1 August, various Judges at Sheki Court of Appeal reversed the acquittals. The Court imposed convictions and fines of 1,500 Manats on 26 of the attendees, according to court records. Khusishvili, the home owner, was fined 1,800 Manats.
Gakh: Seven further fines, upheld on appeal
In early May, cases against the other seven were handed to Zakatala District Court, the home region of those individuals. However, in early June the Court handed these cases to Gakh District Court.
Following the reversals of the acquittals and the punishments handed down to 27 attendees, Judge Kichibayov then considered the cases of the other seven, handed on from Zakatala District Court. On 4 August he found the seven – including Gulbahar Guliyeva, Konul Guliyeva, Yevdokia Sobko, Matanat Qurbanova and Vaqif Aliyev – guilty under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. He fined each of the seven 1,500 Manats, according to the subsequent Appeal Court verdicts seen by Forum 18.
A court official told Forum 18 from Gakh on 5 October that Judge Kichibayov was not in the court building. She confirmed that he had fined the seven Jehovah's Witnesses but refused to say why they had been punished for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. She then put the phone down.
All seven appealed to Sheki Appeal Court. At separate hearings under various Judges on 14 and 16 September, the attendees insisted that their right to meet with others for religious purposes is defended by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, the Judges dismissed their appeals, according to the decisions seen by Forum 18.
The man who answered the phone of Mehman Ismayilov, regional representative of the State Committee in Zakatala, refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions on 5 October.
Gakh: Acquittals in other cases
The same Judge Kichibayov at Gakh District Court who had initially acquitted the 27 Jehovah's Witnesses in May has also dismissed other cases against individuals accused of violating the strict controls on freedom of religion or belief.
On 11 April police in Gakh detained Jehovah's Witnesses Gulara Huseynova and Rasmiyya Karimova for allegedly distributing religious publications. Jehovah's Witnesses insisted to Forum 18 that at the time the two women were simply walking on the street. The officers seized religious publications from their bags and took them to Gakh District Police Station. Later, the police charged both women under the Administrative Code. At a hearing on 12 May, Gakh District Court Judge Kichibayov acquitted both women.
On 15 May, Jehovah's Witnesses Rahim Karimov and Luka Khusishvili talked to a man about the Bible for approximately 15 minutes in a market in Gakh. They had spoken to the man previously, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. After the two Jehovah's Witnesses said goodbye, police detained them and took them to Gakh District Police Station. They later charged the men under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. On 9 June, Gakh District Court Judge Kichibayov acquitted the two.
Police who detain individuals for speaking to others on the street about their faith – or who appear to be preparing to do so – often threaten them with prosecution under Administrative Code Article 515 and fines of 1,500 Manats or more.
On 22 April police in Baku detained Jehovah's Witnesses Khayala Jafarova and Jaarey Suleymanova for talking to their neighbours about their faith. Officers took them to the 35th Police Station. The women were interrogated, ordered to write statements and to sign protocols. Police confiscated all their religious literature, including the Bible. One officer threatened that they would be charged under Administrative Code Article 515 and fined 1,500 Manats. They were released and ordered to return the next day. "The next day, the women were subjected to further verbal abuse and offered release if they would renounce their religion," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18.
On 24 July police in Baku detained Gulgaz Novruzova and Rakhila Shukurova "for speaking to people about the Bible in a public park", Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Officers took them to Khatai District Police Station. "The women were asked why they did not read the Koran and officers sneered at the name Jehovah." An Officer named Sadig threatened to fine the women 1,500 Manats. The women were ordered to write statements before being released.
On 4 August, Jamila Gurbanova and three other female Jehovah's Witnesses planned to go from Barda to Yevlakh in central Azerbaijan to share their beliefs. On the bus, they decided to speak with other passengers about their faith and gave out several pieces of literature. One of the passengers was a State Committee official, who phoned the police. Officers took Gurbanova and the State Committee official to the police station. Officers asked Gurbanova why she preaches Christianity instead of the Koran. They confiscated her religious literature, even though it had the required stickers from the State Committee. Officers threatened to have Gurbanova fined under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. She was released that evening, having written a statement.
All religious literature produced in, published in or imported into Azerbaijan is subject to prior compulsory censorship. In addition, it can only be sold of distributed in places approved by the State Committee. All religious materials sold must have a sticker noting that they have State Committee approval. State officials have repeatedly denied that this represents censorship (see F18News 1 October 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2107).
Baku mosque leader's fine upheld
On the afternoon of 23 September, Judge Vuqar Mammadov of Baku Appeal Court upheld the fine on Ahmad Simirov, according to court records. Simirov was leader of a Sunni Muslim Mosque on private land in Qobustan on the southern edge of Baku.
Omar bin Khattab mosque was forcibly closed by the Police, State Security Service (SSS) secret police, Qaradag District administration officials and Anar Kazimov, Baku representative of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations.
Simirov had appealed against a fine of 1,500 Manats under Administrative Code Article 515.0.1, handed down by Qaradag District Court on 11 August (see F18News 20 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2216).
Administrative Code Article 515.0.1 punishes "A religious association's leader evading registration of the association with the relevant executive authority [State Committee]" with a fine for individuals of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats.
"I told the appeal hearing that I have no job, and that I can be imam of a mosque on my own property," Simirov told Forum 18 from Qobustan on 6 October. "They told me I couldn't, even if it's my property."
Simirov said it was "pointless" for him to appeal further against the fine through the Azerbaijani court system. But he added that he might bring a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In the meantime, he said he would have to pay the fine in instalments. "Otherwise they'll seize my property, sell it and take the money from that."
Family goes to court to protect Mosque and land from seizure
The Simirov family have brought a suit to court to try to prevent any seizure of the Mosque and land in Qobustan. The suit has been lodged against the head of Qaradag District Administration, the Caucasian Muslim Board and the State Committee. "They closed our Mosque and demand that we hand the Mosque over to them," Simirov told Forum 18. "We are seeking to prove that this is our property, that my father Uzeyir Simirov built the Mosque on his own property."
The first hearing in the case took place on 4 October under Judge Tahira Asadova at Baku's Administrative-Economic Court No. 1. The case is due to resume in late October, Simirov added. (END)
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