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KAZAKHSTAN: Religious books banned as "extremist", but Prosecutor "can't remember" why

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By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

On 15 February a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana upheld the Prosecutor's suit to ban four further Christian books as "extremist", according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The books were among 47 items seized when Christian prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov was arrested. Prosecutor Temirlan Adilkhanov, who led the case in court, told Forum 18 he "can't remember" in what ways the books might have caused harm to anyone. "I knew nothing about the case until the court decision came into force on 15 March," one of the authors, Pastor Manarbek Baieke, complained to Forum 18. "They concocted all this out of thin air." He fears the ban might provide the authorities with a reason to arrest him. Religious believers have expressed concern over a list of 254 "radical" religious books, including Muslim, Ahmadi Muslim, Christian, Hare Krishna and Jehovah's Witness items. Shortandy District Administration said that Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department gave them the list in late 2015 for publication. Asked the status of books on the list, an official of Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department explained to Forum 18: "If it is on the list it is banned."

Four further religious books have been banned as "extremist" by a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana on 15 February, according to the decision seen by Forum 18 News Service. Court officials told Forum 18 that the one-month period for lodging appeals against the ban has now passed and no appeals were received in that time. Local Christians told Forum 18 that nothing in the books incites violence, hostility or law-breaking. The Prosecutor who prepared and led the case in court, Temirlan Adilkhanov, told Forum 18 on 16 March that he "can't remember" in what ways the four Christian books might have caused harm to anyone.

The suit to ban the four Christian books was initiated following the August 2015 arrest of Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov. The books were among many the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police seized from his home on the day of his arrest. Kabduakasov was later convicted of inciting religious hatred – charges he and his fellow-believers vigorously reject. He is serving a two-year prison term in a labour camp in Pavlodar (see F18News 9 March 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2156).

Although police have been confiscating copies of the four books in recent years and fining those who own them, the books appear not to have been banned by a court before. However, officials appear to have told no-one that they had brought the suit to court to ban the books, let alone the authors or publishers. Since the ban, local officials in some areas have written to leaders of registered religious communities not to use the four books and to "hand them in" if they have them.

In other court hearings, Jehovah's Witnesses have again failed to overturn bans on the import of some of their magazines and brochures. Some articles in them were said to have violated the law. In one case, Jehovah's Witnesses failed to get the court to even consider a suit to overturn a ban on a Uighur-language brochure (see below).

The bans were imposed by the Culture and Sport Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee as part of the government-instituted compulsory prior censorship of all religious literature published or distributed in Kazakhstan or imported into the country (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).

Galym Shoikin, head of the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana, put the phone down on 15 March as soon as Forum 18 began asking about the religious book bans. All subsequent calls went unanswered.

As well as members of religious communities, booksellers are frequent targets for punishment for selling books about religion without the compulsory licence from the Regional Administration (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).

The state-enforced religious censorship also extends to prisoners. They are only officially allowed to have religious books which have had prior approval and are stamped as approved. Even then, relatives of those imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief are often not allowed to hand in Korans or Bibles or other religious literature to their imprisoned relatives (see F18News 9 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2156).

Are "radical" books banned or not?

Although the General Prosecutor's Office publishes on its website a list of 666 "religious" books and materials banned as "extremist", the list includes many books which are not religious (such as Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf") and does not include other religious books known to have been banned.

Moreover, religious believers have expressed concern to Forum 18 about a separate list of 254 religious books – including Muslim, Ahmadi Muslim, Christian, Hare Krishna and Jehovah's Witness publications – which are described as "radical". The list is available on the website of Shortandy District Administration. Officials there and at Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department were unable to explain to Forum 18 if the listed books were banned or not, but said that the list had come from the Culture and Sport Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee in late 2015.

The list included 162 general Muslim books, 2 by Muhammad Yusuf Kandahlawi and Muhammad Zakariya Kandahlawi (which the list linked to the banned Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement), 24 which it linked to the Ahmadi Muslim community, 14 Jehovah's Witness publications, 5 Hare Krishna publications and 25 Christian publications.

Those the state regards as followers of Tabligh Jamaat face administrative and criminal prosecution. Of 29 criminal cases since December 2014, 13 men were given prison terms as prisoners of conscience, the other 12 being given sentences of restricted freedom. Three more men are on trial in Karaganda and another is awaiting trial in Astana (see F18News 25 February 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2153).

All the Ahmadi Muslim communities in Kazakhstan have been banned from functioning with no clear official explanation. The authorities have allowed only one Muslim organisation in the entire country – the state-controlled Muslim Board – from gaining state registration. This gives it a monopoly over Muslim activity and effectively bans any non-Hanafi Sunni Muslim communities from functioning (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).

All four of the Christian books banned in Astana in February were already on the Shortandy District Administration website list, Forum 18 notes.

Saule Kusenova of Shortandy District Administration's Internal Policy Department – which oversees religious activity as part of its official tasks – said that Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department gave them the list in late 2015 for publication. She told Forum 18 on 16 March that she was unable to explain whether items on the list were therefore banned or not.

An official of Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department told Forum 18 the same day that such lists are produced and distributed by the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana "so that people don't use" such literature. "People shouldn't read or use it," the official – who would not give his name – insisted. "If it is on the list it is banned."

No one at the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana was prepared to explain to Forum 18 whether the publications on the Shortandy District Administration website list but not on the General Prosecutor's Office list are also banned and, if so, when and where they were banned.

Secret police-commissioned "expert" analysis

On 14 August 2015, KNB secret police and ordinary police seized Christian materials from the Astana home of Adventist Kabduakasov. Many of the materials touched on Christianity and Christians and their relationship to Islam.

KNB secret police Investigator Nurlan Belesov sent the 47 books, discs and flash drives on 24 August 2015 for a "complex judicial psychological/philological expert analysis" to the Justice Ministry's Central Institute of Judicial Expert Analysis in Astana. The 29-page analysis (seen by Forum 18) – by Sholpan Sisimbayeva of the Centre and Roza Akbarova, nominated by the KNB secret police – was completed on 7 September 2015.

Sisimbayeva and Akbarova concluded that some of the items (including the four works subsequently banned) "contain expressions of the exclusivity and superiority of Christianity over Islam". Some also "contain features of inter-ethnic and religious hatred and discord, as well as expressions of the superiority of the Christian religion and the inadequacy of the Islamic religion". The four books subsequently banned also "contain propaganda for the subversion of state security, inter-confessional and inter-ethnic accord and social/political stability". 

Court bans as "extremist"

On 27 January, Astana City Prosecutor's Office brought a suit to the city's Esil District Court to ban four of Kabduakasov's Christian books as "extremist". The four books were: "Worthy Answers" by two local Protestants, Galymzhan Tanatgan and Zhomart Temir (in Kazakh and in Russian translation); "Share Your Faith with a Muslim" by the late British Brethren author and former missionary to Algeria Charles Marsh (in Russian translation); "Called to the Great Commission" by local Protestant Kanat Oryntai uuli (in Russian); and "The History of Christianity in Central Asia and Kazakhstan" by local Protestant Manarbek Baieke (in Kazakh and in Russian translation).

Joining the Prosecutor's Office in court proceedings were the Religious Affairs Committee, the Interior Ministry, the Finance Ministry's State Income Committee and the Investment and Development Ministry's Communications, Informatisation and Information Committee. Bektyrsin Mirzabayev and Asel Kuzembayeva represented the Religious Affairs Committee in court and E. Mambetov the Interior Ministry.

On 15 February, Judge Zaure Zholamanova of Esil District Court accepted the Prosecutor's suit and banned the import, publication or distribution of the four books in Kazakhstan. "The decision is subject to immediate fulfilment," according to the court decision seen by Forum 18. The decision claims the hearing was open, but because it was not publicised in advance those unhappy at the suit did not know it was taking place and could not therefore attend.

The telephone of Judge Zholamanova went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 15 and 16 March.

The General Prosecutor's Office added the four books to its list of banned religious materials on about 16 March.

"I knew nothing about the case"

The publishers of the four books – Litera-M in the case of "Worthy Answers" and "The History of Christianity in Central Asia and Kazakhstan", and the German Protestant mission Friedensstimme in the case of "Share Your Faith with a Muslim" – were not informed of the suit either before or after the case was heard, Friedensstimme mission told Forum 18 on 15 March. Nor were the authors who are still alive.

"I knew nothing about the case until the court decision came into force on 15 March," Pastor Baieke complained to Forum 18 on 16 March. "The court authorities did not inform me. So I have not been given the chance to appeal."

Pastor Baieke insisted that his book is not extremist "and does not even contain a hint of extremism". "They concocted all this out of thin air," he added. "They accused me in a one-sided way without the chance to respond." He fears the authorities may use the book ban as a reason to arrest him.

"Experts work in accordance with the law"?

Lyazzat Kalybekova, a colleague of Mirzabayev and Kuzembayeva at the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana, defended the process of banning religious books through the courts. "If material violates the law we prepare an expert analysis and a court takes a decision on this basis," she insisted to Forum 18 from Astana on 15 March. "Experts work in accordance with the law."

Asked why the four Christian books were banned when local Christians insist they contain nothing that incites hostility or violence in relation to other people of any faith or none, Kalybekova said she was not involved in the case.

Warning follows court ban

Following the Astana ban on the four Christian books, Internal Policy Departments of District Administrations in at least some parts of the country wrote to local leaders of registered religious organisations to inform them of the 15 February court ban on the four books, according to letters seen by Forum 18. The letter also reminded the religious leaders of two earlier court-ordered bans on Christian books.

In November 2012 an Almaty court banned the Russian translation of "Healing the Broken Family of Abraham" by American Protestant Don McCurry. In November 2014 an Akmola Region court banned the Russian translation of "Jesus: More than a Prophet", a collection of essays by 15 Muslims who became Christians, edited by Richard Wootton (see F18News 17 April 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2056).

"In the light of the above [the ban on the six named books], we ask you - in the event of the presence of the given extremist materials – to hand them in voluntarily and not to use them in religious activity," declares a 9 March letter (seen by Forum 18) to all local religious leaders from Sultan Zharkynbekov, head of the Internal Policy Department of Ile District of Almaty Region.

Zharkynbekov was not available when Forum 18 called on 15 March. However, Department specialist Olzhas (who did not give his last name) said that he had drafted the letter for Zharkynbekov. Asked who religious leaders were supposed to hand in these "extremist" books to, Olzhas responded: "To us. Then we'll hand them on to the competent organs." Despite repeated requests he refused to identify which "competent organs" he had in mind.

Olzhas admitted that not one copy of any of these books has been handed in since the letter was sent. "All the leaders came to us and said: we don't have these books," he told Forum 18. He declined to say what would happen to any individual or community which had any of these books.

Asked whether banning religious books on such grounds was right, Olzhas responded: "I didn't ban them, the court did."

Other warnings

Letters outlining the ban on the six named Christian publications are not the only official warnings issued to leaders of registered religious communities. Written warnings from several official agencies of Almaty Region were issued in early 2016 (and seen by Forum 18).

On 5 March, the head of Almaty Regional Religious Affairs Department Tanyrbergen Kasymberkebayev wrote to all religious leaders warning them to abide by the Religion Law and not to violate Administrative Code Article 490 (which punishes violations of the Religion Law, such as by talking about your faith to others in public and distribution of religious literature in an unapproved location or which has not undergone the state censorship).

Chief Specialist Mukhtar Tundebayev, who drafted the letter on behalf of Kasymberkebayev, said the letter was necessary "because violations of the Religion Law occur". "Some people who violate the law then claim they don't know about it or what it says," he insisted to Forum 18 from Taldykorgan on 15 March.

Responding to concerns Forum 18 has heard from religious leaders that such letters characterise religious believers as suspicious and potential law-breakers, Tundebayev dismissed such concerns. "We're simply reminding people of the law. We only write such letters maybe once a year."

Tundebayev told Forum 18 that he was not aware of the February court ban on four Christian books.

Court challenges to Religious Affairs Committee literature bans fail – as usual

Jehovah's Witnesses have repeatedly tried to challenge through the courts Religious Affairs Committee bans on books, brochures or specific issues of their magazines. However, courts repeatedly refuse to hear such challenges, often on procedural grounds.

On 25 August 2015, the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana rejected a Jehovah's Witness request to be allowed to import the brochure "Good News From God!" in Uyghur, a language spoken by hundreds of thousands of people in Kazakhstan.

On 15 January 2016, Astana's Specialised Interdistrict Economic Court rejected the Jehovah's Witness suit against the Religious Affairs Committee, which had complained that the rejection of the import had been unjustified and violated the right to freedom of religion or belief. On 10 March, Judge Sayran Alimbayeva of Astana City Court rejected the Jehovah's Witnesses' challenge to that refusal to hear the suit, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.

On 22 August 2015, the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana rejected Jehovah's Witness requests to be allowed to import Russian translations of the books "What Does the Bible Really Teach?" and "Keep Yourselves in God's Love". On 22 September 2015, the Religious Affairs Committee rejected requests to import the 15 November 2015 issue of "Watchtower" magazine in Kazakh and Russian, and the November 2015 issue of the magazine "Awake!" in Russian.

"Experts" appointed by the Religious Affairs Committee had given negative assessments of these works because of "the failure of certain assertions in the imported literature to accord with the norms of Kazakhstan's laws on the health of the nation, as well as the norms of morals and morality accepted in society, in particular the expression in the brochures of the idea of the superiority of the religious teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses to the detriment of other religions". The "experts" claimed this could cause division in families and society and upset people's feelings.

On 29 February, Judge Asiya Doshchanova of Astana's Specialised Interdistrict Economic Court rejected the Jehovah's Witness suit against the Religious Affairs Committee, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.

Jehovah's Witnesses complained in court that the import bans had violated their Constitutional rights to use the religious literature in their communities. However, the Religious Affairs Committee – represented in court by Kalybekova, as well as by Ainur Chigirova and A. Turtbayev of its Legal Department – denied that the bans violated Jehovah's Witness communities' Constitutional rights. The Judge agreed with the Religious Affairs Committee officials and dismissed the suit.

During the court hearing, the Religious Affairs Committee officials took the opportunity to warn Jehovah's Witnesses not to discuss their faith or offer their literature "in locations not approved by law".

Kalybekova insisted to Forum 18 that the "expert" analyses and the court had not declared the banned Jehovah's Witness literature "extremist". Asked how the literature could harm anyone, she was unable to say. Asked if it had incited murder, she responded: "No." But she absolutely refused to discuss its content further, referring Forum 18 to the "expert" analyses. Asked for copies of them, she referred Forum 18 to Jehovah's Witnesses themselves. "We shared the decision and reasons for it with them."

