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  1. Names of practising Jehovah’s Witnesses have been changed out of respect for their privacy.When Alvin Phua was 10, his mother opened the door to strangers who spoke fluent English, thinking they could be tuition teachers for her son’s weak command of the language.They were, in fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW), and that was the day mother and son joined the community.For the next eight years, Alvin was a devout JW. Not only was he unconcerned that the Singapore government had de-registered and banned the activities of the religion since 1972, he was also pleased that they did.“You feel like part of a secret gang. Isn’t that fun? Everybody takes pride in some kind of identity. Knowing the main reason for the ban was because JWs refuse to bear arms in military service made their pitch even more attractive. As a kid, you want to be a superhero and save the world.”JWs also refuse to salute the flag or swear oaths of allegiance to the state, a practice linked to respecting Jehovah (their term for God) as the utmost power.But Alvin, who is 43 this year, always knew there was someone more important: his mother. At the time of his enlistment, she was no longer a JW and threatened to disown him if he refused to serve.“I told God: ‘I know I’m supposed to love you more than mom but I cannot lah. I’m supposed to be honest about it. If that makes me lose my ticket to paradise, so be it’,” he shrugs. His easygoing charm made him a good preacher once upon a time. Alvin may be cavalier now, but he admits it scared him to stop believing in something he once thought infallible. His natural curiosity about the world further fuelled questions about his religion, which elder JWs could never answer with information he needed.Though the first seeds of doubt were already sown, it would take him six more years to fully leave his religion. He was 26 when he finally embraced atheism.Today, he talks about his former religion as a matter of fact, “Usually, JWs are incredibly nice and peaceful people, which helps their cause. You won’t see megachurch kind of people there.”Then, his voice softens: “I still love the notion of not bearing arms, but I’m not against national service. I’m just against the JW principle for not doing it.” Even during NS, Alvin (right) was still a JW, albeit slowly falling out of the faith. Like Alvin and many people I know, questioning one’s faith is a natural part of growth, though few eventually denounce religion entirely. A lot of us are content with remaining unsure whether God exists, but hoping that at least some kind of greater presence does.This cynicism means that JWs usually have their work cut out for them. Most of us only know JWs from their door-to-door preaching, or from rumours we hear from friends and family. Our experiences with JWs rarely stray beyond these confines, and we often associate them with cult-like behaviour in an attempt to form our own understanding of the religion.All the same, I speak with practising JWs to discover if they do indeed subscribe to strange and extreme ideas. When I meet Michelle for the first time, we instantly get along like old friends. She is articulate and her eyes light up when she talks about theatre. Hoping to pursue a career on stage, she enjoys the challenge of attempting complex roles she receives. Outside work, she has just started using dating apps out of curiosity.While she’s a typical 20-something in Singapore, she is also a Jehovah’s Witness.Michelle admits that she may not be able to provide me with the answers I want, because she doesn’t feel “worthy or ready” to dedicate her life to Jehovah yet.“I agree with the values, but sometimes it’s hard to believe in something you don’t see. I’ve been questioning a lot of things, and haven’t been going to church as much as I should. Life happens.”There are also many grey areas that she struggles with. For one, she doesn’t want to limit herself to dating only within the JW community but understands that her wishes contradict her religion’s teachings.We touch on the LGBT community and I expect her to avoid the controversial topic. But she cautiously broaches her subsequent questions: “Actually, what do you think of Pink Dot? It’s easy for me because I’m straight. But what about a gay person? How do they manage if they want to be in a religion?” For many JWs, their conviction is less complicated. If they’re male, they choose religion over state when it’s time to serve the nation.Because the government does not recognise conscientious objection as a legal reason for refusing National Service (NS), they are sentenced to three years in the SAF detention barracks, albeit separate from other conscription offenders.A military prosecutor shares: “During Court Martials (the military equivalent of a criminal trial), I would ask the accused fixed questions, such as, ‘Are you aware that it is an offence not to swear allegiance to Singapore?’ They would reply with bible verses. After a guilty verdict is entered, his family and church members, who usually come to show support, clap for him. This is like a rite of passage for JWs.”He also admires their conviction, though he wonders how much of it comes from the pressure JWs receive from their community. “After all, if every male JW goes through this, that puts pressure on the young boys to do the same, whether they want to or not.”Speaking to him, I get the sense that most who have interacted with the JW community are respectful yet apprehensive of their practices. It doesn’t help that the lack of public information only perpetuates urban legends about the religion.For example, a friend’s dad shared that, before JWs were sent to detention barracks, those who objected to carrying arms would be forced to march carrying broomsticks instead. Nobody can confirm this myth, but stories like this involuntarily form a caricature of JWs in our minds.Understandably, JWs are also notoriously private and wary individuals. And then I meet Jonathan, who is 40 this year. He is dressed in a short-sleeved collared shirt and pants, so I assume that he came from work. Later, I learn that JWs dress to reflect the values of modesty and ‘soundness of mind’ that they live by.On first impression, he is open, mild-mannered and earnest. It only takes a few minutes for him to reveal an infectious brand of self-awareness and humour.“We are normal humans,” he deadpans. “My wife and I fight, like any couple. We also want to have fun like you do. You want to watch the latest movie? We also want.”He is also surprisingly empathetic towards a body that denies him the freedom to worship his God. When he needed to enlist, Jonathan didn’t want to “run away from services that [he] felt citizens should perform”, so he asked for “alternative services.” This meant gardening, doing laundry and cleaning offices.“Singapore is a small nation. You need men to fight for the country. Authorities don’t have it easy either. They can’t please everyone. We need to be understanding to them too.” Continue reading
  2. A Danish citizen in Russia has been arrested and faces up to 10 years in prison after attending a private meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses last week. The detention of Dennis Christensen is the first since Russia’s Supreme Court upheld a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses nationwide. It is also believed to be the first time that an individual has been arrested for practicing religion since the Soviet era. Christensen, according to a Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman in Russia, was attending a Bible reading Thursday at a private home in the southeastern city of Oryol when 15 armed Federal Security Service (FSB) officers initiated a raid. After seizing electronic devices and identification cards, they took the men to the local FSB building. While the others were released the next morning, Christensen was detained and put before a court, where he was accused of extremist activity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, said to have 175,000 members in Russia, were banned last month under the country’s anti-extremism law, and all 395 local religious organizations were ordered liquidated. The ruling, however, related only to the group’s local religious chapters. The FSB claims that Christensen, who is married to a Russian citizen and has lived in Oryol for 10 years, was involved in organizing and management of the local religious organization, an idea the group strongly disputes. “That’s not true,” Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman in Russia, told Newsweek Tuesday. “He was never a member of the local religious organization legal entity; he is just one of our believers in Oryol. Nothing special.” The Sovietsky District Court ordered Christensen to be held in pretrial detention for two months. An appeal was lodged to a higher court Monday, Sivulskiy said, and the Danish Embassy in Moscow is sending a representative to investigate the matter. Danish citizen Dennis Christensen, who was arrested after attending a private worship service of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.COURTESY OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES If convicted of being a member of an extremist organization, Christensen could face between six and 10 years in prison. Already, his arrest has furthered fears that the Supreme Court ruling will enable persecution of any Jehovah’s Witness practicing his or her faith. “They arrested him merely for reading the Bible,” Sivulskiy said. “They are going after the people, not only after the legal entity. They can now accuse anybody on this basis. If they copy this incident in other places, there is no safe place anymore. They can come to your home and whatever.” A new report from Jehovah’s Witnesses lists more than 50 incidents of abuse or aggression since the Supreme Court decision. Those include raids on worship services, harassment of children at school and individuals being dismissed from their jobs. There have also been multiple reports of vandalism and arson attacks against the homes and places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sivulskiy added that neighbors of Jehovah’s Witnesses were contacting authorities to report meetings. “Russia is known for that,” he said. An appeal against the Supreme Court’s decision was lodged earlier this month, with a response expected sometime during the summer. In the meantime, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which are headquartered in the United States, have written a letter to the Council of Europe’s decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers. It details a judgment from the European Court of Human Rights in 2010 that a decision banning and liquidating Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow in 2004 had no legal merit. The letter also calls for the beginning of infringement proceedings against Russia. “We will use all possibilities to push Russia to follow their obligations before the international community,” Sivulskiy said. “They have to ask Russia just to follow the European Court decision. It’s their obligation, their commitment.”
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  3. LILONGWE, Malawi – Two teenage witnesses of Jehovah , Aaron Mankhamba, 18, and Hastings Mtambalika, 15 are now having reasons to smile after they were expelled from school in Malawi. The two were sent out of school for their courageous stand in refusing to sing the National Anthem. But the school that expelled has recalled after learning about their faith. Besides, the school, according to their website, jw.org also exempted other witness children from the morning ritual os singing the National Anthem. “On May 3, 2017, Aaron Mankhamba, 18, and Hastings Mtambalika, 15, two children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, were allowed to return to school after being expelled from the Khombe Primary School because of their refusal to sing the national anthem during a school assembly. “The students had been barred from attending classes since February 13, 2017. They were reinstated after the boys’ parents and representatives from the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed to school officials”, the JWs said in a statement. During their discussions, the branch representatives were aided by two letters from the Malawi government that they were able to show the school officials. “One letter from 1997, actually addressed to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi, gave formal recognition for Jehovah’s Witnesses to be exempt from singing the national anthem. The other letter, from 2017, encouraged educators to respect students’ freedom of religion”, tjemJWs said. Hastings explains that the reinstatement came at a critical moment in the school year, since national exams were approaching: “We were so worried that we wouldn’t be able to sit for the national examinations. The opportunity to participate in these exams comes only once a year.” Failure to pass the national exams may have meant the students would have to repeat the grade. Augustine Semo, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi, states: “The students are happy that their conscientious stand has been respected, and we thank the school administration for choosing to uphold freedom of religion and welcome these students back to class.”
