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  1. By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 Eleven Muslims charged or on trial for meeting to study Turkish theologian Said Nursi's works face up to six years' imprisonment if convicted. The trial of three men began in Dagestan, while another continues in Blagoveshchensk. Two Jehovah's Witnesses also remain on criminal trial. The trial of three Muslims charged with "extremist activity" for meeting to study the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi has begun in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala, with the first full hearing on 3 April. The trial of a further Muslim on the same grounds continues in Blagoveshchensk in the Far Eastern Amur Region. Criminal proceedings against another two are due to begin next month in Krasnoyarsk. The FSB security service has extended until 2 May its investigation of a further four Muslims in Novosibirsk who read Nursi's works (see below). The eleven now charged or on trial for meeting to study Nursi's works face large fines or up to six years' imprisonment if found guilty. Two Jehovah's Witnesses charged with "extremism"-related "offences" in Moscow Region have faced repeated delays to their criminal trial since the judge ordered further "expert analysis" in November 2016 (see below). The trial of Stavropol atheist Viktor Krasnov has ended with the expiry of the two-year time limit on criminal prosecutions. He was prosecuted under Criminal Code Article 148, Part 1 ("Public actions expressing obvious disrespect for society and committed with the intention of insulting the religious feelings of believers") (see below). Nursi cases All four ongoing prosecutions of Muslims who study Nursi's works have arisen from circumstances similar to those of previous cases: people who have met to read and discuss Nursi's books are accused of creating "cells" of the banned "extremist" organisation "Nurdzhular", which Muslims in Russia deny exists. Prosecutors then bring charges under Criminal Code Article 282.2, either under Part 1 ("Organisation of the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity") or Part 2 ("Participation in the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity") (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). The 11 accused Muslims are being prosecuted under the pre-July 2016 version of Criminal Code Article 282.2. If convicted under Part 1, they could receive fines of 300,000 to 500,000 Roubles, compulsory labour of up to five years, or prison sentences of up to six years. If convicted under Part 2, courts could hand down fines of up to 300,000 Roubles, compulsory labour of up to three years, or prison sentences of up to four years. The so-called Yarovaya anti-terrorism package introduced harsher penalties for extremism-related offences in July 2016. These included an increase in the maximum prison sentence to ten years under Article 282.2, Part 1, and six years under Part 2 (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). No prosecutions under these amended terms are known to have been initiated between 20 July 2016 and early April 2017. Financial penalties even if not convicted Officials have placed both Jehovah's Witness defendants and all eleven of the Muslims currently being prosecuted on the list of "terrorists and extremists" maintained by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring). (Krasnov has never appeared as he was not charged with an extremism-related offence.) Banks are thereby obliged to freeze their assets. On 30 January 2014, the law was relaxed to allow small transactions not exceeding 10,000 Roubles per month. (For a detailed description of this financial blacklisting, see Forum 18's Russia Extremism survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215.) Dagestan trial begins Three Muslims who read Nursi's works have gone on trial in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala. Ziyavdin Badirsoltanovich Dapayev (born 12 May 1982) is facing charges under Article 282.2, Part 1, for allegedly organising a "Nurdzhular cell". On trial with him on the same charges are the brothers Sukhrab Abdulgamidovich Kultuyev (born 13 November 1981) and Artur Abdulgamidovich Kultuyev (born 15 June 1986). After a preliminary hearing on 20 March, their first full hearing took place on 3 April before Judge Magomed Nasrutdinov at Makhachkala's Lenin District Court. The case is being heard in open court and three relatives of the defendants were present, Dapayev's lawyer Murzatali Barkayev told Forum 18 on 3 April. It is unlikely that there will be a verdict soon, he added. The next hearing is due on 12 April at 14.30 Makhachkala time. Dapayev is still being held in an investigation prison, Imam Ilhom Merazhov, who has been following the case, confirmed to Forum 18 on 30 March. He has been detained there since March 2016, when 14 Muslims were arrested in a series of raids across Dagestan (most of whom were later released) (see F18News 11 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2166). FSB officers seized hundreds of books, as well as phones and computers, from suspects' homes. The Kultuyev brothers remain under travel restrictions. All three men appear on the Rosfinmonitoring list of terrorists and extremists. Dapayev's prison address is: 367012 Respublika Dagestan Makhachkala ulitsa Levina 45 Sledstvenny Izolyator No. 1 Russia This is the second time Dapayev has been charged with "extremist activity" for studying Nursi's works. In May 2011, he received a three-year suspended sentence, which was upheld on appeal, and the court decided that books belonging to him should be destroyed (see F18News 21 June 2011 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1582). After Dapayev challenged the destruction ruling, some books were returned, but up to 70 copies of Nursi's writings in translation were again ordered to be destroyed (see F18News 21 March 2012 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1682). Krasnoyarsk trials imminent Andrei Nikolayevich Dedkov (born 16 June 1979) is due to appear in court in April on charges of organising a "cell" of "Nurdzhular". He was released from pre-trial detention on 3 March (after nearly a year in custody) and placed under travel restrictions, Imam Merazhov, who has been following his case, told Forum 18 on 5 March. Dedkov has been charged for the third time under Article 282.2, Part 1, for arranging gatherings of Muslims to read the works of Said Nursi. Prosecutors have submitted the case to Krasnoyarsk's Soviet District Court and the first hearing is due on 18 April, a fellow Muslim who reads Nursi's works told Forum 18 on 27 March. Andrei Gennadyevich Rekst (born 14 March 1994) was charged at the same time as Dedkov under Article 282.2, Part 2, for "participation in" the alleged cell. He will soon go on trial at Sverdlovsk District Court, but no hearing date has yet been set. He is currently free on bail. Prosecutors are also seeking to have religious literature seized from Rekst's home declared "extremist". A preliminary hearing was held before Judge Natalya Bogdevich at Sverdlovsk District Court on 27 March, at which the first full hearing was scheduled for 25 April, according to the court website. Law enforcement agents confiscated the books during a search of Rekst's flat in March 2016. FSB-appointed "experts", who also examined surveillance recordings of several Muslims' conversations in Krasnoyarsk over much of 2015, determined that Rekst possessed "some titles in a quantity greater than necessary for personal use, which indicates the possibility of spreading the ideas of the teachings of Said Nursi" (see F18News 1 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2251). Both Rekst and Dedkov appear on the Rosfinmonitoring list of terrorists and extremists. Blagoveshchensk trial continues The trial of Yevgeny Lvovich Kim (born 5 October 1974) continues at Blagoveshchensk City Court before Judge Aleksei Salnikov. The next hearings are due on 18 and 19 April. The most recent hearings, on 28 and 30 March, focused on the questioning of prosecution witnesses, a fellow Muslim who reads Nursi's works told Forum 18 from Blagoveshchensk on 4 April. These witnesses, all Muslims whom the FSB had initially detained alongside Kim, "refused to corroborate the testimonies they had given during the preliminary investigation, explaining that they had not said these things [and] that they had been interrogated in handcuffs". Both the court and the Amur Region FSB, which conducted the investigation, have repeatedly refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions about the reasons for and progress of the case. The FSB completed their investigation of Kim and submitted it to Amur Regional Prosecutor's Office on 14 November 2016. The case file, seen by Forum 18, runs to 135 pages, including witness statements, reports of raids and searches, inventories of confiscated materials, and the results of expert analysis of seized religious literature. According to the formal charges, Kim "systematically organised the carrying out of religious gatherings, united by one theme – the study of the works of Said Nursi, which are the foundation of the ideology of the international religious organisation Nurdzhular, which threatens inter-ethnic and inter-confessional stability