Chigirova of the Legal Department said that she had no responsibility for the legality of the bans on the import of the literature. "I merely defended the interests of the Religious Affairs Committee in court," she told Forum 18 on 15 March. (END)

Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2158

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      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
       
       
       
       
       
       
       



    • Guest Nicole
      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.
       
      http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/appeal-court-frees-jehovahs-witnesses-who-refused-to-serve-in-south-korean-military-p0x3gvdcn
    • By Outta Here
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-45815889
      This takes the proverbial biscuit. These are guys that plant Jehovah's Witness publications on................Jehovah's Witnesses!!!
      They might be in for a decoration!
    • Guest Nicole
      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 on Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’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 “had the appearance of being an explosive device,” 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.
      “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,” said Richard McIntire.
      McIntireÂ’s shared his concern about living so close to whatÂ’s become a repeated target.
      “I don’t understand why people have to target churches,” 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 wasn’t dangerous. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office later tweeted, “The suspicious device was made to look like a real bomb but in the end, it was found to be fake.”
      Read more: https://q13fox.com/2018/08/08/possible-explosive-device-found-after-attempted-arson-at-kingdom-hall-in-yelm/

    • By TrueTomHarley
      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?"
      https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/16/world/europe/putin-trump-russia-jehovahs-witness.html
      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.
      http://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/2018/07/ill-take-it-fake-news-or-not.html
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      (Moscow) – Law enforcement authorities across Russia 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 “extremist organization” 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. Russian authorities should release those in detention immediately, drop the charges, and halt the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
      “The Jehovah’s Witnesses are simply peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Jehovah’s Witness faith is not an extremist organization, and authorities should stop this religious persecution of its worshipers now.”
      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 from an April 2017 Russian Supreme Courtruling that banned all Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations throughout Russia. The ruling declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center, the head office for 395 Jehovah’s Witnesses branches throughout Russia, an extremist organization and ruled that all 395 be shut down. The ruling, which affects more than 100,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses across Russia, blatantly violates Russia’s obligations to respect and protect religious freedom and freedom of association.
      Russian authorities should reverse the ban on the organization’s activities and remove the “extremist” designation, Human Rights Watch said. Meanwhile, they should leave Jehovah’s Witnesses free to practice their faith.
      Jehovah’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, worshipers across Russia have faced persecution, intrusive home searches, and arrests, and have been denied rights to freedom of assembly, association, and religion.
      In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Russia for closing the Moscow branch of the Jehovah’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 and several others brought by members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the contrary, Russia has continued to persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses, seeking the group’s complete dissolution in Russia.
      From April to June 2018, law enforcement raids targeted Jehovah’s Witness communities in at least 11 regions throughout Russia, from Saratov region in southwestern Russia to Primorsky Krai in Russia’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, Russia’s criminal investigation service.  
      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 Jehovah’s Witness who is in pretrial detention in Murmansk Region told Human Rights Watch that the authorities’ actions contradict religious freedom guarantees in the Russian Constitution. “The [Russian] constitution says that you can practice your faith together with others, but as it turns out, that’s a crime,” said Yegiazar Chernikov, of the Sverdlovsk Lawyers’ 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, Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights announced that it had asked the prosecutor general’s office to verify the legality of criminal prosecutions against Jehovah’s Witnesses practicing their faith. A week earlier, several of the spouses of the men in pretrial detention had 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 – including several members of Memorial, Russia’s foremost human rights group – signed and published an open letter urging the authorities to immediately release those in detention and to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision to liquidate the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organization.
      Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia – like all people in Russia – 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 one’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 the Church of Scientology, the Salvation Army, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses
      “Russia should do right by its national and international obligations to respect freedom of religion,” Denber said. “Russian leadership should make sure that law enforcement is honoring and protecting that right, not trampling on it.”
      Raids Aimed at Intimidation
      The Jehovah’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. 
      In most regions, the authorities arrested people they singled out as leaders and organizers of the local Jehovah’s Witnesses community for such actions as recruiting new members and distributing religious literature that the authorities label “extremist.”
      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 Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that about 150 law enforcement personnel raided the homes of at least nine Jehovah’s Witnesses, confiscating photos, bank cards, money, and computers. An official reportedly saidthat the operation was code-named “Judgment Day.” One person was arrested and charged with organizing activities of an “extremist organization” but was released from pretrial detention 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. A video posted on the Murmansk Investigative Committee’s website 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 a Jehovah’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 “extremist organization” and faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence if convicted. He has 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 Jehovah’s Witness in Orel, 55-year-old Sergei Skrynnikov, was charged on May 8, 2018, with participating in the activities of an “extremist organization.”
      A lawyer who is defending three Jehovah’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 Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities – for which they said they had warrants – as part of the investigation. In some cases, the lawyer said, authorities placed recording devices in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ 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, raided at least seven homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Saratov and village of Shirokoe. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, special forces officers broke down doors and confiscated computers, books, notebooks, photographs, bankbooks, and passports. The authorities took at least 10 people to FSB offices for questioning.
      Three were detained and charged with organizing activities of an “extremist organization.” 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 enforcement raided several homes and cars belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tomsk between 10 a.m. on June 3 and about 2 a.m. the next day, the Jehovah’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 Jehovah’s Witness residents in Tomsk. Investigative authorities allege that worshipers studied prohibited, “extremist” religious materials and carried out organized religious activities in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center.
      Representatives of the Jehovah’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 “extremist organization,” and will remain in pretrial detention until August 4.
      Magadan, Magadan Region
      The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia reported 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 “extremist organization” and will remain in pretrial detention until July 29.
      Naberezhnye Chelny, Republic of Tatarstan
      Police and FSB officials searched the homes of 10 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Naberezhnye Chelny, in south-central Russia, on the evening of May 27. The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia reported that the searches lasted “well into the night.”
      Investigators arrested Ilham Karimov, 37; Vladimir Myakushin, 30; Konstantin Matrashov, 25;   Aydar Yulmetyev, 24, on suspicion of organizing and participating in the activities of an “extremist organization” and placed them in pretrial detention until July 25. The Naberezhnye Chelny City Court displays records of all four hearings. According to the religious freedom monitoring group Forum 18, Karimov, Myakushin, and Matrashov have appealed their pretrial detention.
      Perm, Perm Krai
      The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia reported that on the evening of May 22, Aleksandr Solovyev, 48, and his wife, Anna, were detained at the railway station in Perm, in the Ural Mountains region, after returning from a trip abroad. Law enforcement then searched the couple’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. According to Forum 18, he is being investigated on charges of participating in the activities of an “extremist organization.”
      Before the 2017 Supreme Court ruling banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center, Solovyov chaired the Perm Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia website.
      Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Region
      On May 17 in Birobidzhan, southeast Russia, police raided the homes of at least nine Jehovah’s Witnesses. The raids were carried out by approximately 150 law enforcement officers. An official reportedly saidthat the operation was code-named “Judgment Day.”
      On May 18, 55-year-old Alam Aliev was placed in pretrial detention until July 13 under suspicion of organizing activities of an “extremist organization.” The FSB stated that its request to detain Aliev “was motivated by the fact that the crime is classified as grave” and because “[t]he suspect may impede the criminal proceedings, put pressure on witnesses, and also evade investigative and judicial authorities.” Following an appeal by Aliev’s lawyer, Aliev was released from detention on May 25 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 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region, told Human Rights Watch that nine people were charged with organizing or participating in the activities of an “extremist organization.” 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 raids posted on the Orenburg Investigative Committee website show FSB officials and riot police in bulletproof vests and masks approaching Jehovah’s Witnesses’ residences.
      A statement by the Orenburg Investigative Committee said that investigative operations were “carefully planned and organized” by law enforcement with the aim of “seizing documents and items relevant to the criminal case, as well as identifying other persons involved in unlawful activities.” Investigators allege that the suspects “organized activities of a subdivision of Jehovah’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.”
      Shuya, Ivanovo Region
      Forum 18 reported that law enforcement raided four homes in the town of Shuya, western Russia, early on the morning of April 20.
      Dmitry Mikhailov, 33, was 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 “financing extremist activities.”  
      On April 20, the Ivanovo Region Investigative Committee released a statement about the home searches, alleging that since the beginning of 2018, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Shuya had been studying literature “containing statements degrading human dignity . . . and elements of propaganda of the exclusivity of one religion over another.”
      Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai
      Several homes belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses were reportedly raidedon April 19 in the far-east city of Vladivostok.
      Human Rights Watch was able to confirm that on April 23 Valentin Osadchuk, 42, was placed under arrest by Frunzensky District Court on charges of participation in the activities of an “extremist organization” after authorities searched his home and confiscated computers, notebooks, and other devices. He remains in pretrial detention until September 20. Representatives of the Jehovah’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 Committee stated on its websitethat National Guard officers and FSB officials who led the home searches confiscated computer drives and religious literature. A video posted to the website 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 “organized activities of the religious organization [Jehovah’s Witnesses] by convening and holding meetings, organizing the recruitment of new members, and leading studies of religious texts at meetings.”
      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. Markin’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 “may continue criminal activities, threaten participants in the legal proceedings, hide or destroy evidence, and also fail to attend preliminary court hearings.” On June 4, Markin’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 group Forum 18 reported 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 Jehovah’s Witnesses who was detained said that authorities threatened worshipers with weapons, in one case holding an automatic weapon to a person’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 “extremist organization,” and placed in pretrial detention. Vilikevich’s lawyer, Vitaly Svintsov, who appealed the order, told Human Rights Watch that on June 21 the Supreme Court of Bashkortostan overturned the lower court’s decision and placed him under house arrest.
      A statement by the Bashkortostan Republic Investigative Committeealleged that Vilikevich had organized a local chapter of the banned Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center. Investigators who searched his home confiscated “prohibited literature,” the statement said.
      https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/28/russia-sweeping-arrests-jehovahs-witnesses

      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.
       ©2010 Reuters/Alexandr Tyryshkin
    • Guest Nicole
      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.
      https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-jehovah-witnesses-raids-urals-orenburg-far-east/29233089.html
    • 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.
       
       
       
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Transferred by train from Pavlodar labour camp to cancer hospital in Almaty, Jehovah's Witness pensioner Teymur Akhmedov was pardoned and freed on 4 April. Prosecutors say a criminal case against a Protestant pastor will "soon" be closed down. Prosecutors are still investigating a five-year-old criminal case against an atheist. The trial of three Muslims continues in Karaganda.
      After nearly a year and a quarter in jail, Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience, pensioner and cancer-sufferer Teymur Akhmedov was pardoned on 2 April and released from custody on 4 April. He had already been transferred by train from labour camp in the northern city of Pavlodar to a hospital in the southern city of Almaty, where he underwent a further operation.

      The 61-year-old Akhmedov's release from his five-year prison term came as a result of a pardon from President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Akhmedov always vigorously refuted the charges that he had "incited religious discord" by talking about his faith to young men sent by the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police. Forum 18 was unable to reach the KNB investigator who had launched the criminal case against Akhmedov. He has since been transferred from the city to the national KNB (see below).

      Forum 18 has been unable to find out if the authorities will lift the three-year post-sentence ban on Akhmedov conducting "ideological/preaching activity" or remove him from the list of "terrorists and extremists" whose bank accounts are frozen (see below).

      An official of Kyzylorda City Police's Investigation Department told Forum 18 that the criminal case on the same charges of "inciting religious discord" against New Life Protestant Church pastor Serik Bisembayev "will soon be closed down for absence of a crime". The criminal case was opened the day the police raided his New Life Church congregation in February (see below).

      Prosecutors are still investigating the criminal case on charges of "inciting religious discord or hatred" launched against the atheist blogger and human rights defender Aleksandr Kharlamov back in January 2013 (see below).

      The trial in the central city of Karaganda of three Muslims accused of membership of the banned Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat is due to resume on the morning of 6 April. The Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18 that police investigators have not yet handed over criminal cases against three more Muslims arrested with them in October 2017 (see below).

      Since December 2014, 63 alleged Tabligh Jamaat adherents (all of them Kazakh citizens) are known to have been given criminal convictions. Of these, 49 were given prison terms while 14 were given restricted freedom sentences (see F18News 5 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2359).

      Pardoned, further cancer operation

      Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience, pensioner and cancer-sufferer Teymur Sultan ogly Akhmedov (born 7 May 1956) was serving his sentence in a labour camp in the northern city of Pavlodar. As the authorities refused to heed United Nations (UN) appeals for his "immediate release" (see below), he lodged an appeal for pardon earlier in 2018 while insisting that he was not guilty of any offence.

      As Akhmedov's state of health worsened, he underwent surgery on 8 February. Doctors removed two tumours, one of which was malignant. On 12 February, doctors diagnosed sigmoid colon cancer. "The initial diagnosis by doctors in Pavlodar indicates that his cancer is transitioning from stage II to stage III, requiring urgent investigation and long-term treatment," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 in early March (see 5 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2359).

      In mid-March, the prison authorities decided to transfer Akhmedov to Almaty for further hospital treatment. As the train journey would take about five days the family offered to pay for him to be flown with any necessary guards. However, the prison authorities refused this offer and Akhmedov was transported by train, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

      Once in Almaty, Akhmedov was assigned to Almaty City Investigation Prison LA-155/1 and it was from this prison that he was formally freed, according to the 4 April release certificate signed by Prison Chief Azamat Iztleuov and seen by Forum 18.

      However, the authorities had already placed Akhmedov in a city cancer hospital. He underwent a further operation on 27 March and is now recuperating, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

      Akhmedov's wife Mafiza travelled down from their home in Astana to be with him in the Almaty hospital. Akhmedov was able to participate in hospital in the commemoration of the Memorial of Christ's Death, which Jehovah's Witnesses observed this year on 31 March, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

      President Nazarbayev signed Decree No. 656 on 2 April, pardoning Akhmedov and "releasing him from serving the rest of his punishment in the form of deprivation of liberty and expunging his criminal record". The Decree has not so far been published on the presidential website or on the database of legal acts, as of the end of the working day in Astana on 5 April.

      Forum 18 has been unable to find out if Akhmedov's three-year post-sentence ban on conducting "ideological/preaching activity" remains in force. Any bank accounts Akhmedov has remain frozen as his name still appears on the most recent list (issued on 3 April) of the Finance Ministry Financial Monitoring Committee List of individuals "connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism".

      Forum 18 has been unable to find out if the authorities have provided Akhmedov with "an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law" in line with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Opinion on Akhmedov's case (see below).

      Forum 18 was unable to reach Medet Duskaziyev, the KNB secret police Investigator who launched the criminal case against Akhmedov. The officer who answered his phone at the Astana City KNB on 5 April told Forum 18 that Duskaziyev has been transferred to a job in the central KNB secret police administration. The officer – who did not give his name – was unable to give Forum 18 a telephone number for him.

      KNB secret police entrapment, arrest, torture, jailing

      The KNB secret police arrested Akhmedov and another Jehovah's Witness in Astana in January 2017 for discussing their faith with others. Akhmedov was, as in other cases involving Muslim and Protestant prisoners of conscience, set up for prosecution by the KNB secret police using informers it recruited. These informers invited those prosecuted to meetings the KNB recorded in which they shared their beliefs.

      Akhmedov was sentenced in May 2017 to a five year jail term with a further three-year ban on conducting "ideological/preaching activity" (see F18News 3 May 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2277).

      The national cancer centre stated in early 2017 that Akhmedov needed to be hospitalised for an operation, so his jailing broke the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules). The judge claimed jailing was necessary to defend "a civilised society" (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252).

      Prisoner of conscience Akhmedov was also tortured in detention. However, in defiance of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment - and as in other cases involving Muslim prisoners of conscience - no officials have been arrested or tried for torturing prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion and belief (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).

      Akhmedov's lawyers were threatened with criminal trial for "revealing information from a pre-trial investigation". Their "crime" was to send copies of their legal appeal to President Nazarbayev and the Foreign Ministry (see F18News 3 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2269).

      But the criminal cases against the lawyers were dropped after prisoner of conscience Akhmedov was jailed (see F18News 22 September 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2317).

      Criminal Code Article 174

      Akhmedov, a retired bus driver, was convicted under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious discord, insult to the national honour and dignity or religious feelings of citizens, as well as propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens on grounds of their religion, class, national, generic or racial identity, committed publicly or with the use of mass media or information and communication networks, as well as by production or distribution of literature or other information media, promoting social, national, clan, racial, or religious discord").

      The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, the UN Human Rights Committee, and Kazakh human rights defenders have strongly criticised Article 174 and have repeatedly called for it to be reworded or abolished (see F18News 3 May 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2277).

      Five of the 24 people known to have been convicted in 2017 to punish them for exercising freedom of religion or belief were convicted under Criminal Code Article 174. Five were Muslims while two (including Akhmedov) were Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 5 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2359).

      UN calls in October 2017 for Akhmedov's "immediate" release

      On 2 October 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention publicly stated that Kazakhstan should release prisoner of conscience Akhmedov "immediately". The Working Group's Opinion (A/HRC/WGAD/2017/62) found that Kazakhstan contravened both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "The Working Group considers that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Akhmedov immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law".

      On 9 January 2018 the UN Human Rights Committee also called for interim measures "without delay" so that prisoner of conscience Akhmedov could receive adequate medical care. Yet Kazakhstan's Supreme Court and the government still refused to release him (see F18News 12 January 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2345).

      "Inciting religious discord" charges against Protestant Pastor to be dropped?

      An official of Kyzylorda City Police's Investigation Department told Forum 18 on 5 April that the criminal investigation against New Life Protestant Church pastor Serik Bisembayev "will soon be closed down for absence of a crime". He was being investigated on charges of "inciting religious discord" under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious discord").

      "No one is planning to imprison him," added the official, who would not give his name. He refused to discuss the case further, insisting that Bisembayev would be informed of the "legal decision" in writing. The official refused to say if the pastor, or any church members, would face prosecution under the Administrative Code. Nor would the official say if the books officers seized from Pastor Bisembayev had been returned.

