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Seven real stories of discrimination in Cuba

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3. Jehovah's Witness  in Cuba, for decades, were stigmatized, persecuted, criticized and taboo, even Catholic. But in recent years there has been some other flexibilization. However, Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, continue to suffer discrimination. Pedro and María Isabel are a couple from Las Tunas. Both are Jehovah's Witnesses. On one occasion, Pedro applied for a vacant post in a company. Among the inquiries that are normally made in the CDR that detail was known, that even though it did not officially prevent him from opting for the position, he knew from comments from a friend that it was what tipped the scale unfavorably. But María Isabel has also suffered discrimination because she is a Jehovah's Witness. The first was when, after being affected by a cyclone, she was denied the temporary facilities she required when she lost the roof of her house. Officially she was told that it was because of being a Jehovah's Witness. The second one "happened to me in a hospital. I said I was a Jehovah's Witness when I required blood and I requested to them to  use a blood substitute. The doctors disrespected me and did what they pleased. I felt bad, more than religious they treated me like an insane person, "she says.


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In my mind, any body who expects ANY fair treatment from a communist  tyrannical government is an insane person.


It's like two wolves and a sheep negotiating on what to have for lunch.

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Why would true Christians expect fair treatment? 

“Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake." Matt.5:11

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Guest Nicole

It is ok not to expect but it does feel good to vent... because when they collect your taxes they do not ask you if you are a JW or not. 

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      As in previous raids, law enforcement agents often forced entry to properties, threatened the occupants with weapons, and confiscated personal items, including bank cards. They then took Jehovah's Witnesses, including minors, away for interrogation, sometimes for several hours overnight (see below).

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      The Jehovah's Witnesses caught up in 2018's wave of prosecutions are accused of "continuing the activities" of the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre, their principal administrative body in Russia, which was outlawed as an "extremist" organisation and liquidated in 2017 (see F18News 18 July 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2297).

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      Up to 10 years' imprisonment?

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      One criminal investigation, in Orenburg, is also taking place under Criminal Code Article 282.3, Part 1 ("Financing of extremist activity"). This appears to be the first use of this Article against people exercising the internationally-recognised right to freedom of religion and belief.

      Conviction under Criminal Code Article 282.3, Part 1 ("Provision or collection of funds or rendering of financial services that are knowingly designed to finance the organisation, preparation and commission of at least one extremist crime or the support of the activities of an extremist community or an extremist organisation") carries the following penalties:

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      - or compulsory labour for a period of one to four years, with possible deprivation of the right to hold certain positions or engage in certain activities for a period of up to three years, or with possible restrictions on freedom for a period of up to one year;

      - or three to eight years' imprisonment.

      Forum 18 wrote to the Moscow press office of the Investigative Committee (which is leading most of the investigations) on 23 April, asking why the Jehovah's Witnesses detained in Ufa, Shuya, and Polyarny were considered so dangerous that armed force had to be used. On 10 May, Lieutenant Colonel S. Solovyov replied only that all available information on these cases could be found on the Bashkortostan, Ivanovo Region, and Murmansk Region Investigative Committee websites.

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      Officials added the name of Danish Jehovah's Witness Dennis Ole Christensen to the List shortly after his trial began.

      Christensen and Jehovah's Witness elder Arkadya Akopovich Akopyan are currently on trial for alleged "extremism" offences not directly related to the nationwide ban (see F18News 27 April 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2373).


      Aleksandr Solovyov and his wife Anna had just returned from a trip abroad when law enforcement agents detained them at Perm-2 railway station on the evening of 22 May. Friends who had come to meet them said that officers put Solovyov in handcuffs and took him and his wife away in separate cars, the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses reported on 24 May.

      Anna Solovyova has since been released, but Aleksandr is being held in a temporary detention centre while a judge decides on further restrictive measures. It is as yet unclear whether he will be placed in pre-trial detention or which court will rule on the matter. Under which part of Criminal Code Article 282.2 ("Organisation of" or "participation in" "the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity") he is being investigated is also unknown.

      Investigators searched the Solovyovs' home overnight on 22/23 May and seized the deeds to the flat, electronic devices, computer drives, their wifi router, photographs, and their collection of Bibles.

      Before the nationwide ban on Jehovah's Witness activity and the consequent liquidation of local communities, Aleksandr Solovyov chaired the Perm Jehovah's Witness congregation, according to federal tax records. Anna Solovyova does not appear on the list of founding members.

      As of 24 May, Solovyov was being held at the Temporary Detention Centre, ulitsa Uralskaya, 90, Perm, 614017.

      Birobidzhan: "Judgment Day"

      About 150 law enforcement officers conducted at least nine searches of Jehovah's Witness homes in Birobidzhan, capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region, early in the morning of 17 May, the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses announced later that day. The operation was codenamed "Judgment Day", according to the Association.

      Officers seized personal photographs, bank cards, money, and electronic devices. So far, one person – Alam Aliyev – is known to be the subject of a criminal case under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 ("Organisation of the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity").

      On 18 May, Judge Marina Tsimarno of Birobidzhan District Court upheld FSB investigators' request to keep Aliyev in pre-trial custody in Birobidzhan's Investigation Prison No. 1 until 13 July, according to court records. Aliyev's lawyers submitted an appeal against his detention on 21 May. On 25 May, Judge Anzhela Sizova of the Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region upheld this appeal, citing "significant violations of criminal procedural law governing the choice of pre-trial detention as a restrictive measure". This freed Aliyev from detention after eight days. It remains unknown what restrictions he remains under.

      The FSB's request to hold Aliyev in custody "was motivated by the fact that the crime is classified as grave, for which the law provides for a sentence of imprisonment for a term of six to 10 years", according to a 21 May press statement on the court website. "During the preliminary investigation, it was established that a large number of persons took part in the activity of this organisation. The suspect is the organiser of this extremist organisation and has an actual influence on members of the association."

      Birobidzhan was home to the only registered local Jehovah's Witness congregation in the Jewish Autonomous Region, which was among those ruled "extremist" and liquidated before the Supreme Court's decision to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses nationwide. The Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region upheld the local Justice Ministry branch's suit on 3 October 2016, and the community ceased its activities on 20 December 2016, according to federal tax records. Aliyev does not appear in the records as a founder member of the community.

      Orenburg Region: Mass raids

      Investigative Committee operatives, FSB security service agents, and armed riot police carried out 18 house searches in Orenburg, Buzuluk, Perevolotsky, and Sol-Iletsk, also on 17 May.

      They took 15 people away for questioning, three of whom were then sent to a temporary detention centre, according to statements by the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses on 17 May and 21 May.

      Of these three, Judge Igor Ismaylov of Industrial District Court ruled on 19 May that one – Vladislav Kolbanov – should be placed under house arrest, while the other two – Aleksandr Suvorov and Vladimir Kochnyov – should be kept in pre-trial detention until 14 July.

      Orenburg Region Investigative Committee reported that a further six people are under travel restrictions.

      Forum 18 understands Suvorov and Kochnyov's prison address to be:

      Orenburg Region

      460000 Orenburg

      ulitsa Naberezhnaya, 7

      Investigation Prison No. 1

      The Investigative Committee said in a press statement on 22 May that nine people in Orenburg Region have been formally charged under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 ("Organisation of the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity"), Article 282.2, Part 2 ("Participation in" such an organisation), and Criminal Code Article 282.3, Part 1 ("Financing of extremist activity").

