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RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: KAZAKHSTAN JAILS SICK 61 YEAR OLD JEHOVAH’S WITNESS FOR PREACHING

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Emmanuel Thomas l Monday, May, 08, 2017 ASTANA, Kazakhstan – A 61 year old Jehovah’s Witness, Teymur Akhmedov has been sentensed to five year jail term in Kazakhstan for sharing his religious beliefs with others. He was sentenced May 2, 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan. At the time he was sentenced. 

http://news.clickysound.com/religious-freedom-kazakhstan-jails-sick-61-year-old-jehovahs-witness-for-preaching/

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Felix Corley, Forum 18
      The two lawyers for a Jehovah's Witness now on trial in Astana are themselves under criminal investigation. The KNB secret police investigator accuses them of "revealing information from a pre-trial investigation" by appealing to President Nazarbayev for the case against their client to be halted.
      Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) secret police has opened a criminal case against two lawyers defending a Jehovah's Witness on trial for exercising freedom of religion and belief. Vitaly Kuznetsov and Natalya Kononenko are facing criminal investigation seeking to punish them for appealing to Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev for the charges against their client to be dropped. Charges were brought against the lawyers even before the trial they were working on began in the capital Astana.

      The KNB secret police accuses Kuznetsov and Kononenko of "revealing information from a pre-trial investigation" under Criminal Code Article 423. Kuznetsov described the accusation to Forum 18 as "absurd". An Astana-based legal specialist told Forum 18 the accusation was "bizarre" (see below).

      Astana Prosecutor's Office handed the case to Asilzhan Gabdykaparov of the General Prosecutor's Office, it told Forum 18 on 3 April. His telephone went unanswered the same day.

      KNB Major Medet Duskaziyev – who initiated the criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses Teymur Akhmedov and Asaf Guliyev, as well as the two lawyers Kuznetsov and Kononenko – refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions on 30 March.

      At the preliminary hearing of Akhmedov's criminal trial on 27 March, Prosecutor Baurzhan Kulmaganbetov tried to have Kuznetsov and Kononenko removed as his lawyers for allegedly "revealing information from a pre-trial investigation", Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service reported after the hearing. Judge Talgat Syrlybayev of Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2 rejected the Prosecutor's request. Akhmedov's full trial is due to begin at 10.30 am on 6 April (see below).

      Attempt to remove Akhmedov's lawyers

      During the closed part of Akhmedov's preliminary hearing, Prosecutor Kulmaganbetov tried to have Kuznetsov and Kononenko removed from defending Akhmedov. He argued that Kuznetsov is a lawyer from Sverdlovsk Region in Russia, so should not be allowed to defend his client. He also revealed – for the first time - that the criminal case had been opened against both lawyers (see below).

      Judge Syrlybayev rejected the Prosecutor's request.

      Criminal case against Akhmedov's lawyers

      On 20 February the lawyers Kuznetsov and Kononenko sent a 23-page appeal (plus numerous attachments) to KNB Investigator Major Duszkaziyev, who led the investigation against Akhmedov and Guliyev. The appeal asked for the case against Akhmedov to be halted "because of the absence of the elements of a crime".

      The lawyers argued that the "expert analyses" of the literature confiscated from Akhmedov and Guliyev should be "completely rejected as contradicting international law". They gave documentary evidence that officials and leaders of so-called "traditional" religions have made statements that are far more insulting and critical than the statements Akhmedov is accused of making.

      The lawyers noted that law enforcement officials stated that the words used by officials and so-called "traditional" religious leaders were lawful (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).

      (Claims about so-called "traditional" and "non-traditional" religions are often used by the state to legitimise attacks on freedom of religion and belief - see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1939.)

      The lawyers also sent copies of their appeal to several officials and state agencies, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the Foreign Ministry.

      On 1 March the Investigator, KNB Major Duskaziyev rejected the appeal without addressing the points made (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).

      On 16 March Major Duskaziyev opened a criminal case against the lawyers Kuznetsov and Kononenko, Astana Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18 on 30 March. The case is 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.

      "To pressure the lawyers and deprive Akhmedov of his defence"

      An Astana legal specialist described the opening of the criminal case against Kuznetsov and Kononenko for having addressed an appeal to President Nazarbayev as "bizarre". "This is a violation of the right of an individual to be properly defended," the legal specialist told Forum 18.

      The legal specialist – who preferred not to be identified for fear of state reprisals – pointed out that only a limited number of lawyers are allowed to take on cases which the state regards as covering "state secrets".

      Kuznetsov described opening the criminal case against him and fellow lawyer Kononenko for appealing to President Nazarbayev and the Foreign Ministry on behalf of Akhmedov as "absurd". "I don't believe the President needs any permission from the investigator to know about the violations of the human rights of an individual in a state of which he is the head," Kuznetsov told Forum 18.

      "When we appealed to the Foreign Ministry about Akhmedov's case, the KNB had already provided the Ministry with information on the case," the lawyer told Forum 18. "They had even provided such details for example that Guliyev had admitted his guilt."

      Kuznetsov pointed out that even before the criminal case was launched on 16 March, the television channel Khabar had shown a video of "operational/investigative measures" against the two Jehovah's Witnesses, including a house search.

      "How can one talk about revealing information of the investigation to the President after information from the investigation was shown on television?" Kuznetsov asked. "It is therefore clear that this criminal case has one aim – to pressure the lawyers and deprive Akhmedov of his defence."

      What next for prosecution of lawyers for doing their duty?

      After Major Duskaziyev opened the case, the KNB secret police then handed it via Astana's Prosecutor's Office to Astana Police for investigation. "We don't know who the case has been assigned to at Astana Police," Kuznetsov told Forum 18.

      Despite repeated calls to Astana Police on 30 March, including to its Investigation Department and Central Chancellery for criminal cases, no official would give Forum 18 any information on the criminal case against Kuznetsov and Kononenko.

      Astana's Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18 on 3 April that the case against the lawyers had been handed to Asilzhan Gabdykaparov of the General Prosecutor's Office. His telephone went unanswered each time Forum 18 called the same day.

      Cancer sufferer Akhmedov detained and tortured, not hospitalised

      On 20 January Akhmedov was ordered to be held in two months' pre-trial detention, even though 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".

      The pre-trial detention of a cancer sufferer who needs to be hospitalised violates the United Nations (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).

      "Akhmedov has two large tumours of the gastro-intestinal tract," his lawyer Kuznetsov told Forum 18. "There is no confirmed diagnosis yet that this is cancer. But it is suspected that these tumours are cancerous." The lawyer added that this would only become clear after Akhmedov has the operation he has been waiting for.

      While in detention Akhemdov has been tortured, which officials deny. In defiance of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, no arrests of anyone strongly suspected of having tortured prisoners of conscience (including Akhmedov) jailed or detained for exercising freedom of religion and belief appear to have been made (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).

      Wide-ranging Criminal Code Article 174

      The 60-year-old Jehovah's Witness Akhmedov – a retired bus driver - is on trial for allegedly "inciting religious hatred or discord" under the wide-ranging Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2. He denies inciting hatred of any sort. He had spoken to KNB secret police agents pretending to be students. Guliyev, arrested with him, was sentenced on 24 February to five years' restricted freedom (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).

      Guliyev does not appear to have appealed to Astana City Court against his conviction.

      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".

      Part 2, which Akhmedov and Guliyev have faced, 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".

      The 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).

      Growing number of Article 174 prosecutions

      Akhmedov and Guliyev are among a growing number of individuals prosecuted under Criminal Code Article 174 for exercising their rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of speech. Lawyers in at least some Criminal Code Article 174 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 (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262)

      Muslim prisoner of conscience Kuanysh Bashpayev is on trial under Article 174, Part 1 for criticising the state-controlled Muslim Board. His closed trial is due to continue at Pavlodar City Court at 10.00 am on 5 April (see below).

      Others are still being investigated under Article 174 include: Satimzhan Azatov who met with other Astana Muslims without state permission; Imam Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov who was extradited from Saudi Arabia and who was then immediately arrested on 18 February; and atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov who faces two separate Article 174 cases (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).

      Also under arrest and under investigation is Almaty resident Denis Korzhavin. He had previously studied Islam in Saudi Arabia. However, Forum 18 has been unable to find out why he was arrested (see below).

      Those convicted to be stripped of citizenship?