      Police opened the criminal case against Pastor Bisembayev on 25 February, the same day officers raided his New Life Church congregation in the southern city of Kyzylorda. Officers of the Regional Police's Department for the Struggle with Extremism as well as the city police halted Sunday worship, filmed those present, and forced them to state why they attend. Teachers from a Special School for children with hearing difficulties questioned adult former students why they were present and insulted their faith (see F18News 26 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2364).

      Five-year criminal investigation continues

      Prosecutors in the northern town of Ridder in East Kazakhstan Region are still investigating the criminal case launched back in January 2013 against the atheist blogger and human rights defender Aleksandr Milentievich Kharlamov (born 2 July 1950). He is being investigated on charges of "inciting religious discord or hatred" under Article 164 of the old Criminal Code (equivalent to Article 174 of the current Criminal Code) for his writings on religion.

      Said Aimukhan, Ridder's Prosecutor who is leading the criminal case against Kharlamov, told Forum 18 on 5 April that the case is "being investigated". Asked why it is still being investigated more than five years after it was opened, Aimukhan put the phone down. Subsequent calls went unanswered.

      Prosecutors launched the case after claiming to have found insults to members of various faiths in his writings, claims he denied. As part of that case he spent from March to September 2013 in pre-trial detention, including a month in a psychiatric hospital (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).

      "They're refusing to close down the criminal case because I'd then have the right to take them to court for exceeding their powers," Kharlamov told Forum 18 from Ridder on 5 April. "Given my age, they're just spinning it out until I die." However, he said he was preparing to lodge a case to court within the month against the prosecutor's failure to bring the case to court or close it down.

      Kharlamov added that prosecutors have returned all the books seized from him. Although the court-imposed restrictions on his movement remain in force, they are not being applied. "But they could stop me from travelling abroad."

      Criminal trial underway

      After nearly six months' pre-trial detention, the criminal trial of three Muslims began under Judge Maulet Zhumagulov at October District Court in the central city of Karaganda on 12 March. Kazbek Asylkhanovich Laubayev (born 30 October 1978), Marat Amantayevich Konyrbayev (born 16 March 1981), and Taskali Nasipkaliyevich Naurzgaliyev (born 3 May 1981) are being tried on charges of membership of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat.

      Further hearings were held on 19 and 27 March. The trial is due to continue at 11 am on 6 April, according to court records.

      The three were among six Muslims arrested in a "special operation" in Karaganda in October 2017. The case was prepared by the KNB secret police and the ordinary police (see F18News 12 January 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2345). The other three Muslims detained with them are still being investigated (see below).

      Laubayev, Konyrbayev and Naurzgaliyev are being tried under Criminal Code Article 405, Part 1. This punishes "organising the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation after a court decision banning their activity or their liquidation in connection with extremism or terrorism they have carried out" with a fine or up to six years' imprisonment.

      At the initial hearing on 12 March, witnesses were questioned. They insisted the three Muslims did nothing wrong, Yelena Weber of Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service, who was present in court, noted the same day. The witnesses said all they did was "after Friday namaz [prayers] they gathered in a flat over a cup of tea and spoke about Allah".

      Yergen Yezhanov of October District Prosecutor's Office, who is leading the case in court, told the hearing that the three men participated in Tabligh Jamaat's activity before an Astana court banned the movement in 2013. They continued to do so knowing the movement had been banned, Yezhanov claimed, spreading the group's "ideology" in Karaganda Region and recruiting new members.

      Relatives of the three men, who are each married with several young children, rejected the accusations. One of Konyrbayev's sisters told Radio Free Europe that her brother always told them "Pray the namaz and fear Allah". "He acknowledges only that they gathered, drank tea, prayed and spoke about Allah," she insisted.

      "Before 2013 nothing like this happened," another sister told Radio Free Europe. "Everything was possible: praying the namaz, going to mosque, meeting together, drinking tea. Now the law is that no more than three can meet together."

      The relatives added that the three men did not have the money to pay for lawyers of their choice.

      Criminal cases not reached Prosecutor's Office

      Three other Muslims arrested in Karaganda in October 2017 together with Laubayev, Konyrbayev and Naurzgaliyev are still being investigated on criminal charges. "The three men's cases have not yet reached the Prosecutor's Office," an official of Karaganda's October District Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18 on 5 April. He refused to discuss the cases further.

      In early November 2017, October District Court ordered the three men to remain at home under restrictions as the criminal investigation against them under Criminal Code Article 405 continued. The court has periodically extended the restrictions (see F18News 12 January 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2345).

      Forum 18 understands that the three men have been questioned at the trial of Laubayev, Konyrbayev and Naurzgaliyev. (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2366
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      A court in Kazakhstan has acquitted a woman charged with illegal missionary activity after she showed another person how to download the Bible on a smartphone, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty reported.
      Dilobarkhon Sultanova was found not guilty by the South Kazakhstan Regional Court, in the city of Shymkent on March 13.
      Sultanova had been charged in January after she demonstrated to a woman she had met at the New Life Protestant church in December how to download the Bible on her smartphone. The woman later filed a complaint to the local police against Sultanova, accusing her of propagating Christianity illegally.
      Kazakhstan has a multi-ethnic population of almost 18 million, with a Muslim majority and a large Russian Orthodox minority.
      Despite the fact that freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution, there have been several cases where followers of religions that are considered 'nontraditional' have been given prison sentences after being charged with inciting discord or conducting illegal missionary activities.
      In January this year, Christian Today reported on how Christians, Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses have been subject to increasingly punitive restrictions on religious freedom in Kazakhstan, with the European Evangelical Alliance warning that the state is redoubling its crackdown on 'unauthorised' faith, prompting 'extreme concern' among religious locals.
      In 2017, the Kazakh state reportedly made 279 prosecutions targeting religious groups for crimes such as meeting for worship, sharing or importing religious literature in person or online, and praying in private settings.
      New amendments to Kazakh law are expected only to expand current restrictions, effectively barring any expression of religion not aligned with officially state-approved religious guidelines, according to Forum 18. This includes, for example, a ban on meeting for religious assembly in private such as for Bible study groups.
      https://www.christiantoday.com/article/kazakh-woman-found-not-guilty-after-being-charged-over-downloading-bible-on-her-phone/127603.htm
    • By Bible Speaks
      KAZAKHSTAN. Almaty chooses the best doctor of the year a JW! ~ ????
      In Almaty, the best doctor of the year was chosen according to the comments of the patients. The organizer was one of the online search services for doctors. Around 500 doctors participated in the competition.
      The ceremony took place on Monday January 15, 2018 the results of the largest number of positive patient votes, the main prize of "The best doctor 2017" received an endocrinologist Alexei Leonidovich Vakulenko.
      Among Alexey Vakulenko's patients there are not only adults, but also children over one year of age. Everyone talks about him as an attentive, professional and benevolent doctor.
      Alexey Vakulenko has been a Jehovah's Witness for more than 17 years. He explains: "I have noticed that many patients not only need medical attention, and human sympathy, the ability to listen and warm friendly support such a quality that is helping me to develop the study of the Bible, and I am glad that the application of biblical principles will help me do my job well and be a useful member of society. "
      https://www.newssail.kz/novost/v-almaty-vybrali-luchshego-vracha-goda#

    • By The Librarian
      Sinutko Charles - Bearing Up Under Persecution.mp3
       
       
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Six Sunni Muslims arrested in Karaganda are under criminal investigation for alleged membership of a Muslim missionary movement. Three of them are in pre-trial detention. All known criminal cases against conscientious objectors have been dropped.
      Six more Sunni Muslims were arrested in a "special operation" in the central city of Karaganda [Qaraghandy] on 30 October. All six are being investigated on criminal charges of participation in the activities of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat, which was banned in Kazakhstan in 2013.

      A court ordered that three of the accused be held in Investigation Prison. The other three had to sign statements that they would not leave the city. Police, National Security Committee (KNB) secret police, court and prison officials refused to identify the individuals or discuss the cases with Forum 18 (see below).

      Meanwhile, police investigators have dropped criminal cases against Jehovah's Witness young men for refusing military service on grounds of conscience. Investigators finally recognised the certificates issued by the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre in Almaty that the men were religious ministers and thus exempt from conscription (see below).

      23 criminal convictions in 2017 so far

      So far in 2017, 23 individuals are known to have been given criminal convictions to punish the exercise of freedom of religion or belief. Of these, 20 were Sunni Muslims, 2 Jehovah's Witnesses and 1 Baptist. Of the 23 (all of them men), 20 received prison terms and 3 received restricted freedom sentences, where they live at home under restrictions.

      The most recent known conviction was of Baptist Yuri Bekker. He was given a one-year restricted freedom sentence on 31 October in Akmola Region for refusing to pay earlier fines to punish him for exercising freedom of religion or belief (see F18News 3 November 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2331).

      Of the 20 convicted Muslims, 15 were accused of membership of the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary group, which was banned by an Astana court in 2013. Adherents often travel around the country encouraging other Muslims to greater piety (see F18News 28 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2162). The other five had all lived in Saudi Arabia for either work or study.

      Karaganda: Six arrests

      On 30 October, police arrested six Sunni Muslims in Karaganda's October District aged between 22 and 39 accused of membership of the banned missionary group Tabligh Jamaat. As part of its "special operation", police found and confiscated religious literature, "technical equipment", mobile phones and flashcards at their homes, police told the local media.

      "According to the expert analysis," the police declared, "the materials studied contained elements of recruitment and preparation of people to organise activity of the religious extremist organisation Tabligh Jamaat in the Region."

      An official of the Regional Police Anti-Extremism Department – who would not give his name – said the arrests had taken place in the city of Karaganda. He insisted to Forum 18 on 14 November that the police, not the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police had conducted the operation. He refused to give any other information and put the phone down. The press spokesperson for the Regional Police refused to give any information on the cases.

      Following the arrests, police went to court seeking pre-trial measures against the six. Judge Shyngys Ganiolla of Karaganda's October District Court ordered that three be held in Investigation Prison as the criminal case against them is being investigated, the Judge's assistant told Forum 18 from the court on 17 November. He refused to give the names of the three, or to say how long they can be held in pre-trial detention before prosecutors need to come back to court. The other three were ordered to sign statements not to leave their home town.

      The six Muslims are being investigation under Criminal Code Article 405, Part 2. This punishes "participation in the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation after a court decision banning their activity or their liquidation in connection with extremism or terrorism they have carried out" with a fine or up to two years' imprisonment.

      The Judge's assistant refused to tell Forum 18 who the Investigator in the case is. The head of the Regional Police's Investigation Department told Forum 18 on 17 November that it is not handling the case. An official of the Regional KNB secret police told Forum 18 the same day that "in the interests of the investigation it cannot give information".

      Nurlan Bikenov, head of the Regional Religious Affairs Department, said police did not consult his Department about the arrests and criminal cases. "I read about it in the official announcement through the media," he told Forum 18 from Karaganda on 15 November. "I can't say if there will be more arrests – this is a police matter."

      Asked whether adherents of Tabligh Jamaat had ever committed crimes of violence or terrorism in Karaganda Region, Bikenov responded: "We don't have such information." But he defended the arrests of the six. "If they were arrested there must be a reason."

      Pre-trial detention

      The three Muslims ordered held in pre-trial detention are in Karaganda's Investigation Prison (AK-159/1). However, an official of the Special Department of the Prison – who would not give her name - refused to give Forum 18 any information about the prisoners on 17 November, including on whether they are able to pray visibly and have religious literature of their choice.

      Many prisoners of conscience imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief have complained of being unable to pray visibly in prison or have religious literature. Other prisoners too have complained of these restrictions (see F18News 3 May 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2277).

      The United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules, A/C.3/70/L.3) require governments to respect the freedom of religion or belief and other human rights of prisoners – including those in pre-trial detention.

      The Investigation Prison address:

      Karagandinskaya Oblast

      g. Karaganda

      ul. Asfaltnaya 16

      Uchr. AK-159/1 (SI-16)

      Kazakhstan

      Financial blacklisting to follow?

      If eventually brought to trial and convicted, the six Sunni Muslims under criminal investigation in Karaganda are also likely to be added to the Finance Ministry Financial Monitoring Committee List of individuals "connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism".

      Almost all known prisoners of conscience convicted on "extremism"-related criminal charges have been added to this List, thus freezing any bank accounts they may have, without any additional due legal process. As individuals are not told when they are added to the List, they normally only find out they have been added when they or relatives attempt to withdraw money from their bank (see F18News 10 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2187).

      Eight Sunni Muslim prisoners of conscience are among those recently added to the financial blacklist: Rollan Arystanbekov, Zhumabai Nurpeyis, Nurlan Ibrayev, Kanat Shaigozhanov, Nuralim Tyupeyev, Ermek Akhmetov, Iliyan Raiymzhan and Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov. All were sentenced to prison terms between June and August to punish them for exercising freedom of religion or belief (see F18News 29 August 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2311).

      Conscientious objectors' criminal cases dropped

      All the six known criminal cases or investigations launched in 2017 against Jehovah's Witness young men for refusing compulsory military service have now been dropped. The six were being investigated under Criminal Code Article 387, Part 1. This punishes "refusing military service" with – for a first offence - a fine of up to 1,000 Monthly Financial Indicators, or corrective labour to the same value, or up to one year of restricted freedom or imprisonment.

      Military conscription offices had refused to accept the certificates that each of the six had from the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre in Almaty confirming that they were religious ministers. This should have ensured their exemption from military service (see F18News 22 September 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2317).

      Police investigators closed the criminal cases against five of the six "for absence of a crime" (Forum 18 has seen some of the police decisions). That of Abylai Kopzhasarov was closed on 8 May, Tlek Zhumagazinov in Oskemen on 30 July, Stanislav Stompel in Almaty on 31 August, Adilzhan Iskakov in Semei on 3 September, and Dmitry Vedyakin in Oskemen on 19 September.

      The Military Conscription Office in Tekeli, Almaty Region, does not appear to have sent the case of the sixth young Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Kaken Dostayev to the police, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 17 November.

      In the case of Zhumagazinov in Oskemen, officials of the city's Defence Department were given unspecified disciplinary measures after their conduct in the case was investigated, the Defence Ministry told Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service for a 23 October article. It said officials of the Department had sent his case to the police "without investigating all the circumstances".

      No civilian alternative to military service

      The government has ignored repeated recommendations from the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee that Kazakhstan "review its legislation" to recognise individuals' right to conscientious objection. An official of the government's Human Rights Commissioner's Office in Astana refused to explain to Forum 18 in September why Kazakhstan has failed to introduce an alternative civilian service (see F18News 22 September 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2317). (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2333
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      A Baptist has been given a criminal conviction for refusal to pay a fine for – as the Constitution allows - handing out religious literature on the street. And the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called for a prisoner of conscience's "immediate" release.
      On 31 October a Council of Churches Baptist, Yuri Bekker, was given a criminal conviction for refusal to pay a fine imposed in 2016 for handing out religious literature on the street. He was given a one-year suspended prison sentence, one year's restricted rights, and ordered to pay fines and a fee for a state "expert analysis" of his own Christian books. He also faces the theat of losing his home and of being jailed. Bekker told Forum 18 that he will not pay the fine as he was only exercising his constitutional rights and he did not ask the state to analyse his own books (see below).

      On 13 October Jehovah's Witnesses filed an appeal to the Supreme Court for the acquittal and release of prisoner of conscience Teymur Akhmedov, a cancer sufferer who was tortured and jailed in May for five years and banned for a further three years from conducting "ideological/preaching activity". The 61-year-old bus driver was accused of "inciting religious hatred" when he shared his beliefs with KNB secret police informers. The United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has publicly stated that Kazakhstan should "release Mr. Akhmedov immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law". A Supreme Court official refused to tell Forum 18 if this would happen (see below).

      First criminal conviction for failure to pay fine

      On 31 October a Council of Churches Baptist, Yuri Bekker, was given a criminal conviction for refusal to pay fines imposed in 2015 and later for handing out religious literature on the street. Judge Galiya Baktygulova of Zhaksy District Court in the northern Akmola Region imposed a one-year suspended prison sentence on Bekker under Criminal Code Article 430 Part 1. This bans failure to fulfil a court decision over a period of more than six months or interfering with such a decision, with a penalty of imprisonment or restricted rights for up to three years.