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  4. By Felix Corley, Forum 18 Sunni Muslim Nariman Seytzhanov was given five years' jail for "inciting religious hatred" by talking about schools of Islam to Kazakh pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. Satymzhan Azatov's trial on similar charges continues in Astana on 21 June. Five years' suspended sentence handed down in Almaty. The third of four Sunni Muslims who had studied their faith together at Medina Islamic University before returning to Kazakhstan has been sentenced. A court in Kokshetau in Akmola Region sentenced Nariman Seytzhanov on 9 June to five years' imprisonment for allegedly "inciting religious hatred" in talks he gave on Islam to pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. He denied the accusations.A court in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty sentenced another of the former Saudi students, Denis Korzhavin, on 11 May to five years' restricted freedom after he admitted his "guilt". Like the others, he was punished for allegedly "inciting religious hatred" under Criminal Code Article 174 (see below).The trial of the fourth, Satymzhan Azatov, on charges of "inciting religious hatred" is due to resume in the capital Astana on the morning of 21 June (see below).The first of the four to be sentenced was Kuanysh Bashpayev. He was sentenced under Criminal Code Article 174 to four and a half years' imprisonment on 7 April at the end of a closed trial in Pavlodar (see F18News 11 April 2017
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    ). Bashpayev does not appear to have appealed against his sentence.A court in the southern Kyzylorda Region handed Salafi Muslim Kasimkhan Mukhanbetaskar a suspended sentence of two years and ten months for posting Islamic material on social media which prosecutors claimed "incited religious hatred". The court, prosecutors and investigators have refused to tell Forum 18 what the material was, so it is impossible to determine either whether freedom of religion or belief has been violated, or if the accused advocated the destruction of others' human rights (see below).Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience and cancer sufferer Teymur Akhmedov has lodged his appeal to Astana City Court against his five-year prison term (see below).A court in Oral (Uralsk) has extended the pre-trial detention of former Saudi-based Imam Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov as he awaits trial on charges of "inciting religious hatred" under Article 174 (see below).Atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov – under investigation in East Kazakhstan Region under Criminal Code Article 174 - has dismissed an "expert analysis" which claimed to find "incitement to religious hatred" in his writings. He has appealed to the Prosecutor for a new analysis (see below).Police in Oral have told a Jehovah's Witnesses that charges against him of "inciting religious hatred" under Criminal Code Article 174 have been dropped. He will be prosecuted under the Administrative Code (see below).Seventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov, imprisoned under Criminal Code Article 174, is due for release at the beginning of October. He has been encouraged in prison in Pavlodar by many letters he has received from fellow-Christians around the world (see below).More prisoners of conscience punished for exercising freedom of religion or belief have had their bank accounts frozen after being added to the financial blacklist (see below).Kokshetau: Seytzhanov's five year prison termAnother Sunni Muslim who studied his faith in Saudi Arabia has been imprisoned, this time in Akmola Region. On 9 June Judge Ilyas Kakim at Kokshetau City Court found 28-year-old Nariman Seytzhanov guilty under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). The Judge handed him a five-year prison term in an ordinary regime labour camp, the term the prosecutor had been demanding. He denied the charges.Seytzhanov was also ordered to pay a fee of 91,693.58 Tenge, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18. This is to cover the cost of "expert analyses", completed on 13 January and 14 March, of his three recorded lectures.Seytzhanov intends to appeal to Akmola Regional Court, a friend told Forum 18 on 15 June.Seytzhanov's closed trial began on 25 April. The verdict was handed down at a closed session and no other parties were allowed into the courtroom to hear it being read, one of Seytzhanov's friends told Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service the same day.Seytzhanov – who had studied his faith in Saudi Arabia – worked in a travel agency in Astana. He led a group of pilgrims on the umra pilgrimage to Mecca in October 2016. He was arrested by Kyrgyzstan's National Security Committee (NSC) secret police in January 2017. They handed him over to Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) secret police.Seytzhanov was formally arrested in Kazakhstan on 15 January. He has been held since his arrest in Kokshetau's Interior Ministry Investigation Prison No. 20 (see F18News 18 April 2017
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    ).Prosecutors accused Seytzhanov of inciting religious hatred by "speaking negatively of mashabs [schools of Islamic thought]" on the basis of talks he gave while leading pilgrims on the umra pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in October 2016. Three audio-recordings were placed on the internet. Prosecutors alleged he had recorded them and made them public.However, Seytzhanov's lawyer Bakhyt Suleimenova denied this to Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service. She said he did not know who had made the recordings or uploaded them to the internet. "Nothing in these talks was against the law," Suleimanova told Radio Free Europe."He simply explained to people how to conduct the haj or umra pilgrimage, and explained in general the fundamentals of the religion so that all we Muslims and all people would be in unity," his friend told Radio Free Europe, "so that there would be no schisms, as in Syria or Ukraine where murders take place, that the people would not be divided." Seytzhanov also called on his listeners to respect the President "so that no one would go against the government" and obey imams.The Judge ordered the hearings closed allegedly to protect the identity of two witnesses who feared for their safety.Suleimanova questioned why the hearings needed to be closed. "According to the Criminal Procedure Code, this is for when there are sexual crimes, such as rapes.""Only Nariman's wife was able to attend the trial," a friend of Seytzhanov told Forum 18 on 15 June. "None of his other friends or relatives were allowed into the court building."Almaty: Korzhavin's five years' restricted freedomAn Almaty-based Sunni Muslim received a suspended sentence after admitting his "mistake". At a one-day trial on 11 May, Judge Nariman Begaliyev of the city's Almaly District Court found Denis Korzhavin guilty under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). The Judge handed him a five-year term of restricted freedom.Korzhavin was punished for lectures in Russian based on the Arabic-language Muslim book "The Three Fundamental Principles". This was banned in Kazakhstan in 2014. Recordings of the lectures were posted on the internet. "Experts" appointed by the prosecution claim to have found incitement to hatred in Korzhavin's lectures.In February 2014, Astana's Saryarka District Court found a book at least partly written by Salafi Muslim Mohammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab "extremist". The book - a Russian translation of the work "Explanation of the Three Fundamental Principles of Islam" – is 543 pages and was published in Cairo in 2008. Mohammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab helped found a precursor to the present-day kingdom of Saudi Arabia (see F18News 10 October 2014
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    ).The comparatively mild sentence followed Korzhavin's admission of "guilt" in court and an agreement before the trial between Police Investigator Aleksei Chapurin and Dauren Sagindykov of the Prosecutor's Office on one side and Korzhavin and his lawyer Ruslan Dzhaniyev on the other.As part of the agreement, Korzhavin pledged to call publicly for peace and unity between religions and to ask people not to circulate copies of his lectures. He recorded such a video-message which was posted on the internet.Under the sentence, Korzhavin will need permission to leave Almaty or change his place of residence and will have to undergo educational work organised by the probation service, Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service noted on 11 May.Korzhavin, who is now 34 and married with four children, was freed in the courtroom. He had been held since his 18 February arrest in Almaty's Investigation Prison. Both he and his lawyer told Radio Free Europe that he would not be appealing against the sentence.Korzhavin – an ethnic Russian who converted to Islam - had studied his faith at Medina Islamic University in Saudi Arabia. He returned to Kazakhstan in 2011 (see F18News 18 April 2017
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    ).Astana: Azatov's trial continuesThe trial in Astana of another of the former students from Medina Islamic University, 27-year-old Satymzhan Azatov, is due to continue at 11 am on 21 June, according to court records. His trial began under Judge Bolat Pazylov at Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 on 29 May.At the most recent hearing on 13 June, Azatov renounced his state-appointed lawyer. Instead he chose Baurzhan Azanov and Aiman Umirova to represent him."The trial is open, but it is taking place in a small courtroom that can accommodate only 15 spectators," a friend of Azatov told Forum 18 on 14 June. "Officials allow in some of his friends and relatives, then claim that the courtroom is full." Astana KNB opened a case against Azatov in late December 2016 under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). He had met with other Muslims in Astana without state permission. He was arrested on 4 January 2017 (see F18News 18 April 2017
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    ).Azatov is accused of "inciting religious hatred" in his remarks to guests at a meeting in a cafe in Astana in September 2016 (of which the KNB secret police obtained a recording) and at a subsequent meeting in a home in the city.Azatov and Seytzhanov (who was also present at the cafe) were given administrative fines in November 2016 to punish them for the meeting (see F18News 6 February 2017
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    ).The prosecution has again turned to Roza Akbarova to provide "expert analysis", including during the trial. She claimed that he had spoken negatively of Shia Muslims, stating that they had blown up a mosque.Akbarova provided analysis which helped convict Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov (see below) and Jehovah's Witness Teymur Akhmedov (see below).At an 8 June hearing, Azatov called for Judge Pazylov to be removed from the case, Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service noted the same day. Azatov described the trial as a "theatre show".Kyzylorda: Muslim sentenced – for what?Because of the secrecy surrounding cases of alleged "incitement to religious hatred" and the closure of many of the trials, many cases remain unknown. Even in cases which are known it can be impossible to establish if an individual has been punished for statements that do not call for harm to the human rights of others.One such is that of Salafi Muslim Kasimkhan Nabiuly Mukhanbetaskar (born 19 April 1992) in the southern Kyzylorda Region. The Police Anti-Extremism Department found in November 2016 that he had distributed audio-recordings on social media that incited religious hatred, according to a 19 April police statement, issued after he was sentenced. It described him as an "adherent of a destructive religious tendency".On 15 March 2017 Judge Kumisbai Kusekeyev of Kyzylorda Court No. 2 found Mukhanbetaskar guilty of violating Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). The Judge handed him a suspended sentence of two years and ten months, according to the police statement. He also ordered him to pay fees for "expert analyses" of 233,282 Tenge.Mukhanbetaskar appealed against his sentence. Judge Sabit Abdikanov of Kyzylorda Regional Court heard his appeal on 30 May, Court officials told Forum 18 on 2 June. They said the hearing was open, but that in addition to the Judge only Mukhanbetaskar, his lawyer Toktarbek Myrzambetov and the prosecutor were present.However, Court officials refused to say what decision the Judge handed down. Forum 18 was unable to reach Judge Abdikanov the same day. Forum 18 has also been unable to reach lawyer Myrzambetov.Askhat Mukhtarov of the Police Investigation Department led the case against Mukhanbetaskar. However, colleagues said he had been transferred to Zhalagash District. Officers there told Forum 18 on 2 June that he was ill. Yerkin Sagymbayev, deputy head of the Anti-Extremism Department of the Regional Police refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions on the case, citing the "secrecy of the investigation". Yerlan Zhamalbek of the Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18 that it cannot give information by telephone.Astana: Jehovah's Witness Akhmedov appealsOn 2 May Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 sentenced Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Teymur Akhmedov to five years' imprisonment on charges of "inciting religious hatred" under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2.Akhmedov was punished for discussing his faith with seven young men who were KNB secret police informers but claimed to be students. He was also banned from conducting "ideological/preaching activity in the area of religion" for three years after the end of his sentence (see F18News 3 May 2017