in society and the territorial integrity of the state". Kim is accused of storing teaching materials and religious books in his flat, "some of which are recognised as extremist literature", and of reading and commenting on Nursi's "Risale-i Nur" (Messages of Light) collection at the alleged gatherings, at which he reportedly took on a "leading role". The case file notes that Kim refused to admit guilt throughout the investigation period, does not recognise the existence of "Nurdzhular", and does not consider himself a member. Kim has also been charged under Article 282, Part 1 ("actions aimed at the incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of a person or group", based on gender, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, or social group). According to the FSB investigators, "by verbal and non-verbal means .. he exerted a leading, directing, unifying and active effect on the subconsciousness, consciousness, will, and behaviour of people attending the gatherings, with the aim of formulating in them a feeling of hatred and enmity, and also of humiliating the dignity of a person or group of people on grounds of religion and social grouping" and "inculcating a belief in the social and religious superiority of the followers of the teachings of 'Risale-i Nur'". This additional charge is unusual for a Nursi-related case. Forum 18 knows of only two other individuals who read Nursi's writings who have been taken to court for this alleged offence since the works began to be banned in 2007 – Ilham Islamli was convicted under Article 282, Part 1, alone in August 2010; in September 2011, Rashid Abdulov was convicted under Article 282, Part 2(v), as well as Article 282.2, Part 1 (see F18News 14 October 2011 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1625). Kim and several friends were detained and interrogated after an armed FSB unit raided Kim's flat on 26 December 2015, during a gathering to celebrate the birthday of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed (see F18News 21 January 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2141). All but Kim were later released. Kim's friend Anton Pavlovich Starodubtsev (born 4 April 1980) has also been charged under Article 282.2, Part 2, but his whereabouts remain unknown. After their initial detention, Starodubtsev complained of the treatment they received during both arrest and questioning, including threats and attempted blackmail, and has categorically denied any involvement in extremist activity (see F18News 11 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2166). Both Kim and Starodubtsev have been added to the Rosfinmonitoring list of terrorists and extremists. Novosibirsk investigation extended The FSB investigation of Imam Komil Olimovich Odilov (born 18 August 1975) and three other Muslims in Novosibirsk has been extended until 2 May, Odilov's lawyer Yuliya Zhemchugova told Forum 18 on 16 March. She expects that the case will then be submitted to the city's October District Court. The four men will then have been under investigation for seventeen months, Forum 18 notes. During this time, Odilov was held in pre-trial detention for nine months, before he was released and placed under travel restrictions in early September 2016. Two of his fellow defendants - Uralbek Karaguzinov (born 21 July 1954) and Mirsultan Takhir-ogly Nasirov (born 8 October 1997) – are also under travel restrictions. The whereabouts of the third, Timur Muzafarovich Atadzhanov (born 21 April 1988), remain unknown, and he has been added to the federal wanted list. Prosecutors have charged Odilov under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 for the alleged "organisation" of a "Nurdzhular" cell. Karaguzinov, Nasirov, and Atadzhanov have been charged under Article 282.2, Part 2, for alleged "participation" in a "Nurdzhular" cell. Odilov, Karaguzinov, Nasirov and Atadzhanov were among nine Muslims originally detained by the FSB security service at an Azerbaijani cafe in Novosibirsk on the night of 5 December 2015 (see F18News 29 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2193). Most were released the next morning after questioning, but officers searched their homes and confiscated copies of Nursi's books from Odilov's flat, along with his computer and phone. All four men appear on the Rosfinmonitoring list of terrorists and extremists. Why the campaign against Nursi readers? Nothing in Nursi's writings appears to advocate hatred, violence, or the violation of any human right. Despite this, numerous lower courts across Russia have ruled that various Russian translations of his works (and of some other Islamic and Jehovah's Witness texts) are "extremist", and have had them added to the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Materials (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). The grounds for Russia's ongoing nationwide campaign against readers of Nursi's works are obscure, with quite different reasons offered for banning Nursi writings and "Nurdzhular" in different contexts. The primary cause, however, appears to be state opposition to "foreign" spiritual and cultural influence (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). Little or no reasoning is given in the court decisions which have added Nursi's works to the Federal List, Forum 18 notes. Among the few specific instances of "extremism" cited, for example, are Nursi's descriptions of non-Muslims as "frivolous", "philosophers" and "empty-talkers". The freedom to criticise any religious or non-religious belief is, however, a central part of the freedom of religion and belief (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). Sergiyev Posad Jehovah's Witness trial delayed again The "extremism" trial of Vyacheslav Yuryevich Stepanov (born 20 March 1977) and Andrei Petrovich Sivak (born 28 March 1974) was delayed on 22 March for the seventh time since Judge Lidiya Baranova ordered further expert analysis to be carried out in November 2016. The hearing is now due on 10 April, according to the website of Sergiyev Posad City Court. Sivak and Stepanov have been charged under Criminal Code Article 282, Part 2, with inciting religious hatred (see F18News 26 January 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2250). The two men were originally acquitted of this offence in March 2016, when Judge Yelena Aminova concluded that the religious gatherings they had organised had "an educational, discursive character" and that "views inherent in the religion are evaluated as true and correct, which is an integral important feature of religious discourse". In May 2016, however, Moscow Regional Court overturned Judge Aminova's ruling at the request of prosecutors, and sent the case back for re-examination. Criminal Code Article 282, Part 2, punishes publicly performed "actions aimed at the incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of a person or group", based on gender, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, or social group, when committed a) with violence or the threat of violence; b) by a person using their official position; c) by an organised group (of which Stepanov and Sivak are accused). If found guilty, Stepanov and Sivak face a fine of up to 600,000 Roubles, up to 5 years' compulsory labour, or up to 6 years' imprisonment. They have already been added to the Rosfinmonitoring list of terrorists and extremists. Stavropol atheist's trial ends On 15 February, a Stavropol magistrate halted the trial of atheist blogger Viktor Krasnov (known on social media as Viktor Kolosov) on the grounds that the two-year limit on criminal prosecution had expired. Krasnov was being tried under Criminal Code Article 148, Part 1 ("Public actions expressing obvious disrespect for society and committed with the intention of insulting the religious feelings of believers"). In January, he had requested that his trial should continue beyond the expiry of the statute of limitations. At what would be his final hearing, however, Krasnov stated that he saw "no point in further court proceedings, since the court is ignoring all the arguments of the defence" and asked "to stop this circus", according to a 15 February post on his VKontakte page. According to the court's written decision, seen by Forum 18, the two-year limit was reached on 1 November 2016. Prosecutors accused Krasnov of "crimes" committed online on the Vkontakte social network, including stating that "there is no God" and calling the Bible "a collection of Jewish fairy tales". Krasnov also described as "rubbish" a verse in St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians claiming that: "Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ". Among other comments, Krasnov described attending church at Easter and Christmas as "herd mentality". The freedom to criticise any religious or non-religious belief is part of Russia's international freedom of religion and belief obligations (see F18News 3 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2128). A total of 19 hearings took place before Judge Aleksandr Filimonov of Stavropol Magistrate's Court No. 6 over 15 months (including a suspension of proceedings for further "expert analysis" to be carried out). During this time, the "victims" of Krasnov's alleged offence repeatedly failed to appear, and Stavropol's Moscow Patriarchate Diocese failed to send a representative (as requested by Krasnov's lawyer) to establish exactly who was being defended by the state – Krasnov's online interlocutors or all Russian Orthodox believers (see F18News 1 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2251). (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2270