      The decision seen by Forum 18, gives Bekker until the end of 2017 to pay the fine and a fee for state "expert analysis" of the Christian books confiscated from him. He is also under one year's restricted rights, under which he "is obliged not to change his place of permanent residence and work without notifying the appropriate state organ, not to attend public places of entertainment, cafes, bars, and restaurants". Bekker is also "obliged to appear before the state probation organ to be registered within 10 days of the court decision entering into force."

      Prison?

      If Bekker does not comply, Judge Baktygulova's decision states that "the remaining part of the term will be replaced with deprivation of liberty (imprisonment) for the same period".

      Fined for exercising constitutional right

      Bekker told Forum 18 on 2 November that he did not pay the fines or the fee for state "expert analysis" as "I did not violate the law and I did not ask the state to carry out an ‘expert analysis' of my own Christian books".

      Yuri Rudenko of the Council of Churches Baptists pointed out to Forum 18 on 2 November that all Bekker did "was to come to the courts and explain to them that he will not pay the fines or the state fee as he only peacefully exercised his faith, which right is guaranteed by the Constitution".

      "He has to pay it"

      An official of Zhaksy Court's Chancellery, who refused to give her name, insisted to Forum 18 on 2 November that "Bekker has to pay the fine". Asked what measures the authorities will take if he does not pay the fine, she refused to answer, saying "he has to pay it by the end of this year". When Forum 18 repeated the question she raised her voice and shouted: "What do you want from us? You are not an interested party in the case". She then put the phone down.

      Rudeno of the Baptists noted that the sentence is the first Criminal Code Article 430 punishment imposed on Baptists for exercising their freedom of religion and belief. In June 2015 a similar case opened under Criminal Code Article 430 against Council of Churches Baptist Nikolai Novikov was dropped, after protests from around the world (see F18News 10 June 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2072).

      Convicted of distributing religious literature

      On 10 September 2015, police detained Bekker and a fellow Baptist from Akmola Region, for offering Christian literature to passers-by at the market in Arkalyk in the neighbouring Kostanai Region. In March 2016 both Baptists were fined 74,235 Tenge each, with each also having to pay half the cost of a September 2015 "expert analysis" of confiscated Christian literature – which was taken by police without the legally required confiscation record being provided. The literature was also ordered to be destroyed (see F18News 11 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2176). However, the destruction order was subsequently overturned and the liteature ordered to be returned to the Baptists (see F18News 13 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2177).

      Bekker refused to pay the fine and the "expert analysis" fee, but on 10 June 2016 was told by Zhaksy District Court Bailiffs to pay only the fee for the "expert analysis" of his books. Bekker refused to pay the fee, so on 10 November Zhaksy District Court fined him 21,210 Tenge under Administrative Code Article 669 ("Failure to fulfil a court decision"). Bekker refused to pay the fee so on 3 August his rights to his house in the village of Zaporozhye were frozen, and his house could be confiscated if he still does not pay the fee.village for refusing to pay the fines.

      Bekker was among four local Baptists brought to court in April 2014 for "illegal" religious literature distribution. However, they were acquitted as the Judge ruled that the prosecution had been brought too late (see F18News 17 June 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1970).

      Prisoner of conscience's Supreme Court appeal pending

      On 13 October Jehovah's Witnesses filed an appeal to the Supreme Court for the acquittal and release of prisoner of conscience Teymur Akhmedov. Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 3 November that the case is pending in the Supreme Court, which has not appointed a date for the hearing.

      An Supreme Court official from its Office of Supervisory Appeals, who refused to give her name, told Forum 18 on 3 November that no date had been set for the appeal, and refused to give more details. But she said that the Court has 30 working days from the day of acceptance (which she refused to give) to hear the appeal. 

      Prisoner of conscience Akhmedov was jailed on 2 May for five years and banned for a further three years from conducting "ideological/preaching activity". He denied National Security Committee (KNB) secret police charges of "inciting religious hatred" when he shared his beliefs with KNB informers. The 61-year-old bus driver was held in pre-trial detention from 18 January, where he was tortured with beatings. Officials have repeatedly refused to allow him to be treated in hospital for the cancer he is suffering from, and to read religious literature (see F18News 3 May 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2277).

      The KNB secret police brought criminal charges against Akhmedov's two lawyers for "revealing information from a pre-trial investigation", when they appealed to President Nursultan Nazarbayev for the case against their client to be halted (see F18 News 3 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2269). But the criminal cases against the lawyers were dropped after prisoner of conscience Akhmedov was jailed (see F18 News 22 September 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2317).

      UN Arbitrary Detention Working Group wants Akhmedov's "immediate" release

      On 2 October the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention publicly stated that Kazakhstan should release prisoner of conscience Akhmedov "immediately". The Working Group's Opinion (A/HRC/WGAD/2017/62) finds that Kazakhstan has contravened both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "The Working Group considers that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Akhmedov immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law" (see http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Detention/Opinions/Session79/A_HRC_WGAD_2017_62_EN.pdf).

      The Supreme Court official Forum 18 spoke to refused to say if the Court or the government will order Akhmedov's immediate release, compensation and reparation, as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention requires. 

      More restrictions on exercising freedom of religion and belief may reach Parliament in December. The latest October draft includes restrictions on parents' and childrens' freedom, more sharing belief restrictions, and more censorship. The draft ignores previous UN Human Rights Committee and OSCE legal recommendations (see F18News 10 October 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2324). END)
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Police took legal action against the organization for ignoring safety protocols for their building used in worship services.
      Jehovah's Witnesses in the capital of Almaty are now able to resume their activity after having won an appeal in the local court.
      The center in the spotlight continues to legally conduct administration and coordinate the...
      Read more: https://international.la-croix.com/news/besieged-jehovahs-witnesses-resume-work-in-kazakhstan/5656
    • By Outta Here
      Cant see this under Russian news yet:
      https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/LatestVideos/pub-jwb_201707_14_VIDEO
       
    • By The Librarian
      A court in Almaty, Kazakhstan, has suspended all activity of the Christian Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kazakhstan for three months.
      Source
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Felix Corley, Forum 18
      Sunni Muslim Nariman Seytzhanov was given five years' jail for "inciting religious hatred" by talking about schools of Islam to Kazakh pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. Satymzhan Azatov's trial on similar charges continues in Astana on 21 June. Five years' suspended sentence handed down in Almaty.
      The third of four Sunni Muslims who had studied their faith together at Medina Islamic University before returning to Kazakhstan has been sentenced. A court in Kokshetau in Akmola Region sentenced Nariman Seytzhanov on 9 June to five years' imprisonment for allegedly "inciting religious hatred" in talks he gave on Islam to pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. He denied the accusations.A court in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty sentenced another of the former Saudi students, Denis Korzhavin, on 11 May to five years' restricted freedom after he admitted his "guilt". Like the others, he was punished for allegedly "inciting religious hatred" under Criminal Code Article 174 (see below).The trial of the fourth, Satymzhan Azatov, on charges of "inciting religious hatred" is due to resume in the capital Astana on the morning of 21 June (see below).The first of the four to be sentenced was Kuanysh Bashpayev. He was sentenced under Criminal Code Article 174 to four and a half years' imprisonment on 7 April at the end of a closed trial in Pavlodar (see F18News 11 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2272). Bashpayev does not appear to have appealed against his sentence.A court in the southern Kyzylorda Region handed Salafi Muslim Kasimkhan Mukhanbetaskar a suspended sentence of two years and ten months for posting Islamic material on social media which prosecutors claimed "incited religious hatred". The court, prosecutors and investigators have refused to tell Forum 18 what the material was, so it is impossible to determine either whether freedom of religion or belief has been violated, or if the accused advocated the destruction of others' human rights (see below).Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience and cancer sufferer Teymur Akhmedov has lodged his appeal to Astana City Court against his five-year prison term (see below).A court in Oral (Uralsk) has extended the pre-trial detention of former Saudi-based Imam Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov as he awaits trial on charges of "inciting religious hatred" under Article 174 (see below).Atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov – under investigation in East Kazakhstan Region under Criminal Code Article 174 - has dismissed an "expert analysis" which claimed to find "incitement to religious hatred" in his writings. He has appealed to the Prosecutor for a new analysis (see below).Police in Oral have told a Jehovah's Witnesses that charges against him of "inciting religious hatred" under Criminal Code Article 174 have been dropped. He will be prosecuted under the Administrative Code (see below).Seventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov, imprisoned under Criminal Code Article 174, is due for release at the beginning of October. He has been encouraged in prison in Pavlodar by many letters he has received from fellow-Christians around the world (see below).More prisoners of conscience punished for exercising freedom of religion or belief have had their bank accounts frozen after being added to the financial blacklist (see below).Kokshetau: Seytzhanov's five year prison termAnother Sunni Muslim who studied his faith in Saudi Arabia has been imprisoned, this time in Akmola Region. On 9 June Judge Ilyas Kakim at Kokshetau City Court found 28-year-old Nariman Seytzhanov guilty under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). The Judge handed him a five-year prison term in an ordinary regime labour camp, the term the prosecutor had been demanding. He denied the charges.Seytzhanov was also ordered to pay a fee of 91,693.58 Tenge, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18. This is to cover the cost of "expert analyses", completed on 13 January and 14 March, of his three recorded lectures.Seytzhanov intends to appeal to Akmola Regional Court, a friend told Forum 18 on 15 June.Seytzhanov's closed trial began on 25 April. The verdict was handed down at a closed session and no other parties were allowed into the courtroom to hear it being read, one of Seytzhanov's friends told Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service the same day.Seytzhanov – who had studied his faith in Saudi Arabia – worked in a travel agency in Astana. He led a group of pilgrims on the umra pilgrimage to Mecca in October 2016. He was arrested by Kyrgyzstan's National Security Committee (NSC) secret police in January 2017. They handed him over to Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) secret police.Seytzhanov was formally arrested in Kazakhstan on 15 January. He has been held since his arrest in Kokshetau's Interior Ministry Investigation Prison No. 20 (see F18News 18 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2273).Prosecutors accused Seytzhanov of inciting religious hatred by "speaking negatively of mashabs [schools of Islamic thought]" on the basis of talks he gave while leading pilgrims on the umra pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in October 2016. Three audio-recordings were placed on the internet. Prosecutors alleged he had recorded them and made them public.However, Seytzhanov's lawyer Bakhyt Suleimenova denied this to Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service. She said he did not know who had made the recordings or uploaded them to the internet. "Nothing in these talks was against the law," Suleimanova told Radio Free Europe."He simply explained to people how to conduct the haj or umra pilgrimage, and explained in general the fundamentals of the religion so that all we Muslims and all people would be in unity," his friend told Radio Free Europe, "so that there would be no schisms, as in Syria or Ukraine where murders take place, that the people would not be divided." Seytzhanov also called on his listeners to respect the President "so that no one would go against the government" and obey imams.The Judge ordered the hearings closed allegedly to protect the identity of two witnesses who feared for their safety.Suleimanova questioned why the hearings needed to be closed. "According to the Criminal Procedure Code, this is for when there are sexual crimes, such as rapes.""Only Nariman's wife was able to attend the trial," a friend of Seytzhanov told Forum 18 on 15 June. "None of his other friends or relatives were allowed into the court building."Almaty: Korzhavin's five years' restricted freedomAn Almaty-based Sunni Muslim received a suspended sentence after admitting his "mistake". At a one-day trial on 11 May, Judge Nariman Begaliyev of the city's Almaly District Court found Denis Korzhavin guilty under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). The Judge handed him a five-year term of restricted freedom.Korzhavin was punished for lectures in Russian based on the Arabic-language Muslim book "The Three Fundamental Principles". This was banned in Kazakhstan in 2014. Recordings of the lectures were posted on the internet. "Experts" appointed by the prosecution claim to have found incitement to hatred in Korzhavin's lectures.In February 2014, Astana's Saryarka District Court found a book at least partly written by Salafi Muslim Mohammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab "extremist". The book - a Russian translation of the work "Explanation of the Three Fundamental Principles of Islam" – is 543 pages and was published in Cairo in 2008. Mohammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab helped found a precursor to the present-day kingdom of Saudi Arabia (see F18News 10 October 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2005).The comparatively mild sentence followed Korzhavin's admission of "guilt" in court and an agreement before the trial between Police Investigator Aleksei Chapurin and Dauren Sagindykov of the Prosecutor's Office on one side and Korzhavin and his lawyer Ruslan Dzhaniyev on the other.As part of the agreement, Korzhavin pledged to call publicly for peace and unity between religions and to ask people not to circulate copies of his lectures. He recorded such a video-message which was posted on the internet.Under the sentence, Korzhavin will need permission to leave Almaty or change his place of residence and will have to undergo educational work organised by the probation service, Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service noted on 11 May.Korzhavin, who is now 34 and married with four children, was freed in the courtroom. He had been held since his 18 February arrest in Almaty's Investigation Prison. Both he and his lawyer told Radio Free Europe that he would not be appealing against the sentence.Korzhavin – an ethnic Russian who converted to Islam - had studied his faith at Medina Islamic University in Saudi Arabia. He returned to Kazakhstan in 2011 (see F18News 18 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2273).Astana: Azatov's trial continuesThe trial in Astana of another of the former students from Medina Islamic University, 27-year-old Satymzhan Azatov, is due to continue at 11 am on 21 June, according to court records. His trial began under Judge Bolat Pazylov at Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 on 29 May.At the most recent hearing on 13 June, Azatov renounced his state-appointed lawyer. Instead he chose Baurzhan Azanov and Aiman Umirova to represent him."The trial is open, but it is taking place in a small courtroom that can accommodate only 15 spectators," a friend of Azatov told Forum 18 on 14 June. "Officials allow in some of his friends and relatives, then claim that the courtroom is full." Astana KNB opened a case against Azatov in late December 2016 under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). He had met with other Muslims in Astana without state permission. He was arrested on 4 January 2017 (see F18News 18 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2273).Azatov is accused of "inciting religious hatred" in his remarks to guests at a meeting in a cafe in Astana in September 2016 (of which the KNB secret police obtained a recording) and at a subsequent meeting in a home in the city.Azatov and Seytzhanov (who was also present at the cafe) were given administrative fines in November 2016 to punish them for the meeting (see F18News 6 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2253).The prosecution has again turned to Roza Akbarova to provide "expert analysis", including during the trial. She claimed that he had spoken negatively of Shia Muslims, stating that they had blown up a mosque.Akbarova provided analysis which helped convict Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov (see below) and Jehovah's Witness Teymur Akhmedov (see below).At an 8 June hearing, Azatov called for Judge Pazylov to be removed from the case, Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service noted the same day. Azatov described the trial as a "theatre show".Kyzylorda: Muslim sentenced – for what?Because of the secrecy surrounding cases of alleged "incitement to religious hatred" and the closure of many of the trials, many cases remain unknown. Even in cases which are known it can be impossible to establish if an individual has been punished for statements that do not call for harm to the human rights of others.One such is that of Salafi Muslim Kasimkhan Nabiuly Mukhanbetaskar (born 19 April 1992) in the southern Kyzylorda Region. The Police Anti-Extremism Department found in November 2016 that he had distributed audio-recordings on social media that incited religious hatred, according to a 19 April police statement, issued after he was sentenced. It described him as an "adherent of a destructive religious tendency".On 15 March 2017 Judge Kumisbai Kusekeyev of Kyzylorda Court No. 2 found Mukhanbetaskar guilty of violating Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). The Judge handed him a suspended sentence of two years and ten months, according to the police statement. He also ordered him to pay fees for "expert analyses" of 233,282 Tenge.Mukhanbetaskar appealed against his sentence. Judge Sabit Abdikanov of Kyzylorda Regional Court heard his appeal on 30 May, Court officials told Forum 18 on 2 June. They said the hearing was open, but that in addition to the Judge only Mukhanbetaskar, his lawyer Toktarbek Myrzambetov and the prosecutor were present.However, Court officials refused to say what decision the Judge handed down. Forum 18 was unable to reach Judge Abdikanov the same day. Forum 18 has also been unable to reach lawyer Myrzambetov.Askhat Mukhtarov of the Police Investigation Department led the case against Mukhanbetaskar. However, colleagues said he had been transferred to Zhalagash District. Officers there told Forum 18 on 2 June that he was ill. Yerkin Sagymbayev, deputy head of the Anti-Extremism Department of the Regional Police refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions on the case, citing the "secrecy of the investigation". Yerlan Zhamalbek of the Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18 that it cannot give information by telephone.Astana: Jehovah's Witness Akhmedov appealsOn 2 May Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 sentenced Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Teymur Akhmedov to five years' imprisonment on charges of "inciting religious hatred" under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2.Akhmedov was punished for discussing his faith with seven young men who were KNB secret police informers but claimed to be students. He was also banned from conducting "ideological/preaching activity in the area of religion" for three years after the end of his sentence (see F18News 3 May 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2277).Akhmedov, who is now 61, has been in prison since his 18 January arrest. Asaf Guliyev, arrested with him on the same charges, was sentenced to five years' restricted freedom on 24 February (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).Akhmedov's appeal against his sentence reached Astana City Court on 31 May, according to court records. No date has yet been set for a hearing.Oral: Abduzhabbarov's further month in pre-trial detentionIn early June Oral (Uralsk) City Court extended the pre-trial detention of Sunni Muslim Imam Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov for a further month, until 18 July, Saule Kaisarova, head of the Court chancellery, told Forum 18 from Oral on 14 June.The KNB secret police arrested 41-year-old Imam Abduzhabbarov, extradited from Saudi Arabia at Kazakhstan's request, as he arrived at Almaty Airport on 18 February. He was then transferred to Oral in West Kazakhstan Region (see F18News 21 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2259).A KNB secret police Investigator is investigating Abduzhabbarov under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord") and Criminal Code Article 256, Part 2.Article 256, Part 2 punishes: "Propaganda of terrorism or public calls to commit terrorism" - which includes the production, storage for distribution or distribution of [unspecified in the Article] specified materials - committed by an individual using a state or non-state official position, or with the use of the mass media or other communication networks, or with foreign support, or in a group". The punishment is seven to 12 years' imprisonment with confiscation of property.Ridder: Atheist writer Kharlamov appeals to ProsecutorOn 13 June, atheist writer and blogger Aleksandr Kharlamov wrote to the Prosecutor of East Kazakhstan Region where he lives, Bagban Taimbetov, asking for a new "expert analysis". He complains that "ignorant or unscrupulous experts" of the Regional Judicial Expert Analysis Institute had claimed to find "incitement of religious hatred" in his writings on religion."However, I live in a secular state and am not obliged to have a positive attitude to religions and speak positively about religions and religious people, all the more about religious people committing crimes against humanity and against the truth," he told Prosecutor Taimbetov in his letter seen by Forum 18.Kharlamov complained that the "experts" had "illegally distorted the essence of my publications". He stressed that as a human rights defender he calls on everyone to respect the human rights of "religious people of any religious confession".Police opened the second case against Kharlamov in autumn 2016 under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1. He has not been arrested but remains under travel restrictions in his home town of Ridder. The first criminal case against him on similar charges, opened in January 2013, has possibly been suspended but never closed (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).Oral: Jehovah's Witness investigated but to be punished administrativelyPolice in Oral told a local Jehovah's Witness on 12 April he was being investigated under Criminal Code Article 174, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. The criminal case was launched after the man gave "an interested person" a copy of the Jehovah's Witness publication "What Does the Bible Really Teach?"Police claimed the book is "extremist" as it has been banned in neighbouring Russia. No Jehovah's Witness publications are known to have been banned as "extremist" in Kazakhstan, although KNB secret police-appointed "experts" claim 16 of 90 Jehovah's Witness publications seized from Akhmedov in Astana at the time of his January arrest (see above) contain "extremist" passages.Police in Oral also questioned four other Jehovah's Witnesses in connection with the criminal case. They ordered an "expert analysis" of "What Does the Bible Really Teach?"Police later dropped the criminal case and the Jehovah's Witness is now being investigated under the Administrative Code.Criminal investigations under Article 174 are known to have been launched against Muslims, Council of Churches Baptists and commercial booksellers which were subsequently dropped. In all the known cases, individuals are then punished under the Administrative Code (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).Pavlodar: Kabduakasov in prison encouraged by lettersSeventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov – who failed in his attempts to seek early release – is due to complete his labour-camp sentence in early October, his pastor Andrei Teteryuk said. "Attempts were made to provoke incidents to use against him, but thank God they came to nothing," he told Forum 18 from Astana on 15 June.Kabduakasov was in December 2015 sentenced to two years in a labour camp under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1. He was punished for discussing his faith with students recruited by the KNB secret police in a KNB-rented flat (see F18News 29 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2136).Kabduakasov is serving his two-year prison sentence in a labour camp in the northern city of Pavlodar. "Yklas gains strong moral encouragement from letters from around the world which Christians are sending him every day!" Pastor Teteryuk added. "It is also a powerful testimony for the labour-camp administration."More prisoners of conscience on financial blacklistSeven Sunni Muslim men sentenced in Sairam in South Kazakhstan Region have been added to the Finance Ministry Financial Monitoring Committee List of individuals "connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism".All known prisoners of conscience convicted under Criminal Code Article 174 and Article 405 (involvement in the activity of a banned organisation) have been added to this List, thus freezing any bank accounts they may have, without any additional due legal process. As individuals are not told when they are added to the List, they normally only find out they have been added when they or relatives attempt to withdraw money from their bank (see F18News 10 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2187).The seven Muslims added to the financial blacklist on 19 May were Bakhytzhan Baimusayev, Abduvakhab Shakirov, Furkhat Abatayev, Abdivasit Abdirazakov, Murodzhon Abdullayev, Zhenisbek Manbetov and Meirambek Sarymsak.All seven were convicted for alleged membership of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat, which the Kazakh authorities banned in 2013. They were sentenced on 4 April under Criminal Code Article 405. All were given prison terms of between one and four years, plus a ban on unspecified activity once the prison terms are over (see F18News 3 May 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2277).Five Sunni Muslim former prisoners of conscience, all imprisoned under Criminal Code Article 405 to punish them for alleged membership of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat, have been removed from the financial blacklist: Rashid Erimbetov on 18 April; Ruslan Abirov on 28 April; Erbol Sharipov on 15 May; and Serik Seitzhaparov and Adi Bakyt on 2 June.Erimbetov, Abirov and Sharipov were among four Muslim men each sentenced in the southern Zhambyl Region in December 2015 to one year's restricted freedom. Seitzhaparov was sentenced in Akmola Region in February 2016 to two years' restricted freedom. Bakyt was sentenced in April 2015 in Aktobe Region to two years' restricted freedom (see F18News http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2223). (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2286
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Con la tecnología de Traductor de Google
        
