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  1. The NSC secret police in Khujand arrested Protestant pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov on 10 April after raiding his church and seizing Christian literature. Officials claim songbooks and a book "More Than a Carpenter" are "extremist". The pastor is being investigated on "extremism" criminal charges. On 10 April the National Security Committee (NSC) secret police in Tajikistan's northern Sogd Region arrested Bakhrom Kholmatov, Pastor of the Sunmin Sunbogym (Good News of Grace) Protestant Church in the regional capital Khujand. He remains in NSC secret police custody, apparently under investigation on criminal charges of "extremism". The charges follow the seizure of Christian books during a raid on his Church. "Pastor Kholmatov's family and Church members don't know what the NSC secret police is doing with him," Protestants from Sogd Region who are closely following the situation and who, for fear of state reprisals, asked not to give their names, complained to Forum 18 on 20 April. They said they have had no news of Pastor Kholmatov's physical conditions or state of health since his arrest. Reached on 28 April, the duty officer at the NSC secret police in the capital Dushanbe refused to transfer Forum 18's call to anyone. He consulted a colleague, then gave another number, which turned out to be that of a pharmacy (which said it often receives calls from people given the number by various state agencies). Called back, the NSC duty officer again said he would consult a colleague, then came back and told Forum 18 it had called a wrong number. He then put the phone down. The Deputy Head of the State Committee for Religious Affairs in Dushanbe, Khuseyn Shokirov, refused to explain why Pastor Kholmatov is under arrest accused of "extremism" (see below). The NSC secret police, together with the State Committee for Religious Affairs and other law-enforcement agencies, began raiding Sunmin Sunbogym's affiliated congregations in Sogd Region in early February. Officials closed down the congregation in the town of Konibodom in March after interrogating and beating church members. NSC secret police officers arrested Pastor Kholmatov after they raided the Khujand Church in April (see below). Meanwhile, officials in Dushanbe have closed down two kindergartens. One was closed after officials found a Christian songbook, the other apparently because Protestants were employed there (see below). "Extremism" punishments Officials have not revealed what criminal charges Pastor Kholmatov will or might face. The Criminal Code punishes a number of crimes related to "extremism". Criminal Code Article 307-2 punishes "leading or organising an extremist community". Punishments are prison terms of up to 12 years (if conducted by an individual using their official position). The Article allows an individual to be freed from punishment if they voluntarily agree to stop their activity. This Article was among several related to "extremism" added to the Criminal Code in December 2015. As elsewhere in the region, the Tajik authorities frequently use "extremism"-related charges to punish individuals for exercising freedom of religion or belief outside the framework of religious communities that the state allows to operate. Such charges are mainly levelled against Muslims. In April 2016, a court in Sogd Region handed down an eight year prison term to Imam Khamid Karimov, the leader of the Mosque in Unji-Bobojon village. The Judge handed down seven year prison terms to each of four members of his Mosque. These – and many other Muslims, especially those accused of being Salafis – were imprisoned using Criminal Code "extremism" punishments (see F18News 19 May 2016
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    ). Harsh state restrictions on exercising freedom of religion or belief In defiance of its international human rights obligations, Tajikistan severely restricts rights to freedom of religion or belief. The authorities impose a ban on all exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission; severe limitations on the numbers of mosques permitted and activities allowed inside those mosques; arbitrary official actions, including the arrests of Jehovah's Witnesses using police agent provocateurs; bans on Jehovah's Witnesses and some Islamic and Protestant movements; the banning of Central Asia's only legal religious-based political party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, and the arrest as prisoners of conscience of its senior party figures; forcing imams in state-controlled mosques (the only sort permitted) to preach state-dictated sermons; forcible closure of all madrassahs (Islamic religious schools); a ban on all public exercise of freedom of religion or belief, apart from funerals, by people under the age of 18; and state censorship of and bans on some religious literature and websites (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey
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    ). Interrogations, beatings to close church Sunmin Sunbogym Protestant Church in Khujand was officially registered with the State Committee for Religious Affairs in 1993 as a "missionary centre" (Forum 18 has seen the certificate). After the new Religion Law entered into force in 2009, when all registered religious communities were required to re-register to continue to be allowed to exist, the Church was re-registered on 23 October 2009. Its affiliated congregations gained local registration. In early February 2017, the NSC secret police, together with the State Committee for Religious Affairs and other law-enforcement agencies, began raiding Sunmin Sunbogym's affiliated congregations in Sogd Region. They particularly targeted the church in the town of Konibodom. The authorities "put all kinds of pressure on the Church leaders and members so that they would cooperate with the Police for the closure of the Church in Konibodom," Protestants complained to Forum 18. "Officers insulted the believers by shouting and swearing at them. They demanded that they renounce their faith and leave the Church." The Protestants lamented that "some believers were even beaten." Finally in March the authorities sealed the church building, they added. The Protestants added