      A Justice Ministry draft amendment to Criminal Code Article 174 – published on 27 March on the Ministry's website – would if adopted also allow courts to strip Kazakh citizenship from those convicted under the Article. No changes were proposed to the other existing punishments. The amendment is silent on what would happen if the only citizenship held by a convicted person was that of Kazakhstan.

      The proposed amendment does not explain whether this would apply only to individuals who are citizens of more than one country or citizens only of Kazakhstan.

      A legal specialist pointed out to Forum 18 that countries cannot strip people of citizenship to leave them stateless. "This would be a violation of international law."

      Akhmedov trial begins

      The trial of Jehovah's Witness Akhmedov began with a preliminary hearing on 27 March. He was held in the cage in the courtroom during the hearing. Akhmedov's lawyers put forward a motion to the Judge to free their client from pre-trial detention. The Prosecutor put forward a motion to have the lawyers removed from the case (see below).

      Although the Judge had declared the trial open, he ordered relatives and supporters out of the courtroom as he considered the requests "so as not to disturb the normal process of the trial", Bolat Abilkasimov of Ratel.kz wrote the same day. They were allowed back in only to hear his decisions on the requests.

      Some 20 relatives and supporters were banished from the courtroom in addition to the journalists, Abilkasimov added. The Judge's secretary claimed to them that the courtroom was too small to accommodate them.

      In the corridors of the court, Akhmedov's son Parviz told local journalists that his father was known among colleagues as honest and hard-working. He added that he had been praised in the press in an article entitled "The World is not without Good People".

      Bashpayev: secret trial continues

      The closed trial of Muslim prisoner of conscience Kuanysh Bashpayev under Article 174, Part 1 began under Judge Kayirbek Yelemesov at Pavlodar City Court No. 2 with a preliminary hearing on 14 February. The full trial began on 6 March (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262).

      Further hearings were held on 13, 14 and 27 March, according to court records. The trial is due to resume at 10.00 am on 5 April.

      Judge Yelemesov's secretary – who did not give her name – said the Judge had ordered the hearings closed "to protect the security of the victim". She confirmed to Forum 18 on 30 March that the "victim" in the case is the prominent Almaty Muslim Board imam Ersin Amire. However, she declined to say in what way he needed "protecting". She told Forum 18 she "did not have the right to give any further information on the case" and put the phone down.

      The 30-year-old Bashpayev gained a first degree and then began studies for a Master's degree in Islamic theology at Medina University in Saudi Arabia.

      Captain G. Bakirov of Pavlodar Region KNB secret police prepared the criminal case against Bashpayev after officers found recordings of his sermons on the Russian social network VKontakte on 7 April 2016, according to the 24-page indictment seen by Forum 18. Further online sermons were found on 22 May 2016. "Expert analyses" of 15 April 2016 and 20 June 2016 claim to have found Bashpayev inciting religious hatred.

      One of those questioned as a witness in the case was Asiya Abitova, a religious studies specialist at the state-financed Centre for Analysis and Development of Inter-confessional Relations in Pavlodar. She claimed that in his sermons, Bashpayev had described making pilgrimages to mausoleums and reading the Koran there as "shirk" (idolatry). "The official Islamic clergy of Kazakhstan do not ban visiting mausoleums or the graves of the deceased and reading verses of the Koran there," the indictment summarises Abitova's remarks.

      Abitova also claimed – without providing any detail - that in another sermon Bashpayev had declared it was permitted to kill those guilty of "shirk".

      Reached at the Centre in Pavlodar, Abitova refused to discuss her testimony with Forum 18 on 29 March 2017.

      Interrogated on 12 October 2016, Bashpayev refused to answer any questions, according to the indictment. He was arrested the following day (see F18News 6 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2253).

      KNB Captain Bakirov signed the indictment on 25 January 2017 and K. Bazarbayev of the Regional Prosecutor's Office counter-signed it five days later.

      Korzhavin: why was he arrested?

      Arrested in Almaty in mid-February was Denis Valeryevich Korzhavin. On 21 February Judge Maral Dzharilgasova of Almaty's Turksib District Court ordered him held in two months' pre-trial detention, the court chancellery told Forum 18 on 3 April. It added that Korzhavin is being investigated under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1.

      The Special Department of Almaty's Investigation Prison No. 18 confirmed to Forum 18 on 30 March that it is holding Korzhavin. However, the official – who would not give her name – refused to discuss his conditions in prison, including whether he has access to the Koran and whether he can pray openly.

      Korzhavin is an ethnic Russian who converted to Islam. He then studied his faith at Medina University in Saudi Arabia before returning to Kazakhstan.

      Forum 18 has been unable to find out why Korzhavin was arrested. No official at Turksib District Prosecutor's Office would identify the Investigator in the case on 3 April or tell Forum 18 why he had been arrested. (END)
      http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2269
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Jon Steingart
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      “Civil rights laws require employers to provide religious accommodations for the religious practices of their workers and that includes accommodating religious objections to performing job duties,” Daniel Mach, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 15.
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      To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington atjsteingart@bna.com
      To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino atmaulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com
      For More Information
      The complaint is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Appleyard_et_al_v_Murphy_Oil_USA_Inc_Docket_No_116cv01290_WD_Tenn.
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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
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      On September 24, 1994, three young men, all teenagers, were rounded up and sent to a concentration camp. Their crime? They refused military service on the grounds of their strongly held religious convictions – an entitlement that ironically, one year later, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights reinforced as an acceptable concession that all world nations should adhere to.
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      “It is in Eritrea, more than anywhere else in the world, that Jehovah’s Witnesses experience the most intense persecution,” says a report on the Jehovah’s Witnesses web site, JW.org. The three men are among 55 other Jehovah’s Witnesses jailed in Eritrea for either conscientious objection to conscription military service or for their peaceful religious activity.
      By this, all will know you are my disciples...
      In a country like Eritrea – where a citizen and a solder and perceived as one and the same – Jehovah’s Witnesses stand out in stark contrast. They will endure prison camps, beatings and torture, but they will not join military ranks. They steadfastly believe in “beating their swords into plowshares” and not “learning war anymore,” says the book of Isaiah. Their international brotherhood practices love for one another. (John 13:34, 35) No Jehovah’s Witness would ever be found in a battlefield, looking across at a fellow Witness, waiting to kill one another or anyone else. Jesus said in the verse cited above that all would know who his disciples are, if they have "love among themselves." If only all major religions practiced what they preached.
      US Department of State report.
      According to a US Department of State commentary on religious freedoms in Eritrea, citizens there are generally “tolerant of those practicing other religions; exceptions included negative societal attitudes toward Jehovah's Witnesses… and conscientious objectors to military service based on religious beliefs.” Jehovah’s Witnesses are the largest recognized religious organization whose members welcome disciplinary alternatives as opposed to taking up arms in wars.
      The State department report also details how government officials actively and intentionally single out Witnesses of Jehovah and subject them to unlawful actions and targeted discrimination. “Although members of several religious groups were imprisoned in past years for failure to participate in required national military service, the government singled out Jehovah's Witnesses to receive harsher treatment than that given to others,” the report cites, adding that many of the religion’s members have been detained for more than a decade and a half – a term “far beyond the maximum legal penalty of two years for refusing to perform national service.”
      In addition, Jehovah's Witnesses in Eritrea have had their business licenses revoked without cause, been evicted out of government-subsidized housing units and been denied common government paperwork needed for travel, such as passports and visas.
      Philip Brumley, general counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses: “It is our fervent hope that the government of Eritrea will release all Witness prisoners, including these three men who have been detained for 20 years, and bring an end to the persecution of our fellow believers.”
      http://us.blastingnews.com/news/2016/09/imprisoned-for-their-faith-these-three-men-have-been-jailed-in-eritrea-for-over-22-years-001139317.html
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Felix Corley, Forum 18
      Police raided Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov's home in Dashoguz in July 2014, seized religious literature (subsequently destroyed), beat him, placed him in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre where he was injected with unknown drugs (from which he fled). Arrested in June 2016, he was imprisoned for one year.
      Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov has appealed against a one-year prison term handed down on 18 August in the northern city of Dashoguz for allegedly assaulting a police officer back in July 2014. Police subsequently destroyed Bibles and other religious literature seized from him during a raid on his home, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18. His fellow-Jehovah's Witnesses insist the 32-year-old Masharipov is innocent of any wrongdoing and was targeted for his faith.