      By Felix Corley, Forum 18
      An "anti-extremism" raid on a Kokshetau shop captured a Koran and other Muslim books. The seller was fined for selling religious materials without state permission. She will have to appeal if she wants to regain the books. Icon and book sellers are often fined.
      In an Anti-Extremism Police raid on a shop in Kokshetau in Kazakhstan's northern Akmola Region, officials seized an Arabic-language Koran and Muslim books in Kazakh and Russian on how to pray the namaz. The woman who had the books on sale was fined in early May, not for extremism-related activity but for selling Muslim literature without the state licence required to sell any religious literature and materials. She has to appeal if she wants the books returned, officials told Forum 18.A case against a Baptist in the nearby town of Stepnogorsk for offering Christian literature to others without state permission was dismissed because it had been lodged too late. Another Baptist is challenging the Judge due to hear his case (see below).In other cases in North Kazakhstan, West Kazakhstan and Kyzylorda Regions, individuals have been fined for offering or selling religious literature on the streets. In Karaganda Region two Jehovah's Witnesses were punished for "missionary activity" for talking to others about their faith with the use of literature. Two young Muslims were punished in Karaganda Region for sending Muslim texts on the Telegram messaging app. In Atyrau a court fined a woman for offering for sale nine Christian icons, while the same court fined a Muslim for teaching his faith with Muslim texts (see below).Officials often claim that those distributing or selling religious literature which has not undergone compulsory state religious censorship or in a place not approved to sell religious literature are guilty of spreading "extremism". Those who distribute non-approved Islamic texts are also often accused of distributing literature "of non-traditional Islam".The government allows only one Muslim organisation to function, the state-backed Muslim Board, which is Hanafi Sunni. It bans all other forms of Islam, although this ban is not prescribed in any law (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).Restrictions on who can sell religious literature and where has stopped online retailers from offering religious books, though confusion abounds as to what constitutes "religious literature" (see below).Reached on 22 May, acting head of the Religious Affairs Committee Bakhytzhan Kulekeyev declined to discuss the state-imposed religious censorship – or anything else – with Forum 18.In addition to seizing religious books, icons and other items being sold or distributed without state permission, officials often seek the banning of religious books and webpages as "extremist". State-appointed "experts" ruled that statements by German Lutheran Pastor and Nazi-era political prisoner Martin Niemöller – published 70 years ago – are "extremist". Prosecutors may lodge a banning suit to court (see forthcoming F18News article).Tight state censorshipAll religious literature is under tight state censorship. Only books and other items approved by the Religious Affairs Committee, which is part of the Religion and Civil Society Ministry in the capital Astana, are allowed to be sold, distributed, printed or imported. In addition, only registered religious organisations (on their own premises) and book sellers with a state licence are allowed to sell or distribute religious literature (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939)."Anti-extremism" legal changes which came into force in January restricted imports of religious literature for "personal use" to one copy of any one book (see F18News 5 January 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2243).Article 490, Part 1, Point 3 of the Administrative Code punishes: "Violating the requirements of the Religion Law for .. import, manufacturing, production, publication and/or distribution of religious literature and other religious materials, and items for religious use". The punishment for individuals is a fine of 50 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs).Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3 punishes: "Carrying out missionary activity without state registration (or re-registration), as well as the use by missionaries of religious literature, information materials with religious content or religious items without a positive assessment from a religious studies expert analysis, and spreading the teachings of a religious group which is not registered in Kazakhstan". The punishment is a fine of 100 MFIs, with deportation if the individual is a foreign citizen.A fine of 50 MFIs represents about a month's average wage for those in work.No religious books at online retailersThe requirement to have a state licence before a commercial book-seller can sell any religious literature means that online book retailers cannot sell religious literature. "Unfortunately we don't currently sell literature with religious themes," one Kazakhstan-based online retailer told Forum 18 from Almaty in late March. "Since the 2011 Religion Law came in, such literature can only be sold in specialised shops or through religious organisations."However, confusion surrounds what constitutes a "religious" book. Some online retailers still sell Leo Tolstoy's "Confession", in which the Russian novelist grappled with the meaning of human existence, or his "The Thoughts of Wise Men", a collection of sayings, including from the Christian Gospels, the Talmud and "Buddhist wisdom".Kokshetau: Selling "banned" religious literatureAnti-extremism police officer Y. Yergaliyev and Regional Religious Affairs Department Chief Specialist Galina Bessmertnaya raided a shop in a shopping centre in Kokshetau in Akmola Region on the afternoon of 7 February. The two had seen that religious literature was on sale.The officials seized all the religious books they could find: 57 copies of 14 different publications, according to the subsequent court decision. These included an Arabic-language Koran and Muslim books in Kazakh and Russian, among them several on how to pray the namaz.Officials sent the books to the Religion and Civil Society Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee in the capital Astana for "expert analysis". The Committee told Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department that the books were religious.On 31 March Bessmertnaya drew up a record of an offence against the seller of the books, Vera Yafyasova, under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1 for selling religious materials without the compulsory state approval.A 20 April Police statement on the case claimed that the Muslim literature Yafyasova had on sale was "banned" in Kazakhstan.A case was sent to Kokshetau Specialised Administrative Court. The hearing was repeatedly delayed because religious affairs official Bessmertnaya failed to come to court. On 5 May, Judge Serik Tuleyev found Yafyasova guilty and fined her 10 MFIs, 79,415 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. It said the fine had been reduced because she had admitted her guilt and expressed remorse in court and because of her "financial position". The court decision did not say whether or not the seized books were to be returned to her or not. Bessmertnaya defended the seizure of the Muslim books. "All was done in accordance with the law," she told Forum 18 from Kokshetau on 22 May. "Yafyasova can apply to get the books back – there must be an official document before they can be returned." She then put the phone down.The head of the Regional Religious Affairs Department, Bolat Kasenov, insisted to Forum 18 the same day that Yafyasova and others need state permission before they can sell any religious book or item. "We're not violating anyone's rights – just read the law."Kasenov said the books are currently at the court as they constituted evidence in the case.Stepnogorsk: Offering literature on streetsPolice stopped two Baptists, Valery Zhigalov and Ruslan Sadvakasov, on 28 January as they were offering Christian literature to passers-by on the street outside the Siberia shopping centre in the town of Stepnogorsk in Akmola Region. Officers seized all their literature, 136 copies of various books, claiming that religious literature can be distributed only in state-approved locations, Baptists complained to Forum 18. "The Christian library has run continuously for 27 years," Baptists explained to Forum 18 on 14 April.Police took the two men to the police station. They told them that they would send the books for "expert analysis".On 5 April, Bessmertnaya of Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department drew up records of an offence for each of the two Baptists under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3. The cases were then handed to Stepnogorsk Town Court on 10 April.Zhigalov's case was handed initially to Judge Gulmira Toleubayeva. However, he submitted a motion to have her replaced by another judge.On 17 May, Judge Aisulu Mamilyanova dismissed the case against Sadvakasov, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. Although she found that his unapproved distribution of religious literature had been illegal, she dismissed the case became the case had been submitted to court beyond the legal two-month deadline. The Judge did not say in her decision what should happen to the confiscated books.Bessmertnaya – who was present at Sadvakasov's hearing – would not discuss the cases with Forum 18.Ualikhanov: Offering literature on streetsOn 2 March, Ualikhanov District Court in North Kazakhstan Region punished a local Baptist, Roman Pugachev, for offering religious literature to others without state permission. Judge Serik Temirbekov found him guilty of violating Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3 and fined him 50 MFIs, 113,450 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The Judge also banned him from conducting unspecified activity for three monthsAt lunchtime on 18 January, police had stopped him in the village of Novotroitse as he was offering religious literature to passers-by. Police drew up a record of an offence on 27 January. Pugachev told the court that he had indeed been offering Christian literature which had been provided on the basis of donations by church members.Oral: Offering literature on streetsA Baptist from Oral (Uralsk) in West Kazakhstan Region was again punished for exercising freedom of religion or belief, this time for offering religious literature to others. On 6 February Judge Roza Sariyeva of Oral Specialised Administrative Court found Serkali Kumargaliyev of violating Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. She fined him 50 MFIs, 106,050 Tenge.Kumargaliyev did not attend the hearing, but in a statement denied that he had been on the streets of the town near the university on the afternoon of 7 December 2016 when police claim he was distributing religious literature without state permission.A student told the court that an "unknown man" had given him a Christian leaflet which his sister had then handed to the police. At the police station the student identified Kumargaliyev from photos of a number of men officers showed him. On 30 December 2016, police then drew up a record of an offence against Kumargaliyev.In his statement Kumargaliyev freely declared that he often does often Christian literature to others in public places, insisting that "praising God is the breath of his life", according to the court decision.However, Baptists insisted to Forum 18 on 11 March that Kumargaliyev made no written statement and had not been informed about the court hearing. They say he learnt of it only on 23 February, when the written court decision reached him.On 31 January Terekti District Court sentenced Kumargaliyev to three days' imprisonment under Administrative Code Article 669, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. He was punished for refusing to pay fines handed down in 2013 and 2014 for exercising freedom of religion or belief.On 5 February Kumargaliyev was again fined – this time by the police - for participating in an unregistered meeting for worship. Six fellow-Baptists were fined with him (see F18News 25 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2275).Kyzylorda: Selling literature on streetsKyzylorda Regional Anti-Extremism Police detained a 49-year-old local resident selling religious literature on the streets of Kyzylorda in a location not approved by the local authorities. Police claimed in a 28 April statement that the individual was of a "destructive religious movement", which they did not identify.A record of an offence was prepared and sent to Kyzylorda Specialised Administrative Court. The book-seller was fined 50 MFIs, according to the police statement. Neither the Court nor the Regional Religious Affairs Department would identify the individual.Police pointed out that the city of Kyzylorda has only three designated bookshops where religious literature and other items can legally be sold.Satpayev: Talking to others about faith, offering newspaperTwo Jehovah's Witnesses were punished in Satpayev in Karaganda Region for talking to a woman about their faith on 12 February without personal state registration as "missionaries" and distributing religious literature (a book and a magazine) which had not undergone the compulsory state religious censorship. The woman had called the police.On 17 February, police drew up a record of an offence against Karlygash Zholomanova and Fariza Iskakova under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3. The cases were then handed to Satpayev Town Court.On 27 February, Judge Zhaksybek Skakov found Zholomanova guilty and fined her 100 MFIs, 226,900 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. He ordered that the book and magazine be held in the case files.On 9 March, Judge Kanat Shaikamalov found Iskakova guilty and similarly fined her 100 MFIs, 226,900 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. He ordered that a DVD confiscated from her be held in the case files but that a book confiscated from her be returned once the decision entered into force.Judge Nadezhda Kuznetsova of Karaganda Regional Court rejected Zholomanova's appeal on 28 March and Iskakova's appeal on 6 April, according to the decisions seen by Forum 18.The same Judge Skakov had fined a local Pentecostal, Natalya Konopleva, on 2 November 2016. She had offered ten copies of a Christian newspaper "From the Source" (published by her congregation, Agape) on 1 October 2016 in the shop where she worked. The Judge found her guilty of violating Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1 and fined her 50 MFIs, 106,050 Tenge. He also ordered that the eight remaining copies of the newspaper be held in the case file, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.Judge Yerlan Yermekov of Karaganda Regional Court rejected Konopleva's appeal against her fine on 5 December 2016, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.Karaganda: Online Muslim materialsTwo young Muslims in Karaganda, Eldar Zhakayev and Nurlan Dukenbayev, were fined for posting Muslim materials on the Telegram messaging app. On 12 April, Serik Tlekbayev, head of the department of the Regional Religious Affairs Department that liaises with the police, drew up records of an offence against the two for distributing such materials without state permission. He also accused them of distributing materials which had not undergone the state censorship and which were not related to "traditional Islam".On 5 May, Judge Almagul Aikenova of Karaganda Inter-District Specialised Administrative Court found Zhakayev guilty of violating Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3. She fined him 50 MFIs, 113,450 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The decision does not identify the material he distributed, but states that it belonged to "non-traditional Islam".On 12 May the same Judge at the same Court found Dukenbayev guilty under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3. She fined him 70 MFIs, 158,830 Tenge, according to court records.A 16 May statement from the Internal Policy Department of Karaganda Regional Akimat (administration) accused the two men, "who profess non-traditional Islam", of "distributing extremist ideology" and conducting "illegal missionary activity".The telephone of Tlekbayev of the Regional Religious Affairs Department went unanswered or was switched off each time Forum 18 called on 22 May. His colleague Kaisar Akbarov told Forum 18 he was unable to explain by phone what constitutes "traditional Islam" or what law bans Islamic material which the state does not consider to be in line with "traditional Islam".Atyrau: Icons, Arabic-language materialsOn 1 February Judge Zhanat Khabarov of Atyrau's Specialised Administrative Court found Svetlana Tashieva guilty of violating Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3 for selling icons without state permission. He fined her 79,415 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. She was also banned from commercial activity for three months. The Judge ordered that the icons be returned to her.Meiram Kikimbayev, Chief Specialist of the Regional Religious Affairs Department, discovered Tashieva offering nine Christian icons for sale without state permission at her kiosk in an Atyrau shopping centre on 15 November 2016. He drew up a record of an offence against her on 23 January 2017.Icons were seized from a bookseller in Oral in October 2013 and he was fined for selling them and religious literature without a state licence. An official of the government's then Agency for Religious Affairs in Astana told Forum 18: "We have experts to check icons" (see F18News 8 January 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1913).Meanwhile, on 23 February at the same court, Judge Saniya Kenzhaliyeva punished Shirazidin Temirkululy under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3 for teaching Islam to children at a charitable centre in Atyrau on 27 December 2016. She fined him 100 MFIs, 226,900 Tenge. She also ordered that Arabic language Muslim books seized from him be returned, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.On 13 March, the Regional Court announced that Atyrau's Specialised Administrative Court fined an individual identified only as "T." 79,415 Tenge under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3 for selling Arabic-language Muslim materials in digital format at a stall in the city's Dina market. The Court also banned the individual from commercial activity for three months. Forum 18 has been unable to establish the identity of the individual punished."People must have state permission to sell icons and religious materials, including DVDs, in kiosks," Kikimbayev of the Regional Religious Affairs Department told Forum 18 from Atyrau on 24 March. (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2281
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      The central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is cracking down on religious minorities.
      60-year-old Teimur Akhmedov, a Jehovah's Witness, was found guilty of "inciting ethnic, social, religious, family and racial hatred in collusion with a group of other persons."
      Akhmedov was arrested in January and went on trial on April 6th.
      http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2017/may/jehovahs-witness-sentenced-to-prison-in-kazakhstan
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience, pensioner and cancer-sufferer Teymur Akhmedov was jailed in Astana on 2 May for five years and banned for a further three years from conducting "ideological/preaching activity". He denied KNB secret police charges of "inciting religious hatred" and will appeal.
      On 2 May a Judge in Kazakhstan's capital Astana sentenced Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Teymur Akhmedov to five years' imprisonment for discussing his faith with seven young men who were National Security Committee (KNB) secret police informers but claimed to be students. He was also banned from conducting "ideological/preaching activity in the area of religion" for three years after the end of his sentence, a court statement declared.