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    ).Akhmedov, who is now 61, has been in prison since his 18 January arrest. Asaf Guliyev, arrested with him on the same charges, was sentenced to five years' restricted freedom on 24 February (see F18News 7 March 2017
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    ).Akhmedov's appeal against his sentence reached Astana City Court on 31 May, according to court records. No date has yet been set for a hearing.Oral: Abduzhabbarov's further month in pre-trial detentionIn early June Oral (Uralsk) City Court extended the pre-trial detention of Sunni Muslim Imam Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov for a further month, until 18 July, Saule Kaisarova, head of the Court chancellery, told Forum 18 from Oral on 14 June.The KNB secret police arrested 41-year-old Imam Abduzhabbarov, extradited from Saudi Arabia at Kazakhstan's request, as he arrived at Almaty Airport on 18 February. He was then transferred to Oral in West Kazakhstan Region (see F18News 21 February 2017
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    ).A KNB secret police Investigator is investigating Abduzhabbarov under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord") and Criminal Code Article 256, Part 2.Article 256, Part 2 punishes: "Propaganda of terrorism or public calls to commit terrorism" - which includes the production, storage for distribution or distribution of [unspecified in the Article] specified materials - committed by an individual using a state or non-state official position, or with the use of the mass media or other communication networks, or with foreign support, or in a group". The punishment is seven to 12 years' imprisonment with confiscation of property.Ridder: Atheist writer Kharlamov appeals to ProsecutorOn 13 June, atheist writer and blogger Aleksandr Kharlamov wrote to the Prosecutor of East Kazakhstan Region where he lives, Bagban Taimbetov, asking for a new "expert analysis". He complains that "ignorant or unscrupulous experts" of the Regional Judicial Expert Analysis Institute had claimed to find "incitement of religious hatred" in his writings on religion."However, I live in a secular state and am not obliged to have a positive attitude to religions and speak positively about religions and religious people, all the more about religious people committing crimes against humanity and against the truth," he told Prosecutor Taimbetov in his letter seen by Forum 18.Kharlamov complained that the "experts" had "illegally distorted the essence of my publications". He stressed that as a human rights defender he calls on everyone to respect the human rights of "religious people of any religious confession".Police opened the second case against Kharlamov in autumn 2016 under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1. He has not been arrested but remains under travel restrictions in his home town of Ridder. The first criminal case against him on similar charges, opened in January 2013, has possibly been suspended but never closed (see F18News 7 March 2017
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    ).Oral: Jehovah's Witness investigated but to be punished administrativelyPolice in Oral told a local Jehovah's Witness on 12 April he was being investigated under Criminal Code Article 174, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. The criminal case was launched after the man gave "an interested person" a copy of the Jehovah's Witness publication "What Does the Bible Really Teach?"Police claimed the book is "extremist" as it has been banned in neighbouring Russia. No Jehovah's Witness publications are known to have been banned as "extremist" in Kazakhstan, although KNB secret police-appointed "experts" claim 16 of 90 Jehovah's Witness publications seized from Akhmedov in Astana at the time of his January arrest (see above) contain "extremist" passages.Police in Oral also questioned four other Jehovah's Witnesses in connection with the criminal case. They ordered an "expert analysis" of "What Does the Bible Really Teach?"Police later dropped the criminal case and the Jehovah's Witness is now being investigated under the Administrative Code.Criminal investigations under Article 174 are known to have been launched against Muslims, Council of Churches Baptists and commercial booksellers which were subsequently dropped. In all the known cases, individuals are then punished under the Administrative Code (see F18News 7 March 2017
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    ).Pavlodar: Kabduakasov in prison encouraged by lettersSeventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov – who failed in his attempts to seek early release – is due to complete his labour-camp sentence in early October, his pastor Andrei Teteryuk said. "Attempts were made to provoke incidents to use against him, but thank God they came to nothing," he told Forum 18 from Astana on 15 June.Kabduakasov was in December 2015 sentenced to two years in a labour camp under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1. He was punished for discussing his faith with students recruited by the KNB secret police in a KNB-rented flat (see F18News 29 December 2015
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    ).Kabduakasov is serving his two-year prison sentence in a labour camp in the northern city of Pavlodar. "Yklas gains strong moral encouragement from letters from around the world which Christians are sending him every day!" Pastor Teteryuk added. "It is also a powerful testimony for the labour-camp administration."More prisoners of conscience on financial blacklistSeven Sunni Muslim men sentenced in Sairam in South Kazakhstan Region have been added to the Finance Ministry Financial Monitoring Committee List of individuals "connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism".All known prisoners of conscience convicted under Criminal Code Article 174 and Article 405 (involvement in the activity of a banned organisation) have been added to this List, thus freezing any bank accounts they may have, without any additional due legal process. As individuals are not told when they are added to the List, they normally only find out they have been added when they or relatives attempt to withdraw money from their bank (see F18News 10 June 2016
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    ).The seven Muslims added to the financial blacklist on 19 May were Bakhytzhan Baimusayev, Abduvakhab Shakirov, Furkhat Abatayev, Abdivasit Abdirazakov, Murodzhon Abdullayev, Zhenisbek Manbetov and Meirambek Sarymsak.All seven were convicted for alleged membership of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat, which the Kazakh authorities banned in 2013. They were sentenced on 4 April under Criminal Code Article 405. All were given prison terms of between one and four years, plus a ban on unspecified activity once the prison terms are over (see F18News 3 May 2017
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    ).Five Sunni Muslim former prisoners of conscience, all imprisoned under Criminal Code Article 405 to punish them for alleged membership of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat, have been removed from the financial blacklist: Rashid Erimbetov on 18 April; Ruslan Abirov on 28 April; Erbol Sharipov on 15 May; and Serik Seitzhaparov and Adi Bakyt on 2 June.Erimbetov, Abirov and Sharipov were among four Muslim men each sentenced in the southern Zhambyl Region in December 2015 to one year's restricted freedom. Seitzhaparov was sentenced in Akmola Region in February 2016 to two years' restricted freedom. Bakyt was sentenced in April 2015 in Aktobe Region to two years' restricted freedom (see F18News
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    ). (END)
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  5. Rima Grigoryan (Armine Avetisyan/OC Media) Armenian identity is so tightly interwoven with religion that it can often be heard that the only true Armenian is a follower of the Armenian Church. Contempt, discrimination, and outright hatred towards religious minorities have led to a worryingly widespread perception of them as outsiders — a threat to Armenian statehood. Deadly discrimination Anna (not her real name), 45, comes from Gyumri. She used to work as an Armenian language teacher in a local school, but was forced to leave after the school authorities discovered that she was a Pentecostal Christian. ‘I would never have thought that simply attending meetings of my religious organisation in my free time could be a reason for being fired from work. I was a teacher for ten years and my colleagues described me as a loved and respected professional. One day, I was invited to the principal’s office where he asked me to hand in my notice, because many parents had complained that a “sectarian” was teaching their children’, Anna told OC Media. Anna recalls that she initially tried to fight for her rights, but eventually got frustrated and left the school voluntarily four years ago. ‘I left voluntarily, hoping I would find another job. The whole year turned out to be full of suffering. All the schools I approached slammed their doors in my face, because I was considered a “heretic”. If not for my brothers and sisters in faith, I would have starved to death’, Anna said. Anna (Armine Avetisyan/OC Media) Despite always being able to count on moral support from her religious community, one day she attempted to end her life, tired of the almost universal scorn. ‘I drank bleach in order to die, but Jesus saved me — thank the Lord. I am grateful to him that I now have my little shop, which makes me feel human again’, Anna said. Anna is now earning her daily bread with trade, selling fresh produce. ‘I’m happy I’m able to help people in need. Each morning I distribute fresh and healthy produce to people in need. We must all cleanse our souls and share what we have with our neighbours’, Anna said. Although there are no official statistics to back it up, there is anecdotal evidence that Anna’s suicide attempt because of religious discrimination is far from unique in Armenia. Religious mosaic (Armine Avetisyan/OC Media) According to official data, there are 66 registered organisations carrying out religious activities in Armenia. According to the 2011 census, the Armenian Apostolic Church is the biggest religious domination in the country, followed by 93% of its 3 million inhabitants. Other Christian denominations make up 2.1% of the population, including Catholics, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The government considers these to be official religious organisations, although there are also several groups that only have the status of NGO, such as the Maharishi Transcendental Meditation Community or the Unification Church. Unregistered communities include Buddhists and the Hare Krishna community. The Armenian Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religious belief to every citizen. In theory, the rights of religious minorities are protected, yet in practice, the picture is rather different. The US State Department pointed out in their 2015 International Religious Freedom Report that religious minorities in Armenia are often subjected to various forms of abuse — obstacles in obtaining building permits for places of worship, and discrimination in education, the military, law enforcement, and public sector employment. The report also points out preferential government support for the Armenian Apostolic Church and negative media reports often referring to religious minorities in a derogatory manner as ‘cults’ or even as ‘enemies of the state’. It also pointed to instances of verbal and physical harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses while proselytising. A family torn apart by religious intolerance Kristine (Armine Avetisyan/OC Media) ‘My family happiness lasted for only two years’, Kristine (not her real name), 35, recalls with sadness. She is currently taking care of her 5-year-old son alone. Kristine comes from the city of Vanadzor, in northern Armenia’s Lori Province. Six years ago she got married and moved with her husband to Yerevan. The first months were happy for the newlyweds, especially when they found out that they were to become parents. ‘When my child fell ill, I suffered a lot. At the hospital I met Jehovah’s Witnesses, who provided me with a lot of moral support. Over time, I began to read their books and I realised that I was living my life incorrectly, and that I needed different religious nourishment’, Kristine told OC Media. After she decided to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses, her life changed. When Kristine’s in-laws found out that she had embraced a new faith, they first tried to convince her to abandon it. Later, they stopped visiting her family home. ‘My parents-in-law forbade my husband from communicating with me. I struggled for half a year. I loved him, but I couldn’t lie to myself; I had to go my own way’, Kristine recalls. In the end, her husband’s relatives won over her husband. The separation process was painful, with her husband’s family trying to deprive her of her parental rights. After a long legal battle, the court decided that Kristine’s child should stay under her custody. ‘Now my son is with me and I am happy. He is often ill, but we are strong together. It’s definitely going to be fine. My husband doesn’t even remember us; he has a new family. I live with my parents. They are followers of the [Armenian Apostolic] Church, but they don’t mind and we respect each other’, Kristine said. Kristine managed to find a job as a saleswoman at a private company, but she’s still struggling to provide for her and her son. ‘His father bought him a bicycle for his fourth birthday. I never saw him after that. He told me that we could be back together if I started living as a “normal” person, otherwise there was no place for me to grow old by his side’, Kristine said, smiling. Faith can get you arrested Edgar Soghomonyan (Armine Avetisyan/OC Media) According to data provided by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to OC Media, since 1991, 19 members of the group have been arrested on charges of evading military or alternative civilian service, and sentenced to between one and one-and-a-half years in prison. After Armenia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, members of various religious communities — especially Jehovah’s Witnesses — refused to undergo military service, for which they often ended up in prison. In 2001, a condition was set for Armenia to adopt a law on alternative civilian service before the country could become a member of the Council of Europe. A relevant bill was finally passed on 17 December 2013. According to the current Law on Alternative Service, one can join the armed forces without being obligated to carry or use a weapon for 36 months, or to undergo an alternative civilian service for 42 months. The usual length of military service is 24 months. After 2015, many Jehovah’s Witnesses and Molokan Christians who were undertaking civilian service realised that they were still under the supervision of the Ministry of Defence, and refused to continue. Several dozen were convicted on charges of desertion and sentenced to between three and eight months in prison. Their cases eventually reached the European Court of Human Rights, who ruled against Armenia, forcing them to change the law to provide a truly civilian option. Edgar Soghomonyan, 18, is a Jehovah’s Witness. he has already spent 4 months of alternative civilian service working in an elderly care home. His duties include feeding and taking care of people with disabilities. Edgar says that he is loved by all and he is content with his work. ‘I work six days a week, from nine to six. On Sundays, I’m free. The only difficulty is that the people I’m taking care of are heavy and difficult to move’, Edgar told OC Media, adding that he made the right choice because the Bible forbids him from carrying weapons. Jehovah’s Witnesses under the shadow of Russia Alvard Galstyan and Adrine Muradyan (Armine Avetisyan/OC Media) Rima Grigoryan, who has lived in a nursing home for two years, has been a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for three years. She hasn’t encountered problems, but other members of her congregation often complain of discrimination. When members of her community approach pedestrians or knock on people’s doors and offer booklets, they are often treated with contempt. There were cases where the posters they were holding in the streets were vandalised by passers-by. Rima says that she can’t understand such treatment, because they only preach what’s good. There are also other religious minorities in the nursing home. The Pentecostals are especially numerous. Pentecostals Alvard Galstyan and Adrine Muradyan have been roommates since 1988. Over the years they have grown to be close friends and religious sisters. They are happy with their lives, although they remain isolated from society at large. ‘No-one persuaded us to believe or become members of their religious group, nor do we try to convince anyone. Our teaching is founded on love. We want to live in peace’, Alvard told OC Media, adding that Armenians lacked a little bit of kindness by judging people for their religion and not for the people they are. Alvard and Adrine are worried by the Armenian reactions to the April 2017 ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia’s Supreme Court, under its ‘anti-extremism’ law. They say that the news has intensified hatred towards religious minorities, with many Armenians openly calling for their own government to follow suit.
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  6. A Jehovah's Witness in England embroiled in a family court dispute with his estranged wife has been barred from taking his six-year-old son to some religious events by a judge. District Judge Malcolm Dodds has refused to allow the man to take the little boy to Jehovah's Witness assemblies, annual conventions and memorials. The judge concluded that there was a risk of the youngster suffering "emotional damage". He heard that the couple had separated about a year after the man began to study the Jehovah's Witness faith. The boy now lives with his mother, who did not practise any religion. Judge Dodds said the boy was "impressionable" and might suffer as a result of getting "confusing messages" if he went with his father to certain kinds of Jehovah's Witness gatherings. The boy's father had asked the judge to decide how much time he could spend with the boy. He also wanted the boy to be "part of" his religious beliefs. The boy's mother had raised concern about the boy being harmed by his father's religious beliefs and had told the judge how her son had once told her "God is good and you are bad". Judge Dodds had analysed the dispute at a private family court hearing in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, in May. He has revealed detail in a written ruling. The family involved has not been identified. Judge Dodds said the man could spend time with the boy and could take him to Sunday services. But he said he took a different view about the boy attending "assemblies, annual conventions and memorials". The judge said the man had already agreed not to take the boy on "field service" - knocking on doors of people's homes, not to read Bible stories to him and not to show him "religious biased media", including cartoons. "I ... do not wish to restrict him from taking (the boy) to the Kingdom Hall each Sunday for up to two hours," said Judge Dodds. "I do not see that this practice of the father's faith for a limited period within a group service with child-friendly activities poses a risk of jeopardy to (the boy's) relationship with his mother." The judge added: "I take a different view of assemblies, annual conventions and memorials. These are much longer events." He went on: "There is a far greater risk that (the boy) will be influenced ... given his age and how impressionable he is and the risk of emotional damage due to confusing messages. "As a result I find it necessary and proportionate to prohibit the father from taking (the boy) to Jehovah's Witness assemblies, annual conventions and memorials." Judge Dodds said the man had been "wise" to agree not to show the boy "Jehovah's Witness cartoons". The judge said he had watched cartoons called Obey Jehovah, Pay Attention At Meetings and One Man One Woman. "In Obey Jehovah a child is taught about the sinfulness of having a cartoon character toy with magical powers which the child had to put in a bin," said the judge. "While making sense to a child if both parents were Jehovah's Witnesses, such a cartoon would send a very confusing message to a child like (the boy) who has one foot in his mother's world and a wider world (in which magical characters are everywhere in books, television, DVDs, on the internet and in films) and his other foot in his father's world where such magical characters are sinful. "The mother asserts that in her submissions that the objective of the cartoons and Bible stories is to condition and indoctrinate children into Jehovah's Witness beliefs through a mixture of fear, manipulation and a strict boundary between behaviour which is acceptable and pleasing and that which is not. "The father accepts that (the boy) should not be exposed to such religious based media until (he) is at least 12."
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  7. Indiana woman Jamie Porter claimed her first-grader son was punished for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance. Now she is suing the teacher and principal allegedly responsible. The complaint, obtained by Fox 59, said the incident happened in March. Fuqua Elementary School teacher Kelly McFarland allegedly sent the boy to the principal’s office because he stayed seated during the pledge. Asked why he didn’t recite it, he said that “he was doing it to protest the government of the United States, as it was racist, greedy and does not care about people,” the lawsuit stated. Later, Principal Mary Beth Harris‘ office allegedly made him practice reciting the pledge. He and his mother now seek damages after he disliked the way school officials treated him. He was also still mourning after his father recently passed away, the lawsuit said. LawNewz.com reached out to McFarland and Harris for comment, and will update when they respond. The Vigo County School Corporation, a public school district, has not been sued. Case law on this sort of allegation remains very clear: officials cannot make students say the pledge. Doing so violates kids’ First Amendment rights. This dates back to the 1943 Supreme Court case West Virginia v. Barnette. They voted 6-3 on behalf of several students, all of whom were Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing to stand for the pledge on religious grounds. Justice Robert H. Jackson said the government, including school officials, couldn’t force people to say things they don’t mean: To sustain the compulsory flag salute, we are required to say that a Bill of Rights which guards the individual’s right to speak his own mind left it open to public authorities to compel him to utter what is not in his mind.
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  8. MOSCOW, May 26 (RAPSI) – The Supreme Court of Russia has upheld a ruling declaring a branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization in Cherkessk extremist and liquidating it, RAPSI learnt in the courtroom on Friday. The court has dismissed an appeal against the February 10 ruling of the Supreme Court of the Karachay-Cherkessia Republic. In addition to the organization’s declared extremist status and it liquidation, its real estate property was ruled to be transferred to the state. On Friday, this ruling came into force. On April 20, Russia’s Supreme Court banned the Administrative Centre of Jehovah's Witnesses as extremist organization. According to the ruling, the Centre and its local branches are to be liquidated. The Justice Ministry said that violations of the law “On Combatting Extremism” had been revealed during inspection conducted in the organization. The Prosecutor General’s Office’s notice concerning inadmissibility of carrying out extremist activities by Jehovah's Witnesses has taken effect, the Ministry said. Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization has had many legal problems in Russia. Since 2009, 95 materials distributed by the organization in the country have been declared extremist and 8 Jehovah's Witnesses’ branches have been liquidated, according to the Justice Ministry. Jehovah's Witnesses is an international religious organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Since 2004 several branches and chapters of the organization were banned and shut down in various regions of Russia.