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

      Other prisoners of conscience

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

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

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

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

      Ashgabad arrest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Did police assault and lodge false charges against Masharipov?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Tortured with drugs

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

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

      Dashoguz sentence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Appeal lodged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      UN appeal

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

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

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

      No charges against police officers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Turkey was ordered to pay 1,000 euros to the applicants in non-pecuniary damages in addition to 4,000 euros to cover their costs and expenses.
      Source: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-violated-religious-freedoms-of-jehovah-witnesses-echr.aspx?pageID=238&nID=99591&NewsCatID=509
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Stanislav Kim could be jailed for up to three years if convicted of having "illegal" religious literature in his home in Urgench. In Bukhara, two Jehovah's Witnesses were jailed for ten days and, with 28 others, fined for "illegal" literature and worship meeting.
      Police in Urgench [Urganch] in Uzbekistan's north-western Khorezm Region appear about to hand to court a criminal case against a local Baptist to punish him for "illegal possession" of religious literature in his home. Stanislav Kim could face up to three years' imprisonment if convicted. The Investigator who prepared the indictment refused to tell Forum 18 if Nikolai Serin, another Baptist questioned as a witness in the case, also faces prosecution. Courts routinely punish people for "illegal" religious literature as well as holding meetings for worship.

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

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

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

      Imprisonment for religious literature?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      "Extremist"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Why criminal charges?

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

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


      Secret police and anti-terrorism police raid and confiscations

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

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

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

      Six hour interrogation

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

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

      February Khorezm raid and fines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Two short-term prisoners of conscience, 30 large fines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Asked about the restrictions the Religion Law, Administrative and Criminal Codes put on the exercise of freedom of religion and belief, the Judge replied: "I cannot comment on that". He then said "let them appeal if they do not agree with our decision" before declining to talk further to Forum 18. (END)
      Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2192
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Kazakhstan's President orders harsher Religion Law drafted by mid-August, as fines for exercising freedom of religion or belief continue. 89-year-old Baptist Yegor Prokopenko was again fined for leading his community, while an Atyrau giftshop owner was fined for offering four Korans for sale.
      At the age of 89 and a half, former Soviet-era Baptist prisoner of conscience Yegor Prokopenko has again been fined for leading a meeting for worship. He is believed to be the oldest victim of Kazakhstan's policy of fining those who exercise the right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission. Two Protestants in the same city were fined for drinking tea in a cafe after a Sunday meeting for worship. A giftshop owner in Atyrau was fined for offering four copies of the Koran for sale without a state licence, which the judge deemed would have "harmful consequences". With Kazakhstan's president ordering harsher restrictions in the Religion Law to be prepared by mid-August, with likely new associated punishments in the Code of Administrative Offences, exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief seems set to be punished even more widely.

      Kazakhstan's 2011 Religion Law already violates the country's international human rights obligations. It bans meetings for worship by communities without state approval, meetings for worship in venues that have not been approved, distribution of books about religion and other religious items without state approval or in venues that do not have state approval for religious literature distribution, and discussing religion with others if the individual does not have state approval as a "missionary". These bans are backed up by punishments in the Administrative Code.
      In addition, 32 individuals are known to have been given criminal convictions since December 2014 for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Most of these have been imprisoned. Many have also had their bank accounts frozen.
      Wide-ranging legal amendments ordered

      Following violence which began in the north-western city of Aktobe [Aqtobe] on 5 June, President Nursultan Nazarbayev was quick to blame "followers of the non-traditional religious movement of Salafism". He told a meeting of the Security Council in the capital Astana on 10 June that in response legal changes would be made to a range of laws "to ensure national security".

      President Nazarbayev instructed the government "within a two-month period to draft a package of legislative initiatives in the sphere of countering terrorism and extremism, production, storage and sale of weapons, in the area of regulating migration and religious associations", according to the presidential website. He added that it is "necessary" to include the entire legislative package in the legislative plan for 2016.

      When the new restrictive version of the Religion Law and amendments to other laws were adopted in 2011, they too had not been in the legislative plan for the year. However, they suddenly reached parliament in September 2011, were adopted that same month and signed into law in October.
      "To limit as far as we can the possibility to conduct illegal meetings"

      Also on 10 June, Galym Shoikin, the head of the Culture and Sport Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee told the Expert discussion club in Astana that his Committee is already working on amendments to the 2011 Religion Law. He noted that the Law already determines that many activities in the area of religion are "illegal".

      "We want here to widen the norms set out in order to limit as far as we can the possibility to conduct illegal meetings, including in flats and other premises," the local media quoted Shoikin as declaring. "We have a mechanism, but it needs to be strengthened from the point of view of widening."

      Shoikin noted that under the 2011 Religion Law, holding meetings away from state-registered places of worship requires permission from the local Akimat (administration). "At present many, for example Protestant Christian organisations, practice this, they agree this with Akimats and hold such events," he said. "We simply want to tighten the requirements and make them more precise."

      Shoikin said he was unable to expand on the details, as the proposals need to be discussed with deputies of the Majilis (parliament). He claimed that "we will take into account international legal acts on the freedom of the individual", as well as legal practices in other countries.

      Shoikin claimed that recruitment of religious radicals "takes place not in mosques but at such illegal meetings. We must study how it is possible to restrict this." He added that this task was handed to his Committee only several days earlier. He gave no deadline for presenting any proposed amendments to the Religion Law.

      Muslim Board and state officials earlier claimed to Forum 18 that allowing independent mosques to exist "will breed terrorists". But officials have not produced proof for these assertions.
      Religion Law amendments to be open to public discussion?

      The amendments to the Religion Law are being prepared by the Legal Department of the Religious Affairs Committee, an official of the Department told Forum 18 from Astana on 13 June. Once the Committee has prepared the initial draft amendments, they will be reviewed by other "relevant structures", including the Interior Ministry, the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police and the Prosecutor's Office, the official added.

      The official did not say whether or not the Religious Affairs Committee is involved in preparing any associated amendments to the Criminal Code or Administrative Code to increase penalties for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief or to widen the scope of such "crimes" or "offences".

      The official noted that the amendments being drafted stemmed from a "political decision" and followed President Nazarbayev's instruction.

      The official refused to identify what proposed changes are likely to be in the amendments. When Forum 18 pointed out that the 2011 Religion Law already violates many of Kazakhstan's international commitments in the area of freedom or religion or belief, freedom of association and freedom of speech, the official declined to comment.

      The official claimed to Forum 18 that during the consideration phase, the proposed amendments will be opened up to public discussion. However, the official declined to say how long any public discussion will last and whether comments from the public will be taken into account.

      Administrative Code amendments underway

      At the beginning of 2016, just a year after it came into force, the Justice Ministry established a working group to propose amendments to the Administrative Code, sources in Astana told Forum 18. Initially the Ministry apparently planned to soften some of the punishments, including those for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief.

      However, following the violent attacks in Aktobe and the President's 10 June order to tighten laws and punishments, the Justice Ministry review is likely – among other changes - to widen and increase punishments for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, sources told Forum 18.

      The Religious Affairs Committee is likely to contribute to any Administrative Code amendments. However, drafting is likely to be in the hands of the Justice Ministry, with consultation from the Interior Ministry, KNB secret police and Prosecutor's Office.

      89-year-old fined for leading worship

      The 89-year-old Prokopenko – who leads a Council of Churches Baptist congregation in Zyryanovsk in East Kazakhstan Region – was again fined.

      On 22 May local police officer Dulat Baydindoyev led a raid on the home where the church was holding Sunday morning worship. He was accompanied by three men in civilian clothes, one church member who was present told Forum 18 on 13 June. Officers filmed church members at worship and questioned them after the service was over.

      Later in the day Officer Baydindoyev returned with a record of an offence against Prokopenko under Administrative Code Article 489, Part 9. This punishes "Leadership of the activity of a social or religious organisation not registered under established legal procedure". He fined him 100 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs), 212,100 Tenge (5,200 Norwegian Tenge, 550 Euros or 625 US Dollars). He gave Prokopenko a form showing him how to pay.

      Were Prokopenko in work, this fine would represent two or three months' average wage. However, he has been a pensioner since before Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991.

      Prokopenko rejected all accusations of wrongdoing and refused to sign any documents, church members told Forum 18.