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      Before the liquidation of the Administrative Centre, Orenburg and Buzuluk had registered Jehovah's Witness communities, while Perevolotsky and Sol-Iletsk did not. According to federal tax records, Suvorov previously chaired the Central Orenburg Jehovah's Witness community, and Kochnyov was among its founding members.

      The raids on 17 May took place "as a result of carefully planned and organised operational and investigative actions", according to the Investigative Committee statement, and had the aim of "seizing documents and items relevant to the criminal case, as well as identifying other persons involved in unlawful activities".

      In raiding the historically pacifist Jehovah's Witnesses, police "anti-extremism" officers, the Economic Security and Anti-Corruption Administration, and the Orenburg Region FSB security service were also involved. The raids on pacifists also included what was described as "armed support" from National Guard special forces troops.

      Investigators allege that the suspects, knowing of the 2017 ban on Jehovah's Witness activity, "organised the activity of a structural subdivision of Jehovah's Witnesses by calling and holding meetings, organising the recruitment of new members, and communicating the contents of religious literature to meeting participants".

      The investigation is continuing, with "necessary investigative and operational-search measures underway in order to collect and consolidate a base of evidence", according to the statement.

      Telephones at Orenburg Region Investigative Committee went unanswered when Forum 18 called on 24 May to ask why officials thought armed force was necessary against pacifists.

      Polyarny, Murmansk Region

      Further details have now emerged of earlier raids on Jehovah's Witness homes in other regions (see F18News 23 April 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2372).

      Two men from Polyarny in Murmansk Region are in pre-trial detention, the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses confirmed on 11 May. They are Roman Markin and Viktor Trofimov, who are in custody in the city of Murmansk until 12 June. The Investigative Committee's branch in the closed district of Aleksandrovsk (which includes Polyarny) opened the case against them on 12 April . This is under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 ("Organisation of the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity").

      Markin and Trofimov's prison address is:

      Murmansk Region

      183027 Murmansk

      ulitsa Radishcheva, 32

      Investigation Prison No. 1

      Before the nationwide ban and liquidation of local Jehovah's Witness organisations, Viktor Trofimov chaired the Polyarny community, according to federal tax records.

      The men (who are like all Jehovah's Witnesses pacifists) were detained during armed raids on seven houses in Polyarny on 18 April, which involved armed troops and riot police "who acted extremely rudely", according to Jehovah's Witnesses. Officers searched 17 people in all and confiscated their electronic devices. Interrogations at the Investigative Department of the Northern Fleet's Polyarny Flotilla continued through the night until 7 am the next day (see F18News 23 April 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2372).

      At Roman Markin's home, officers broke down his front door in the early evening, forced him and his 16-year-old daughter to lie on the floor during the search, and threatened them with weapons. Investigators questioned the 16-year-old until 3 am.

      During another search, an elderly man opened the door to the riot police, who then "pushed him so violently that he fell", the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses claims. They also hurt two women who were visiting the flat, and forced two teenage siblings to stand against the wall with their arms outstretched.


      Valentin Osadchuk remains in pre-trial detention in Vladivostok, where he is to be held until 20 June. He was formally charged on 27 April under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 2 ("Participation in the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity"), according to the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 23 April 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2372).

      Forum 18 understands Osadchuk's prison address to be:

      Primorye Region

      690106 Vladivostok

      Partizansky prospekt, 28b

      Investigation Prison No. 1

      Two women, aged 66 and 83, have also been named as suspects under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 2 ("Participation in the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity") and placed under travel restrictions, the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses also reported on 10 May. The FSB security service initiated the case against them and Osadchuk on 9 April. According to Jehovah's Witnesses, the investigation involved video surveillance, followed by raids on people's homes on 19 April.
      Read more: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2381
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      HAVANA -- A Cuban-operated airliner with at least 110 people on board crashed into a cassava field just after takeoff from Havana's international airport on Friday. There appeared to be mass casualties as Cuban officials said three people had survived, but had yet to give an official toll.
      Authorities said there were 104 passengers and nine foreign crew members on the flight that was headed to the eastern city of Holguin. Witnesses said they saw a thick column of smoke near the airport.
      Witnesses said they saw a thick column of smoke near the airport.
      "A column of black smoke rose up in the sky," resident Ana Gonzalez told the Reuters news agency.
      The screams of high school kids could be heard inside a nearby school as they ran to safety, CBS News' Manuel Bojorquez reports.   
      The plane lay in a field of yuca-root plants and appeared heavily damaged and burnt. Firefighters were trying to extinguish its smoldering remains. Government officials including President Miguel Diaz-Canel rushed to the site, along with a large number of emergency medical workers. Residents of the rural area said they had seen some survivors being taken away in ambulances.
      Read more: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/plane-crash-havana-cuba-today-2018-05-18/
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Officials from the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization say Russian law-enforcement officers have carried out “mass searches” on members’ homes in the Urals region of Orenburg and in the Far Eastern city of Birobidzhan.
      Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, on May 17 said 150 law-enforcement personnel raided more than 20 adherents’ homes in Birobidzhan, the capital of Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region.
      The raids came after searches had been carried out on May 16 in the Orenburg region near the border with Kazakhstan in which 18 Jehovah’s Witnesses were questioned and three were taken into custody, Lopes said.
      The spokesman said a criminal case had been initiated against an adherent of the Christian sect, Alam Aliyev, and that a trial was expected on May 18.
      Russia’s Supreme Court in July 2017 upheld a ruling that the Jehovah’s Witnesses should be considered an extremist organization, effectively banning the denomination from the country.
      The original ruling, issued in April 2017, was the first time an entire registered religious organization had been prohibited under Russian law.
      Long viewed with suspicion in Russia for their positions on military service, voting, and government authority in general, the Jehovah’s Witnesses -- which claim some 170,000 adherents in Russia and 8 million worldwide -- are among several denominations that have come under increasing pressure in recent years.
      The sect began operating in Russia and across the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
      Russia's treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses has raised concerns from governments and religious organizations in the West.
      “The treatment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects the Russian government’s tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country’s political stability,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said after the Supreme Court ruling last year.
    • By admin
      New York District Office
      May 17, 2018
      Owner Frequently Used Racial Slurs and Forced Out Manager Who Opposed Hiring Discrimination, Federal Agency Charges
            BUFFALO, N.Y. –Staffing Solutions of WNY Inc., a Buffalo-based staffing company that places employees with clients throughout Western New York, violated federal laws prohibiting hiring discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.  
            According to the complaint, EEOC contends that Staffing Solutions either refused to hire highly qualified black applicants or placed them in the lowest paying, least desirable jobs.  Further, EEOC alleges that Staffing Solutions’ owner, Kathleen Faulhaber, regularly referred to black applicants as “n----rs,” instructed her staff to comply with clients’ race and sex preferences, placed employees in positions based on race and sex, and rejected pregnant applicants.
           Additionally, the complaint alleges that applicants over the age of 50, applicants with disabilities, and those whom the company deemed disabled were routinely rejected by Staffing Solutions. EEOC contends that applicants were improperly asked for their dates of birth and about injuries and medical conditions, and that Staffing Solutions rejected applicants considered too old and those who revealed health issues, such as cancer, blindness, or back injuries.
           Finally, EEOC charges that an office manager for Staffing Solutions complained about the illegal hiring practices and voiced objections to Faulhaber’s repeated use of racial slurs, but was warned that she would be fired if she failed to comply.  The office manager felt she had no choice but to resign.
            Staffing Solutions’ alleged hiring practices violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act which prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, disability, race, or sex, as well as retaliation.
            The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York (EEOC v. Staffing Solutions of WNY, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-00562) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay; compensatory, liquidated, and punitive damages; and injunctive relief. The agency’s litigation effort will be led by Trial Attorneys Daniel Seltzer, Elizabeth Fox-Solomon, and Supervisory Trial Attorney Nora Curtin.
            "Staffing Solutions’ conduct hearkens back to a time over half a century ago, before the passage of federal laws that make this type of discriminatory hiring illegal,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for EEOC’s New York District Office. “The EEOC is sending a clear message with this lawsuit: those days are over.”
            Kevin Berry, the EEOC’s New York district director, added “Staffing companies are playing an increasingly large role in our economy. The EEOC will fight to ensure that they do not become an instrument of discrimination. The law is clear that honoring discriminatory client requests is illegal.”
            “I’m proud to have been born and raised in Buffalo,” said Curtin. “Buffalonians, and all Americans, deserve to be hired based on their qualifications, without regard to age, disability, race or sex."
            Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, and preserving access to the legal system by eliminating retaliation are national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
            The EEOC's New York District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, northern New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The Buffalo Local Office conducted the investigation resulting in this lawsuit.
           The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.
           Anyone who may have been discriminated against by Staffing Solutions should contact the EEOC at staffingsolutionslawsuit@eeoc.gov.
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      ST. PETERSBURG, May 3. /TASS/. The St. Petersburg city court has upheld the decision to confiscate from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania in New York the compound in the community of Solnechnoye on the Gulf of Finland and convert it to state property, the St. Petersburg courts’ press service said on Thursday.
      Earlier, a court of lower instance found that officially the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia in 2000 donated the real estate compound on the coast of the Gulf of Finland to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, registered on US territory. However, according to the courts’ press-service, the Administrative Center continued to use the facilities as before, which was a reason enough to declare the transaction fictitious and void. The property was taken over by the state.
      The compound consists of sixteen items - plots of land, homes and buildings more than 880 million rubles ($13.9 million) worth.
      Earlier, TASS reported that the defendants had disagreed with the lower instance court’s ruling and filed an appeal at the St. Petersburg city court. In particular, they argued that substantive law had been violated and anti-extremist law sanctions were used against them without a reason.
      Russia’s Supreme Court had declared Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization and outlawed its activity in Russia.