      Akhmedov rejected the charge of "inciting religious hatred" under Criminal Code Article 174 and will appeal. The Prosecutor had demanded a six year, eight month prison sentence.

      Akhmedov, a retired bus driver who marks his 61st birthday on 7 May, has been in pre-trial detention since 18 January, where he was tortured with beatings. Officials have repeatedly refused to allow him to be treated in hospital for the cancer he is suffering from (see below).

      The KNB secret police has already launched a criminal case against two of Akhmedov's lawyers for allegedly violating the secrecy of the case by appealing on their client's behalf to President Nursultan Nazarbayev (see below).

      KNB secret police Investigator Medet Duskaziyev – who launched the cases against Akhmedov and two of his lawyers - refused absolutely to discuss anything with Forum 18 on 3 May. He put the phone down as soon as it had introduced itself.

      Asaf Guliyev, arrested with Akhmedov on the same charges in January, was sentenced to five years' restricted freedom on 24 February in Astana for speaking with Akhmedov about their faith to KNB secret police agents pretending to be students (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).

      Five Sunni Muslims have faced criminal prosecution under the same charges of "inciting religious hatred" as Akhmedov and Guliyev after studying their faith in Saudi Arabia. Kuanysh Bashpayev was sentenced to four and a half years' imprisonment in Pavlodar on 7 April at the end of a closed trial. The closed trial of 27-year-old Nariman Seytzhanov began in Kokshetau in Akmola Region on 25 April. The case of Denis Korzhavin was handed to Almaty's Almaly District Court on 19 April. No trial date has been set. Satimzhan Azatov remains in pre-trial detention in Astana, while Imam Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov is in pre-trial detention in Oral (Uralsk) (see F18News 18 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2273).

      Seytzhanov's trial is due to resume on the morning of 11 May (see below).

      Azatov's case might be about to be handed for trial, as Prosecutors do not appear to have applied to extend his pre-trial detention, which expires on 4 May (see below).

      Prisoners – both in pre-trial detention and in labour camp – are often denied the right to exercise freedom of religion or belief. An official of Astana's Investigation Prison where Akhmedov is being held told Forum 18 bluntly that "religious literature is banned" (see below).

      Akhmedov: Five year prison term

      The KNB secret police alleged that between May and October 2016 Akhmedov and Guliyev insulted the faith of non-Jehovah's Witnesses as they spoke about their own faith in Astana to young men who turned out to be KNB agents, who secretly video-recorded their conversations. Both men were arrested in 18 January (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252).

      Teymur Sultan ogly Akhmedov (born 7 May 1956) went on trial at Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2 under Judge Talgat Syrlybayev with a preliminary hearing on 27 March. The full trial began on 6 April. In his final summing up, Prosecutor Baurzhan Kulmaganbetov demanded that Akhmedov be imprisoned for six years and eight months.

      On 2 May, at the end of the trial, Judge Syrlybayev found Akhmedov guilty of violating Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2. An Astana City Court statement the same day claimed Akhmedov had "in the presence of his followers spoken publicly and negatively in relation to representatives of Islam, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, propagandising the superiority of one religion over another".

      The Judge sentenced Akhmedov to five years' imprisonment in a general regime labour camp. The Judge also banned him from conducting "ideological/preaching activity in the area of religion" for three years after the end of his sentence, according to the Astana City Court statement.

      Bans on exercising freedom of religion or belief after an individual has completed a prison term have become a regular extra punishment. Muslim prisoner of conscience Saken Tulbayev he was sentenced in July 2015 to four years eight months' imprisonment. He was also banned from exercising freedom of religion or belief, including praying with others and reading the Koran, until the end of 2022 three years after his release (see F18News 8 July 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2078).

      Akhmedov is likely to be added to the Finance Ministry Financial Monitoring Committee List of individuals "connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism". All known prisoners of conscience convicted under Article 174 have been added to this List, thus freezing any bank accounts they may have, without any additional due legal process. As individuals are not told when they are added to the List, they normally only find out they have been added when they or relatives attempt to withdraw money from their bank (see F18News 10 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2187).

      Akhmedov: No release for cancer treatment

      Since Akhmedov's 18 January arrest, officials have repeatedly refused to release him from Investigation Prison to undergo hospital treatment for cancer. A report from the National Scientific Centre for Oncology and Transplantation (the national cancer centre) "recommends an operation and requests that Akhmedov undergo an examination before being hospitalised".

      Akhmedov's lawyer Kuznetsov told Forum 18 in early April that his client is suffering with two large tumours of the gastro-intestinal tract which are suspected of being cancerous. Akhmedov also told Kuznetsov he was tortured by being beaten in Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12. The duty officer, an official of the Special Department and the Deputy Head of the Investigation Prison separately claimed to Forum 18 in March that no one is beaten there and one accused Akhmedov of lying (see F18News 3 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2269).

      The detention of a cancer sufferer who needs to be hospitalised violates the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules, A/C.3/70/L.3) (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252).

      The head of Astana's Public Observers Commission, Ruslan Ozdoyev, visited Akhmedov in prison in late February. He told Forum 18 on 3 May that he had recommended that Akhmedov be immediately sent to hospital for full medical treatment. "I was angered – how can a person be put in pre-trial detention if they already have a condition needing full treatment?"

      An official of the Special Department of Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12, where Akhmedov is being held, refused to discuss his medical condition with Forum 18 on 3 May.

      Akhmedov: Proof "ignored"

      The seven young men who in 2016 invited Akhmedov and Guliyev to meetings at a rented flat, as well as at the two Jehovah's Witnesses' homes, claimed in court to be students of Astana's Eurasian University. They secretly filmed the meetings and passed the 17 discs of recordings to the KNB secret police.

      However, at the hearing on 13 April, at which the "chief witness" was questioned, everyone except for the Prosecutor and Akhmedov's lawyers were excluded from hearing the testimony. Even Akhmedov was excluded, Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service noted. The prosecution claimed the "chief witness" feared for his safety. The defence said it was he who had arranged the invitation to Akhmedov to speak to the young men.

      Fellow Jehovah's Witness Yevgeny Plachenta told Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service in the court room after the verdict was handed down that Jehovah's Witnesses were "angry and shocked" by it.

      "Proof put forward by the defence were all ignored, while the Prosecutor and court simply had the aim of convicting him," he complained. "These were simple religious conversations. He didn't do anything, didn't hit anyone, didn't incite anyone to commit violence."

      Criminal case against Akhmedov's lawyers

      On 16 March KNB secret police Major Duskaziyev opened a criminal case against two of Akhmedov's lawyers, Natalya Kononenko and Vitaly Kuznetsov (who is from Russia). He is seeking to punish them for appealing about their client's case to President Nursultan Nazarbayev and other state agencies.

      The two lawyers are being investigated under Criminal Code Article 423, which punishes: "Revealing information from a pre-trial investigation by an individual warned under the law of the inadmissibility of information being revealed without the permission of the prosecutor or person undertaking the pre-trial investigation". Punishments are fines of up to 2,000 Monthly Financial Indicators, or restricted freedom or imprisonment of up to two years.

      However, the first time the lawyers themselves knew they were facing a criminal case was when officials told them this during the preliminary hearing of Akhmedov's criminal trial on 27 March (see F18News 3 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2269).

      KNB Investigator Duskaziyev is also accusing Kuznetsov of putting pressure on Guliyev, who testified in Akhmedov's case. Kuznetsov and Akhmedov's son Parviz met Guliyev to discuss the case. Guliyev later wrote a complaint to Investigator Duskaziyev against Kuznetsov.

      Police have already summoned the two lawyers, Kononenko and Kuznetsov for questioning. The lawyers regard the criminal case against them as further pressure on Akhmedov.

      On 3 May Forum 18 was unable to reach police Investigator Ersain (last name unknown), who is investigating the case.

      Prisoners denied right to pray, have religious literature

      Many prisoners of conscience imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief have complained of being unable to pray visibly in prison or have religious literature. Other prisoners too have complained of these restrictions.

      The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules) require governments to respect the freedom of religion or belief and other human rights of prisoners – including those in pre-trial detention.

      Prison officials at Oral Investigation Prison refused to accept a copy of the Koran for pre-trial prisoner of conscience Imam Abduzhabbarov.

      The administration of Prison camp KA-168/2 in Aktobe refuses to allow Sunni Muslim prisoner of conscience Khalambakhi Khalym to pray visibly. He is allowed to read the Koran only once a week, when prisoners have a lesson on the Koran from an imam of the state-backed Muslim Board, the only Muslim community the government allows to function in the country (see F18News 18 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2273).

      Political prisoner Amin Eleusinov, on trial in Astana for his trade union activities, has – like Akhmedov – been held in Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12. He has been denied the right to pray the namaz in prison, his daughter Milana Eleusinova told Svetlana Glushkova of Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service on 26 April. Family members were also not allowed to hand in religious literature for him or a pair of ordinary galoshes, because the prison authorities regarded these as "religious" footwear.

      The Special Department official at Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12, who did not give her name, told Forum 18 bluntly on 3 May: "Religious literature is banned." She refused to explain why or discuss any other restrictions on detainees' rights to freedom of religion or belief.

      Seytzhanov: Trial continues

      In Akmola Region, the closed trial of Muslim prisoner of conscience Nariman Kabdyrakhmanovich Seytzhanov (born 2 May 1989) under Judge Ilyas Kakim continues at Kokshetau City Court. He is on trial under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). A further hearing was held today (3 May), with the next due at 10.00 am on 11 May, according to court records.

      Judge Kakim was not available each time Forum 18 called on 3 May. It was therefore unable to find out why he has declared the trial closed.

      Seytzhanov – who had studied his faith in Saudi Arabia – was arrested on 15 January. He has been held since his arrest in Kokshetau's Interior Ministry Investigation Prison No. 20 (see F18News 18 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2273).

      Azatov: Trial imminent?

      In Astana, the trial of Muslim prisoner of conscience Satimzhan Bagytzhanuli Azatov (born 17 September 1989) might be imminent. The latest approval to hold him in pre-trial detention – approved by Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 - expires on 4 May. As of the afternoon of 3 May, Prosecutors had submitted no suit to court to have the pre-trial detention extended. Nor had they submitted the case to court for trial, Astana City Court told Forum 18.

      Azatov remains in the city's KNB secret police Investigation Prison. Astana KNB opened a criminal case against him in late December 2016 under Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). He had met with other Muslims in Astana without state permission. Arrested on 4 January 2017, he remains under investigation (see F18News 6 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2253).

      KNB secret police investigator Senior Lieutenant Nurlan Belesov initiated and investigated the case against Azatov. His telephones went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 3 May.

      Broadly-framed Criminal Code Article 174

      Criminal Code Article 174 punishes: "Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord, insult to the national honour and dignity or religious feelings of citizens, as well as propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens on grounds of their religion, class, national, generic or racial identity, committed publicly or with the use of mass media or information and communication networks, as well as by production or distribution of literature or other information media, promoting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord".

      Article 174, Part 2, which Akhmedov and Guliyev were sentenced under, punishes these actions "committed by a group of persons, a group with prior planning, repeatedly, with violence or threat of violence, or by an official, or by the leader of a public association". If convicted they face five to 10 years' imprisonment, "with deprivation of the right to hold specified positions or to engage in specified activity for up to three years".