  2. By Felix Corley, Forum 18 The two lawyers for a Jehovah's Witness now on trial in Astana are themselves under criminal investigation. The KNB secret police investigator accuses them of "revealing information from a pre-trial investigation" by appealing to President Nazarbayev for the case against their client to be halted. Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) secret police has opened a criminal case against two lawyers defending a Jehovah's Witness on trial for exercising freedom of religion and belief. Vitaly Kuznetsov and Natalya Kononenko are facing criminal investigation seeking to punish them for appealing to Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev for the charges against their client to be dropped. Charges were brought against the lawyers even before the trial they were working on began in the capital Astana. The KNB secret police accuses Kuznetsov and Kononenko of "revealing information from a pre-trial investigation" under Criminal Code Article 423. Kuznetsov described the accusation to Forum 18 as "absurd". An Astana-based legal specialist told Forum 18 the accusation was "bizarre" (see below). Astana Prosecutor's Office handed the case to Asilzhan Gabdykaparov of the General Prosecutor's Office, it told Forum 18 on 3 April. His telephone went unanswered the same day. KNB Major Medet Duskaziyev – who initiated the criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses Teymur Akhmedov and Asaf Guliyev, as well as the two lawyers Kuznetsov and Kononenko – refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions on 30 March. At the preliminary hearing of Akhmedov's criminal trial on 27 March, Prosecutor Baurzhan Kulmaganbetov tried to have Kuznetsov and Kononenko removed as his lawyers for allegedly "revealing information from a pre-trial investigation", Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service reported after the hearing. Judge Talgat Syrlybayev of Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2 rejected the Prosecutor's request. Akhmedov's full trial is due to begin at 10.30 am on 6 April (see below). Attempt to remove Akhmedov's lawyers During the closed part of Akhmedov's preliminary hearing, Prosecutor Kulmaganbetov tried to have Kuznetsov and Kononenko removed from defending Akhmedov. He argued that Kuznetsov is a lawyer from Sverdlovsk Region in Russia, so should not be allowed to defend his client. He also revealed – for the first time - that the criminal case had been opened against both lawyers (see below). Judge Syrlybayev rejected the Prosecutor's request. Criminal case against Akhmedov's lawyers On 20 February the lawyers Kuznetsov and Kononenko sent a 23-page appeal (plus numerous attachments) to KNB Investigator Major Duszkaziyev, who led the investigation against Akhmedov and Guliyev. The appeal asked for the case against Akhmedov to be halted "because of the absence of the elements of a crime". The lawyers argued that the "expert analyses" of the literature confiscated from Akhmedov and Guliyev should be "completely rejected as contradicting international law". They gave documentary evidence that officials and leaders of so-called "traditional" religions have made statements that are far more insulting and critical than the statements Akhmedov is accused of making. The lawyers noted that law enforcement officials stated that the words used by officials and so-called "traditional" religious leaders were lawful (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262). (Claims about so-called "traditional" and "non-traditional" religions are often used by the state to legitimise attacks on freedom of religion and belief - see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1939.) The lawyers also sent copies of their appeal to several officials and state agencies, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the Foreign Ministry. On 1 March the Investigator, KNB Major Duskaziyev rejected the appeal without addressing the points made (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262). On 16 March Major Duskaziyev opened a criminal case against the lawyers Kuznetsov and Kononenko, Astana Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18 on 30 March. The case is under Criminal Code Article 423, which punishes: "Revealing information from a pre-trial investigation by an individual warned under the law of the inadmissibility of information being revealed without the permission of the prosecutor or person undertaking the pre-trial investigation". Punishments are fines of up to 2,000 Monthly Financial Indicators, or restricted freedom or imprisonment of up to two years. However, the first time the lawyers themselves knew they were facing a criminal case was when officials told them this during the preliminary hearing of Akhmedov's criminal trial on 27 March. "To pressure the lawyers and deprive Akhmedov of his defence" An Astana legal specialist described the opening of the criminal case against Kuznetsov and Kononenko for having addressed an appeal to President Nazarbayev as "bizarre". "This is a violation of the right of an individual to be properly defended," the legal specialist told Forum 18. The legal specialist – who preferred not to be identified for fear of state reprisals – pointed out that only a limited number of lawyers are allowed to take on cases which the state regards as covering "state secrets". Kuznetsov described opening the criminal case against him and fellow lawyer Kononenko for appealing to President Nazarbayev and the Foreign Ministry on behalf of Akhmedov as "absurd". "I don't believe the President needs any permission from the investigator to know about the violations of the human rights of an individual in a state of which he is the head," Kuznetsov told Forum 18. "When we appealed to the Foreign Ministry about Akhmedov's case, the KNB had already provided the Ministry with information on the case," the lawyer told Forum 18. "They had even provided such details for example that Guliyev had admitted his guilt." Kuznetsov pointed out that even before the criminal case was launched on 16 March, the television channel Khabar had shown a video of "operational/investigative measures" against the two Jehovah's Witnesses, including a house search. "How can one talk about revealing information of the investigation to the President after information from the investigation was shown on television?" Kuznetsov asked. "It is therefore clear that this criminal case has one aim – to pressure the lawyers and deprive Akhmedov of his defence." What next for prosecution of lawyers for doing their duty? After Major Duskaziyev opened the case, the KNB secret police then handed it via Astana's Prosecutor's Office to Astana Police for investigation. "We don't know who the case has been assigned to at Astana Police," Kuznetsov told Forum 18. Despite repeated calls to Astana Police on 30 March, including to its Investigation Department and Central Chancellery for criminal cases, no official would give Forum 18 any information on the criminal case against Kuznetsov and Kononenko. Astana's Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18 on 3 April that the case against the lawyers had been handed to Asilzhan Gabdykaparov of the General Prosecutor's Office. His telephone went unanswered each time Forum 18 called the same day. Cancer sufferer Akhmedov detained and tortured, not hospitalised On 20 January Akhmedov was ordered to be held in two months' pre-trial detention, even though a report from the National Scientific Centre for Oncology and Transplantation (the national cancer centre) "recommends an operation and requests that Akhmedov undergo an examination before being hospitalised". The pre-trial detention of a cancer sufferer who needs to be hospitalised violates the United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules) (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). "Akhmedov has two large tumours of the gastro-intestinal tract," his lawyer Kuznetsov told Forum 18. "There is no confirmed diagnosis yet that this is cancer. But it is suspected that these tumours are cancerous." The lawyer added that this would only become clear after Akhmedov has the operation he has been waiting for. While in detention Akhemdov has been tortured, which officials deny. In defiance of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, no arrests of anyone strongly suspected of having tortured prisoners of conscience (including Akhmedov) jailed or detained for exercising freedom of religion and belief appear to have been made (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262). Wide-ranging Criminal Code Article 174 The 60-year-old Jehovah's Witness Akhmedov – a retired bus driver - is on trial for allegedly "inciting religious hatred or discord" under the wide-ranging Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2. He denies inciting hatred of any sort. He had spoken to KNB secret police agents pretending to be students. Guliyev, arrested with him, was