      Officer Baydindoyev defended the raid on the church. "We didn't raid," he claimed to Forum 18 from Zyryanovsk on 13 June. "We arrived after the service." He said he had been accompanied by a cameraman from the police, an officer from the Criminal Investigation Department and a Prosecutor's Office official. He insisted the church was wrong to meet because it does not have state registration. "We filmed them after the service because Prokopenko refused to sign the record." Officer Baydindoyev then put the phone down.

      Article 489, Part 9 is one Article of the Administrative Code that police officers have the right to fine individuals under with no court hearing.

      Council of Churches Baptists refuse on principle to seek state permission to be able to meet for worship. They are routinely fined for leading or attending such worship. They also have a policy of civil disobedience, refusing to pay such fines. This often leads to short-term prison sentences, confiscation of property and a ban on leaving Kazakhstan.
      Prokopenko appealed to Zyryanovsk District Prosecutor Konstantin Pichugin. However, on 3 June the Prosecutor's Office rejected his complaint, Prosecutor Talgat Tudubekov told Forum 18 from Zyryanovsk on 13 June. The Regional Prosecutor's Office is now considering a further appeal, he added. Prokopenko also has the right to appeal to court.

      Prokopenko served a total of six and a half years' imprisonment for his faith during the Soviet period. He served three and a half years of a five-year sentence handed down in 1972, and the full three-year sentence handed down in 1982. He was fined for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief in 2006, 2008 and 2013.
      Prokopenko was aged 87 and three months when he was last fined two weeks' average wages in February 2014. He was also put on the exit blacklist for refusing to pay his fine. In court he denied any wrongdoing, insisting that members of a religious community may have the right to form a religious association but are under no obligation to do so. The judge dismissed his views and punished him.
      Meeting in unapproved venues

      On 23 March, Astana's Jehovah's Witness community observed the Memorial of Christ's death – their most important annual commemoration - at rented premises in a trade centre. Afterwards, local police and Religious Affairs Department officials interrogated community members and began preparing an administrative case against them for not confirming that location for a religious meeting with the Religious Affairs Department.

      "It is noteworthy that Astana city administration officially seized the community's house of worship just a few months earlier under the pretext of a city utility project," Jehovah's Witnesses complained. "Now the community has no official place to meet together for worship."

      Fined for drinking tea after worship

      Two members of New Life Protestant Church in the Caspian port of Atyrau, Bagitzhan Zholdybayev and Aleksandr Revkov, have been fined for drinking tea in a cafe with five other church members after their Sunday meeting for worship on 17 April.

      After detaining and questioning the seven church members, Religious Affairs Department official Kairulla Kuskaliyev prepared records of an "offence" against the two under Article 490, Part 1, Point 1. This punishes "violation of procedures established in law for conducting rites, ceremonies and meetings" with a fine for individuals of 50 MFIs.

      In separate hearings at Atyrau's Specialised Administrative Court on 26 May, Judge Zamira Bainazarova fined both Zholdybayev and Revkov, according to the court decisions seen by Forum 18. Given their disability (both are deaf) the Judge reduced the fines by 30 per cent to 74,235 Tenge each and issued a ban on their unspecified activity for three months.

      Both Zholdybayev and Revkov denied any wrongdoing in court, but Religious Affairs official Kuskaliyev insisted on their guilt. He explained that their rights had been explained to them using a sign language interpreter.

      Shop owner fined for selling Korans

      Booksellers are frequently fined for selling religious literature and other materials – such as icons – without licences. In May 2013, four books confiscated from a bookseller in East Kazakhstan Region – including two with prayers to Russian Orthodox saints Serafim of Sarov and Sergius of Radonezh – were ordered destroyed when the bookseller was fined.
      After a raid by officials of Atyrau Region Religious Affairs Department, owner of an Atyrau giftshop Tatyana Pastukhova was fined for offering for sale four copies of the Koran without the state licence needed before any sale of religious literature or materials is lawful.

      At her eight-minute trial at Atyrau's Specialised Administrative Court on 25 February, Pastukhova admitted her "guilt". Nevertheless, Judge Bainazarova observed that selling religious literature without a state licence would have "harmful consequences", according to the decision seen by Forum 18.

      The Judge found Pastukhova guilty under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3. This punishes: "Violating the requirements of the Religion Law for .. import, 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 MFIs.

      Pastukhova's fine was reduced by 30 per cent for mitigating circumstances (her expression of regret) to 74,235 Tenge and a ban on activity for three months. The Judge ordered that the four Korans should be returned to Pastukhova.

      Pastukhova did not appeal against the sentence to Atyrau Regional Court.

      Fined for discussing faith

      Individuals are frequently fined under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3 for talking about their faith with others. This 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.

      On 25 April, Oral (Uralsk) Specialised Administrative Court in West Kazakhstan Region found Jehovah's Witness Dina Sarsebekova guilty of "illegal" missionary activity and fined her 100 MFIs, 212,100 Tenge. Her appeal was rejected in May.
      On 6 April, a representative of Semei City administration in East Kazakhstan Region issued a record of an offence of "missionary activity" to two Jehovah's Witnesses.

      In January 2016, a Jehovah's Witness was convicted of "illegal missionary activity" in North Kazakhstan Region. He was fined 100 MFIs, 212,100 Tenge. (END)
      Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2188
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      The judge who upheld a large fine on a Jehovah's Witness for attending a worship meeting rejects the victim's argument that the fine violates the European Convention on Human Rights, telling Forum 18 his "decision is correct". Azerbaijan is obliged to uphold the Convention.
      An appeal court judge who rejected a victim's argument that fining individuals for participating in worship meetings violates the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms has defended his decision. "We believe our decision is correct and legal," Judge Mirbahaddin Huseynov of Sheki Appeal Court told Forum 18 on 2 June from the court. On 22 April he upheld a large fine on Jehovah's Witness Eldar Aliyev. Told that Azerbaijan – as a member of the Council of Europe – is obliged to respect rights to freedom of religion or belief set out in the Convention, Judge Huseynov put the phone down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Mingachevir: religious meeting raided

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Mingachevir: fine and action against parents

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

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

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

      Gakh: religious meeting raided, administrative charges

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

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

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

      Many acquittals, but other cases in court

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Sahil: religious meeting raided

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

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

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

      New Administrative Code

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Article 516. Violation of legislation on freedom of religion

      516.0. Violation of legislation on freedom of religion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Tight controls

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

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

      Mass raids, fined, short-term jailings

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

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

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

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

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

      Samarkand literature fines follow raid on religious meeting

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

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

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

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

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

      Police torture female Jehovah's Witnesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Families flee "police persecution"

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

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

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

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

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

      New case against Mamazhanov?

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

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

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

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

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

      Police threaten Turdiyev with criminal case

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

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

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

      Turdiyev's home ambushed by Police

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

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

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

      Turdiyev harassed earlier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      "Slanderous accusations"

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

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

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

      The Administrative Centre

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

      "Engaging in extremist activity is not permitted"

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

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

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

      Potential consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Communities already under threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Jehovah's Witness literature banned

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

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

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

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

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

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

      General Prosecutor's Office response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Consequences

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

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

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

      Belgorod and Stariy Oskol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Tyumen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Seven other communities warned