      All the cases have either been brought by or have the close involvement of the KNB secret police. Secrecy surrounds many of these cases. Lawyers are forced not to reveal information on the cases, hearings are often closed to observers, and prosecution and court officials often refuse to answer questions (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).

      The then United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai, as well as the UN Human Rights Committee and Kazakh human rights defenders have strongly criticised the broad and unclear formulation of Article 174 and other laws, as well as the prosecution of a wide range of individuals under Article 174 (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2277
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Astana, May 2, Interfax - Court No. 2 of Astana's Saryarka District has convicted Jehovah's Witnesses preacher Teimur Akhmedov of "inciting ethnic, social, religious, family and racial hatred in collusion with a group of other persons" and has sentenced him to five years in a medium-security penitentiary, the court's press service said.

      The court also banned Akhmedov from performing any religious ideological and preaching activities for three years, it said.

      According to the case files, in 2016 Akhmedov and his accomplice, Asaf Guliyev, "organized religious gatherings involving the capital's residents recently recruited into the community at different apartments in the city of Astana."

      During such meetings, in the presence of their followers, the two men publicly spoke negatively about representatives of Islam, Catholicism and Orthodoxy and said that one religion was superior to another.

      During a trial in February 2017, Guliyev pleaded guilty to all charges, publicly repented and, given the mitigating circumstances, was given a five-year prison term.
      http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=13750
    • 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.”
      https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/russia/supreme-court-begins-case-against-jehovahs-witnesses/
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Teimur Akhmedov (left), in the defendant's cage, and his lawyers in an Astana courtroom on March 27.
      ASTANA -- The trial of a Jehovah's Witness charged with inciting interethnic enmity has begun in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.
      The court on April 6 began hearing the case of Teimur Akhmedov, 60, who was arrested in January for what the Committee for National Security (KNB) described as propagating ideas that "disrupt interreligious and interethnic concord" in the country.
      The U.S. Embassy in Astana has sent a representative to monitor the case.
      Likewise, Diana Okremova, the director of the local Media Law Center NGO, attended, as well as relatives of the defendant and local Jehovah's Witnesses.
      An RFE/RL correspondent was the only journalist present at the trial, and the judge allowed her to make written notes.
      Akhmedov, who is undergoing cancer treatment, pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing on March 27.
      If convicted, Akhmedov faces up to 10 years in prison.
      http://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan-jehovahs-witness-trial-/28414799.html
    • By Kurt
      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)
       
      Vasily Kalin
      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
       
       
    • By TrueTomHarley
      “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.
    • By Kurt
      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.
      theguardian
       

      Russia: alleged "missionary activity" prosecutions continue
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Jehovah's Witness Asaf Guliyev was given five years' restricted freedom on 24 February. Fellow Jehovah's Witness Teymur Akhmedov, a cancer sufferer, is in pre-trial detention and states he was tortured. Guliyev's conviction is one of an increasing number of Criminal Code Article 174 cases.
      Of two Jehovah's Witnesses arrested in January in Kazakhstan's capital Astana for "inciting religious hatred or discord" for talking to National Security Committee (KNB) secret police agents about their faith, one has already been punished. Asaf Guliyev was given a five-year restricted freedom sentence on 24 February.

      Still in pre-trial detention is 60-year-old fellow Jehovah's Witness Teymur Akhmedov, who suffers from cancer and who told his lawyer he was tortured by being beaten in prison. He is also denied hospitalisation, violating the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules). Akhmedov was also given tablets which made him feel much worse, but it is unclear if this was deliberately intended (see below).

      Guliyev's conviction brings to five the number of individuals known to have been convicted since the beginning of 2015 under the broadly-framed Criminal Code Article 174 for exercising freedom of religion or belief. The closed trial of another person is already underway in Pavlodar, with five further cases under investigation. The number of prosecutions appears to be growing (see below and full list at base of article).

      Secrecy surrounds many of these prosecutions. Lawyers are forced not to reveal information on the cases, hearings are often closed to observers, and prosecution and court officials often refuse to answer questions (see below).

      All the cases have either been brought by or have the close involvement of the KNB secret police.

      Criminal Code Article 174

      Criminal Code Article 174 bans: "Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord, insult to the national honour and dignity or religious feelings of citizens, as well as propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens on grounds of their religion, class, national, generic or racial identity, committed publicly or with the use of mass media or information and communication networks, as well as by production or distribution of literature or other information media, promoting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord".

      Part 1 bans these actions committed by individuals. If convicted, they face two to seven years imprisonment, or two to seven years restricted freedom. Typically, during sentences of restricted freedom individuals live at home, but are not able to leave their town or city without seeking permission. They are often also banned from visiting restaurants, cafes or places of public entertainment.

      Part 2 bans these actions "committed by a group of persons, a group with prior planning, repeatedly, with violence or threat of violence, or by an official, or by the leader of a public association". If convicted they face five to 10 years imprisonment, "with deprivation of the right to hold specified positions or to engage in specified activity for up to three years".

      Human rights defenders and opposition political activists are also frequent victims of Article 174 (see eg. http://www.nhc.no/no/nyheter/NHC+condemns+harsh+sentence+given+to+peaceful+activists.b7C_wlDG1O.ips).

      All known prisoners of conscience convicted under Criminal Code Article 174 have been added to the Finance Ministry Financial Monitoring Committee List of individuals "connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism", thus freezing any bank accounts they may have, without any additional due legal process. As individuals are not told when they are added to the List, they normally only find out they have been added when they or relatives attempt to withdraw money from their account (see F18News 10 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2187).

      The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai, as well as the UN Human Rights Committee and Kazakh human rights defenders have strongly criticised the broad and unclear formulation of Article 174 and other laws, as well as the prosecution of a wide range of individuals under Article 174 (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252).

      Prosecutions increasing

      The number of prosecutions under Criminal Code Article 174 to punish individuals for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief appears to be increasing. Since the new Criminal Code came into force on 1 January 2015, Article 174 criminal cases are known to have been launched or to have been underway against 19 individuals in 20 cases (see full list below, compiled from court records and other information).

      Of these 20 known cases: five have ended in convictions (3 Muslims, 1 Jehovah's Witness, 1 Seventh-day Adventist); one trial is currently underway (Muslim); and five cases are still being investigated (2 Muslim, 1 Jehovah's Witness, while atheist Aleksandr Kharlamov is facing two investigations – see list below). In nine known cases, Article 174 cases were launched but were then closed down, with the individuals instead fined under the Administrative Code.

      Article 174 replaced the identically worded Article 164 of the old Criminal Code (see F18News 9 July 2014 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1976). Kharlamov, as well as other individuals, were prosecuted under the old Article 164. He still may be prosecuted under the Article 164 investigation (see F18News 17 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2258). But overall, the number of pre-January 2015 Article 164 freedom of religion or belief prosecutions was lower.

      Secrecy, closed hearings, lawyers banned from speaking

      The authorities appear determined to keep publicity of the Article 174 cases to a minimum. Investigators and courts have often refused to give Forum 18 any information about the cases, even simple factual information.

      Lawyers in at least some of the cases have been forced to sign statements that they will not violate the "secrecy of the investigation", people close to several cases have told Forum 18.

      When cases come to court, at least some are held in closed hearings, as is happening in Pavlodar in the case of the Muslim Kuanysh Bashpayev (see below). Human rights defenders and observers have been denied entry to hearings.

      Bashpayev on trial

      The criminal case in the north-eastern city of Pavlodar against Kuanysh Bashpayev, a Muslim, was handed to Pavlodar City Court on 2 February, the day before his 30th birthday. It was assigned to Court Chair Judge Kayirbek Yelemesov. The trial under Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord") began with an initial hearing on 14 February. The first full hearing was held on 6 March and the trial is due to resume on the afternoon of 13 March, according to court records.

      The KNB secret police arrested Bashpayev in Pavlodar on 13 October 2016 after he criticised the state-controlled Muslim Board. Colonel Bekezhan Kalkomanov of Pavlodar KNB claimed to Forum 18 in January that Bashpayev had "insulted the religious feelings of Kazakhstan's traditional Muslims". Bashpayev allegedly said "it is not right for Kazakh Muslims to visit graves and pray for their deceased relatives, which he thinks is idolatry". He "also spoke against the official representatives of Islam in Kazakhstan, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan [the Muslim Board], by which he tried to sow discord among the Muslims", Colonel Kalkomanov added (see F18News 6 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2253).

      "The case against Bashpayev is completely fabricated," one individual familiar with the case told Forum 18 on 7 March 2017. "It is entirely unfounded. The witnesses give confusing testimony and don't seem to know what to say."

      Bashpayev's closed trial

      Judge Yelemesov closed Bashpayev's trial to observers and human rights defenders. Several sources told Forum 18 this was a response to a request by the alleged "victim" of Bashpayev's activity, the prominent Almaty Muslim Board imam Ersin Amire.

      Forum 18 made repeated attempts to reach Judge Yelemesov on 6 and 7 March to find out why he had declared the trial closed. However, the telephone went unanswered each time.

      The acting head of the Pavlodar branch of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Ruslan Issenov, had been intending to observe Bashpayev's trial. "The Judge read my appeal to be allowed into the trial and rejected it," Issenov told Forum 18 from Pavlodar on 7 March. "I asked for a copy of the ruling declaring the trial closed, but he replied that a ruling is an internal document and cannot be handed out."

      Guliyev sentenced

      The KNB secret police arrested two Jehovah's Witnesses, the 43-year-old Asaf Guliyev and Teymur Akhmedov, on 18 January after launching a criminal case against them under Article 174, Part 2 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). The KNB allege that between May and October 2016 the two men insulted the faith of non-Jehovah's Witnesses as they spoke about their own faith to young men who turned out to be KNB agents, who secretly video-record their conversations (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252).

      The KNB told Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service on 13 February that in searches at the two men's homes and at the religious community's temporary address, officers then confiscated copies of 18 different books. The books were "earlier not recommended for import into or distribution in Kazakhstan on the basis of a religious-studies expert conclusion by the Religious Affairs Committee", it added.

      KNB investigators separated the case against the two men, Guliyev and Akhmedov, apparently in February.

      Prosecutors sent the case against Guliyev to Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 on 16 February, according to court records. On 24 February, Judge Bolat Pazylov found him guilty under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2. The Judge handed down a sentence of five years' restricted freedom.

      In deciding not to imprison Guliyev, the Judge took into account his "full recognition of his guilt and pure-hearted repentance", newtimes.kz noted on 28 February. Guliyev was defended in court by a government lawyer, Forum 18 learned.

      Cancer sufferer Akhmedov awaiting trial, tortured

      The KNB secret police in Astana is continuing to investigate fellow Jehovah's Witness Akhmedov under Article 174, Part 2 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). He remains in Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12. Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 told Forum 18 no case against Akhmedov has yet reached the court.

      Akhmedov told his lawyer Vitaly Kuznetsov that following his 18 January arrest he was tortured by being beaten in the Investigation Prison, as Investigators tried to force him to admit his "guilt", the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law noted on 3 March. However, Akhmedov continues to insist he is innocent of any wrongdoing, it added.

      The head of Astana's Public Observers Commission, Ruslan Odoyev, visited Akhmedov in prison in late February. Odoyev expressed serious concern about whether Akhmedov would survive his imprisonment, in view of his cancer and the poor and overcrowded prison conditions. (The Public Observers Commission is a body set up by the state to inspect prisons, and consists of civil society activists.)

      Akhmedov "barely spoke and, when he did speak about his condition, tears began to flow", Odoyev told Svetlana Glushkova of Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service on 28 February.

      Akhmedov told Odoyev of his anaemia and cancer. He complained of tablets he was given which he said "made him feel even worse", Odoyev noted. It is unclear if this was deliberately intended. "He can hardly walk." Odoyev said the question had been raised with prosecutors that in such conditions an individual should be transferred to house arrest or some other form of restriction.

      Akhmedov denied hospitalisation

      On 20 January Akhmedov was ordered to be held in two months pre-trial detention, even though a report from the National Scientific Center for Oncology and Transplantation (the national cancer centre) "recommends an operation and requests that Akhmedov undergo an examination before being hospitalised". The pre-trial detention of a cancer sufferer who needs to be hospitalised violates the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules) (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252).

      Article 14, Part 7 of the Criminal Procedural Code stipulates that detention of criminal suspects "must occur in conditions excluding a threat to their life and health".

      Akhmedov "lying because no one is beaten here"

      At Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12 where Akhmedov is being held, the duty officer, an official of the Special Department and the Deputy Head of the Investigation Prison separately claimed to Forum 18 on 7 March that no one is beaten there. The Head of the Prison, Murat Uralbayev, was not present when Forum 18 called.

      "People can lie," the Special Department official told Forum 18. Akhmedov "is lying because no one is beaten here".

      The three Investigation Prison officials – none of whom would give their names - also insisted that Akhmedov is being given all necessary medical treatment in the Prison. "If he was ill he wouldn't be here," the duty officer told Forum 18. "Of course he is not dying," the Special Department official said. "If it is needed he would be taken at once to the city hospital."

      The Deputy Head – who repeatedly refused to give his name – told Forum 18 that prison warders had once taken Akhmedov to the city hospital, where he was examined by a doctor. The Deputy Head added that Akhmedov's son regularly brings prescriptions.

      The Deputy Head insisted that "of course Akhmedov can pray" in prison. Asked if he can have religious literature of his choice, the Deputy Head responded: "We have a prison library he can use, which has a wide-range of religious literature, including the Koran and the Bible." He then declined to discuss anything further.

      Muslim prisoners of conscience have stated that their human rights are violated in prison, including by being banned from reading the Koran and other religious books (see eg. F18News 9 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2156).

      Azatov awaiting trial

      Also in Astana, 27-year-old Muslim prisoner of conscience Satimzhan Azatov remains in the city's KNB Investigation Prison. Arrested in early January, he is under investigation under Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). He had met with other Muslims in Astana without state permission (see F18News 6 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2253).

      Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 first put Azatov in two-months' pre-trial detention on 6 January. On 27 February, Judge Elizaveta Atchibayeva at the same Court extended this pre-trial detention for a further two months, Court officials told Forum 18.

      Abduzhabbarov awaiting trial

      The KNB secret police arrested 41-year-old Imam Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov, extradited from Saudi Arabia at Kazakhstan's request, as he arrived at Almaty Airport on 18 February. He was then transferred to Oral in West Kazakhstan Region (see F18News 21 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2259).

      KNB secret police Investigator Daniyar Ashim is investigating Abduzhabbarov under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord") and Criminal Code Article 256, Part 2.

      Article 256, Part 2 bans: "Propaganda of terrorism or public calls to commit terrorism" - which includes the production, storage for distribution or distribution of [unspecified in the Article] specified materials - committed by an individual using a state or non-state official position, or with the use of the mass media or other communication networks, or with foreign support, or in a group". The punishment is seven to 12 years' imprisonment with confiscation of property.

      On 22 February Judge Slukhanym Kadraliyeva of Oral City Court acceded to the request of KNB secret police Investigator Ashim to have Abduzhabbarov held in two months' pre-trial detention, Saule Kaisarova, head of the Court chancellery, told Forum 18 from Oral on 7 March. Abduzhabbarov was brought to court under convoy and was present for the hearing, she added. She said she had not seen him and was unable to comment on his condition.

      Given that such court orders must be adopted within 72 hours of an individual's arrest and given that Abduzhabbarov was arrested on the evening of 18 February, Forum 18 was unable to establish why no court decision had been adopted by the evening of 21 February.

      Kaisarova, however, insisted that no violation of the deadline for gaining court approval for Abduzhabbarov's arrest had occurred. "The court last year adopted a decision in absentia to hold him in pre-trial detention," she told Forum 18. She did not give any further details.

      What did others convicted do?

      Official secrecy surrounding Criminal Code Article 174 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord") cases often makes it impossible to determine either whether freedom of religion or belief has been violated, or if the accused advocated the destruction of others' human rights.

      For example, on 31 May 2016, in a case initiated by the KNB secret police, Judge Esen Ustelbayev of Almaty Region's Zhambyl District Court found 47-year-old ethnic Uyghur Muslim Farida Kolesnyuk guilty under Article 174, Part 1. As she admitted her guilt, he sentenced her to three years' restricted freedom, according to court records. She lives at home and can attend mosque, but must be home each night and cannot leave her town without permission.