    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Urgench Police Officer Ravshan Sobirov who tortured Jehovah's Witness Anvar Tajiyev and issued death threats in October 2017 denied this to Forum 18. Tajiyev lost hearing in one ear and still suffers headaches. His many complaints to the President, national and local Prosecutor's Offices have led to no prosecutions.
      In a test of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's newly-professed intent to ban torture and punish the perpetrators, Jehovah's Witness Anvar Tajiyev has been seeking redress since October 2017 for torture inflicted on him by police in Urgench in Khorezm Region.

      More than six months after the police torture, Tajiyev still suffers headaches and has lost hearing in one ear.

      But his complaints to many state agencies – including to the President – have ended back with Urgench City Prosecutor's Office, which wrote on 3 March: "We found that the Police Officers' actions were not unlawful."

      "The authorities refuse to punish Urgench City Police and Officer Ravshan Sobirov responsible for the torture," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 on 27 April.

      Officer Sobirov denied to Forum 18 that he was involved in Tajiyev's case. "I do not know that person," he claimed (see below).

      Officials of the national, regional and city Prosecutor's Offices, the Presidential Administration, and the state-sponsored National Human Rights Centre all refused to tell Forum 18 why the officer who tortured Tajiyev has not been brought to justice and why he has been given no compensation. Uzbekistan has an international obligation to arrest and prosecute those suspected of torture (see below).

      Urgench Police also threatened the lives of Tajiyev, his family and fellow believers when it questioned him on 10 October 2017 about his religious activity. They then forced him to sign a statement that they had not tortured him (see below).

      Relatives were too afraid to take Tajiyev to a hospital in Urgench. In the capital Tashkent, one state hospital and a private clinic refused to treat him, apparently because police had caused the injuries. Only another state hospital was prepared to issue a diagnosis (see below).

      Jehovah's Witnesses are considering filing an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, they told Forum 18.

      Human rights defenders remain sceptical about government moves to ban and punish torture, one telling news agency centre1.com "many still keep silent about their torture because the law-enforcement agencies threaten them and their family members, telling them that their complaints will only worsen the situation" (see below).

      Torture as punishment for registration application?

      Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the police tortured Tajiyev "because our local community in Urgench between January and March 2017 had unsuccessfully asked for state registration".

      Back in 2006, after officials rejected the registration application of the Jehovah's Witness community in Kagan, police threatened ten members with death and a court later fined them (see F18News 9 January 2008 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1068).

      Exercising freedom of religion or belief without local state registration is illegal and punishable (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

      Unauthorised police raid

      Trouble for Tajiyev began on 3 October 2017, when Urgench City Police officers carried out an "unlawful search" in his flat in Urgench without showing a warrant, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. When the police raided his home, Tajiyev was away in Tashkent. Present during the raid were Rinat Sultanov, Tajiyev's fellow believer and tenant of the same flat, and Murat Ayliyev, another local Jehovah's Witness.

      The raiding officers confiscated Tajiyev's tablet device and notebook with personal notes on it. Officers forced Sultanov to tell them the password to open the tablet device, Jehovah's Witnesses complained.

      "Police later returned the tablet to Tajiyev, but did not inform him whether or not a case was opened against him," Jehovah's Witnesses added.

      "The General Prosecutor's Office wrote to us that the police terminated the administrative case against Tajiyev since no illegal religious materials were found on his tablet device," Muradova of the National Centre for Human Rights, told Forum 18 on 25 April 2018.

      Officer tortures Tajiyev, threatens his, his family's and fellow believers' lives

      As soon as Tajiyev arrived back in Urgench from Tashkent on 10 October 2017, local Police Officer Senior Lieutenant Mamur Sobirov phoned him at 11.30 am, and summoned him to the Committee of his local mahalla (city district), Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Forced to sign police report denying torture 

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

      State emergency medical centre refuses medical examination

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

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

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

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

      Private clinic also refuses treatment

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

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

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

      Diagnosed with concussion of brain

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

      Complaints and official responses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Will authorities implement anti-torture Acts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Prosecutor's officials refuse to discuss torture

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Will new ban end "routine" torture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Tatyana Dovlatova, another local human rights defender, told the agency that "many still keep silent about their torture because the law-enforcement agencies threaten them and their family members, telling them that their complaints will only worsen the situation." (END)
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      The criminal trial in Krasnoyarsk Region of a fourth local Muslim accused of "extremism" for meeting with others to study the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi appears imminent. Other criminal trials on similar charges of Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims continue.
      The criminal trial appears imminent of a further Muslim from Krasnoyarsk Region charged with "continuing the activities of an extremist organisation" for meeting to study the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, Forum 18 has found. Among the three Muslims already on trial in Krasnoyarsk on the same criminal charges is a Muslim whose previously unknown trial began in January.

      The latest case brings to six the total number of people known to be on trial or soon to come to court for alleged involvement in "Nurdzhular", which Muslims in Russia deny even exists. Two Jehovah's Witnesses are also on trial for extremism-related offences (see below).

      Criminal cases were opened in April against a further seven Jehovah's Witnesses for allegedly continuing to meet after the nationwide ban on Jehovah's Witness activity came into force in July 2017 (see F18News 23 April 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2372).

      If convicted under Criminal Code Article 282.2, both Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims who read Nursi's works could be jailed for up to ten years under Part 1 ("Organisation of the activities of a banned extremist organisation") or up to six years under Part 2 ("Participation in the activities of a banned extremist organisation").