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

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

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

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

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

      Other liquidated communities

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

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

      Prosecutors and local authorities can also pursue the liquidation of a religious organisation because of non-"extremism"-related legal infringements – the "Harvest" Pentecostal Church in St Petersburg, for instance, was liquidated after it allegedly violated educational regulations (see F18News 26 March 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1943). (END)
      Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2161
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Early in its existence, the Soviet Union turned Vladimir Lenin’s dictum that “religion is the opium of the people” into official policy.
      Atheism was what Lenin wanted for the Soviet empire, and it’s what it got.
      Assuring such an outcome were laws discouraging faith — such as requirements that religions register with the state — and denying Communist Party membership to anyone religious.
      Many people expected a flowering of faith when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991.
      But it hasn’t happened, largely because the countries that emerged from the ashes of the USSR have repressed most religions, the main exceptions being Russian Orthodox Christianity and certain brands of Islam.
      The repressed have included denominations of Christianity that are widespread in other countries, such as Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians.
      As with other regrettable trends in the former Soviet Union, Russia has set the tone for the repression of religion.
      Countries as diverse as Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia have followed the Russian example.
      Russia’s enactment of a law governing religion in 1997 has made it difficult for faiths besides Russian Orthodox Christianity to survive, let alone thrive.
      Religions were required to register in Russia before 1997. The new law required them to reregister by 2001, and made it more difficult for them to do so. About 2,000 were unable to comply with the new regulations, and were disbanded.
      The Russian Orthodox Church was required to reregister, too. But because the law gave it special status as Russia’s traditional faith, and because most government officials viewed it as the country’s only legitimate religion, it had no trouble reregistering.
      Vladimir Putin’s lock on Russia’s leadership since 2000 has given the Russian Orthodox Church an even more commanding position in the country’s religious picture.
      Putin has publicly called the church, which he attends, a vital part of Russian life and tradition.
      Not surprisingly, Russian Orthodox Church leaders have hailed him as a great leader.
      Belarus is one of the former Soviet countries that has passed a religious law modeled after Russia’s.
      The legislation bans faiths that are not registered with the government, requires government approval of all religious materials, prevents non-citizens from leading religious organizations, and prohibits most religious meetings in private homes.
      As in Russia, the law assures that the Russian Orthodox Church holds a commanding position in the country’s religious life.
      Russia passed anti-terrorism legislation in 2002 and 2007 that critics say has been used to repress non-Orthodox faiths.
      It was billed as legislation to help law enforcement go after religious and nationalist extremists, but it has been used to prosecute members of such peaceful faiths as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hare Krishnas.
      Kazakhstan passed sweeping anti-terrorist legislation after a series of radical-Islamist attacks unnerved the country in 2011.
      Although ostensibly designed to help law enforcement go after extremists, the law has been used to shut down religions that Kazakhstan deems “non-traditional.” Only five faiths fall into its “traditional” category: Russian Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.
      The law requires a faith to have 50 members to obtain official recognition at the local level, 500 members to obtain recognition at the regional level and 5,000 members to obtain recognition at the national level. If it fails to mount those numbers, it it considered to be operating illegally.
      The Kazakhstan legislation had the repressive effect critics had predicted. In the year after it was passed, the number of denominations the government sanctioned fell from 46 to 17.
      People of faith both inside and outside Kazakhstan couldn’t help but note the irony that President Nursultan Nazarbayev had long trumpeted the country’s ethnic and religious tolerance — and part of the evidence he offered was that Kazakhstan recognized more than 40 faiths. Despite the post-2011 crackdown, Nazarbayev continues to paint Kazakhstan as a faith-tolerant society.
      Armenia’s main brand of Christianity enjoys the same privileged position that Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan’s do.
      At one time the government used to excuse Armenian Apostolic Church clergy and seminarians from the country’s mandatory military service. But it jailed members of denominations who refused to serve because they were conscientious objectors — in particular, Jehovah’s Witnesses.
      Changes in the law have led to conscientious objectors being allowed to perform alternative public service under civilian — rather than military — leadership.
      Meanwhile, Armenian schools require students to take a course on the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
      The course is mandatory; students cannot opt out on religious grounds.
      Although the course is supposed to be about the role the church has played in Armenia’s development, in practice it is often focuses on the church’s precepts and beliefs, critics say.
      In other words, it is a proselytizing and faith-affirmation tool, according to the detractors.
      As the examples from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia show, the former Soviet Union has a long way to go in bestowing religious freedom on all its citizens.
      In fact, the trend in the past 10 to 15 years has been to shrink rather than expand such freedom.
      The only hope for those who embrace non-traditional faiths is that the repression will ease as time passes.
      Armine Sahakyan is a human rights activist based in Armenia. A columnist with the Kyiv Post and a blogger with The Huffington Post, she writes on human rights and democracy in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
       
      Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/armine-sahakyan/hopes-of-religious-freedo_b_9509396.html

    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two years ago today, Russia unlawfully annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, cynically using the Orthodox “culture, civilization, and human values” that Russia and Ukraine supposedly share to justify this invasion. On this anniversary, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reiterates its concern about Russian authorities’ violations of religious freedom in Crimea, and urges the international community to take a stand against these abuses.
      “The human rights and religious freedom situation in Crimea has deteriorated dramatically since the illegal March 2014 Russian occupation,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George. “Religious minority communities, particularly Muslim Crimean Tatars, suffer because of Russia’s application of its more restrictive criminal and administrative codes, notably its onerous registration requirements and notorious anti-extremism law.”
      No religious community remains unscathed, particularly given the Kremlin’s application of its extremism law in Crimea.  Russian authorities have raided Tatar homes, mosques, media outlets, and schools, and the Kingdom Halls of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They also have detained imams and fined individuals simply for possessing Islamic and Jehovah’s Witness text which are banned under the extremism law. Twelve Crimean Tatars, accused by Russian authorities of being members of a banned terrorist organization, were arrested in February 2016 after speaking with international human rights monitors about the repression of Tatars in Crimea.
      In order to gain legal operating status, Russia requires all Crimean religious communities registered with the Ukrainian state to re-register under Russia’s more stringent requirements. Of the over 1,500 religious communities with Ukrainian legal status, only 400 were re-registered under Russian authority. Unregistered religious groups, including the Ukrainian Catholic Church – banned by the Kremlin 70 years ago  – and  Armenian Apostolic parishes, cannot open bank accounts, own property, issue invitations to foreign guests, and publish literature.  In view of the Kremlin’s hostility, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate did not even apply for registration.
      “Russia has spread its net of intolerance to Crimea and freedom of religion or belief has been its victim.  The international community must not be silent in the face of these abuses,” said Chairman George. “Moscow must reform its anti-extremism law, cease its application to Crimea, grant legal status to the 1,500 religious groups that operated before the Russian annexation, and stop harassing religious minorities and those the Moscow Patriarchate views as rivals. USCIRF also urges the U.S. government to apply provisions of the Magnitsky Act and continue to identify Russian government officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom and human rights, freeze their assets, and bar their entry into the United States.”
      USCIRF placed Russia on its Tier 2 list in its 2015 Annual Report. Tier 2 countries are those in which the violations the government engages in or tolerates are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of IRFA’s “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” standard. For more information, see the Russia chapter in USCIRF’s 2015 Annual Report.
      To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0613.
      Source: http://www.uscirf.gov/news-room/press-releases/crimea-religious-freedom-abuses-must-stop
    • By admin
      Jehovah's Witnesses > WTBTS of Pennsylvania  > Archive of Publications > 2016 C.E.
      --------------------------------------------------- The Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan will soon hear two cases involving the right to freedom of religion, association, and expression.
      February 15, 2016. Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed the refusal of the State Committee of Religious Affairs to register four religious organizations. The refusal disregards the September 4, 2014, ruling of the Constitutional Chamber on this very issue.
      February 24, 2016. The Osh City Prosecutor appealed the acquittals of Oksana Koriakina and that of her mother, Nadezhda Sergienko. Jehovah’s Witnesses are disappointed that the Prosecutor General’s Office will argue for the Osh City Prosecutor’s Office, since the judgments of the lower courts show a clear violation of constitutional rights
      Audio:
      .802016724_E_cnt_01.mp3
       