that some members of the Konibodom Church were dismissed from their jobs under NSC secret police pressure. For fear of state reprisals, they declined to give the names or the details of the dismissals. Asked why officials had forcibly closed down the Konibodom Church, Khuseyn Shokirov, Deputy Head of the State Committee for Religious Affairs in Dushanbe, overseeing work with religious organisations, insisted to Forum 18 on 26 April: "The Church was closed down because its members wished so, and it is their internal matter." He gave no evidence for his claim. Why is Pastor being charged with "extremism"? In early April the authorities began raids on the central Sunmin Sunbogym Church in Khujand. They searched all the Church's premises, Protestants told Forum 18. Officers seized Christian songbooks and other literature. As in Konibodom, the law-enforcement officers in Khujand "interrogated believers and beat them." They complained that the authorities "threatened them that they must cooperate with them." NSC officers arrested Pastor Kholmatov after these raids. NSC secret police told Church members during interrogations that their "purpose is to close down Churches in Tajikistan and take away their property," Protestants told Forum 18. Lieutenant Colonel Mashraf Istamzoda, Chief of Sogd Regional Criminal Police, and Amis Usmanov, Chief of the Region's Organised Crime Police, said that the Police are not involved in Pastor Kholmatov's case. Istamzoda told Forum 18 from Khujand on 26 April that the NSC secret police "usually leads such cases". The NSC secret police "could not find anything illegal" in the activity of Sunmin Sunbogym Church, Protestants from Sogd told Forum 18. Officers then decided to use the Church's Christian hymns from a songbook and Christian books against the Pastor. The NSC secret police asserts that the songs "Praise God, oh the godless country," "God's army is marching," "Our fight is not against flesh and blood," are "extremist". Protestants pointed out that the words of these songs are references to texts of the Bible. Officers told Church members during interrogations that these songs are "extremist and call on the people to overthrow the government". The NSC secret police also deemed one book they had found, "More Than a Carpenter" by American Protestant author Josh McDowell, "extremist". Officers told Church members that the group of religious "experts" concluded that both this book, and the songs, are "extremist". "All these so called experts are Imams," Protestants complained. "How can Muslim experts give an opinion of Christian literature as extremist?" "Experts" on religious literature of the State Committee in Dushanbe, Abdurakhmon Mavlanov and Alinazar Aliyev, told Forum 18 on 25 April that "no list" of banned Christian books exists in Tajikistan. "We undertake an expert analysis of each Christian book and then make our decision whether or not it can be allowed for import or distribution," Mavlanov told Forum 18. The two officials did not discuss state censorship of religious literature of other faiths, including Islamic literature. Asked whether McDowell's book "More Than a Carpenter" is allowed for distribution in Tajikistan, both "Experts" gave similar answers: "I am not sure." Mavlanov asked Forum 18 to call back the next day, 26 April. The telephones of Mavlanov and Aliyev went unanswered between 26 and 27 April. Told that according to the State Committee "Experts" no Christian books are banned in Tajikistan, State Committee Deputy Head Shokirov refused to discuss this or any further questions and put the phone down. All religious literature must undergo state censorship before it can be printed, published, distributed, sold or imported. Those who violate these censorship provisions are liable to punishment (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey
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    ). Dushanbe kindergartens closed for Christian songbook, employing Protestants Meanwhile, authorities in Dushanbe closed down two kindergartens where Protestant Christians were employed, Protestants from Dushanbe, who asked not to give their names or details of the closures for fear of state reprisals, complained to Forum 18 on 20 April. "In one kindergarten the authorities found a songbook of Christmas carols during a raid," they explained. "The other one was closed down just because they found that Christians worked in it." The authorities have particularly targeted any educational activity related or perceived to be related to religion. Officials finally closed the country's last surviving state-approved madrasahs (Islamic religious schools for children) in 2016 (see F18News 6 September 2016
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  2. In addition to the Torah, many other historical artifacts belonging to the Hellenistic and Seljuq periods, including statues, stone rubbings, jewelry, and coins were recovered. A 16th Century Sephardi Torah scroll at the museum. (photo credit:JUDITH SUDILOVSKY) An ancient Torah estimated to be 1,500-years-old was seized from smugglers in Ayvalik, a western resort town in Turkey, the Anadolu news agency reported on Tuesday. In addition to the Torah, many other historical artifacts belonging to the Hellenistic and Seljuq dynasty periods, including statues, stone rubbings, jewelry, and 200 ancient bronze and silver coins were recovered. Turkish law enforcement detained two suspects and later released them on probation, and believe the smugglers brought the artifacts from Istanbul and Bingol, an eastern Turkish province. The Torah, inscribed on leather, was handed over with the other artifacts to the Balikesir Museum Directorship. So far, this has been a big week for the recovery of stolen Jewish antiquities. A 50-year-old Palestinian man was arrested on Tuesday after police seized hundreds of stolen rare antiquities from the Second Temple period stored in his West Bank home in the village of Huwara, near Nablus. According to police, jewelry, pottery and hundreds of coins valued at tens of thousands of shekels were found following a joint investigation with the Archaeology Department of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria into illegal trafficking on the black market. Daniel K. Eisenbud contributed to this report.