      Typically, Muslims who study Nursi's writings meet in private homes, with one or more expounding on a particular book. They also pray, eat, and drink tea together. They do not seek any state permission for such meetings.

      Law enforcement agencies interpret such meetings as organised activity by "Nurdzhular" (derived from the Turkish for "Nursi followers"), which was ruled "extremist" and prohibited by the Supreme Court in 2008, despite the fact that Muslims in Russia say that no such association even exists.

      Courts have banned many Russian translations of Nursi's books, despite their not calling for violence or the violation of human rights (see Forum 18's Russia "extremism" religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215).

      Subsequently, people who have met to study Nursi's books have been prosecuted under Criminal Code Article 282.2 ("Organisation of" or "participation in" "the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity").

      Since the 2017 liquidation of the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre as an "extremist" organisation, Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia are now also in danger of being prosecuted under Criminal Code Article 282.2 if they continue to meet for worship or Bible study. In some towns, this was already a danger after earlier "extremism" bans on local communities.


      Amendments to the Criminal Code in July 2016 introduced harsher penalties for "extremism"-related offences (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215).

      An individual charged since then (such as the two Muslims recently charged in Krasnoyarsk Region) could be sentenced to the following under Criminal Code Article 282.2 ("Organisation of" or "participation in" "the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity"):

      Part 1 – a fine of 400,000 to 800,000 Roubles (or two to four years' salary); or six to 10 years' imprisonment followed by restrictions on pursuing certain jobs and activities for up to 10 years and restrictions on freedom for one to two years;

      Part 2 – a fine of 300,000 to 600,000 Roubles (or two to three years' salary); compulsory labour for one to four years with possible restrictions on pursuing certain jobs and activities for two to six years; or two to six years' imprisonment followed by restrictions on pursuing certain jobs and activities for up to five years or restrictions on freedom for up to a year.

      A fine of 300,000 Roubles (42,000 Norwegian Kroner, 4,350 Euros or 5,300 US Dollars) is about eight months' average wages for those in formal work.

      For any defendant whose alleged offence took place before 20 July 2016, earlier provisions remain in place, with fines of 300,000 to 500,000 Roubles, compulsory labour of up to five years or prison sentences of two to eight years under Part 1, and fines of up to 300,000 Roubles, compulsory labour of up to three years, or prison sentences of up to four years under Part 2.

      Krasnoyarsk: Further trial begins 

      Two further Muslims in Krasnoyarsk Region, Sabirzhon Shamsidinovich Kabirzoda (born 4 May 1991) and Yevgeny Igoryevich Sukharev (born 9 April 1990), are facing prosecution under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 2 ("Participation in the activities of a banned extremist organisation").

      Kabirzoda and Sukharev are friends of two Muslims who are already on trial in Krasnoyarsk for alleged involvement in "Nurdzhular", a fellow Muslim who is following the case told Forum 18 on 20 April. Kabirzoda and Sukharev, however, are being tried separately, having been charged much later.

      Tajik-born Kabirzoda, who appears to work as a plasterer in Krasnoyarsk, is already on trial at the city's Soviet District Court, where prosecutors lodged his case on 22 December 2017. By this time, he had already been a suspect since December 2016 in the case against two other Muslims who read Nursi's works, Andrei Dedkov and Andrei Rekst (see below).

      This investigation was carried out by Krasnoyarsk Region FSB security service, which has repeatedly failed to respond to Forum 18's questions about the case.

      Kabirzoda has undergone nine hearings so far before Judge Marina Shtruba, with the next due on 14 May, according to the court website. He is not in custody or under house arrest, a fellow Muslim told Forum 18 on 26 April, and may not be under travel restrictions, "just an obligation to attend court".

      Kabirzoda was added on 20 November 2017 to the Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring) "List of Terrorists and Extremists", whose assets banks are obliged to freeze.

      Sharypovo: Trial imminent?

      The trial appears imminent of Yevgeny Sukharev, from the Krasnoyarsk Region town of Sharypovo. He is also accused of involvement in the "Nurdzhular cell" allegedly run by Andrei Dedkov.

      After an investigation by the Krasnoyarsk Region branch of the Investigative Committee, Sukharev was charged on 12 February 2018 and his case lodged at Sharypovo City Court on 27 March 2018. No date has yet been set for his first hearing before Judge Inga Gavritskaya.

      Sukharev is currently under travel restrictions. He does not yet appear on the Rosfinmonitoring "List of Terrorists and Extremists".

      In the Investigative Committee document officially charging Sukharev, seen by Forum 18, he is described as having been a "follower" of Said Nursi since October 2012. From July 2014 to March 2015, the document continues, Sukharev went to Turkey to study Nursi's teachings. He is accused of bringing banned books and brochures into Russia on his return.

      The document also outlines various gatherings at Sukharev's or his friends' homes in Sharypovo and Krasnoyarsk. At these meetings, Sukharev is accused of quoting from Nursi's writings, "applying knowledge and skills he acquired by studying the Risale-i Nur collection, using this literature as a single set of propaganda, influencing the religious feelings of those present with the goal of a step-by-step transformation of their personalities and change in their worldview in accordance with the ideology of [Nurdzhular], pursuing a goal of Islamisation of the population and creation of an Islamic state".

      Investigators name Andrei Rekst and Sabirzhon Kabirzoda as having been present at a "lesson" at which Sukharev quoted from Risale-i Nur. They refer to Andrei Dedkov only as "a person against whom separate criminal proceedings are underway", who organised the cell of which Sukharev was allegedly a part.

      According to the charges, the FSB security service raided Sukharev's rented flat in Sharypovo on 24 March 2017, "and on that same day Sukharev's criminal activity in Krasnoyarsk Region was thwarted". Officers seized several volumes from the Risale-i Nur collection (mainly single copies, Forum 18 notes, with a few duplicates) as well as Mary Weld's "Islam in Modern Turkey", a biography of Nursi which has also been banned in Russia as "extremist".

      Krasnoyarsk: Trials of Muslims continue into second year

      Andrei Nikolayevich Dedkov (born 16 June 1979), the alleged leader of the Krasnoyarsk "Nurdzhular cell", has now been on trial at Soviet District Court in Krasnoyarsk for just over a year. There have been 19 hearings in his case so far before Judge Sergei Tupeko, the latest on 17 April 2018. He is under travel restrictions, having been released from pre-trial detention in March 2017 after nearly twelve months.

      Dedkov's next hearing is due on 3 May, according to the court website.

      On 18 April, state drug control officers searched Dedkov's home and those of three other Krasnoyarsk Muslims for narcotics, a fellow Muslim who reads Nursi's works told Forum 18 the following day. The officers found nothing, but took all four men to the drug control service's headquarters and questioned them, before letting them go.

      "A special interest was shown in the messaging apps the Muslims used," their fellow Muslim added, and their phones were confiscated for further examination.

      This is the third time Dedkov has been prosecuted for allegedly organising "Nurdzhular" activities. The first case against him ran out of time in 2012. The second ended in conviction in 2015, but the consequent fine was dropped after the statute of limitations again expired during the appeal period (see F18News 21 January 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2141).

      Andrei Gennadyevich Rekst (born 14 March 1994), who is at home on bail, will next appear before Judge Radomir Larionov at Krasnoyarsk's Sverdlovsk District Court on 4 May. He has also had 19 hearings over the last year, the most recent on 26 April.

      Dedkov and Rekst were initially detained in March 2016, after the FSB security service had carried out surveillance of several Muslims in Krasnoyarsk for much of 2015 (see F18News 29 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2193). For holding gatherings to read and discuss Nursi's works, they were charged under Article 282.2, Part 1 (Dedkov) and Part 2 (Rekst).