      An official of the court familiar with the verdict claimed to Forum 18 on 6 March 2017 that Kolesnyuk had gathered a group of fellow Muslims and expounded her ideas about Islam. Among the material she allegedly used were recordings of sermons by Muslim preachers, including the Russian convert Said Buryatsky, who fought with the North Caucasian insurgency. It is unclear whether Kolesnyuk herself advocated the destruction of other people's human rights or not.

      Criminal Code Article 174 prosecutions for freedom of religion or belief

      The people listed below (with the most recent at the top) are all those known to have faced charges under Criminal Code Article 174 to punish them for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Article 174 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord") of the current Criminal Code came into force at the beginning of 2015, and replaced the identically-worded Article 164 of the old Criminal Code.

      More information on all the cases listed below is in previous Forum 18 articles.

      - Under investigation on one Article 174 charge

      1.) Abdukhalil Abdukhamidovich Abduzhabbarov; born 6 April 1975; Muslim; arrested Almaty 18 February 2017; Article 174, Part 1, Article 256, Part 2; Oral Investigation Prison.

      2.) Teymur Sultan ogly Akhmedov; born 7 May 1956; Jehovah's Witness; arrested Astana 18 January 2017; Article 174, Part 2; Astana Interior Ministry Investigation Prison.

      3.) Satimzhan Bagytzhanuli Azatov; born 17 September 1989; Muslim; arrested Astana early January 2017; Article 174, Part 1; Astana KNB Investigation Prison.

      - Under investigation on two Article 174 charges

      4.) Aleksandr Milentievich Kharlamov; born 2 July 1950; atheist.

      First case opened January 2013 (possibly suspended but never closed) under old Article 164, Part 1 (equivalent to new Article 174, Part 1); under travel restrictions in Ridder.

      Second case opened autumn 2016; Article 174, Part 1; under travel restrictions in Ridder.

      - On trial

      5.) Kuanysh Ablayevich Bashpayev; born 3 February 1987; Muslim; arrested Pavlodar 13 October 2016; Article 174, Part 1; trial began 14 February 2017 Pavlodar City Court No. 2; Pavlodar City Police Investigation Prison.

      - Convicted

      6.) Asaf Gadzhiaga ogly Guliyev; born 4 October 1973; Jehovah's Witness; Article 174, Part 2; sentenced 24 February 2017 Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2; five years' restricted freedom.

      7.) Rustam Imenzhanovich Musayev; born 17 April 1985; Muslim; Article 174, Part 1; sentenced 1 June 2016 Karasai District Court; two years' imprisonment.

      8.) Khalambakhi Khalym; born 12 August 1984; Muslim; sentenced 18 February 2016 Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2; Article 405, Part 2, Article 174, Part 1; 2 and a half years' imprisonment.

      9.) Yklas Kairullinovich Kabduakasov; born 19 February 1961; Seventh-day Adventist; Article 174, Part 1 (though initial investigation under Article 174, Part 2); sentenced 28 December 2015 Astana City Court; two years' imprisonment.

      10.) Saken Peisenovich Tulbayev; born 16 June 1969; Muslim; sentenced 2 July 2015 Almaty's Bostandyk Court No. 2; Article 174, Part 1 and Article 405, Part 2; 4 years 8 months' imprisonment and banned from exercising freedom of religion or belief until the end of 2022, three years after his release.

      - Investigated but charges dropped

      11.) Erlan Amanzholovich Aubakirov; born 22 March 1981; Muslim; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 31 May 2016, fined under Administrative Code.

      12.) Alisher Erkinbayevich Abduraimov; born 20 July 1971; Muslim; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 15 December 2015, fined under Administrative Code.

      13.) Gennadi Sergeyevich Zhirov; born 14 December 1953; Council of Churches Baptist; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 10 November 2015, fined under Administrative Code.

      14.) Yuri Ivanovich Bekker; born 18 June 1964; Council of Churches Baptist; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 10 November 2015, fined under Administrative Code.

      15.) David Yakovlevich Leven; born 4 November 1969; Council of Churches Baptist; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 10 November 2015, fined under Administrative Code.

      16.) Aleksandr Gennadievich Kulbeda; born 20 August 1972; Council of Churches Baptist; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 24 August 2015, fined under Administrative Code.

      17.) Vitali Nikolayevich Pan; born 5 May 1961; Council of Churches Baptist; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 24 August 2015, fined under Administrative Code.

      18.) Roza Sovetovna Sarsembayeva; born 21 September 1964; book seller; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 28 July 2015, fined under Administrative Code.

      19.) Nargiz Zhaksylykovna Bekkhozhayeva; born 8 June 1959; book seller; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 26 March 2015, fined under Administrative Code.

      (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Kazakhstan has detained Kuanysh Bashpayev for criticising the state-controlled Muslim Board, and Satimzhan Azatov for meeting Muslims without state permission. Both face criminal charges of "inciting religious hatred or discord", as does atheist Aleksandr Kharlamov facing a possible new trial. Bashpayev's trial opens 14 February.
      Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) secret police has arrested two Muslims for exercising freedom of religion and belief without state permission. Kuanysh Bashpayev (30-years-old) criticised the state-controlled Muslim Board and was arrested in Pavlodar in October 2016. Satimzhan Azatov (27-years-old) met with other Muslims without state permission in the capital Astana, and was arrested in early January 2017.
      The KNB secret police has also arrested some of Bashpayev's former classmates from Medina University in Saudi Arabia, though their names are unknown, Muslims in Kazakhstan told Forum 18 on 31 January. Bashpayev has a Master's degree in Islamic theology from Medina.
      Bashpayev's trial is due to begin at 10 am on Tuesday 14 February at Pavlodar City Criminal Court No. 2 under court chair Judge Kayirbek Yelemesov, a court official told Forum 18 on 6 February. Bashpayev faces up to seven years' imprisonment if convicted under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Inciting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord").
      The KNB is still investigating Azatov under Criminal Code Article 174. In November 2016 he was fined under the Code of Administrative Offences for "unlawful" missionary activity. Two other Muslims, Nariman Seytzhanov and Bakhtiyorkhon Soliyev, were at that time fined along with Azatov for the same "offence". Soliyev, a Tajik citizen, was also ordered to be deported (see below).
      The KNB secret police in Astana also arrested and put into two months pre-trial detention Jehovah's Witnesses Teymur Akhmedov and Asaf Guliyev, although Akhmedov needs hospitalisation for cancer treatment. Judge Akmaral Isayeva, who also approved Azatov's pretrial detention, claimed this was to defend a "civilised society" (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252).
      New trial for atheist?
      As well as the Bashpayev case, Judge Yelemesov has also been involved in the then Article 164 (equivalent of Article 174 of the current Criminal Code) case against atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov (see F18News 4 September 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1871), including refusing to release him from a psychiatric hospital (see F18News 22 August 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1871). One doctor told Kharlamov that he had been sent to the psychiatric hospital "because you are an inconvenient person for the authorities" (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).
      Officers searched Kharlamov's home in Ridder, East Kazakhstan Region, on 2 February 2017 as they appear to be preparing to bring him to trial again (see forthcoming F18News article).
      Criminal charges
      The KNB secret police lodged charges against both Bashpayev and Azatov of allegedly "inciting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord" under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1, prosecution and court officials told Forum 18. This Article punishes: "Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord, insult to the national honour and dignity or religious feelings of citizens, as well as propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens on grounds of their religion, class, national, generic or racial identity, committed publicly or with the use of mass media or information and communication networks, as well as by production or distribution of literature or other information media, promoting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord".
      Article 174, Part 1, which Bashpayev and Azatov are charged under, punishes these actions committed by individuals. If convicted, they face two to seven years imprisonment, or two to seven years restricted freedom. Typically, during sentences of restricted freedom individuals live at home, but are not able to leave their town or city without seeking permission. They are often also banned from visiting restaurants, cafes or places of public entertainment.
      Kazakh human rights defenders, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, and the UN Human Rights Committee have repeatedly criticised this and other broadly defined Criminal Code articles (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252).
      If convicted, Bashpayev and Azatov are likely to be added to the Finance Ministry Financial Monitoring Committee List of individuals "connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism". All known prisoners of conscience convicted under Article 174 have been added to this List, thus freezing any bank accounts they may have, without any additional due legal process. As individuals are not told when they are added to the List, they normally only find out they have been added when they or relatives attempt to withdraw money from their bank (see F18News 10 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2187).
      Ten alleged members of the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement were added to the List between 17 and 31 January 2017, according to the Financial Monitoring Committee website. One, Kublandy Isatayev, was sentenced in Aktobe in October 2016 to one year's imprisonment. The other nine, led by Baurzhan Beisembai, were sentenced at a group trial in Oskemen in October 2016. Seven of these were given prison terms of between one and two and a half years. The other two each received one year's "restricted freedom" punishments (see F18News 20 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2223).
      Article attacks Bashpayev
      On 7 January 2014, Almaty Central Mosque's website published an article commenting on a public debate involving local Salafi Muslim Oktam Zaurbekov. The debate was widely covered at the time in the local media. The article claims that Salafi Muslims - including Zaurbekov and Bashpayev - have "incited religious intolerance" by calling on Muslims not to follow the Hanafi school of Islam, which is the only form of Islam permitted in Kazakhstan (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).
      "They [Salafis] laugh at the official Imams and Muslim Board by portraying them as heretics, which is a provocation. Their call not to follow the Hanafi school established in Kazakhstan by calling it the plague of sectarianism is a provocation. They criticise Abu Hanifa [founder of the Hanafi school] and other great scholars of Islam, which is a provocation."
      The article claims that Salafi Muslims are "sly", giving public support to Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev while opposing the Muslim Board. "It is a contradiction. Submission to the ruler means submission to his authorised representatives. In the religious sphere this authority was given to the Muslim Board."
      The article refers to a 19 February 2013 statement of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, stating that "our President clearly demonstrated his position on the Muslim Board: the only officially recognised organisation of Islam in our country is the Muslim Board. The recently adopted Religion Law recognises the place and role of the Hanafi school in the spiritual life of the people. The President", the article continues, "personally asked the Muslim Board to make religious-legal rulings (fatwas) on urgent issues. This indicates the necessity of submission to the Muslim Board."
      Even before the Religion Law was adopted, officials were insisting that all mosques independent of the state-backed Muslim Board must be closed. All Islamic literature that is not Sunni Hanafi is banned by the stringent state censorship. All mosques must have their imams appointed by the Muslim Board, and these imams must only read out sermons at Friday prayers which have been provided to them by the Board. All mosques must also give the Board 30 per cent of their income. Independent mosques strongly objected to these state-imposed restrictions (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).
      The article also claims that "they [Salafis] go on not submitting to the [official] imams of mosques, and continue their activity in discrediting the Hanafi school. This in itself is a road to extremism and undermines the security of our country. Instead of supporting President and uniting around the Muslim Board, they undermine its authority."
      Bashpayev's arrest
      Pavlodar Regional KNB secret police arrested Bashpayev on 13 October 2016. He has been held since then in Pavlodar City Police Investigation Prison.
      Colonel Bekezhan Kalkomanov of Pavlodar KNB claimed to Forum 18 that Bashpayev had "insulted the religious feelings of Kazakhstan's traditional Muslims". He "said on the internet that it is not right for Kazakh Muslims to visit graves and pray for their deceased relatives, which he thinks is idolatry", the Colonel told Forum 18 on 31 January.
      Bashpayev "also spoke against the official representatives of Islam in Kazakhstan, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan [the Muslim Board], by which he tried to sow discord among the Muslims", Colonel Kalkomanov claimed.
      In video and audio recordings of some of his sermons posted online, Bashpayev sometimes criticised the views of the Muslim Board. In the recordings Forum 18 listened to, there were no calls for the human rights of other people to be violated. Bashpayev's fellow Muslims described him to Forum 18 as "a peaceful believer who prayed for Kazakhstan and its leaders". They added: "His only guilt is to have explained the Koran's teachings on the internet and in private discussion with other Muslim believers." 
      Asked whether it is right to punish an individual for having a different view of Islam from that of the Muslim Board, KNB Colonel Kalkomanov replied: "This is not like the times in Kazakhstan immediately after the Soviet Union, when crowds would dictate their views. We are governed by laws and not subject to the views of crowds."
      Colonel Kalkomanov then added that "if the Court sees mitigating circumstances in his life or actions, maybe they will give a suspended prison sentence."
      Baurzhan Myrzakerov, Deputy Chief Prosecutor of Pavlodar Region, refused to say what Bashpayev allegedly did, apart from stating on 31 January "he is accused of inciting religious hatred".
      Azatov's first trial
      Meanwhile, in Astana, on 26 September 2016 an anonymous informer told the city's Anti-Extremism Police about an earlier meeting in a cafe, according to the subsequent court decision. "Azatov, together with between 40 and 50 Salafi Muslims, held an unauthorised religious discussion on 24 September from 4 pm to 7 pm."
      Along with Azatov, Nariman Seytzhanov and Bakhtiyorkhon Soliyev "conducted unauthorised missionary activity and propagated their radical religious ideas and beliefs." Azatov allegedly told the participants that "one needs to fear Allah and become a Muslim before one dies".
      Prosecutors brought cases against all three men under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3. This bans: "Carrying out missionary activity without state registration (or re-registration), as well as the use by missionaries of religious literature, information materials with religious content or religious items without a positive assessment from a religious studies expert analysis, and spreading the teachings of a religious group which is not registered in Kazakhstan". The punishment is a fine of 100 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs), with deportation if the individual is a foreign citizen.
      Missionary activity can only be carried out by a state-approved person, from a state-approved religious community, who uses state-approved religious materials, in a place approved by the state (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).
      On 1 November 2016 Judge Kuralai Arkhabayeva of Astana's Specialised Inter-District Administrative Court fined Azatov the prescribed 100 MFIs or 212,100 Tenge under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3.
      Anti-Extremism Police Officer Damir Baybazarov, who led the case, refused to discuss it with Forum 18 on 1 February. Judge Arkhabayeva defended her decision. "He was involved in missionary activity without state permission", she told Forum 18 on 1 February. Asked why she gave such a large fine to Azatov for exercising his freedom of religion and belief, she replied "he had a lawyer".
      Judge Arkhabayeva also fined Seytzhanov the same fine as Azatov in a separate hearing on 1 November 2016. He was fined 100 MFIs or 212,100 Tenge under Article 490, Part 3.
      Judge Kanat Imanaliyev of Specialised Inter-District Administrative Court imposed the same fine on Soliyev as Azatov and Seytzhanov on 21 October 2016. He also ordered him to be deported within five days, but Soliyev had already left Kazakhstan on 7 October.
      On 23 November 2016 Judge Madeniyet Omarbekova of Astana City Court upheld the fine on Seytzhanov. In separate hearings the following day, Judge Kazima Aytkaliyeva of Astana City Court rejected the appeals of Azatov and Soliyev and upheld the fines. Soliyev's deportation entered into force on the same day, the court decision notes.
      KNB secret police arrest Azatov
      Astana KNB opened the criminal case against Azatov in late December 2016. Officers arrested Azatov in Astana in early January 2017. 
      Anti-Extremism Police officer Baybazarov, who led the earlier case against Azatov, told Forum 18 on 1 February that Astana KNB secret police opened the criminal case against Azatov. "The Anti-Extremism Police has nothing to do with it", he claimed.
      Lieutenant Colonel Daniyar Tajigulov, Deputy Chief of Astana KNB's Investigations Division refused to discuss the case. "I do not know you and we will not discuss it with you over the phone," he told Forum 18 on 1 February. He then put the phone down.
      On 6 January Judge Akmaral Isayeva of Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2 agreed to the KNB request to have Azatov held in pre-trial detention. Adilet (who refused to give his last name), Judge Isayeva's assistant, would give no further details of the case on 1 February and refused to put Forum 18 through to the Judge.
      Judge Isayeva on 20 January similarly approved two month detention for Jehovah's Witnesses Teymur Akhmedov and Asaf Guliyev, although Akhmedov needs hospitalisation for cancer treatment. Judge Isayeva claimed the detention was to defend a "civilised society" (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). The two Jehovah's Witnesses similarly face prosecution under Criminal Code Article 174 ("Inciting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). Astana KNB is also leading the case against them (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). (END)
       
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2253
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