sentenced on 24 February to five years' restricted freedom (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262). Guliyev does not appear to have appealed to Astana City Court against his conviction. Criminal Code Article 174 punishes: "Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord, insult to the national honour and dignity or religious feelings of citizens, as well as propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens on grounds of their religion, class, national, generic or racial identity, committed publicly or with the use of mass media or information and communication networks, as well as by production or distribution of literature or other information media, promoting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord". Part 2, which Akhmedov and Guliyev have faced, punishes these actions "committed by a group of persons, a group with prior planning, repeatedly, with violence or threat of violence, or by an official, or by the leader of a public association". If convicted they face five to 10 years imprisonment, "with deprivation of the right to hold specified positions or to engage in specified activity for up to three years". The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai, as well as the UN Human Rights Committee and Kazakh human rights defenders have strongly criticised the broad and unclear formulation of Article 174 and other laws, as well as the prosecution of a wide range of individuals under Article 174 (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). Growing number of Article 174 prosecutions Akhmedov and Guliyev are among a growing number of individuals prosecuted under Criminal Code Article 174 for exercising their rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of speech. Lawyers in at least some Criminal Code Article 174 cases have been forced to sign statements that they will not violate the "secrecy of the investigation", people close to several cases have told Forum 18 (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262) Muslim prisoner of conscience Kuanysh Bashpayev is on trial under Article 174, Part 1 for criticising the state-controlled Muslim Board. His closed trial is due to continue at Pavlodar City Court at 10.00 am on 5 April (see below). Others are still being investigated under Article 174 include: Satimzhan Azatov who met with other Astana Muslims without state permission; Imam Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov who was extradited from Saudi Arabia and who was then immediately arrested on 18 February; and atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov who faces two separate Article 174 cases (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262). Also under arrest and under investigation is Almaty resident Denis Korzhavin. He had previously studied Islam in Saudi Arabia. However, Forum 18 has been unable to find out why he was arrested (see below). Those convicted to be stripped of citizenship? A Justice Ministry draft amendment to Criminal Code Article 174 – published on 27 March on the Ministry's website – would if adopted also allow courts to strip Kazakh citizenship from those convicted under the Article. No changes were proposed to the other existing punishments. The amendment is silent on what would happen if the only citizenship held by a convicted person was that of Kazakhstan. The proposed amendment does not explain whether this would apply only to individuals who are citizens of more than one country or citizens only of Kazakhstan. A legal specialist pointed out to Forum 18 that countries cannot strip people of citizenship to leave them stateless. "This would be a violation of international law." Akhmedov trial begins The trial of Jehovah's Witness Akhmedov began with a preliminary hearing on 27 March. He was held in the cage in the courtroom during the hearing. Akhmedov's lawyers put forward a motion to the Judge to free their client from pre-trial detention. The Prosecutor put forward a motion to have the lawyers removed from the case (see below). Although the Judge had declared the trial open, he ordered relatives and supporters out of the courtroom as he considered the requests "so as not to disturb the normal process of the trial", Bolat Abilkasimov of Ratel.kz wrote the same day. They were allowed back in only to hear his decisions on the requests. Some 20 relatives and supporters were banished from the courtroom in addition to the journalists, Abilkasimov added. The Judge's secretary claimed to them that the courtroom was too small to accommodate them. In the corridors of the court, Akhmedov's son Parviz told local journalists that his father was known among colleagues as honest and hard-working. He added that he had been praised in the press in an article entitled "The World is not without Good People". Bashpayev: secret trial continues The closed trial of Muslim prisoner of conscience Kuanysh Bashpayev under Article 174, Part 1 began under Judge Kayirbek Yelemesov at Pavlodar City Court No. 2 with a preliminary hearing on 14 February. The full trial began on 6 March (see F18News 7 March 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262). Further hearings were held on 13, 14 and 27 March, according to court records. The trial is due to resume at 10.00 am on 5 April. Judge Yelemesov's secretary – who did not give her name – said the Judge had ordered the hearings closed "to protect the security of the victim". She confirmed to Forum 18 on 30 March that the "victim" in the case is the prominent Almaty Muslim Board imam Ersin Amire. However, she declined to say in what way he needed "protecting". She told Forum 18 she "did not have the right to give any further information on the case" and put the phone down. The 30-year-old Bashpayev gained a first degree and then began studies for a Master's degree in Islamic theology at Medina University in Saudi Arabia. Captain G. Bakirov of Pavlodar Region KNB secret police prepared the criminal case against Bashpayev after officers found recordings of his sermons on the Russian social network VKontakte on 7 April 2016, according to the 24-page indictment seen by Forum 18. Further online sermons were found on 22 May 2016. "Expert analyses" of 15 April 2016 and 20 June 2016 claim to have found Bashpayev inciting religious hatred. One of those questioned as a witness in the case was Asiya Abitova, a religious studies specialist at the state-financed Centre for Analysis and Development of Inter-confessional Relations in Pavlodar. She claimed that in his sermons, Bashpayev had described making pilgrimages to mausoleums and reading the Koran there as "shirk" (idolatry). "The official Islamic clergy of Kazakhstan do not ban visiting mausoleums or the graves of the deceased and reading verses of the Koran there," the indictment summarises Abitova's remarks. Abitova also claimed – without providing any detail - that in another sermon Bashpayev had declared it was permitted to kill those guilty of "shirk". Reached at the Centre in Pavlodar, Abitova refused to discuss her testimony with Forum 18 on 29 March 2017. Interrogated on 12 October 2016, Bashpayev refused to answer any questions, according to the indictment. He was arrested the following day (see F18News 6 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2253). KNB Captain Bakirov signed the indictment on 25 January 2017 and K. Bazarbayev of the Regional Prosecutor's Office counter-signed it five days later. Korzhavin: why was he arrested? Arrested in Almaty in mid-February was Denis Valeryevich Korzhavin. On 21 February Judge Maral Dzharilgasova of Almaty's Turksib District Court ordered him held in two months' pre-trial detention, the court chancellery told Forum 18 on 3 April. It added that Korzhavin is being investigated under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1. The Special Department of Almaty's Investigation Prison No. 18 confirmed to Forum 18 on 30 March that it is holding Korzhavin. However, the official – who would not give her name – refused to discuss his conditions in prison, including whether he has access to the Koran and whether he can pray openly. Korzhavin is an ethnic Russian who converted to Islam. He then studied his faith at Medina University in Saudi Arabia before returning to Kazakhstan. Forum 18 has been unable to find out why Korzhavin was arrested. No official at Turksib District Prosecutor's Office would identify the Investigator in the case on 3 April or tell Forum 18 why he had been arrested. (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2269