      Both Rekst and Dedkov appear on the Rosfinmonitoring "List of Terrorists and Extremists".

      Prosecutors have also succeeded in having religious literature seized from Rekst's flat prohibited as "extremist". Judge Natalya Bogdevich of Sverdlovsk District Court upheld the prosecutors' suit on 28 March.

      If the ruling comes into force, Said Nursi's books "Admonition of the soul", "Tract on the wonders of the Koran", "Mesnevi Nuriye", and "The path of positive service" (all from the Risale-i Nur collection of Nursi's writings; all Russian translations from Turkish, published by Sözler) will be banned from distribution in Russia.

      Forty titles by Nursi are already on the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Materials (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215).

      Sergei Mikhailov, representing the Sözler publishing company, told Forum 18 on 19 April that he is preparing an appeal against the ban on the latest Nursi works to Krasnoyarsk Regional Court.

      Novosibirsk: Trial of Muslim, investigation of another continue

      The trial of Imam Komil Olimovich Odilov (born 18 August 1975) is continuing at Novosibirsk's October District Court. He has undergone seven hearings so far, with the next due on 3 May, according to the court website. The court has still not questioned Odilov, his lawyer, Yuliya Zhemchugova, told Forum 18 on 19 April.

      Prosecutors have charged Odilov under Article 282.2, Part 1, with organising a "cell" of "Nurdzhular" in Novosibirsk. He denies the charges and insists that the alleged organisation does not exist and that he has never engaged in extremist activity (see F18News 1 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2358).

      Odilov has been on the Rosfinmonitoring "List of Terrorists and Extremists" since January 2016.

      Odilov's is the only one among six related prosecutions to have come to trial so far.

      Prosecutors have closed the criminal cases against three of Odilov's fellow suspects – Uralbek Karaguzinov (born 21 July 1954), Mirsultan Takhir-ogly Nasirov (born 8 October 1997), and Bobirjon Baratovich Tukhtamurodov (born 9 July 1975) – under Criminal Code Article 76.2, which permits the "release from criminal liability" of people who have committed a minor or moderate-severity first offence upon payment of a judicial fine.

      The cases against Karaguzinov and Nasirov were ended at October District Court in November 2017. The two men have since been removed from the Rosfinmonitoring "List of Terrorists and Extremists". Tukhtamurodov's prosecution ended on 7 March 2018, also by order of October District Court – as of 27 April, his name remains on the Rosfinmonitoring list.

      The FSB in Novosibirsk is also investigating Imam Ilhom Zavkidinovich Merazhov (born 1 July 1970) under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1, and Timur Muzafarovich Atadzhanov (born 21 April 1988) under Article 282.2, Part 2. Merazhov is currently living abroad. Atadzhanov's whereabouts are unknown.

      This is the second time that Odilov and Merazhov have been prosecuted under Article 282.2, Part 1. In May 2013, they each received one-year suspended sentences for allegedly organising "Nurdzhular" activity in Novosibirsk.

      The men were among nine people detained by the FSB at an Azerbaijani cafe in Novosibirsk in December 2015 (see F18News 21 January 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2141). Most were released the next day after interrogation and searches of their homes, but Odilov was kept in custody for nine months before being allowed home under travel restrictions in September 2016.

      The Novosibirsk FSB, which was responsible for the investigation, has repeatedly refused to answer Forum 18's questions about the case.

      Dagestan: Trial of Muslim continues

      The trial of Ilgar Vagif-ogly Aliyev is continuing at Izberbash City Court in Dagestan. He has had eight hearings so far, the latest on 11 April.

      He has not been added to the Rosfinmonitoring list.

      Prosecutors have charged Aliyev under Article 282.2, Part 1 ("Organisation of the activities of a banned extremist organisation") for holding gatherings of fellow Muslims to study Nursi's works (see F18News 1 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2358).

      Aliyev is being held in Investigation Prison No. 2 in Derbent, a fellow Muslim told Forum 18, and is taken from there to Izberbash on each day of the trial.

      Oryol: Trial of Jehovah's Witness continues

      The trial of Danish Jehovah's Witness Dennis Ole Christensen (born 18 December 1972) began at Oryol's Railway District Court on 26 February. There have been five hearings so far, the latest on 25 April. Judge Aleksei Rudnev has scheduled further hearings on 14, 15, 16, 28, 29, and 30 May.

      Prosecutors accuse Christensen of "continuing the activities" of the banned and liquidated Oryol Jehovah's Witness community, and have charged him under Article 282.2, Part 1 ("Organisation of the activities of a banned extremist organisation") (see F18News 20 February 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2355).

      Jehovah's Witnesses maintain that the ban on their activities (nationwide from July 2017, in several towns beforehand as a result of local liquidations) does not amount to a prohibition of their faith, and that they retain the right under the Russian Constitution to pray together.

      Christensen's lawyer Viktor Zhenkov told the court on 23 April that the defence intends to seek clarification as to "what should be considered the consequences of liquidation of a legal entity, and what is the inviolable human right to freedom of religion".

      The case materials come to 2,500 pages, according to the jw-russia.org news website, which is administered from outside Russia. Court proceedings have been twice adjourned (on 26 February and 3 April) to allow Christensen more time to familiarise himself with the evidence against him (previously, Oryol's Soviet District Court had limited him to two weeks).

      Prosecutors complained at the 3 April hearing that asking for more time was "an intentional drawing out of proceedings", jw-russia.org reported on 9 April. Judge Rudnev, however, agreed to the defence request and granted Christensen six more meetings with his translator. The judge refused, however, to allow the defence team to view the prosecution's material evidence (video recordings, photographs, and items seized in searches).

      As the trial proceeds, Christensen remains in custody at Investigation Prison No. 1 in Oryol. On 22 February, Judge Rudnev extended his detention period to 1 August 2018. Danish Embassy officials, who have been in contact with Christensen, report that he is in good health and has not been mistreated in the prison.

      On 27 March, Christensen was added to the Rosfinmonitoring "List of Terrorists and Extremists". This means that his bank accounts have been frozen and no transactions worth more than 10,000 Roubles per month are allowed.

      When Judge Rudnev asked Christensen on 23 April if he understood the accusations against him, Christensen responded that he understood only partially, since the charge was "formulated so broadly", the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 24 April.

      Lawyer Anton Bogdanov pointed out that the indictment "does not contain the essence of the charge, or a description of the places and times of the commission of the alleged criminal actions or of methods, consequences, or other significant circumstances, without which it is impossible to issue a judicial decision".

      On 24 April, the court began questioning witnesses. This will be followed by the questioning of Christensen himself, then the final arguments from prosecution and defence, the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses explained.

      Police and FSB security service operatives arrested Christensen at a Bible study meeting on 25 May 2017. Video footage posted online by local news site Orlovskiye Novosti shows armed personnel in body armour and balaclavas, accompanied by others in civilian clothes, entering a Kingdom Hall. The congregation inside was prevented from leaving while officers searched the building. Interrogations and searches of people's homes continued into the following morning, Jehovah's Witnesses reported (see F18News 22 June 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2290).

      The registered Jehovah's Witness organisation in Oryol was ruled "extremist" and ordered liquidated in June 2016. Christensen's prosecution is derived from this local ban, and not the nationwide prohibition on Jehovah's Witness activities, which came into force in July 2017, after the case against him was initiated.