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  3. Scientists at the George Washington University used a powerful genetic technique to test seafood dinners sold in six District restaurants and found 33 percent had been mislabeled -- although in most cases with species that are either closely related or considered acceptable alternatives for menu listing. Previous studies in other cities have shown widespread seafood substitution in which consumers are sold a completely different fish or sushi from the one listed. Those studies have indicated that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 26 to 87 percent of the time. And in egregious cases, an unsuspecting diner is sold an expensive Tuna that is actually a completely different species of fish, often one that is much cheaper or on the endangered species list, says Keith Crandall, PhD, director of the Computational Biology Institute at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) and leader of the new study , which was published in PeerJ. Continue reading
  4. The latest bedroom trend doesn’t have to do with a certain position or technique — and it’s not sexy at all. The disturbing, nonconsensual trend is called “stealthing” and its rise is documented in a report by the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. Lead author Alexandra Brodsky argues that “stealthing,” when a man secretly removes his condom in the middle of sex, is a form of sexual assault and should be treated as such. Even more troubling is the online community Brodsky uncovered, where men encourage other men to “stealth” their partners. These perpetrators — both gay and straight — believe it’s a man’s right to “spread one’s seed.” Continue reading
  5. Researchers are finding that your mental patterns could be harming your telomeres — essential parts of the cell’s DNA — and affecting your life and health. Nobel-winning scientist Elizabeth Blackburn and health psychologist Elissa Epel explain. How can one person bask in the sunshine of good health, while another person looks old before her time? Humans have been asking this question for millennia, and recently, it’s becoming clearer and clearer to scientists that the differences between people’s rates of aging lie in the complex interactions among genes, social relationships, environments and lifestyles. Even though you are born with a particular set of genes, the way you live can influence how they express themselves. Some lifestyle factors may even turn genes on or shut them off. Deep within the genetic heart of all our cells are telomeres, or repeating segments of noncoding DNA that live at the ends of the chromosomes. They form caps at the ends of the chromosomes and keep the genetic material from unraveling. Shortening with each cell division, they help determine how fast a cell ages. When they become too short, the cell stops dividing altogether. This isn’t the only reason a cell can become senescent — there are other stresses on cells we don’t yet understand very well — but short telomeres are one of the major reasons human cells grow old. We’ve devoted most of our careers to studying telomeres, and one extraordinary discovery from our labs (and seen at other labs) is that telomeres can actually lengthen. What this means: aging is a dynamic process that could possibly be accelerated or slowed — and, in some aspects, even reversed. To an extent, it has surprised us and the rest of the scientific community that telomeres do not simply carry out the commands issued by your genetic code. Your telomeres are listening to you. The foods you eat, your response to challenges, the amount of exercise you get, and many other factors appear to influence your telomeres and can prevent premature aging at the cellular level. One of the keys to enjoying good health is simply doing your part to foster healthy cell renewal. Continue reading
  6. Instagram is showing no signs of slowing down; the company today announced it has reached 700 million monthly active users. For reference, the company hit 600 million users just this past December, and has now added 100 million users in the span of less than five months. Instagram says that’s the fastest growth it’s ever seen. Since June 2016, the company has added an impressive 200 million users. Continue reading
  7. El Sol de Margarita / 27 Abr, 2017 | Charles Carrillo y Edward Rodríguez, representantes de los Testigos de Jehová en Nueva Esparta, lamentaron que el Tribunal Supremo de Justicia de Rusia decidiera disolver el Centro Administrativo de esta religión en dicho país. Aseguraron que este veredicto marca un día negro para las libertades fundamentales en Rusia y es punto culminante para la campaña discriminatoria de ese gobierno destinada restringir la libertad de culto de los Testigos de Jehová. Reseñaron que en Rusia existen 175.000 testigos de Jehová. Esta decisión será apelada en organismos internacionales.