  3. LUTZ — In a way, credit for the opening of one of the Tampa area's newest Cuban restaurants belongs to Fidel Castro. If not for the late Cuban president, Jose "Pepe" Diaz said, he might never have become a chef or opened La Yuma Cuban Cuisine in Lutz. "He's being ironic," said his daughter and restaurant co-owner Thania Clevenger. Diaz, 76, learned his trade as a prison cook in Cuba after he was jailed for speaking out against communism. Calling what he did "cooking" may be a stretch, though. The fare was usually bland Russian meat from a can and all Diaz had for seasoning was paprika, which he overused. "They called me Paprika Pepe," Diaz said, with his daughter translating. Still, he said, when he eventually was released from prison and moved to Madrid, Spain, he landed a job as a chef at a five-star restaurant — based on his claim he had years of cooking experience. On his first day, he was given a filet to prepare. The head chef quickly realized he had embellished his culinary experience. "The chef said you have a lot of courage," said family friend and La Yuma employee Juvenal Alfonso, 33, conveying Diaz's recollections. "So, he taught him to be a chef." A year later Diaz made his way to Miami. There, he met his wife Tania, 61, who fled Cuba in 1970. Together, they would go on to operate restaurants in Miami and Key West before moving to Lutz this year to partner with their daughter on La Yuma, a name Cubans use for the United States. The business at 16411 N Florida Ave. opened in early March. "This restaurant is the representation of the American dream," said daughter Clevenger, 33, a Tampa attorney. "That's what we are." Diaz, born and raised in the town of Yaguajay in central Cuba, originally fought for Castro against Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, who ruled the island through fear and the military. Among those he met in battle, Diaz said, were Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto "Che" Guevara, two of the Cuban Revolution's top leaders. "I hated Batista," Diaz said. "I hated his exploitation of the villages, his robbery, his theft, the murder." Castro, he explained, portrayed himself as anti-Batista, someone who cared about bringing freedom to Cuba. But within a year after revolutionary leaders declared victory Jan. 1, 1959, he realized Cuba was not the country he fought to create. He began publicly denouncing the new government. In 1963, Diaz, then a civil engineering student, was arrested. "They said he was a danger to the government," Clevenger said. He spent a year in a prison in Sancti Spiritus before he was transferred to an agricultural labor camp in Camaguey. He joined others deemed anti-revolutionary or considered by the government to be socially abnormal. Most cut sugarcane for 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. They had no showers, bathrooms or clean drinking water. Jehovah's Witnesses and homosexuals were treated the worst, Diaz said. He was given the option of kitchen duty or the fields. The choice saved his life. "There were a lot of things I saw at those camps that are hard to talk about," Diaz said. "A lot of people died." He was released after four years and told to leave Cuba. But as he waited for a visa, he had to work in the fields under government supervision to be sure he did not support the dissident movement. Five years later, in 1972, he moved to Spain. Now working in suburban Lutz, he finds the culture much dfferent from the hustle and bustle of South Florida. But he is happy to be here, working with his daughter, and hopes his restaurant brings a Cuban flare to the area. "This is a good place," he said. "I respect it and everyone treats me with respect." http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/lutz-chef-got-start-as-fidel-castros-prisoner-with-paprika-and-russian-meat/2318390
  4. Source: United States Senator for Mississippi Roger Wicker Headline: Helsinki Commission Condemns Pending Legal Action against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia WASHINGTON — Following the Russian government’s request for its Supreme Court to effectively ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia from worshipping, claiming that they are members of an “extremist organization,” Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), and Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), issued the following statements: “It is wrong to apply flawed counterterrorism laws to those who seek to practice their faith,” said Chairman Wicker. “The Russian government is exploiting genuine threats of violent extremism to undermine what little religious freedom remains in that country. This distracts from real efforts to fight terrorism. I urge the Russian government to drop the case immediately.” “At stake in the upcoming court case is the legality and perhaps the survival of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – and in fact basic religious freedom – throughout the Russian Federation,” said Co-Chairman Smith. “If the Supreme Court of Russia declares this faith group an extremist organization, it is an ominous sign for all believers and it marks a dark, sad day for all Russians.” “As a staunch supporter of religious liberty, I am appalled by the Russian government treating an entire religious group as a threat to national security,” said Commissioner Hudson. “Religious affiliation should never be a justification for persecution.” On March 15, the Russian Ministry of Justice filed a formal court claim to label the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an extremist group and liquidate their national headquarters and 395 local chapters, known as “local religious organizations.” Should the Russian Supreme Court decide against the Administrative Center, 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia could face criminal prosecution for practicing their faith. According to the Helsinki Final Act signed by all 57 participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – including Russia – “participating States will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” http://foreignaffairs.co.nz/2017/03/29/helsinki-commission-condemns-pending-legal-action-against-jehovahs-witnesses-in-russia/
  5. FILE – A group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, right, sit in court during their trial in Moscow, Russia Wednesday, Feb. 10, 1999. At the time, a city court resumed a case on banning Jehovah’s Witnesses’ from Moscow. Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a case with the Supreme Court to declare the administrative center for Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization on March 15, 2017. (Associated Press) Spokane-area Jehovah’s Witnesses are mailing letters to Russian government officials, including President Vladimir Putin, in protest of an attempt to label the Russian arm of their church an extremist organization. “This is not the first time we’ve engaged in letter writing campaigns,” said Doug Hardy, a spokesman for Spokane-area Witnesses. Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a case with the Supreme Court to declare the administrative center for Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization on March 15. The filing was reported on the court’s website, but did not give further details or say when the matter might be heard. “We’re very concerned about what will happen to our fellow Witnesses in Russia,” Hardy said. A statement from the religion’s Russian branch said a declaration that Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremists would “entail disastrous consequences for freedom of religion in Russia.” The church estimates it has about 175,000 followers in Russia. If the designation is approved the government could seize property owned by the the Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to a news release from the church. The church asked the more than 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world to mail letters to various leaders in Russian government protesting the declaration. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses website the church undertook a similar global letter writing campaign 20 years ago, also aimed at Russian government officials. The Russian supreme court is expected to rule on the claim April 5, according to a Jehovah’s Witnesses news release. The church is asking that all letters be sent by Saturday. In the Spokane Coeur d’Alene area Hardy estimates that there are 2,000 Jehovah Witnesses. He believes most of them will send letters. “There could be several thousand letters coming just from the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area,” he said. Spokane-area Jehovah’s Witnesses held a regional convention in Spokane last summer. In Russia the Jehovah’s Witnesses have come under increasing pressure in recent years, including a ban on distributing literature deemed to violate Russia’s anti-extremism laws. In February, investigators conducted an inspection of the religion’s headquarters in St. Petersburg. Hardy said the Jehovah’s Witnesses have long fought for freedom of religion, both in the United States and abroad. “We just want to be able to exercise our freedom of religion as we have in every place in the world,” Hardy said. The Associated Press contributed to this report. http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2017/mar/27/spokane-area-jehovah-witnesses-protesting-russian-/