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  9. The organization faces a ban in all of Russia The supreme court in Russia’s Karachay-Cherkessia declared the local Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization on February 10 and ordered for it to be dissolved and its property forfeited to the state. Earlier, the republic’s prosecutor office had accused the organization of producing and disseminating extremist materials. The Witnesses were then forced to pay a fine and had their literature seized, however, as they wouldn’t give up what the prosecutor’s office referred to as “extremist activity”, the matter was taken to court. The Russian prosecutor general’s crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses started with a notice of “unacceptability of extremist activity” sent to the organization’s management last April. Citing religious discrimination, JW representatives appealed against the notice. However, Moscow’s city court on January 16 upheld it, ordering the organisation to “fix the violations” unless it wanted to be banned on the entire territory of the Russian Federation. Seven of JW’s regional branches have been closed down in Russia by courts. In the southern Russian city of Taganrog, 16 Witnesses were convicted for failing to comply with the ban. Four criminal cases have recently been launched against several members of the organization for “inciting hatred” and “creating a non-commercial entity violating citizens’ rights”. In 2005, a Moscow court ordered the dissolution of the capital’s JW community. In 2010, the European Court for Human Rights found the court in violation of the European convention. And in 2015, the community finally had its registration resumed. There are 100 to 150 thousand Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The Christian denomination emerged from the Bible Student movement, founded in 1872 by Charles Russel. It reports a worldwide membership of more than eight million adherents.
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  10. The U.S. Commission in International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sounded the alarm about the "worsening" state of affairs for religious freedom across the globe in its report for this year, the Christian News Network reported. The report, released on Wednesday last week, urges the U.S. Department of State to designate 16 more nations as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), citing particular instances in those countries that merited their inclusion in the list. "Overall, the Commission has concluded that the state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations," said USCIRF Chairman Thomas Reese in a statement. "The blatant assaults have become so frightening—attempted genocide, the slaughter of innocents, and wholesale destruction of places of worship—that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated," he pointed out. Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, a USCIRF member, said during a panel discussion on Wednesday in Washington D.C. that the commission "specifically name names so that those stories are lifted and people gain the strength that they need in order to continue fighting for their faith," CBN News reported. The commission urged the State Department to designate six nations—Russia, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Vietnam as countries of concern. The commission blew the whistle on Russia due to worsening religious freedoms in that country, which became even more evident with the recent ban of Jehovah's Witnesses. Once again, North Korea topped the USCIRF list of countries with the most repressive regimes, noting that freedom of religion is non-existent in that communist nation. North Korea is also Number 1 on Open Doors USA's World Watch list of the top 50 Christian-persecuting countries in the world. The Commission urged both Congress and the Trump administration to continually speak up about religious freedom abuses around the world, both in public and in private meetings. "You cannot have religious freedom without the freedom of worship, the freedom of association, the freedom of expression and opinion, the freedom of assembly, protection from arbitrary arrest and detention, [and] protection from interference in home and family," the report states. Read more at
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  11. Con la tecnología de Traductor de Google By Felix Corley, Forum 18 An "anti-extremism" raid on a Kokshetau shop captured a Koran and other Muslim books. The seller was fined for selling religious materials without state permission. She will have to appeal if she wants to regain the books. Icon and book sellers are often fined. In an Anti-Extremism Police raid on a shop in Kokshetau in Kazakhstan's northern Akmola Region, officials seized an Arabic-language Koran and Muslim books in Kazakh and Russian on how to pray the namaz. The woman who had the books on sale was fined in early May, not for extremism-related activity but for selling Muslim literature without the state licence required to sell any religious literature and materials. She has to appeal if she wants the books returned, officials told Forum 18.A case against a Baptist in the nearby town of Stepnogorsk for offering Christian literature to others without state permission was dismissed because it had been lodged too late. Another Baptist is challenging the Judge due to hear his case (see below).In other cases in North Kazakhstan, West Kazakhstan and Kyzylorda Regions, individuals have been fined for offering or selling religious literature on the streets. In Karaganda Region two Jehovah's Witnesses were punished for "missionary activity" for talking to others about their faith with the use of literature. Two young Muslims were punished in Karaganda Region for sending Muslim texts on the Telegram messaging app. In Atyrau a court fined a woman for offering for sale nine Christian icons, while the same court fined a Muslim for teaching his faith with Muslim texts (see below).Officials often claim that those distributing or selling religious literature which has not undergone compulsory state religious censorship or in a place not approved to sell religious literature are guilty of spreading "extremism". Those who distribute non-approved Islamic texts are also often accused of distributing literature "of non-traditional Islam".The government allows only one Muslim organisation to function, the state-backed Muslim Board, which is Hanafi Sunni. It bans all other forms of Islam, although this ban is not prescribed in any law (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey
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    ).Restrictions on who can sell religious literature and where has stopped online retailers from offering religious books, though confusion abounds as to what constitutes "religious literature" (see below).Reached on 22 May, acting head of the Religious Affairs Committee Bakhytzhan Kulekeyev declined to discuss the state-imposed religious censorship – or anything else – with Forum 18.In addition to seizing religious books, icons and other items being sold or distributed without state permission, officials often seek the banning of religious books and webpages as "extremist". State-appointed "experts" ruled that statements by German Lutheran Pastor and Nazi-era political prisoner Martin Niemöller – published 70 years ago – are "extremist". Prosecutors may lodge a banning suit to court (see forthcoming F18News article).Tight state censorshipAll religious literature is under tight state censorship. Only books and other items approved by the Religious Affairs Committee, which is part of the Religion and Civil Society Ministry in the capital Astana, are allowed to be sold, distributed, printed or imported. In addition, only registered religious organisations (on their own premises) and book sellers with a state licence are allowed to sell or distribute religious literature (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey
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    )."Anti-extremism" legal changes which came into force in January restricted imports of religious literature for "personal use" to one copy of any one book (see F18News 5 January 2017
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    ).Article 490, Part 1, Point 3 of the Administrative Code punishes: "Violating the requirements of the Religion Law for .. import, manufacturing, production, publication and/or distribution of religious literature and other religious materials, and items for religious use". The punishment for individuals is a fine of 50 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs).Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3 punishes: "Carrying out missionary activity without state registration (or re-registration), as well as the use by missionaries of religious literature, information materials with religious content or religious items without a positive assessment from a religious studies expert analysis, and spreading the teachings of a religious group which is not registered in Kazakhstan". The punishment is a fine of 100 MFIs, with deportation if the individual is a foreign citizen.A fine of 50 MFIs represents about a month's average wage for those in work.No religious books at online retailersThe requirement to have a state licence before a commercial book-seller can sell any religious literature means that online book retailers cannot sell religious literature. "Unfortunately we don't currently sell literature with religious themes," one Kazakhstan-based online retailer told Forum 18 from Almaty in late March. "Since the 2011 Religion Law came in, such literature can only be sold in specialised shops or through religious organisations."However, confusion surrounds what constitutes a "religious" book. Some online retailers still sell Leo Tolstoy's "Confession", in which the Russian novelist grappled with the meaning of human existence, or his "The Thoughts of Wise Men", a collection of sayings, including from the Christian Gospels, the Talmud and "Buddhist wisdom".Kokshetau: Selling "banned" religious literatureAnti-extremism police officer Y. Yergaliyev and Regional Religious Affairs Department Chief Specialist Galina Bessmertnaya raided a shop in a shopping centre in Kokshetau in Akmola Region on the afternoon of 7 February. The two had seen that religious literature was on sale.The officials seized all the religious books they could find: 57 copies of 14 different publications, according to the subsequent court decision. These included an Arabic-language Koran and Muslim books in Kazakh and Russian, among them several on how to pray the namaz.Officials sent the books to the Religion and Civil Society Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee in the capital Astana for "expert analysis". The Committee told Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department that the books were religious.On 31 March Bessmertnaya drew up a record of an offence against the seller of the books, Vera Yafyasova, under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1 for selling religious materials without the compulsory state approval.A 20 April Police statement on the case claimed that the Muslim literature Yafyasova had on sale was "banned" in Kazakhstan.A case was sent to Kokshetau Specialised Administrative Court. The hearing was repeatedly delayed because religious affairs official Bessmertnaya failed to come to court. On 5 May, Judge Serik Tuleyev found Yafyasova guilty and fined her 10 MFIs, 79,415 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. It said the fine had been reduced because she had admitted her guilt and expressed remorse in court and because of her "financial position". The court decision did not say whether or not the seized books were to be returned to her or not. Bessmertnaya defended the seizure of the Muslim books. "All was done in accordance with the law," she told Forum 18 from Kokshetau on 22 May. "Yafyasova can apply to get the books back – there must be an official document before they can be returned." She then put the phone down.The head of the Regional Religious Affairs Department, Bolat Kasenov, insisted to Forum 18 the same day that Yafyasova and others need state permission before they can sell any religious book or item. "We're not violating anyone's rights – just read the law."Kasenov said the books are currently at the court as they constituted evidence in the case.Stepnogorsk: Offering literature on streetsPolice stopped two Baptists, Valery Zhigalov and Ruslan Sadvakasov, on 28 January as they were offering Christian literature to passers-by on the street outside the Siberia shopping centre in the town of Stepnogorsk in Akmola Region. Officers seized all their literature, 136 copies of various books, claiming that religious literature can be distributed only in state-approved locations, Baptists complained to Forum 18. "The Christian library has run continuously for 27 years," Baptists explained to Forum 18 on 14 April.Police took the two men to the police station. They told them that they would send the books for "expert analysis".On 5 April, Bessmertnaya of Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department drew up records of an offence for each of the two Baptists under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3. The cases were then handed to Stepnogorsk Town Court on 10 April.Zhigalov's case was handed initially to Judge Gulmira Toleubayeva. However, he submitted a motion to have her replaced by another judge.On 17 May, Judge Aisulu Mamilyanova dismissed the case against Sadvakasov, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. Although she found that his unapproved distribution of religious literature had been illegal, she dismissed the case became the case