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  8. Gamaliel Camarillo, vocero de la Congregación Cristiana de los Testigos de Jehová en México consideró que la prohibición del gobierno ruso contra su credo se debe a una mala interpretación de la ley El vocero de la Congregación Cristiana de los Testigos de Jehová en México, Gamaliel Camarillo alertó que su credo religioso no promueve el odio como lo afirma el gobierno ruso. En entrevista con Publimetro dijo que la prohibición de Rusia a la existencia de centros de los testigos de Jehová podría servir de pretexto para limitar a otros grupos religiosos minoritarios en dicho país. “Es una injusticia, esto podría afectar a otras minorías religiosas. Se trata de una persecusión “, expresó. Abundó que el Tribunal Supremo de Rusia ha hecho una mala interpretación de la ley extremista y ello afecta más la imagen que se tiene de la religión en otras partes del mundo, incluido en México. Gamaliel Camarillo comentó que del 15 al 17 de abril pasados se llevó a cabo un evento en nuestro país y otras naciones, denominado “Cómo ser pacíficos en un mundo violento” con el fin de promover que “somos personas pacíficas”. Reiteró que la comunidad se siente preocupada por la prohibición al desarrollo del culto religioso y estarán a la espera de que se impugne la sentencia ante el Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos. En tanto, el presidente de la Confraternidad Nacional de Iglesias Cristianas Evangélicas (Confraternice) Arturo Farela lamentó las limitaciones impuestas a los testigos de Jehová, puesto que es un retroceso en todos los niveles en términos de libertad religiosa. Puntualizó que se suma a las exigencias de creer o no creer en Dios, dado que es una decisión de cada persona, tal como ocurre en México. En México hay dos congregaciones reconocidas ante la Dirección General de Asociaciones Religiosas de l Secretaría de Gobernación (Segob), las cuales representan a 800 mil fieles, según mencionó el vocero Camarillo. Los testigos de Jehová obtuvieron su registro oficial hace 24 años y el aviso se dio a conocer el Diario Oficial de la Federación el 29 de abril de 1993. Hasta la semana pasada, la Segob reportó 81 mil 234 ministros de culto, de los cuales seis mil 324 corresponder a la Iglesia Cristiana Bíblica de los Testigos de Jehová. La prohibición a los testigos de Jehová La justicia rusa resolvió la semana pasada suspender “con efecto inmediato”, la práctica de dicha religión, con lo que disuelvió tanto el Centro de dirección de los Testigos de Jehová en Rusia como sus 395 filiales en todo el país. Svetlana Borísova, representante del ministerio de Justicia expresó en su momento que “la organización religiosa testigos de Jehová muestra indicios de extremismo. Representa una amenaza para nuestros ciudadanos, el orden público y la seguridad de la sociedad”. Abundó que los testigos han propagado literatura incluida en la lista de publicaciones extremistas y recordó que la prohibición de las transfusiones de sangre que profesan sus seguidores amenaza la vida de las personas. Sobre la negación a practicarse transfusiones de sangre, el vocero de los testigos en México comentó que hay un acuerdo con tres mil médicos particulares, quienes por objeción de consciencia, aceptan practicar cirugías sin necesidad de recurrir a peticiones de sangre. “Lo hacemos porque es enseñanza de la biblia la imposibilidad de aceptar sangre, además hay mejores resultados si no se hacen transfusiones”, dijo Gamaliel Camarillo. La negativa de los testigos de Jehová ha sido considerada en Rusia con una acción que pone amenaza la vida de las personas. Datos Gamaliel Camarillo detalló que desde 2010 se han prohibido 88 publicaciones de los testigos de Jehová en Rusia. Desde hace siete años tampoco pueden usar su página de internet. La Congregación Cristiana de los Testigos de Jehová refiere que en los primeros meses de 2016 hubo 64 arrestos, 16 condenas penales, así como 64 registros en hogares y edificios religiosos.
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