  6. Jehovah's Witness Asaf Guliyev was given five years' restricted freedom on 24 February. Fellow Jehovah's Witness Teymur Akhmedov, a cancer sufferer, is in pre-trial detention and states he was tortured. Guliyev's conviction is one of an increasing number of Criminal Code Article 174 cases. Of two Jehovah's Witnesses arrested in January in Kazakhstan's capital Astana for "inciting religious hatred or discord" for talking to National Security Committee (KNB) secret police agents about their faith, one has already been punished. Asaf Guliyev was given a five-year restricted freedom sentence on 24 February. Still in pre-trial detention is 60-year-old fellow Jehovah's Witness Teymur Akhmedov, who suffers from cancer and who told his lawyer he was tortured by being beaten in prison. He is also denied hospitalisation, violating the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules). Akhmedov was also given tablets which made him feel much worse, but it is unclear if this was deliberately intended (see below). Guliyev's conviction brings to five the number of individuals known to have been convicted since the beginning of 2015 under the broadly-framed Criminal Code Article 174 for exercising freedom of religion or belief. The closed trial of another person is already underway in Pavlodar, with five further cases under investigation. The number of prosecutions appears to be growing (see below and full list at base of article). Secrecy surrounds many of these prosecutions. Lawyers are forced not to reveal information on the cases, hearings are often closed to observers, and prosecution and court officials often refuse to answer questions (see below). All the cases have either been brought by or have the close involvement of the KNB secret police. Criminal Code Article 174 Criminal Code Article 174 bans: "Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord, insult to the national honour and dignity or religious feelings of citizens, as well as propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens on grounds of their religion, class, national, generic or racial identity, committed publicly or with the use of mass media or information and communication networks, as well as by production or distribution of literature or other information media, promoting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord". Part 1 bans these actions committed by individuals. If convicted, they face two to seven years imprisonment, or two to seven years restricted freedom. Typically, during sentences of restricted freedom individuals live at home, but are not able to leave their town or city without seeking permission. They are often also banned from visiting restaurants, cafes or places of public entertainment. Part 2 bans these actions "committed by a group of persons, a group with prior planning, repeatedly, with violence or threat of violence, or by an official, or by the leader of a public association". If convicted they face five to 10 years imprisonment, "with deprivation of the right to hold specified positions or to engage in specified activity for up to three years". Human rights defenders and opposition political activists are also frequent victims of Article 174 (see eg. http://www.nhc.no/no/nyheter/NHC+condemns+harsh+sentence+given+to+peaceful+activists.b7C_wlDG1O.ips). All known prisoners of conscience convicted under Criminal Code Article 174 have been added to the Finance Ministry Financial Monitoring Committee List of individuals "connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism", thus freezing any bank accounts they may have, without any additional due legal process. As individuals are not told when they are added to the List, they normally only find out they have been added when they or relatives attempt to withdraw money from their account (see F18News 10 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2187). The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai, as well as the UN Human Rights Committee and Kazakh human rights defenders have strongly criticised the broad and unclear formulation of Article 174 and other laws, as well as the prosecution of a wide range of individuals under Article 174 (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). Prosecutions increasing The number of prosecutions under Criminal Code Article 174 to punish individuals for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief appears to be increasing. Since the new Criminal Code came into force on 1 January 2015, Article 174 criminal cases are known to have been launched or to have been underway against 19 individuals in 20 cases (see full list below, compiled from court records and other information). Of these 20 known cases: five have ended in convictions (3 Muslims, 1 Jehovah's Witness, 1 Seventh-day Adventist); one trial is currently underway (Muslim); and five cases are still being investigated (2 Muslim, 1 Jehovah's Witness, while atheist Aleksandr Kharlamov is facing two investigations – see list below). In nine known cases, Article 174 cases were launched but were then closed down, with the individuals instead fined under the Administrative Code. Article 174 replaced the identically worded Article 164 of the old Criminal Code (see F18News 9 July 2014 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1976). Kharlamov, as well as other individuals, were prosecuted under the old Article 164. He still may be prosecuted under the Article 164 investigation (see F18News 17 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2258). But overall, the number of pre-January 2015 Article 164 freedom of religion or belief prosecutions was lower. Secrecy, closed hearings, lawyers banned from speaking The authorities appear determined to keep publicity of the Article 174 cases to a minimum. Investigators and courts have often refused to give Forum 18 any information about the cases, even simple factual information. Lawyers in at least some of the cases have been forced to sign statements that they will not violate the "secrecy of the investigation", people close to several cases have told Forum 18. When cases come to court, at least some are held in closed hearings, as is happening in Pavlodar in the case of the Muslim Kuanysh Bashpayev (see below). Human rights defenders and observers have been denied entry to hearings. Bashpayev on trial The criminal case in the north-eastern city of Pavlodar against Kuanysh Bashpayev, a Muslim, was handed to Pavlodar City Court on 2 February, the day before his 30th birthday. It was assigned to Court Chair Judge Kayirbek Yelemesov. The trial under Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord") began with an initial hearing on 14 February. The first full hearing was held on 6 March and the trial is due to resume on the afternoon of 13 March, according to court records. The KNB secret police arrested Bashpayev in Pavlodar on 13 October 2016 after he criticised the state-controlled Muslim Board. Colonel Bekezhan Kalkomanov of Pavlodar KNB claimed to Forum 18 in January that Bashpayev had "insulted the religious feelings of Kazakhstan's traditional Muslims". Bashpayev allegedly said "it is not right for Kazakh Muslims to visit graves and pray for their deceased relatives, which he thinks is idolatry". He "also spoke against the official representatives of Islam in Kazakhstan, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan [the Muslim Board], by which he tried to sow discord among the Muslims", Colonel Kalkomanov added (see F18News 6 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2253). "The case against Bashpayev is completely fabricated," one individual familiar with the case told Forum 18 on 7 March 2017. "It is entirely unfounded. The witnesses give confusing testimony and don't seem to know what to say." Bashpayev's closed trial Judge Yelemesov closed Bashpayev's trial to observers and human rights defenders. Several sources told Forum 18 this was a response to a request by the alleged "victim" of Bashpayev's activity, the prominent Almaty Muslim Board imam Ersin Amire. Forum 18 made repeated attempts to reach Judge Yelemesov on 6 and 7 March to find out why he had declared the trial closed. However, the telephone went unanswered each time. The acting head of the Pavlodar branch of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Ruslan Issenov, had been intending to observe Bashpayev's trial. "The Judge read my appeal to be allowed into the trial and rejected it," Issenov told Forum 18 from Pavlodar on 7 March. "I asked for a copy of the ruling declaring the trial closed, but he replied that a ruling is an internal document and cannot be handed out." Guliyev sentenced The KNB secret police arrested two Jehovah's Witnesses, the 43-year-old Asaf Guliyev and Teymur Akhmedov, on 18 January after launching a criminal case against them under Article 174, Part 2 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). The KNB allege that between May and October 2016 the two men insulted the faith of non-Jehovah's Witnesses as they spoke about their own faith to young men who turned out to be KNB agents, who secretly video-record their conversations (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). The KNB told Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service on 13 February that in searches at the two men's homes and at the religious community's temporary address, officers then confiscated copies of 18 different books. The books were "earlier not recommended for import into or distribution in Kazakhstan on the basis of a religious-studies expert conclusion by the Religious Affairs Committee", it added. KNB investigators separated the case against the two men, Guliyev and Akhmedov, apparently in February. Prosecutors sent the case against Guliyev to Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 on 16 February, according to court records. On 24 February, Judge Bolat Pazylov found him guilty under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2. The Judge handed down a sentence of five years' restricted freedom. In deciding not to imprison Guliyev, the Judge took into account his "full recognition of his guilt and pure-hearted repentance", newtimes.kz noted on 28 February. Guliyev was defended in court by a government lawyer, Forum 18 learned. Cancer sufferer Akhmedov awaiting trial, tortured The KNB secret police in Astana is continuing to investigate fellow Jehovah's Witness Akhmedov under Article 174, Part 2 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). He remains in Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12. Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 told Forum 18 no case against Akhmedov has yet reached the court. Akhmedov told his lawyer Vitaly Kuznetsov that following his 18 January arrest he was tortured by being beaten in the Investigation Prison, as Investigators tried to force him to admit his "guilt", the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law noted on 3 March. However, Akhmedov continues to insist he is innocent of any wrongdoing, it added. The head of Astana's Public Observers Commission, Ruslan Odoyev, visited Akhmedov in prison in late February. Odoyev expressed serious concern about whether Akhmedov would survive his imprisonment, in view of his cancer and the poor and overcrowded prison conditions. (The Public Observers Commission is a body set up by the state to inspect prisons, and consists of civil society activists.) Akhmedov "barely spoke and, when he did speak about his condition, tears began to flow", Odoyev told Svetlana Glushkova of Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service on 28 February. Akhmedov told Odoyev of his anaemia and cancer. He complained of tablets he was given which he said "made him feel even worse", Odoyev noted. It is unclear if this was deliberately intended. "He can hardly walk." Odoyev said the question had been raised with prosecutors that in such conditions an individual should be transferred to house arrest or some other form of restriction. Akhmedov denied hospitalisation On 20 January Akhmedov was ordered to be held in two months pre-trial detention, even though a report from the National Scientific Center for Oncology and Transplantation (the national cancer centre) "recommends an operation and requests that Akhmedov undergo an examination before being hospitalised". The pre-trial detention of a cancer sufferer who needs to be hospitalised violates the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules) (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). Article 14, Part 7 of the Criminal Procedural Code stipulates that detention of criminal suspects "must occur in conditions excluding a threat to their life and health". Akhmedov "lying because no one is beaten here" At Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12 where Akhmedov is being held, the duty officer, an official of the Special Department and the Deputy Head of the Investigation Prison separately claimed to Forum 18 on 7 March that no one is beaten there. The Head of the Prison, Murat Uralbayev, was not present when Forum 18 called. "People can lie," the Special Department official told Forum 18. Akhmedov "is lying because no one is beaten here". The three Investigation Prison officials – none of whom would give their names - also insisted that Akhmedov is being given all necessary medical treatment in the Prison. "If he was ill he wouldn't be here," the duty officer told Forum 18. "Of course he is not dying," the Special Department official said. "If it is needed he would be taken at once to the city hospital." The Deputy Head – who repeatedly refused to give his name – told Forum 18 that prison warders had once taken Akhmedov to the city hospital, where he was examined by a doctor. The Deputy Head added that Akhmedov's son regularly brings prescriptions. The Deputy Head insisted that "of course Akhmedov can pray" in prison. Asked if he can have religious literature of his choice, the Deputy Head responded: "We have a prison library he can use, which has a wide-range of religious literature, including the Koran and the Bible." He then declined to discuss anything further. Muslim prisoners of conscience have stated that their human rights are violated in prison, including by being banned from reading the Koran and other religious books (see eg. F18News 9 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2156). Azatov awaiting trial Also in Astana, 27-year-old Muslim prisoner of conscience Satimzhan Azatov remains in the city's KNB Investigation Prison. Arrested in early January, he is under investigation under Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). He had met with other Muslims in Astana without state permission (see F18News 6 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2253). Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2 first put Azatov in two-months' pre-trial detention on 6 January. On 27 February, Judge Elizaveta Atchibayeva at the same Court extended this pre-trial detention for a further two months, Court officials told Forum 18. Abduzhabbarov awaiting trial The KNB secret police arrested 41-year-old Imam Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov, extradited from Saudi Arabia at Kazakhstan's request, as he arrived at Almaty Airport on 18 February. He was then transferred to Oral in West Kazakhstan Region (see F18News 21 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2259). KNB secret police Investigator Daniyar Ashim is investigating Abduzhabbarov under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord") and Criminal Code Article 256, Part 2. Article 256, Part 2 bans: "Propaganda of terrorism or public calls to commit terrorism" - which includes the production, storage for distribution or distribution of [unspecified in the Article] specified materials - committed by an individual using a state or non-state official position, or with the use of the mass media or other communication networks, or with foreign support, or in a group". The punishment is seven to 12 years' imprisonment with confiscation of property. On 22 February Judge Slukhanym Kadraliyeva of Oral City Court acceded to the request of KNB secret police Investigator Ashim to have Abduzhabbarov held in two months' pre-trial detention, Saule Kaisarova, head of the Court chancellery, told Forum 18 from Oral on 7 March. Abduzhabbarov was brought to court under convoy and was present for the hearing, she added. She said she had not seen him and was unable to comment on his condition. Given that such court orders must be adopted within 72 hours of an individual's arrest and given that Abduzhabbarov was arrested on the evening of 18 February, Forum 18 was unable to establish why no court decision had been adopted by the evening of 21 February. Kaisarova, however, insisted that no violation of the deadline for gaining court approval for Abduzhabbarov's arrest had occurred. "The court last year adopted a decision in absentia to hold him in pre-trial detention," she told Forum 18. She did not give any further details. What did others convicted do? Official secrecy surrounding Criminal Code Article 174 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord") cases often makes it impossible to determine either whether freedom of religion or belief has been violated, or if the accused advocated the destruction of others' human rights. For example, on 31 May 2016, in a case initiated by the KNB secret police, Judge Esen Ustelbayev of Almaty Region's Zhambyl District Court found 47-year-old ethnic Uyghur Muslim Farida Kolesnyuk guilty under Article 174, Part 1. As she admitted her guilt, he sentenced her to three years' restricted freedom, according to court records. She lives at home and can attend mosque, but must be home each night and cannot leave her town without permission. An official of the court familiar with the verdict claimed to Forum 18 on 6 March 2017 that Kolesnyuk had gathered a group of fellow Muslims and expounded her ideas about Islam. Among the material she allegedly used were recordings of sermons by Muslim preachers, including the Russian convert Said Buryatsky, who fought with the North Caucasian insurgency. It is unclear whether Kolesnyuk herself advocated the destruction of other people's human rights or not. Criminal Code Article 174 prosecutions for freedom of religion or belief The people listed below (with the most recent at the top) are all those known to have faced charges under Criminal Code Article 174 to punish them for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Article 174 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord") of the current Criminal Code came into force at the beginning of 2015, and replaced the identically-worded Article 164 of the old Criminal Code. More information on all the cases listed below is in previous Forum 18 articles. - Under investigation on one Article 174 charge 1.) Abdukhalil Abdukhamidovich Abduzhabbarov; born 6 April 1975; Muslim; arrested Almaty 18 February 2017; Article 174, Part 1, Article 256, Part 2; Oral Investigation Prison. 2.) Teymur Sultan ogly Akhmedov; born 7 May 1956; Jehovah's Witness; arrested Astana 18 January 2017; Article 174, Part 2; Astana Interior Ministry Investigation Prison. 