had been submitted to court beyond the legal two-month deadline. The Judge did not say in her decision what should happen to the confiscated books.Bessmertnaya – who was present at Sadvakasov's hearing – would not discuss the cases with Forum 18.Ualikhanov: Offering literature on streetsOn 2 March, Ualikhanov District Court in North Kazakhstan Region punished a local Baptist, Roman Pugachev, for offering religious literature to others without state permission. Judge Serik Temirbekov found him guilty of violating Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3 and fined him 50 MFIs, 113,450 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The Judge also banned him from conducting unspecified activity for three monthsAt lunchtime on 18 January, police had stopped him in the village of Novotroitse as he was offering religious literature to passers-by. Police drew up a record of an offence on 27 January. Pugachev told the court that he had indeed been offering Christian literature which had been provided on the basis of donations by church members.Oral: Offering literature on streetsA Baptist from Oral (Uralsk) in West Kazakhstan Region was again punished for exercising freedom of religion or belief, this time for offering religious literature to others. On 6 February Judge Roza Sariyeva of Oral Specialised Administrative Court found Serkali Kumargaliyev of violating Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. She fined him 50 MFIs, 106,050 Tenge.Kumargaliyev did not attend the hearing, but in a statement denied that he had been on the streets of the town near the university on the afternoon of 7 December 2016 when police claim he was distributing religious literature without state permission.A student told the court that an "unknown man" had given him a Christian leaflet which his sister had then handed to the police. At the police station the student identified Kumargaliyev from photos of a number of men officers showed him. On 30 December 2016, police then drew up a record of an offence against Kumargaliyev.In his statement Kumargaliyev freely declared that he often does often Christian literature to others in public places, insisting that "praising God is the breath of his life", according to the court decision.However, Baptists insisted to Forum 18 on 11 March that Kumargaliyev made no written statement and had not been informed about the court hearing. They say he learnt of it only on 23 February, when the written court decision reached him.On 31 January Terekti District Court sentenced Kumargaliyev to three days' imprisonment under Administrative Code Article 669, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. He was punished for refusing to pay fines handed down in 2013 and 2014 for exercising freedom of religion or belief.On 5 February Kumargaliyev was again fined – this time by the police - for participating in an unregistered meeting for worship. Six fellow-Baptists were fined with him (see F18News 25 April 2017
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    ).Kyzylorda: Selling literature on streetsKyzylorda Regional Anti-Extremism Police detained a 49-year-old local resident selling religious literature on the streets of Kyzylorda in a location not approved by the local authorities. Police claimed in a 28 April statement that the individual was of a "destructive religious movement", which they did not identify.A record of an offence was prepared and sent to Kyzylorda Specialised Administrative Court. The book-seller was fined 50 MFIs, according to the police statement. Neither the Court nor the Regional Religious Affairs Department would identify the individual.Police pointed out that the city of Kyzylorda has only three designated bookshops where religious literature and other items can legally be sold.Satpayev: Talking to others about faith, offering newspaperTwo Jehovah's Witnesses were punished in Satpayev in Karaganda Region for talking to a woman about their faith on 12 February without personal state registration as "missionaries" and distributing religious literature (a book and a magazine) which had not undergone the compulsory state religious censorship. The woman had called the police.On 17 February, police drew up a record of an offence against Karlygash Zholomanova and Fariza Iskakova under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3. The cases were then handed to Satpayev Town Court.On 27 February, Judge Zhaksybek Skakov found Zholomanova guilty and fined her 100 MFIs, 226,900 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. He ordered that the book and magazine be held in the case files.On 9 March, Judge Kanat Shaikamalov found Iskakova guilty and similarly fined her 100 MFIs, 226,900 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. He ordered that a DVD confiscated from her be held in the case files but that a book confiscated from her be returned once the decision entered into force.Judge Nadezhda Kuznetsova of Karaganda Regional Court rejected Zholomanova's appeal on 28 March and Iskakova's appeal on 6 April, according to the decisions seen by Forum 18.The same Judge Skakov had fined a local Pentecostal, Natalya Konopleva, on 2 November 2016. She had offered ten copies of a Christian newspaper "From the Source" (published by her congregation, Agape) on 1 October 2016 in the shop where she worked. The Judge found her guilty of violating Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1 and fined her 50 MFIs, 106,050 Tenge. He also ordered that the eight remaining copies of the newspaper be held in the case file, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.Judge Yerlan Yermekov of Karaganda Regional Court rejected Konopleva's appeal against her fine on 5 December 2016, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.Karaganda: Online Muslim materialsTwo young Muslims in Karaganda, Eldar Zhakayev and Nurlan Dukenbayev, were fined for posting Muslim materials on the Telegram messaging app. On 12 April, Serik Tlekbayev, head of the department of the Regional Religious Affairs Department that liaises with the police, drew up records of an offence against the two for distributing such materials without state permission. He also accused them of distributing materials which had not undergone the state censorship and which were not related to "traditional Islam".On 5 May, Judge Almagul Aikenova of Karaganda Inter-District Specialised Administrative Court found Zhakayev guilty of violating Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3. She fined him 50 MFIs, 113,450 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The decision does not identify the material he distributed, but states that it belonged to "non-traditional Islam".On 12 May the same Judge at the same Court found Dukenbayev guilty under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3. She fined him 70 MFIs, 158,830 Tenge, according to court records.A 16 May statement from the Internal Policy Department of Karaganda Regional Akimat (administration) accused the two men, "who profess non-traditional Islam", of "distributing extremist ideology" and conducting "illegal missionary activity".The telephone of Tlekbayev of the Regional Religious Affairs Department went unanswered or was switched off each time Forum 18 called on 22 May. His colleague Kaisar Akbarov told Forum 18 he was unable to explain by phone what constitutes "traditional Islam" or what law bans Islamic material which the state does not consider to be in line with "traditional Islam".Atyrau: Icons, Arabic-language materialsOn 1 February Judge Zhanat Khabarov of Atyrau's Specialised Administrative Court found Svetlana Tashieva guilty of violating Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3 for selling icons without state permission. He fined her 79,415 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. She was also banned from commercial activity for three months. The Judge ordered that the icons be returned to her.Meiram Kikimbayev, Chief Specialist of the Regional Religious Affairs Department, discovered Tashieva offering nine Christian icons for sale without state permission at her kiosk in an Atyrau shopping centre on 15 November 2016. He drew up a record of an offence against her on 23 January 2017.Icons were seized from a bookseller in Oral in October 2013 and he was fined for selling them and religious literature without a state licence. An official of the government's then Agency for Religious Affairs in Astana told Forum 18: "We have experts to check icons" (see F18News 8 January 2014
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    ).Meanwhile, on 23 February at the same court, Judge Saniya Kenzhaliyeva punished Shirazidin Temirkululy under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3 for teaching Islam to children at a charitable centre in Atyrau on 27 December 2016. She fined him 100 MFIs, 226,900 Tenge. She also ordered that Arabic language Muslim books seized from him be returned, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.On 13 March, the Regional Court announced that Atyrau's Specialised Administrative Court fined an individual identified only as "T." 79,415 Tenge under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3 for selling Arabic-language Muslim materials in digital format at a stall in the city's Dina market. The Court also banned the individual from commercial activity for three months. Forum 18 has been unable to establish the identity of the individual punished."People must have state permission to sell icons and religious materials, including DVDs, in kiosks," Kikimbayev of the Regional Religious Affairs Department told Forum 18 from Atyrau on 24 March. (END)
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  12. MOSCOW, April 12. /TASS/. Russia’s Supreme Court has heard the testimony of four former members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who said they had been subjected to ‘total control’ in that religious organization, with no possibility to receive higher education or start a family, TASS reports from the courtroom. Specifically, witness Natalia Koretskaya from St. Petersburg told the court she had been a member of that organization from 1995 to 2009 and had realized over this period that the organization’s members “were living under full and total control of the [Jehovah’s Witnesses] Administrative Center.” “The heads of the Jehovah’s Witnesses formally watch canonical compliance with the norms but in real fact the talk is about total control of an individual’s personal life – his intimate life, education and work,” witness Koretskaya said. In response to the court’s request to give the facts of such control, Koretskaya said she had been expelled from the religious organization and its members had been banned to communicate with her after she had started close but officially unregistered relationship with a man. “Therefore, a person turns out to be expelled into the outer world, in which he has already forgotten how to live over the years of his stay in the organization,” Koretskaya said. The Justice Ministry’s second witness, Pavel Zverev, told the court he had become a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the age of 16 and had not received higher education on persuasion of the organization’s heads. “It is accepted in the organization that receiving higher education is useless if this is not in the organization’s interests. As a result of such persuasion, I remained without education and I’m suffering from that in my life,” said Zverev who had worked as a volunteer for two years in the organization’s Administrative Center in the capacity of a cook. The other two witnesses also said they had suffered from the religious organization’s excessive control of their private life and from the ban to communicate with its other members after quitting it, as well as from depression and alcoholism. Thus, witness Nina Petrova from Volgograd said that on persuasion of her spiritual mentors she did not marry and did not start a family. “They convinced me that a family was not needed as the doomsday was close at hand. And when I realized that this was a delusion, it was late,” Petrova said, adding that she had stayed in the organization for 28 years. For their part, representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said the witnesses had been prepared in advance for their testimony in the court. “We see that the witnesses are giving testimony based on written materials, repeating the arguments of the so-called sectological literature. Some of them are mentioned in public sources as activists of the movements that are struggling with the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” a lawyer for the defendants said. At its next hearing on April 19, the court is expected to study the written materials of the case and may hear the parties’ oral statements. Essence of the lawsuit In its lawsuit to outlaw the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Justice Ministry pointed to various violations in the organization’s activities revealed during a surprise inspection, including breaches of the Law on Counteracting Extremist Activities. The ministry has asked to recognize the organization and its 395 local branches as extremists, ban their activity and seize property. For its part, the organization’s press service told TASS that they were alarmed by the decision, since it could affect 175,000 active believers. The Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman Ivan Bilenko said the organization was prepared to press for its rights in any courts. The Jehovah’s Witnesses is an international religious organization that supports offbeat views on the essence of the Christian faith and provides special interpretations of many commonly accepted notions. In Russia, it had 21 local organizations but three of them were eliminated for extremism.