      Prokhladny: Trial of Jehovah's Witness continues

      The 70-year-old Jehovah's Witness elder Anatolya Akopovich Akopyan has so far undergone sixteen hearings in his trial at Prokhladny City Court in the North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkariya, according to court records. The latest of these took place on 15 March, when Judge Oleg Golovashko ordered further "expert analysis".

      Akopyan has been charged under Article 282, Part 1 ("Actions directed at the incitement of hatred [nenavist] or enmity [vrazhda], as well as the humiliation of an individual or group of persons on the basis of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, or social group") (see F18News 20 February 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2355).

      Prosecutors accuse Akopyan of giving sermons which "degraded the dignity" of Orthodox and Muslim clergy, condoning Pussy Riot's demonstration in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow in 2012, and giving banned "extremist" literature to his community.

      The case against Akopyan is based on the testimony of five witnesses who are not member of the Jehovah's Witnesses, but who claim to have attended meetings at which they heard the allegedly extremist sermons and were given banned texts to distribute. This is despite the fact that their mobile phone records show that they were nowhere near the Jehovah' Witnesses' building at the times in question, defence lawyers have claimed.

      Expert Irina Balova, who analysed the statements allegedly made by Akopyan, gave evidence at hearings on 14 and 15 March, the jw-russia.org news website reported on 20 March. Judge Golovashko found shortcomings in this testimony, including the fact that Balova had ignored the absence of a punctuation mark which could give a sentence an entirely different meaning. At the request of defence lawyers, he decided to appoint a new expert for a fresh psycho-linguistic examination.

      If convicted, Akopyan may receive the following possible punishments: a fine of 300,000 to 500,000 Roubles; or 2 to 3 years' income; or compulsory labour (prinutdelnaya rabota) for 1 to 4 years with a ban on working in one's profession for up to 3 years; or 2 to 5 years' imprisonment.

      Akopyan remains under travel restrictions, but has not been placed on the Rosfinmonitoring "List of Terrorists and Extremists" as of 27 April. (END)
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Jehovah’s Witnesses have been especially harshly treated since independence. There is no truth to the statement in the Eritrean report to the Commission (on p19) that Eritrean Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to recognize the government and “opposed the referendum process” – rather they declined to participate in the 1993 referendum on independence solely because of their beliefs. Members of the faith also refused to serve as soldiers in national service because of conscientious objections. Eritrea provides no substitute service for conscientious objectors. Instead, the government has imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses, young and old, and denied them ration cards and work permits. Fifty-four are currently in detention, including three arrested and sent to the Sawa military training camp 24 years ago. Prison conditions for Jehovah’s Witnesses improved somewhat in 2017. All Witness prisoners, including the Sawa-three, were transferred to the Mai Serwa prison last year. There, they have been allowed visitors for the first time during incarceration and conditions are said to be less oppressive.
      “Recognized” religions are hardly immune from government repression. The government deposed Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch Antonios in 2007, placed him under house arrest, and imposed a successor on the church. In July 2017, the octogenarian former patriarch was brought to a church service for the first time in 11 years but not allowed to speak. He has not been seen since. The government also appointed the Mufti of the Muslim community. Religious leaders and laymen who protested the patriarchal and mufti appointments remain imprisoned.
      Read more: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/27/human-rights-situation-eritrea
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Wearing balaclavas and carrying machine guns, police in four Russian cities have raided the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the past two weeks and brought members of the religious group in for questioning, sources connected to the group told Newsweek.
      In Russia, where the Orthodox Christian Church has deep ties to the highest levels of the Kremlin, the government has labeled Jehovah’s witnesses an “extremist” sect. The ruling was made exactly one year ago, in April 2017, and came into force just a few months later when Russia’s Supreme Court dismissed an appeal. The group’s administrative center in St. Petersburg, Russia was consequently dissolved, and Jehovah’s witnesses were forced to begin worshiping in secret in their homes after almost 400 local chapters shuttered.
      Meanwhile, many say they have faced systematic harassment by security forces. Since January, members of the group say they have had their homes raided on at least seven separate occasions, four of which took place in April.
      “It’s a new wave of persecution. We don’t know what’s happening,” Yaroslav Sivulsky, a Jehovah’s Witness from Russia who is now living in exile in Latvia, told Newsweek Thursday. “If they wanted to they could put any number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison because they know the Jehovah’s Witnesses are worshipping at home and they can find them easily.”
      There are around eight million Christians worldwide who self-identify as Jehovah’s Witnesses, an estimated 175,000 of whom live in Russia. Members of the group, which was founded and remains headquartered in the United States, are often seen knocking on doors and standing in the streets, looking for opportunities to speak with bystanders about their faith. But only a handful of countries, including China, Vietnam, and Russia have banned the group outright.
      All of those countries were included on a recent list of places of particular concern in the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s annual report for 2018. It is the second year in a row that Russia has been included on the list.
      “The [Russian] government continued to target ‘nontraditional’ religious minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists, with fines, detentions, and criminal charges under the pretext of combating extremism,” the report read. “Most notably, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned outright, as was their translation of the Bible, and their followers persecuted nationwide.”
      The report’s findings are in line with what many Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia describe.
      “On April 20, law-enforcement officers searched the homes of several of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including three former members of the local religious organization in Ivanovo. Igor Morozov was taken to the police station. Mr. Morozov was later released, but is not allowed to leave Ivanovo,” Jarrod Lopes, a representative of the Jehovah’s Witnesses world headquarters, told Newsweek about one of the latest events in Russia.
      “On April 19 in Vladivostok, Russia,   police raided a religious service attended by Valentin Osadchuk and three elderly women. All four were taken to the police station and interrogated. Valentin remains in custody and has been charged under Article 282.1 of the Criminal Code, ‘organizing the activity of an extremist organization.’ Mr. Osadchuk is being kept in pretrial detention until June 20, 2018,” Lopes added.
      These events follow on the heels of similar events in the Russian cities of Polyarny, Ufa, Oryol, Belgorod, and Kemerovo, he noted. Russia also brought extremism charges against a 46-year-old Danish Jehovah’s witness named Dennis Christensen. He was held in pre-trial detention for 11 months, and on April 3 a judge in Oryol quickly adjourned his preliminary hearing after he asked for more time to review the materials of his case. He could be jailed for 10 years if found guilty. 
      “The Russian authorities’ ruthless persecution of Jehovah’s Witness adherents has been picking up steam,” Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Dropping the case against Christensen would be a good first step toward ending the raids and other criminal cases against people who are merely practicing their faith.”
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      The annual report by the Council of Europe assessing the execution rate of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights points to 36 judgments involving Georgia which have yet to be executed. The report calls on Georgia to accelerate the execution process, as it is “imperative for the insurance of human rights.”
      The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers is responsible for monitoring the implementation, or “execution,” of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights and publishes an annual report with the results for each European country.
      The monitored cases are classified into different categories to allow for ease of understanding. All cases are classified as either “leading” or “repetitive.” Leading cases are those revealing new structural and/or systemic problems, whereas repetitive cases relate to issues that have already been raised before the Committee.
      Georgia was involved in 10 new cases in 2017, a light increase from 2016 with its 7 new cases. Of these 10 cases, three were leading cases, and seven were repetitive. Countries often lack behind in the implementation process for years, trying to avoid necessary measures or pointing to an unfavorable situation to implement legislative amendments. In 2016, Georgia still had 39 pending cases to implement, decreasing slightly to 36 last year, out of which 23 are repetitive and 13 leading.
      The Committee selected six pending cases to be under enhanced supervision, which is a supervision procedure for cases requiring urgent individual measures, pilot judgments, and judgments revealing important structural and/or complex problems as identified by the Court.
      Presently, Georgia has five such pending cases, which have been awaiting execution for more than five years. With regards to monetary compensation, also called “just satisfaction,” Georgia awarded €120,151 in 2017, almost twice less than in 2016 (€221,000). However, the State itself is tasked with payment to the victims, which rarely takes place in a timely manner. In 2017, Georgia respected the payment deadline in eight cases, while for four cases, the payment was still pending past the set deadline.
      The report highlights two main pending cases, which it urges the government to implement due to their importance regarding human rights. The first case is Tsintsabadze vs Georgia, dealing with the lack of effective investigations into allegations of ill-treatment or violations of the right to life. Although the monitoring team observed improvements, they continue to monitor the case.
      The second case is Identoba et.al. vs Georgia, dealing with the lack of protection against homophobic attacks during a demonstration. Touching again the issue of the first case, as adequate investigation procedures were missing also for this case, the European Court’s judgment points to a “Failure to adequately protect against inhuman and degrading treatment inflicted by private individuals to LGBT activists (in May 2012) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (in 1999-2001) during marches or meetings.” Following the broad scope of the judgment, this case deals with the freedom of religion and the freedom of assembly and association.
      Furthermore, the report highlights essential improvements undertaken by the government with regard to closed cases. The Committee closed the Gharibashvili vs Georgia case, as the effectiveness of investigations was improved through the better involvement of the victims in the investigation, new rules for witness interrogation, and reinforced institutional independence for investigating bodies. In addition, the prevention of excessive use of force by the police in the course of arrest and ill-treatment in custody has been improved, notably through the creation of internal monitoring mechanisms in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Corrections.
      Monitoring legal improvement and law amendments, the Committee praises Georgia for the law “On Common Courts,” foreseeing that all judicial acts, including the operative part of decisions adopted, will be published on the website, thus increasing transparency. In conjunction with these measures, numerous training and awareness-raising measures have been undertaken.
      Besides the assessment of improvements based on specific cases, the report highlights general advances in the field of human rights and safety. The power of bailiffs to arrest individuals is better circumscribed, and guarantees for the holding of a public hearing and respect for the equality of arms have been adopted. The possibility for detained persons to obtain compensation for their illegal or unjustified detention is ensured, independently of conviction or acquittal.
      Rehabilitating Georgia’s past, legislative amendments were adopted in 2011 and 2014 in order to grant compensation to the victims of Soviet-era repression. Improvements have also been observed in the electoral law.
      Clear criteria were introduced to define when the Central Electoral Commission can use its power to invalidate elections, alongside the introduction of an effective remedy against its decisions.
      On a European level, the countries with the highest total number of pending cases at the end of 2017 were Russia (1,689), Turkey (1,446), Ukraine (1,156), Romania (553) and Italy (389). Of the 7,584 pending cases at the end of 2017, 1,379 (18%) were leading cases and 6,205 (82%) were repetitive cases. The countries with the highest number of leading cases pending at the end of 2017 were Russia (216), Turkey (177), Ukraine (136), Bulgaria (77) and Moldova (76). The countries with the highest number of repetitive cases pending at the end of 2017 were Russia (1,473), Turkey (1,269), Ukraine (1,020), Romania (495) and Italy (335). A strong decrease in pending cases could also be observed on a European level, as 3,849 pending cases were under enhanced supervision at the end of 2017, down from 6,718 at the end of 2014 (a drop of 43%).
      Although Russia tops the statistics in pending cases, they strongly lag behind resolving or implementing them, surpassed by Italy and Hungary. The countries that closed the highest total number of cases in 2017 were Italy (2,001), Hungary (296), Russia (254), Romania (144) and Poland (133).
      In 2017, the court awarded €14.6m in “just satisfaction” against Russia, €12.5m against Italy, €11.6m against Turkey, €5.9m against the Slovak Republic and €3.7m against Greece. The total figure is €60.4m compared to €82.3m in 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Pardoned, further cancer operation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      KNB secret police entrapment, arrest, torture, jailing