      https://www.jw.org/en/news/legal/by-region/kyrgyzstan/supreme-court-hearings-20160212/
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    • One thing is absolutely certain, Bible chronology reinforced with fulfilled Bible prophecy shows that six thousand years of man’s existence will soon be up, yes, within this generation! Here authors said how some "fulfilled Bible prophecy" showed something. This would mean how WT Society knew at that time what was already fulfilled or it will be. Is this claim really correct? Because they made interpretations about human events and projected their expectations, explained them as Bible prophecies. This was common practice. Another thing, let me remind please what was explanation of "generation" in 1968?  But they knew "something" about 70., what was more important for them :)) .... and it seems how "instructions" (gave from Jesus, and not Jeruzalem GB)  showed themselves as reasonable even from human standpoint. :))
    • After today's WT study I was reminded of how much simpler and clearer we have become. There are still some speculative elements there, but overall its nothing compared to some past WT studies, and although this might be slightly off topic here (but still on topic with regard to "difficult doctrine") I would just like to post one example from 1968. (WT 68/8/15)  Either people were more patient and studious than they are now, or even back then, perhaps only a handful were able to wrap their heads around this study. I will be bold enough to say many may have just heard "end in 1975", and that's it. Why Are You Looking Forward to 1975? 1, 2. (a) What has sparked special interest in the year 1975, and with what results? (b) But what questions are raised? WHAT about all this talk concerning the year 1975? Lively discussions, some based on speculation, have burst into flame during recent months among serious students of the Bible. Their interest has been kindled by the belief that 1975 will mark the end of 6,000 years of human history since Adam’s creation. The nearness of such an important date indeed fires the imagination and presents unlimited possibilities for discussion. 2 But wait! How do we know their calculations are correct? What basis is there for saying Adam was created nearly 5,993 years ago? Does the one Book that can be implicitly trusted for its truthful historical accuracy, namely, the Inspired Word of Jehovah, the Holy Bible, give support and credence to such a conclusion? 3. Is the date for Adam’s creation as found in many copies of the Bible part of the inspired Scriptures, and do all agree on the date? 3 In the marginal references of the Protestant Authorized or King James Version, and in the footnotes of certain editions of the Catholic Douay version, the date of man’s creation is said to be 4004 B.C.E. This marginal date, however, is no part of the inspired text of the Holy Scriptures, since it was first suggested more than fifteen centuries after the last Bible writer died, and was not added to any edition of the Bible until 1701 C.E. It is an insertion based upon the conclusions of an Irish prelate, the Anglican Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656). Ussher’s chronology was only one of the many sincere efforts made during the past centuries to determine the time of Adam’s creation. A hundred years ago when a count was taken, no less than 140 different timetables had been published by serious scholars. In such chronologies the calculations as to when Adam was created vary all the way from 3616 B.C.E. to 6174 B.C.E., with one wild guess set at 20,000 B.C.E. Such conflicting answers contained in the voluminous libraries around the world certainly tend to compound the confusion when seeking an answer to the above questions. 4. What have we learned in our previous study, and, hence, what are we now prepared to do? 4 In the previous article we learned from the Inspired Writings themselves, independent of the uninspired marginal notes of some Bibles, that the seventy years of desolation of the land of Judah began to count about October 1, 607 B.C.E. The beginning of this seventy-year period was obviously tied to its ending, that is, with the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C.E. So with 607 B.C.E. as dependably fixed on our Gregorian calendar as the absolute date of 539 B.C.E. we are prepared to move farther back in the count of time, to the dating of other important events in Bible history. For instance, the years when Saul, David and Solomon reigned successively over God’s chosen people can now be dated in terms of the present-day calendar. 5. What history-making events took place in 997 B.C.E.? 5 At the death of Solomon his kingdom was split into two parts. The southern two-tribe part, composed of Judah and Benjamin, continued to be ruled by Solomon’s descendants, and was known as the kingdom of Judah. The northern ten tribes made up the kingdom of Israel, sometimes called “Samaria” after the name of its later capital city, and were ruled over by Jeroboam and his successors. By our applying the prophetic time period of 390 years found in Ezekiel 4:1-9 with regard to Jerusalem’s destruction the death of Solomon is found to be in the year 997 B.C.E. This was 390 years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. ISRAEL’S ERRORS CARRIED 390 YEARS 6, 7. What time periods are referred to in Ezekiel 4:1-9? 6 Notice what is said on this matter by the prophet Ezekiel: 7 “And you, O son of man, take for yourself a brick, and you must put it before you, and engrave upon it a city, even Jerusalem. And you must lay siege against it . . . It is a sign to the house of Israel. And as for you, lie upon your left side, and you must lay the error of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you will lie upon it you will carry their error. And I myself must give to you the years of their error to the number of three hundred and ninety days, and you must carry the error of the house of Israel. And you must complete them. And you must lie upon your right side in the second case, and you must carry the error of the house of Judah forty days. A day for a year, a day for a year, is what I have given you. . . . And as for you, take for yourself wheat and barley and broad beans and lentils and millet and spelt, and you must put them in one utensil and make them into bread for you, for the number of the days that you are lying upon your side; three hundred and ninety days you will eat it.”—Ezek. 4:1-9. 8. When did the carrying of the “error” of the southern kingdom end? 8 This chapter 4 of Ezekiel, was not recounting past historical events but was prophecy of future events. It was telling of the time in the future when the glorious city of Jerusalem would be besieged and its inhabitants taken captive, all of which occurred in 607 B.C.E. So the forty years spoken of in the case of Judah ended in that year. The “error” of the northern kingdom, said to be carried for 390 years, was nearly tenfold greater when compared with the error of Judah carried for 40 years. When, then, did these 390 years end? 9. What indicates the “error” of the northern kingdom also ended in 607 B.C.E.? 9 They were not terminated in 740 B.C.E., when Samaria was destroyed, for the simple fact that Ezekiel enacted this prophetic drama sometime after “the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin,” which would make the termination not earlier than 613 B.C.E., that is, 127 years after the destruction of Samaria by Assyria. (Ezek. 1:2) Since this whole prophetic drama plainly pointed forward to the destruction of Jerusalem, and since both the house of Israel and the house of Judah were in reality one inseparable covenant-bound people, the remnant of whom would not be a divided people upon their return from exile, there is only one reasonable conclusion, namely, the errors of both houses ran concurrently and terminated at the same time in 607 B.C.E. In this way the 70 years of desolation of the land of Judah ended 70 years after the termination of carrying the error of both houses, so that thus a remnant of both houses could return to the site of Jerusalem. 10. So when did the “error” of Israel begin? 10 If the “error of the house of Israel” ended in 607, its beginning, 390 years prior thereto, was in 997 B.C.E. It began the year that King Solomon died and Jeroboam committed error, yes, great error, in that Jeroboam, whose domain was ripped off from the house of David, “proceeded to part Israel from following Jehovah,” causing them “to sin with a great sin.”—2 Ki. 17:21. DATE OF EXODUS, 1513 B.C.E. 11, 12. What other event in man’s history are we now prepared to date, and with the aid of what key text? 11 Looking back into the distant past we see another milestone in man’s history, the never-to-be-forgotten exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, under the leadership of Moses. Were it not for Jehovah’s faithful Word the Bible, it would be impossible to locate this great event accurately on the calendar, for Egyptian hieroglyphics are conspicuously silent concerning the humiliating defeat handed that first world power by Jehovah. But with the Bible’s chronology, how relatively simple it is to date that memorable event! 12 At 1 Kings 6:1 we read: “And it came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out from the land of Egypt, in the fourth year, in the month of Ziv, that is, the second month, after Solomon became king over Israel, that he proceeded to build the house to Jehovah.” 13, 14. (a) On the Gregorian calendar, in what year did Solomon begin to reign? (b) In what year did he begin the building of the temple? 13 With this information one has only to determine what calendar year Solomon began building the temple, and it is then an easy matter to figure when Pharaoh’s army was destroyed in the Red Sea. 14 “And the days that Solomon had reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel were forty years.” (1 Ki. 11:42) This means that his last full regnal year ended in the spring of 997 B.C.E.* Adding 40 to 997 gives 1037 B.C.E., the year that Solomon began his peaceful reign. He did not begin the temple building, as the account says, until the second month of the fourth year of his reign, which means he had ruled a full three years and one month. Thus subtracting 3 years from 1037 one gets 1034 B.C.E., the year that the building work began. The time of the year was the second month Ziv, that is, April-May. This, the Bible says, was “in the four hundred and eightieth year” after the Israelites left Egypt. 15. (a) Explain the difference between a cardinal and an ordinal number. (b) So when did the Israelites leave Egypt? 