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  13. Astana, May 2, Interfax - Court No. 2 of Astana's Saryarka District has convicted Jehovah's Witnesses preacher Teimur Akhmedov of "inciting ethnic, social, religious, family and racial hatred in collusion with a group of other persons" and has sentenced him to five years in a medium-security penitentiary, the court's press service said. The court also banned Akhmedov from performing any religious ideological and preaching activities for three years, it said. According to the case files, in 2016 Akhmedov and his accomplice, Asaf Guliyev, "organized religious gatherings involving the capital's residents recently recruited into the community at different apartments in the city of Astana." During such meetings, in the presence of their followers, the two men publicly spoke negatively about representatives of Islam, Catholicism and Orthodoxy and said that one religion was superior to another. During a trial in February 2017, Guliyev pleaded guilty to all charges, publicly repented and, given the mitigating circumstances, was given a five-year prison term.
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  14. The central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is cracking down on religious minorities. 60-year-old Teimur Akhmedov, a Jehovah's Witness, was found guilty of "inciting ethnic, social, religious, family and racial hatred in collusion with a group of other persons." Akhmedov was arrested in January and went on trial on April 6th.
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  15. Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience, pensioner and cancer-sufferer Teymur Akhmedov was jailed in Astana on 2 May for five years and banned for a further three years from conducting "ideological/preaching activity". He denied KNB secret police charges of "inciting religious hatred" and will appeal. On 2 May a Judge in Kazakhstan's capital Astana sentenced Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Teymur Akhmedov to five years' imprisonment for discussing his faith with seven young men who were National Security Committee (KNB) secret police informers but claimed to be students. He was also banned from conducting "ideological/preaching activity in the area of religion" for three years after the end of his sentence, a court statement declared. Akhmedov rejected the charge of "inciting religious hatred" under Criminal Code Article 174 and will appeal. The Prosecutor had demanded a six year, eight month prison sentence. Akhmedov, a retired bus driver who marks his 61st birthday on 7 May, has been in pre-trial detention since 18 January, where he was tortured with beatings. Officials have repeatedly refused to allow him to be treated in hospital for the cancer he is suffering from (see below). The KNB secret police has already launched a criminal case against two of Akhmedov's lawyers for allegedly violating the secrecy of the case by appealing on their client's behalf to President Nursultan Nazarbayev (see below). KNB secret police Investigator Medet Duskaziyev – who launched the cases against Akhmedov and two of his lawyers - refused absolutely to discuss anything with Forum 18 on 3 May. He put the phone down as soon as it had introduced itself. Asaf Guliyev, arrested with Akhmedov on the same charges in January, was sentenced to five years' restricted freedom on 24 February in Astana for speaking with Akhmedov about their faith to KNB secret police agents pretending to be students (see F18News 7 March 2017
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    ). Five Sunni Muslims have faced criminal prosecution under the same charges of "inciting religious hatred" as Akhmedov and Guliyev after studying their faith in Saudi Arabia. Kuanysh Bashpayev was sentenced to four and a half years' imprisonment in Pavlodar on 7 April at the end of a closed trial. The closed trial of 27-year-old Nariman Seytzhanov began in Kokshetau in Akmola Region on 25 April. The case of Denis Korzhavin was handed to Almaty's Almaly District Court on 19 April. No trial date has been set. Satimzhan Azatov remains in pre-trial detention in Astana, while Imam Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov is in pre-trial detention in Oral (Uralsk) (see F18News 18 April 2017
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    ). Seytzhanov's trial is due to resume on the morning of 11 May (see below). Azatov's case might be about to be handed for trial, as Prosecutors do not appear to have applied to extend his pre-trial detention, which expires on 4 May (see below). Prisoners – both in pre-trial detention and in labour camp – are often denied the right to exercise freedom of religion or belief. An official of Astana's Investigation Prison where Akhmedov is being held told Forum 18 bluntly that "religious literature is banned" (see below). Akhmedov: Five year prison term The KNB secret police alleged that between May and October 2016 Akhmedov and Guliyev insulted the faith of non-Jehovah's Witnesses as they spoke about their own faith in Astana to young men who turned out to be KNB agents, who secretly video-recorded their conversations. Both men were arrested in 18 January (see F18News 2 February 2017
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    ). Teymur Sultan ogly Akhmedov (born 7 May 1956) went on trial at Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2 under Judge Talgat Syrlybayev with a preliminary hearing on 27 March. The full trial began on 6 April. In his final summing up, Prosecutor Baurzhan Kulmaganbetov demanded that Akhmedov be imprisoned for six years and eight months. On 2 May, at the end of the trial, Judge Syrlybayev found Akhmedov guilty of violating Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2. An Astana City Court statement the same day claimed Akhmedov had "in the presence of his followers spoken publicly and negatively in relation to representatives of Islam, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, propagandising the superiority of one religion over another". The Judge sentenced Akhmedov to five years' imprisonment in a general regime labour camp. The Judge also banned him from conducting "ideological/preaching activity in the area of religion" for three years after the end of his sentence, according to the Astana City Court statement. Bans on exercising freedom of religion or belief after an individual has completed a prison term have become a regular extra punishment. Muslim prisoner of conscience Saken Tulbayev he was sentenced in July 2015 to four years eight months' imprisonment. He was also banned from exercising freedom of religion or belief, including praying with others and reading the Koran, until the end of 2022 three years after his release (see F18News 8 July 2015
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    ). Akhmedov is likely to be added to the Finance Ministry Financial Monitoring Committee List of individuals "connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism". All known prisoners of conscience convicted under Article 174 have been added to this List, thus freezing any bank accounts they may have, without any additional due legal process. As individuals are not told when they are added to the List, they normally only find out they have been added when they or relatives attempt to withdraw money from their bank (see F18News 10 June 2016
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    ). Akhmedov: No release for cancer treatment Since Akhmedov's 18 January arrest, officials have repeatedly refused to release him from Investigation Prison to undergo hospital treatment for cancer. A report from the National Scientific Centre for Oncology and Transplantation (the national cancer centre) "recommends an operation and requests that Akhmedov undergo an examination before being hospitalised". Akhmedov's lawyer Kuznetsov told Forum 18 in early April that his client is suffering with two large tumours of the gastro-intestinal tract which are suspected of being cancerous. Akhmedov also told Kuznetsov he was tortured by being beaten in Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12. The duty officer, an official of the Special Department and the Deputy Head of the Investigation Prison separately claimed to Forum 18 in March that no one is beaten there and one accused Akhmedov of lying (see F18News 3 April 2017
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    ). The detention of a cancer sufferer who needs to be hospitalised violates the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules, A/C.3/70/L.3) (see F18News 2 February 2017
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    ). The head of Astana's Public Observers Commission, Ruslan Ozdoyev, visited Akhmedov in prison in late February. He told Forum 18 on 3 May that he had recommended that Akhmedov be immediately sent to hospital for full medical treatment. "I was angered – how can a person be put in pre-trial detention if they already have a condition needing full treatment?" An official of the Special Department of Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12, where Akhmedov is being held, refused to discuss his medical condition with Forum 18 on 3 May. Akhmedov: Proof "ignored" The seven young men who in 2016 invited Akhmedov and Guliyev to meetings at a rented flat, as well as at the two Jehovah's Witnesses' homes, claimed in court to be students of Astana's Eurasian University. They secretly filmed the meetings and passed the 17 discs of recordings to the KNB secret police. However, at the hearing on 13 April, at which the "chief witness" was questioned, everyone except for the Prosecutor and Akhmedov's lawyers were excluded from hearing the testimony. Even Akhmedov was excluded, Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service noted. The prosecution claimed the "chief witness" feared for his safety. The defence said it was he who had arranged the invitation to Akhmedov to speak to the young men. Fellow Jehovah's Witness Yevgeny Plachenta told Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service in the court room after the verdict was handed down that Jehovah's Witnesses were "angry and shocked" by it. "Proof put forward by the defence were all ignored, while the Prosecutor and court simply had the aim of convicting him," he complained. "These were simple religious conversations. He didn't do anything, didn't hit anyone, didn't incite anyone to commit violence." Criminal case against Akhmedov's lawyers On 16 March KNB secret police Major Duskaziyev opened a criminal case against two of Akhmedov's lawyers, Natalya Kononenko and Vitaly Kuznetsov (who is from Russia). He is seeking to punish them for appealing about their client's case to President Nursultan Nazarbayev and other state agencies. The two lawyers are being investigated under Criminal Code Article 423, which punishes: "Revealing information from a pre-trial investigation by an individual warned under the law of the inadmissibility of information being revealed without the permission of the prosecutor or person undertaking the pre-trial investigation". Punishments are fines of up to 2,000 Monthly Financial Indicators, or restricted freedom or imprisonment of up to two years. However, the first time the lawyers themselves knew they were facing a criminal case was when officials told them this during the preliminary hearing of Akhmedov's criminal trial on 27 March (see F18News 3 April 2017
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    ). KNB Investigator Duskaziyev is also accusing Kuznetsov of putting pressure on Guliyev, who testified in Akhmedov's case. Kuznetsov and Akhmedov's son Parviz met Guliyev to discuss the case. Guliyev later wrote a complaint to Investigator Duskaziyev against Kuznetsov. Police have already summoned the two lawyers, Kononenko and Kuznetsov for questioning. The lawyers regard the criminal case against them as further pressure on Akhmedov. On 3 May Forum 18 was unable to reach police Investigator Ersain (last name unknown), who is investigating the case. Prisoners denied right to pray, have religious literature Many prisoners of conscience imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief have complained of being unable to pray visibly in prison or have religious literature. Other prisoners too have complained of these restrictions. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules) require governments to respect the freedom of religion or belief and other human rights of prisoners – including those in pre-trial detention. Prison officials at Oral Investigation Prison refused to accept a copy of the Koran for pre-trial prisoner of conscience Imam Abduzhabbarov. The administration of Prison camp KA-168/2 in Aktobe refuses to allow Sunni Muslim prisoner of conscience Khalambakhi Khalym to pray visibly. He is allowed to read the Koran only once a week, when prisoners have a lesson on the Koran from an imam of the state-backed Muslim Board, the only Muslim community the government allows to function in the country (see F18News 18 April 2017