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Criminal Code Article 174

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Five-year criminal investigation continues

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

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

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

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

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

      Criminal trial underway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Criminal cases not reached Prosecutor's Office

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

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

      Forum 18 understands that the three men have been questioned at the trial of Laubayev, Konyrbayev and Naurzgaliyev. (END)
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Men are granted waivers from conscription if they can show they are active members of the denomination. All other men must carry out either military or non-military service.
      The Finnish Defence Ministry has set up a panel to reconsider the exemption from conscription granted to members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The non-mainstream Christian denomination urges its members not to participate in military service, even in unarmed roles.
      The ministry said on Friday that it has established a working group to consider revising the legislation that waives Jehovah’s Witnesses’ obligation to perform military service.
      All Finnish men aged 18 to 60 must carry out either military or non-military service. Under current law, a man can be granted a deferment of service for three years at a time as long as he can certify that he is an active member of a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation.
      "Problematic" from equality standpoint
      The Defence Ministry says that previous studies of the issue have found the current practice to be problematic, particularly from the standpoint of equality.
      The legislation on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ conscription was originally passed as a special act before the present constitution came into force.
      The committee is to complete its work by late June.
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Russia Religious News (19.03.2018) – http://bit.ly/2psLTHa – A petition to the commissioner for affairs of religions and nationalities in Belarus, Leonid Gulyako, with a demand to conduct a state religious studies expert analysis of the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, has appeared on the website change.org. Its author is indicated to be a certain Maksim Arsentiev.
      According to the petition, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belarus have not undergone a religious studies expert analysis of their doctrines, which is required for state registration of religious organizations or associations. “Until the time of receiving the results of an expert analysis regarding said organization, we demand the suspension of the activity of all local religious organizations and the religious association of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Belarus and the issuance of a prohibition on illegal recruitment activity and distribution of religious literature,” the authors declare.
      At the same time, they cite the experience of Russia where the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses was recently prohibited. “We all, as citizens of our country, cannot tolerate illegal propaganda work on the territory of our motherland attracting adherents of a religious organization whose doctrine and ideology have never been examined in detail by recognized experts and scholars (just who is not specified—Krynica.info) looking for its danger for the physical and psychological health of citizens of the republic of Belarus, and also for their social life,” the petition says.
      It is also reported that last summer activists sent to the office of the commissioner for affairs of religions and nationalities a letter with a demand to conduct a state expert analysis of Jehovah’s Witnesses in connection with their conduct of an annual congress on the territory of Belarus. At the time, it was indicated that there is no basis for an expert analysis inasmuch as the planning of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ congress was conducted legally.
      One of their believers, the blogger Anton Chivchalov, commented for Krynica.info about another attempt to forbid the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
      “The Jehovah’s Witnesses are active officially and legally in all countries of the European Union, and they were registered in the republic of Belarus in 1994. In all these years they have cooperated closely with the authorities of the country at all levels. For example, all literature imported into the country undergoes required government censorship. The religious association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the republic of Belarus conscientiously pays all taxes and fees. Anybody who wishes may attend any event of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and be persuaded that these are peaceful, law-abiding people. This is known by both Belorussian and Russian experts. Unfortunately, the authorities of the Russian federation have decided to follow the path of North Korea, Afghanistan, and several other countries, in which freedom of religious confession is severely restricted. The April decision of the Russian Supreme Court has already been accepted for review by the European Court of Human Rights. I would like to believe that Belarus will not want to step on the same rake, but will continue to respect the rights and liberties of its own citizens as is customary in Europe and generally in the civilized world,” the interlocutor declared.
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      A court in Kazakhstan has acquitted a woman charged with illegal missionary activity after she showed another person how to download the Bible on a smartphone, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty reported.
      Dilobarkhon Sultanova was found not guilty by the South Kazakhstan Regional Court, in the city of Shymkent on March 13.
      Sultanova had been charged in January after she demonstrated to a woman she had met at the New Life Protestant church in December how to download the Bible on her smartphone. The woman later filed a complaint to the local police against Sultanova, accusing her of propagating Christianity illegally.
      Kazakhstan has a multi-ethnic population of almost 18 million, with a Muslim majority and a large Russian Orthodox minority.
      Despite the fact that freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution, there have been several cases where followers of religions that are considered 'nontraditional' have been given prison sentences after being charged with inciting discord or conducting illegal missionary activities.
      In January this year, Christian Today reported on how Christians, Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses have been subject to increasingly punitive restrictions on religious freedom in Kazakhstan, with the European Evangelical Alliance warning that the state is redoubling its crackdown on 'unauthorised' faith, prompting 'extreme concern' among religious locals.
      In 2017, the Kazakh state reportedly made 279 prosecutions targeting religious groups for crimes such as meeting for worship, sharing or importing religious literature in person or online, and praying in private settings.
      New amendments to Kazakh law are expected only to expand current restrictions, effectively barring any expression of religion not aligned with officially state-approved religious guidelines, according to Forum 18. This includes, for example, a ban on meeting for religious assembly in private such as for Bible study groups.
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18
      Prisoner of conscience Daniil Islamov is preparing to appeal for the last time to Tajikistan's Supreme Court against a six-month jail term for refusing compulsory military service. If this appeal is rejected, he is likely to appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee.
      Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Daniil Islamov is preparing to appeal for the last time to Tajikistan's Supreme Court against a six-month jail term imposed in October 2017 for refusing compulsory military service (see below).