15 Anytime we put a “th” on the end of a number, for instance on the number 10, saying 10th, the number is changed from a cardinal to an ordinal number. When one speaks about playing baseball in the tenth inning of the game, it means that nine full innings have already been played, but only part of the tenth; ten innings are not yet completed. Likewise, when the Bible uses an ordinal number, saying that the building of the temple began in the 480th year after the Israelites left Egypt, and when that particular year on the calendar is known to be 1034 B.C.E., then we add 479 full years (not 480) to 1034 and arrive at the date 1513 B.C.E., the year of the Exodus. It too was springtime, Passover time, the 14th day of the month Nisan. HOW LONG SINCE THE FLOOD? 16. How far back in history have we now penetrated, and what are the prospects of probing even deeper? 16 Already with the help supplied by the Bible we have accurately measured back from the spring of this year 1968 C.E. to the spring of 1513 B.C.E., a total of 3,480 years. With the continued faithful memory and accurate historical record of Jehovah’s Holy Word we can penetrate even deeper into the past, back to the flood of Noah’s day. 17. In recounting Israel’s experiences, to what events and to what time period does Stephen refer? 17 Stephen, the first martyred footstep follower of Jesus Christ, referred to what Jehovah said would befall Abraham’s offspring. “Moreover, God spoke to this effect, that his seed would be alien residents in a foreign land and the people would enslave them and afflict them for four hundred years.” (Acts 7:6; Gen. 15:13) Stephen here mentions three of Israel’s past experiences: As alien residents in a foreign land, as people in slavery, and as people afflicted for four hundred years. 18. What argues against the conclusion that these events were separate experiences following one another in consecutive order? 18 It would be a mistake to assume that all three of these experiences were of equal duration, or that they were separate individual experiences that followed one another in consecutive order. It was long after their entrance into Egypt as aliens that they were enslaved, more than 70 years later, and sometime after the death of Joseph. Rather, Stephen was saying that within the same 400-year period in which they were afflicted, they were also enslaved and were also alien residents. 19. How do we know the Israelites were “aliens” before entering Egypt? 19 Please note that, when Stephen said they were “alien residents in a foreign land . . . for four hundred years,” he did not say and he did not mean to imply that they were not alien residents before entering Egypt. So it is a mistake to insist that this text proves the Israelites were in Egypt for four hundred years. It is true that, upon entering Egypt and being presented before Pharaoh for the first time, Joseph’s brothers said: “We have come to reside as aliens in the land.” But they did not say nor did they mean that up until then they had not been alien residents, for on the same occasion their father Jacob, when asked by Pharaoh how old he was, declared: “The days of the years of my alien residences are a hundred and thirty years.” And not only had Jacob spent his whole lifetime as an alien resident before coming to Egypt, but he told Pharaoh that his forefathers before him also had been alien residents.—Gen. 47:4-9. 20. When did these 400 years end, and when did they begin? 20 Since the affliction of Israel ended in 1513 B.C.E., it must have begun in 1913, 400 years earlier. That year would correspond to the time that Isaac was afflicted by Ishmael “poking fun” at him on the day that Isaac was weaned. At the time, Isaac was five years old, and this was long before the Israelites entered Egypt.—Gen. 21:8, 9. 21, 22. Were the Israelites 430 years in Egypt exclusively, and how do certain ancient manuscripts shed light on this point? 21 Well, then, how long were the Israelites down in Egypt as alien residents? Exodus 12:40, 41 says: “And the dwelling of the sons of Israel, who had dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. And it came about at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, it even came about on this very day that all the armies of Jehovah went out of the land of Egypt.” 22 Here Ex 12 verse 40 in the Septuagint reads: “But the dwelling of the sons of Israel which they [and their fathers, Alexandrine MS] dwelt in the land of Egypt AND IN THE LAND OF CANAAN [was] four hundred and thirty years long.” The Samaritan Pentateuch reads: “IN THE LAND OF CANAAN and in the land of Egypt.” Thus both of these versions, which are based on Hebrew texts older than the Masoretic, include the words “in the land of Canaan” together with the word “Egypt.” 23. (a) So how long were the Israelites actually in Egypt, and how does Paul confirm this? (b) Explain the difference between the 400 and the 430 years mentioned in the Scriptures. 23 From the time that Abraham entered Canaan until Isaac’s birth was 25 years;* from that time until Jacob’s birth, 60 more years; and after that it was another 130 years before Jacob entered Egypt. All together this makes a total of 215 years, exactly half of the 430 years, spent in Canaan before moving in to Egypt. (Gen. 12:4; 21:5; 25:26; 47:9) The apostle Paul, under inspiration, also confirms that from the making of the Abrahamic covenant at the time the patriarch moved into Canaan, it was 430 years down to the institution of the Law covenant.—Gal. 3:17. 24, 25. The Flood began in what calendar year, and how long was this before Abraham entered Canaan? 24 By adding this 430 years to the 1513 it puts us back to 1943 B.C.E., the time when Abraham first entered Canaan following the death of his father Terah in Haran, Mesopotamia. It is now only a matter of adding up the years of a few generations to date the Flood correctly. The figures are given in Genesis, chapters 11 and 12, and may be summarized as follows: From start of Flood To Arpachshad’s birth (Gen. 11:10) 2 years To birth of Shelah (11:12) 35 “ To birth of Eber (11:14) 30 “ To birth of Peleg (11:26) 34 “ To birth of Reu (11:18) 30 “ To birth of Serug (11:20) 32 “ To birth of Nahor (11:22) 30 “ To birth of Terah (11:24) 29 “ To death of Terah in Haran, and Abram’s departure to Canaan at age of 75 (11:32; 12:4) 205 “ Total 427 years 25 Adding these 427 years to the year 1943 B.C.E. dates the beginning of the Deluge at 2370 B.C.E., 4,337 years ago. 6,000 YEARS FROM ADAM’S CREATION 26, 27. (a) How long before the Flood was Adam created? In what year? (b) What indicates that Adam was created in the fall of the year? 26 In a similar manner it is only necessary to add up the following years involving ten pre-Flood generations to get the date of Adam’s creation, namely: From Adam’s creation To birth of Seth (Gen. 5:3) 130 years To birth of Enosh (5:6) 105 “ To birth of Kenan (5:9) 90 “ To birth of Mahalalel (5:12) 70 “ To birth of Jared (5:15) 65 “ To birth of Enoch (5:18) 162 “ To birth of Methuselah (5:21) 65 “ To birth of Lamech (5:25) 187 “ To birth of Noah (5:28, 29) 182 “ To beginning of Flood (7:6) 600 “ Total 1,656 years 27 Adding this figure 1,656 to 2,370 gives 4026 B.C.E., the Gregorian calendar year in which Adam was created. Since man naturally began to count time with his own beginning, and since man’s most ancient calendars started each year in the autumn, it is reasonable to assume that the first man Adam was created in the fall of the year. 28. How does this chronology differ from Ussher’s in regard to Adam’s creation? 28 Thus, through a careful independent study by dedicated Bible scholars who have pursued the subject for a number of years, and who have not blindly followed some traditional chronological calculations of Christendom, we have arrived at a date for Adam’s creation that is 22 years more distant in the past than Ussher’s figure. This means time is running out two decades sooner than traditional chronology anticipates. 29. Why be concerned with the date of Adam’s creation? 29 After much of the mathematics and genealogies, really, of what benefit is this information to us today? Is it not all dead history, as uninteresting and profitless as walking through a cemetery copying old dates off tombstones? After all, why should we be any more interested in the date of Adam’s creation than in the birth of King Tut? Well, for one thing, if 4,026 is added to 1,968 (allowing for the lack of a zero year between C.E. and B.C.E.) one gets a total of 5,993 years, come this autumn, since Adam’s creation. That means, in the fall of the year 1975, a little over seven years from now (and not in 1997 as would be the case if Ussher’s figures were correct), it will be 6,000 years since the creation of Adam, the father of all mankind! ADAM CREATED AT CLOSE OF “SIXTH DAY” 30. What may occur before 1975, but what attitude should we take? 30 Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly, but we wait to see how closely the seventh thousand-year period of man’s existence coincides with the sabbathlike thousand-year reign of Christ. If these two periods run parallel with each other as to the calendar year, it will not be by mere chance or accident but will be according to Jehovah’s loving and timely purposes. Our chronology, however, which is reasonably accurate (but admittedly not infallible), at the best only points to the autumn of 1975 as the end of 6,000 years of man’s existence on earth. It does not necessarily mean that 1975 marks the end of the first 6,000 years of Jehovah’s seventh creative “day.” Why not? Because after his creation Adam lived some time during the “sixth day,” which unknown amount of time would need to be subtracted from Adam’s 930 years, to determine when the sixth seven-thousand-year period or “day” ended, and how long Adam lived into the “seventh day.” And yet the end of that sixth creative “day” could end within the same Gregorian calendar year of Adam’s creation. It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years. 31. What do the first two chapters of Genesis disclose? 31 In regard to Adam’s creation it is good to read carefully what the Bible says. Moses in compiling the book of Genesis referred to written records or “histories” that predated the Flood. The first of these begins with Genesis 1:1 and ends at Genesis 2:4 with the words, “This is the history of the heavens and the earth . . . ” The second historical document begins with Genesis 2:5 and ends with Ge verse two of chapter five. Hence we have two separate accounts of creation from slightly different points of view. In the second of these accounts, in Genesis 2:19, the original Hebrew verb translated “was forming” is in the progressive imperfect form. This does not mean that the animals and birds were created after Adam was created. Genesis 1:20-28 shows it does not mean that. So, in order to avoid contradiction between Ge chapter one and chapter two, Genesis 2:19, 20 must be only a parenthetical remark thrown in to explain the need for creating a “helper” for man. So the progressive Hebrew verb form could also be rendered as “had been forming.”