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    ). Political prisoner Amin Eleusinov, on trial in Astana for his trade union activities, has – like Akhmedov – been held in Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12. He has been denied the right to pray the namaz in prison, his daughter Milana Eleusinova told Svetlana Glushkova of Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service on 26 April. Family members were also not allowed to hand in religious literature for him or a pair of ordinary galoshes, because the prison authorities regarded these as "religious" footwear. The Special Department official at Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12, who did not give her name, told Forum 18 bluntly on 3 May: "Religious literature is banned." She refused to explain why or discuss any other restrictions on detainees' rights to freedom of religion or belief. Seytzhanov: Trial continues In Akmola Region, the closed trial of Muslim prisoner of conscience Nariman Kabdyrakhmanovich Seytzhanov (born 2 May 1989) under Judge Ilyas Kakim continues at Kokshetau City Court. He is on trial under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). A further hearing was held today (3 May), with the next due at 10.00 am on 11 May, according to court records. Judge Kakim was not available each time Forum 18 called on 3 May. It was therefore unable to find out why he has declared the trial closed. Seytzhanov – who had studied his faith in Saudi Arabia – was arrested on 15 January. He has been held since his arrest in Kokshetau's Interior Ministry Investigation Prison No. 20 (see F18News 18 April 2017
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    ). Azatov: Trial imminent? In Astana, the trial of Muslim prisoner of conscience Satimzhan Bagytzhanuli Azatov (born 17 September 1989) might be imminent. The latest approval to hold him in pre-trial detention – approved by Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 - expires on 4 May. As of the afternoon of 3 May, Prosecutors had submitted no suit to court to have the pre-trial detention extended. Nor had they submitted the case to court for trial, Astana City Court told Forum 18. Azatov remains in the city's KNB secret police Investigation Prison. Astana KNB opened a criminal case against him in late December 2016 under Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). He had met with other Muslims in Astana without state permission. Arrested on 4 January 2017, he remains under investigation (see F18News 6 February 2017
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    ). KNB secret police investigator Senior Lieutenant Nurlan Belesov initiated and investigated the case against Azatov. His telephones went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 3 May. Broadly-framed Criminal Code Article 174 Criminal Code Article 174 punishes: "Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord, insult to the national honour and dignity or religious feelings of citizens, as well as propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens on grounds of their religion, class, national, generic or racial identity, committed publicly or with the use of mass media or information and communication networks, as well as by production or distribution of literature or other information media, promoting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord". Article 174, Part 2, which Akhmedov and Guliyev were sentenced under, punishes these actions "committed by a group of persons, a group with prior planning, repeatedly, with violence or threat of violence, or by an official, or by the leader of a public association". If convicted they face five to 10 years' imprisonment, "with deprivation of the right to hold specified positions or to engage in specified activity for up to three years". All the cases have either been brought by or have the close involvement of the KNB secret police. Secrecy surrounds many of these cases. Lawyers are forced not to reveal information on the cases, hearings are often closed to observers, and prosecution and court officials often refuse to answer questions (see F18News 7 March 2017
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    ). The then United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai, as well as the UN Human Rights Committee and Kazakh human rights defenders have strongly criticised the broad and unclear formulation of Article 174 and other laws, as well as the prosecution of a wide range of individuals under Article 174 (see F18News 2 February 2017
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    ). (END)
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  16. The office of the Ministry of justice’s Penza region have stopped activity of all four local religious organizations of «Jehovah’s Witnesses» after the Supreme court’s decision banning the work of the main center of the organization in Russia, has informed a press-management service. According to authorities, on the basis of the operative part of the decision of the armed forces office of the Ministry of justice adopted the decision on the termination of two local organizations of «Jehovah’s Witnesses» in Penza, as well as one in the cities of Zarechnyy and Nikolsk. «Documents sent to the office of the Federal tax service of the Penza region to the relevant entry in the Unified state register of legal entities», — stated in the message. Russia’s Supreme court on 20 April as extremist activity «administrative center of Jehovah’s witnesses in Russia» — the main organization of «Jehovah’s Witnesses» in Russia. Sun has banned the work of the centre and confiscated his property. Now the followers of «Jehovah’s Witnesses» are threatened by criminal responsibility for the continuation of its activities. The representatives of «Jehovah’s Witnesses» have declared intention to appeal this decision to the European court of human rights.
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  17. In Southern Russia, the religious communities of Jehovah's Witnesses expect massive persecutions after the judgement of the Russia’s Supreme Court (SC) to liquidate the communities in Russia as extremist ones. The "Caucasian Knot" has reported that on April 20 the SC of Russia satisfied the demand of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to liquidate all the 396 religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia as extremist. The believers have treated the verdict as biased and promised to appeal against it. Members of one of the Dagestani communities of Jehovah's Witnesses report that their landlord has cancelled the lease agreement on the premises, used as the place for community meetings in the city of Derbent. According to Nikolai, a member of the community, the landlord made the decision after being summoned by power agents, who threatened him with problems. "They explained to him that should he continue granting premises to the community, he may face problems with doing his business," Nikolai said. According to his story, local power structures "were instructed to collect data about the community members." "We’ve received such information; and I think that collection will begin soon," he explained. Andrei, another member of the Dagestani community of Jehovah's Witnesses, believes that in future the authorities’ pressure on the believers will intensify. In his opinion, "it can go so far as to make us go underground, which had happened more than once" in the history of the religious organization.
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  18. Weeks after Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned and its property confiscated by Russian government over purported links to extremism, a petition jointly opened by Non-governmental Organizations, calling for ban of the Adventist Church, has received over 12 million signatures. A notice at the Moscow City Court says hearings on a proposed ban on Seventh-day Adventist Church would begin in May 2017, according to Fox News 24. The Adventist Church has also been accused of violating an anti-terrorism legislation with their evangelism ministry. The Christian denomination has been grouped with Jehovah’s Witnesses and ISIS as “Extremists and Terrorists” by the various organizations. Ekaterina, a state attorney says “Russia takes cases of Extremism and Terrorism very serious and a ban is expected to be placed on the Adventists in May”. The law — part of a package of anti-terrorism legislation — outlines severe restrictions on evangelistic activity in Russia that, among other things, limit religious activity to registered church buildings and prohibit the free distribution of religious literature. Individuals who disobey face fines of up to 50,000 rubles (U.S.$765), while organizations could be fined up to 1 million rubles ($15,250).’
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  19. 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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    ). (END)
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  20. The U.S. State Department has condemned the Russian ban on Jehovah's Witnesses. "The United States is extremely concerned by the Russian government's actions targeting and repressing members of religious minorities, including Jehovah's Witnesses, under the pretense of combating extremism," Acting State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner told U.S. News by email late Thursday night. Earlier Thursday, the Russian Supreme Court called the pacifist religious sect extremist and ordered the shuttering of more than 300 chapters in the country. "We call on the Russian authorities to ensure that Russia's anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation is not misused to target members of peaceful religious minorities, including the Jehovah's Witnesses," Toner said. "The prosecution of peaceful religious minority groups for 'extremism' creates a climate of fear which itself undermines efforts to combat the threat of radicalization." Russian prosecutors had argued in court that the group is "a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security." The Justice Ministry showed pamphlets from the group that it argued posed "a threat to health." But the U.S. questioned the legal underpinning of such a ban. "Freedom of religion is critical to a peaceful, inclusive, stable, and thriving society. All religious minorities should be able to enjoy freedom of religion and assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Russian Federation's constitution," Toner said. The Jehovah's Witnesses say they will appeal, within the appellate division of the Russian Supreme Court, and possibly to the European Court of Human Rights. Corrected on April 21, 2017: This story has been updated to reflect the Russian court's actions and Toner's response took place on Thursday.
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  21. HRWF (12.04.2017) –
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    – On 9 April The State Committee for Work with Religious Structures together with law enforcement agencies cracked down on a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Qaradag district of Baku at two addresses. Thirty-three, including ten children, were participating in the religious gathering. In addition, a large quantity of religious literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses was seized. An investigation is being conducted.
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  22. Baku. April 10. INTERFAX – the state Committee for work with religious organizations in cooperation with law enforcement bodies of Azerbaijan have stopped the illegal activities of members of the sect “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, the press service of the Ministry. “GCRs together with law enforcement bodies held on 9 April on the territory of Garadagh district of Baku swift action on two addresses. As a result of the activities was identified and stopped an illegal meeting of members of nontraditional religious movements “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, – stated in the message. It is noted that out of 33 participants of meetings in two locations ten were young children. In addition, were found and withdrawn in a large amount of propaganda literature of “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. The investigation is ongoing.
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  23. Teimur Akhmedov (left), in the defendant's cage, and his lawyers in an Astana courtroom on March 27. ASTANA -- The trial of a Jehovah's Witness charged with inciting interethnic enmity has begun in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana. The court on April 6 began hearing the case of Teimur Akhmedov, 60, who was arrested in January for what the Committee for National Security (KNB) described as propagating ideas that "disrupt interreligious and interethnic concord" in the country. The U.S. Embassy in Astana has sent a representative to monitor the case. Likewise, Diana Okremova, the director of the local Media Law Center NGO, attended, as well as relatives of the defendant and local Jehovah's Witnesses. An RFE/RL correspondent was the only journalist present at the trial, and the judge allowed her to make written notes. Akhmedov, who is undergoing cancer treatment, pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing on March 27. If convicted, Akhmedov faces up to 10 years in prison.
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