      The government and the Supreme Court have not ordered prisoner of conscience Islamov's release, despite the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 5 October publicly stating that Tajikistan should release him "immediately" (see below).

      If the Supreme Court rejects this final appeal, prisoner of conscience Islamov is likely to file a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee (see below).

      In Yavan Prison with fellow-prisoner of conscience?

      Prisoner of conscience Islamov is thought to be being held in Yavan Prison in the south-western Khatlon Region, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 27 February.

      This is the same prison prisoner of conscience Bakhrom Kholmatov is held in. Protestant Pastor Kholmatov was jailed for three years in July 2017 for allegedly "singing extremist songs in church and so inciting ‘religious hatred'". He decided in November not to continue appealing against his jail term. The government threatened family members, friends, and church members with reprisals if they revealed any details of the case, trial, or jailing (see F18News 5 December 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2337). 

      If prisoner of conscience Islamov is in Yavan Prison, his address is:

      Ispravitelno-Trudovaya Koloniya, yas. 3/6
      6th otryad
      Daniilu Ruslanovichu Islamovu

      Prisoner of conscience's jailing upheld

      Judges Jamshid Akhmadzoda and Abdugafor Tagozoda of the Military Panel of the Supreme Court on 11 January rejected the appeal of Daniil Ruslanovich Islamov (born 31 January 1999). The Judges "unilaterally rejected Islamov's appeal to acquit him and release him from prison," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 9 February. "Inexplicably, the judges conducted the case in their private chambers without a hearing and upheld Islamov's conviction on the false charge of evading military service."


      Prisoner of conscience Islamov was forcibly conscripted in April 2017, despite heath problems preventing him doing military service even if he wanted to do it. After refusing to serve in the army, he was detained in a military unit. Colonel Musa Odinazoda, Deputy Chief of the General Staff and Head of the Organisation and Mobilisation Department, told Islamov's mother that he cannot do alternative service because there is no domestic legal provision for this (see F18News 31 August 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2312).

      Colonel Odinazoda has not answered Forum 18's questions about the case. The UN Human Rights Committee has twice urged Tajikistan to recognise the right to conscientious objection and to provide alternative civilian service. But the government has failed to do this. Human rights defenders in Tajikistan, such as the Office of Civil Freedoms, have also repeatedly called for alternative service to be introduced (see F18News 31 August 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2312).

      Prisoner of conscience Islamov was charged under Criminal Code Article 376, Part 1 ("Evasion by an enlisted serviceman of fulfilment of military service obligations by way of inflicting on oneself injury (self-mutilation) or evasion by simulation of sickness or by other deception"). Yet Lieutenant Colonel M. Kulmakhmadov, commander of the military unit Islamov was held in, refused to say to Forum 18 what exactly the prisoner of conscience had done which could be said to break this article of the Criminal Code (see F18News 31 August 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2312).

      On 5 October 2017 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention publicly stated that Tajikistan should release prisoner of conscience Islamov "immediately". The Working Group's Advanced Edited Opinion (A/HRC/WGAD/2017/43) finds that Tajikistan has contravened the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "The Working Group considers that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Islamov immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law" (see http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Detention/Opinions/Session79/A_HRC_WGAD_2017_43_EN.pdf).

      Yet on 13 October 2017 Qurghonteppa Military Court, in Khatlon Region, sentenced prisoner of conscience Islamov to six months' jail. The 13 October decision noted that sentence started from that date, so his sentence ends on 12 April 2018 (see F18News 20 October 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2327).

      Prisoner of conscience Islamov appealed against his conviction to the Supreme Court on 23 October 2017. On 28 November, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal, but ruled to send his case back to the first instance Court for "correction of mistakes in the decision". They did not specify what these "mistakes" were (see F18News 5 December 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2337).

      Final Supreme Court appeal, appeal to UN Human Rights Committee?

      On 20 February 2018, Islamov's lawyer filed a final cassation appeal to the Supreme Court against its 11 January decision, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 21 February.

      Judge Akhmadzoda, one of the judges who made the 11 January decision, told Forum 18 on 21 February that the Court will consider the cassation appeal. Forum 18 asked him: why Islamov, who is willing to do alternative service, must suffer because Tajikistan does not offer this; and why the Court regarded him as a military serviceman despite his not taking a military oath. Judge Akhmadzoda replied: "I cannot comment on that." He then refused to talk more to Forum 18.

      "If the Court rejects this final appeal, Daniil Islamov will have no further legal remedies available within Tajikistan and is likely to file a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee," Jehovah's Witnesses stated.

      "The will of the people" ?

      Deputy Murodullo Davlatov, a member of Parliament's Lower Chamber and Deputy Head of its International Relations Committee, claimed to Forum 18 on 15 February that "the people of Tajikistan do not want alternative service, and Parliament represents the will of the people."

      Tajikistan has never held an election found to be free and fair by Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Election Observation Missions (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2138).

      Asked whether prisoner of conscience Islamov and human rights defenders do not represent people of Tajikistan, and whether Islamov is entitled to his human rights, Deputy Davlatov replied: "He violated the law, which is why he was arrested".

      Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in the country, possibly because of their pacifist beliefs and refusal to do compulsory military service (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2138).

      Concurrent freedom of religion and belief violations

      Deputy Davlatov has also backed January Religion Law changes allowing the state to restrict freedom of religion or belief on illegitimate grounds, increase religious communities' reporting obligations, require state approval for all imams, and increase state control on religious education. The new restrictions are primarily aimed at Muslims (see F18News 19 February 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2354). Tajikistan has claimed to have closed almost 2,000 mosques in 2017. Officials claimed they were closed at the request of local residents, but have not been able to explain why they only allow mosques with a capacity far below the possible numbers of worshippers (see F18News 26 February 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2356). (END)
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