—See Rotherham’s translation (Ro), also Leeser’s (Le). 32. What indicates the sixth creative day did not end immediately with Adam’s creation? 32 These two creation accounts in the book of Genesis, though differing slightly in the treatment of the material, are in perfect agreement with each other on all points, including the fact that Eve was created after Adam. So not until after this event did the sixth creative day come to an end. Exactly how soon after Adam’s creation is not disclosed. “After that [Adam and Eve’s creation] God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good. And there came to be evening and there came to be morning, a sixth day.” (Gen. 1:31) After the sixth creative day ends, the seventh one begins. 33. (a) How do we know the end of the sixth creative day came very soon after Adam’s creation? (b) How does Genesis 1:31 prove the sixth day ended before Adam and Eve sinned? 33 This time between Adam’s creation and the beginning of the seventh day, the day of rest, let it be noted, need not have been a long time. It could have been a rather short one. The naming of the animals by Adam, and his discovery that there was no complement for himself, required no great length of time. The animals were in subjection to Adam; they were peaceful; they came under God’s leading; they were not needing to be chased down and caught. It took Noah only seven days to get the same kinds of animals, male and female, into the Ark. (Gen. 7:1-4) Eve’s creation was quickly accomplished, ‘while Adam was sleeping.’ (Gen. 2:21) So the lapse of time between Adam’s creation and the end of the sixth creative day, though unknown, was a comparatively short period of time. The pronouncement at the end of the sixth day, “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good,” proves that the beginning of the great seventh day of the creative week did not wait until after Adam and Eve sinned and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. 1975! . . . AND FAR BEYOND! 34. What has brought about a better understanding of Bible chronology? 34 Bible chronology is an interesting study by which historic events are placed in their order of occurrence along the stream of time. The Watch Tower Society over the years has endeavored to keep its associates abreast with the latest scholarship that proves consistent with historic and prophetic events recorded in the Scriptures. Major problems in sacred chronology have been straightened out either due to fulfillment of Bible prophecies or by reason of archaeological discoveries or because better Bible translations convey more clearly the records of the original languages. However, several knotty problems of chronology of a minor nature are not yet resolved. For example, at the time of the exodus from Egypt when Jehovah changed the beginning of the year from autumn time on the secular calendar to spring time on the sacred calendar, was there, in the Jewish calendar, a loss or a gain of six months?—Ex. 12:1, 2. 35. Why is this no time for indifference and complacency? 35 One thing is absolutely certain, Bible chronology reinforced with fulfilled Bible prophecy shows that six thousand years of man’s existence will soon be up, yes, within this generation! (Matt. 24:34) This is, therefore, no time to be indifferent and complacent. This is not the time to be toying with the words of Jesus that “concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt. 24:36) To the contrary, it is a time when one should be keenly aware that the end of this system of things is rapidly coming to its violent end. Make no mistake, it is sufficient that the Father himself knows both the “day and hour”! 36. What helpful example did the apostles leave us in this regard? 36 Even if one cannot see beyond 1975, is this any reason to be less active? The apostles could not see even this far; they knew nothing about 1975. All they could see was a short time ahead in which to finish the work assigned to them. (1 Pet. 4:7) Hence, there was a ring of alarm and a cry of urgency in all their writings. (Acts 20:20; 2 Tim. 4:2) And rightly so. If they had delayed or dillydallied and had been complacent with the idea the end was some thousands of years off they would never have finished running the race set before them. No, they ran hard and they ran fast, and they won! It was a life or death matter with them.—1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1. 37. So what will you be doing between now and 1975? And beyond that, what? 37 So too with Jehovah’s faithful witnesses in this latter half of the twentieth century. They have the true Christian point of view. Their strenuous evangelistic activity is not something peculiar to this present decade. They have not dedicated their lives to serve Jehovah only until 1975. Christians have been running this way ever since Christ Jesus blazed the trail and commanded his disciples, “Follow me!” So keep this same mental attitude in you that was in Christ Jesus. Let nothing slow you down or cause you to tire and give out. Those who will flee Babylon the Great and this Satanic system of things are now running for their lives, headed for God’s kingdom, and they will not stop at 1975. O no! They will keep on in this glorious way that leads to everlasting life, praising and serving Jehovah for ever and ever!     You are referring to Luke 10:17,18 "Then the 70 returned with joy, saying: “Lord, even the demons are made subject to us by the use of your name.” At that he said to them: “I see Satan already fallen like lightning from heaven".  But one of the cross references to Satan falling is Revelation 12:7-9   "And war broke out in heaven: Miʹcha·el and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels battled 8  but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them any longer in heaven. 9  So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him". I wonder why, since as you say we are to understand that it referred to the power Satan had over Jesus and his disciples. In a way no, but I think we are meant to see that the world in general was brought into more of a turmoil than it had been before, with the world warring on a worldwide scale, with lethal weapons capable of total world destruction I am thinking rather than using the word "defeat" (because Satan won't be defeated until after the 1000 years) the purpose of the battle in heaven in 1914 was to cleanse the heavens of his evil presence. Then during Armageddon it will be to bind him and put him in "jail" for a period of time. So no, I don't think there are several stages of defeat.   We are to believe that what changed after the battle in 1914 was the world in general.   Yes indeed. But how fatal would it really be if we ignored Jesus words about not knowing the day or hour?
    • The music video for Lionel Richie's "Hello" directed by Bob Giraldi, attracts attention as it tells the story of a music teacher (played by Lionel Richie) who falls in love with his blind student. "Hello is it me you're looking for?" is quite an insensitive pick up line to use on a blind woman.   Ah, the 80s, when people thought teachers stalking their disabled students was romantic...    
    • Quote @b4ucuhear " For example, we realized that the “superior authorities” mentioned in Romans 13:1 are, not Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, but the political rulers " BUT the original teaching by the Bible Students was that the 'superior authorities' was the political rulers. It was fully understood in the first place. So, why was false reasoning used to give false teaching ? Obviously no Holy Spirit involved there. So you cannot say that it was new light or better understanding when it was originally known anyway 
    • “We Must Obey God as Ruler Rather Than Men”  This is something that not sound to me as doctrine. This sound as standpoint. Also we have to take context. Apostle responded with this statement as position on Sanhedrin's command that they must not preaching....about what? Peter and John answered: “We cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.”  Well, this is original context. Some other examples speaking about similar things where JHVH and Jesus' servants refused to do something or have done something. Life has got to be more complexe through centuries, so we have now more explanations and interpretations how should look like today's reality of "obey god rather than man". Even things about education come to be viewed through this sort of glasses. Advice to not going to higher education coming from "spiritual place" as god's instruction through GB. Not obeying counsel/advice/recommendation in this matter is considered as not putting god on first place in life. But contrary, own selfish ambitions. As consequence this could be understand that you listen/obey yourself and not god.  About what JW's of today can making claim as apostles did? What things JW today "have seen and heard"  that make their standpoint so firm to obey god as ruler? They have seen and heard only their faith and beliefs. Because they have not seen and heard nothing similar what apostles or first christians experienced.   And this is good way how system making doctrines that sounds like "the truth". And after some time you will read new articles with similar explanation :))) ... year after year. ● At times there are changes in viewpoint on Biblical subjects discussed in the Watch Tower Society’s publications. We speak of what we believe as “the truth.” But does “truth” change? Yes, it changes. Because you believe in new, advanced knowledge. "The Truth" should not to be knowledge, but Principle. Because Principle is older than this what we calling "the Truth". Even in JW understanding when they speaking about something that is so firm and deep, unchangeable, they using word "Principle" not word "Truth". Principles in Old Testament, for example, that stood behind some laws of Moses, are visible in New Testament too.  In that context we can talk about Moses Law as "The Truth". Perhaps old Israel people used same or similar wording to describe what they think and feel about God' Words. But this kind of "Truth" and their "Truth" are gone. (Not completely, because we have Israel of today.) So, "The Truth" was changed, even more, with time it had been abandoned gradually by new formed Jew congregations. "Old truth" became useless as sort of knowledge about what, how, when and why to be practiced in daily life. Principles stayed. Love God, love neighbor are most known.
    • ronan keating singing a song from the film notting hill   Keith Whitley - When You Say Nothing at All  
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