3.) Satimzhan Bagytzhanuli Azatov; born 17 September 1989; Muslim; arrested Astana early January 2017; Article 174, Part 1; Astana KNB Investigation Prison. - Under investigation on two Article 174 charges 4.) Aleksandr Milentievich Kharlamov; born 2 July 1950; atheist. First case opened January 2013 (possibly suspended but never closed) under old Article 164, Part 1 (equivalent to new Article 174, Part 1); under travel restrictions in Ridder. Second case opened autumn 2016; Article 174, Part 1; under travel restrictions in Ridder. - On trial 5.) Kuanysh Ablayevich Bashpayev; born 3 February 1987; Muslim; arrested Pavlodar 13 October 2016; Article 174, Part 1; trial began 14 February 2017 Pavlodar City Court No. 2; Pavlodar City Police Investigation Prison. - Convicted 6.) Asaf Gadzhiaga ogly Guliyev; born 4 October 1973; Jehovah's Witness; Article 174, Part 2; sentenced 24 February 2017 Astana's Saryarka Court No. 2; five years' restricted freedom. 7.) Rustam Imenzhanovich Musayev; born 17 April 1985; Muslim; Article 174, Part 1; sentenced 1 June 2016 Karasai District Court; two years' imprisonment. 8.) Khalambakhi Khalym; born 12 August 1984; Muslim; sentenced 18 February 2016 Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2; Article 405, Part 2, Article 174, Part 1; 2 and a half years' imprisonment. 9.) Yklas Kairullinovich Kabduakasov; born 19 February 1961; Seventh-day Adventist; Article 174, Part 1 (though initial investigation under Article 174, Part 2); sentenced 28 December 2015 Astana City Court; two years' imprisonment. 10.) Saken Peisenovich Tulbayev; born 16 June 1969; Muslim; sentenced 2 July 2015 Almaty's Bostandyk Court No. 2; Article 174, Part 1 and Article 405, Part 2; 4 years 8 months' imprisonment and banned from exercising freedom of religion or belief until the end of 2022, three years after his release. - Investigated but charges dropped 11.) Erlan Amanzholovich Aubakirov; born 22 March 1981; Muslim; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 31 May 2016, fined under Administrative Code. 12.) Alisher Erkinbayevich Abduraimov; born 20 July 1971; Muslim; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 15 December 2015, fined under Administrative Code. 13.) Gennadi Sergeyevich Zhirov; born 14 December 1953; Council of Churches Baptist; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 10 November 2015, fined under Administrative Code. 14.) Yuri Ivanovich Bekker; born 18 June 1964; Council of Churches Baptist; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 10 November 2015, fined under Administrative Code. 15.) David Yakovlevich Leven; born 4 November 1969; Council of Churches Baptist; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 10 November 2015, fined under Administrative Code. 16.) Aleksandr Gennadievich Kulbeda; born 20 August 1972; Council of Churches Baptist; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 24 August 2015, fined under Administrative Code. 17.) Vitali Nikolayevich Pan; born 5 May 1961; Council of Churches Baptist; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 24 August 2015, fined under Administrative Code. 18.) Roza Sovetovna Sarsembayeva; born 21 September 1964; book seller; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 28 July 2015, fined under Administrative Code. 19.) Nargiz Zhaksylykovna Bekkhozhayeva; born 8 June 1959; book seller; Article 174, Part 1; case closed 26 March 2015, fined under Administrative Code. (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2262
  7. BAGUIO CITY—Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) in the Philippines have asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to intercede on behalf of Filipinos who face arrest or deportation in Russia for belonging to their faith. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of the Philippines, the legal and corporate arm of JW, made the appeal when it met DFA officials this week on behalf of more than 8,000 Filipino Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are affected by a warning issued by the Russian prosecutor general about what it described as the JW’s “extremist activities.” The law, enforced in 2002, bars “public and religious associations or any other organizations, or of mass media, or natural persons [from undertaking activities]… aimed at the forcible change of the foundations of the constitutional system and the violation of the integrity of the Russian Federation.” The prohibition covers religious activities that impart “propaganda of the exclusiveness, superiority or deficiency of individuals on the basis of their attitude to religion, social, racial, national, religious or linguistic identity.” The warning was directed at the Administration Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, following the seizure and liquidation of pocket groups of JW congregations recently. The center serves as JW’s national headquarters in Russia. Dean Jacek, spokesperson of JW in the Philippines, said they filed a formal protest against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. He said the rule may be used to “freeze the Watch Tower Society’s assets” and confiscate office properties and all Kingdom Halls in Russia. Russia recently banned JW publications, including Bibles, which do not incite to violence, he said. “We are not engaged in any extremist activity. We simply want to freely carry out our worship and our Bible education work peacefully,” he said. —GOBLETH MOULIC http://globalnation.inquirer.net/152841/pinoy-jehovahs-witnesses-russia-face-deportation Religious group asks DFA to protect members in Russia BAGUIO CITY — The Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country have asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to intercede on behalf of Filipinos who face arrest or deportation in Russia for belonging to their faith. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of the Philippines, the legal and corporate arm of the JWs, reiterated their appeal to DFA officials to help secure and provide legal support for hundreds of Filipino members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. There are more than 8,000 Filipinos in Russia, and hundreds of them have been worshiping in various Kingdom Halls there, and are affected by a warning issued by the prosecutor general of Russia about what it describes as the JW’s “extremist activities,” as prescribed by Russia’s federal law on counteraction of extremist activities. The warning was directed at the Administration Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, following the seizure and liquidation of pocket groups of JW congregations recently. The center serves as JW’s national headquarters in Russia. Dean Jacek, spokesperson of the JWs in the Philippines, said they filed more than 29 formal protests against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. He said the court misapplied Russia’s laws against extremism, which may be used to “freeze the Watch Tower Society’s assets” and confiscate office properties and all Kingdom Halls in Russia. Russia recently banned JW publications, including Bibles, which contain message of peace, love, and respect and do not incite violence, he said. “We are not engaged in any extremist activity. We simply want to freely carry out our worship and our Bible education work peacefully,” he said. Jacek said a Filipino, who associates with the JW congregation, whether as member or not, could face arrest or be punished for engaging in worship, Bible study, or sharing the Bible’s message. There are more than 175,000 Jehovah Witnesses in Russia, a country with a population of over 146 million. CBB http://globalnation.inquirer.net/152815/religious-group-asks-dfa-protect-members-russia
  8. By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 Russia appears to be moving to close the Jehovah's Witnesses' headquarters as "extremist". If this happens, all 406 registered local organisations and over 2,500 religious groups would be highly likely also to be liquidated, ending Jehovah's Witness open public communal life in Russia. Russia's General Prosecutor's Office appears to be moving to liquidate the Jehovah's Witness headquarters body as "extremist". It appears to believe that it already has enough evidence to seek its liquidation because courts have in the past year liquidated local branches and punished individual community members. The assertion comes in a 27 January order shown to Jehovah's Witnesses but which they were not allowed to copy. Should the Administrative Centre in St Petersburg be forcibly liquidated, it appears highly likely that all 406 registered local organisations and more than 2,500 unregistered religious groups would also be liquidated. This would end Jehovah's Witnesses open public communal life in Russia. The 27 January General Prosecutor's Office order also instructed the Justice Ministry to conduct an exhaustive inspection of all aspects of the activity of the Administrative Centre by 27 February. It came a month before a one-year warning it issued to the Administrative Centre "of the inadmissibility of extremist activity" expires on 2 March. Deputy General Prosecutor Viktor Grin's 27 January order claimed that the inspection was happening because the Administrative Centre's "structural subdivisions" have engaged in "extremist activity" since his 2 March 2016 warning. It specifically mentions in this regard the increasing liquidation of local Jehovah's Witness communities as "extremist organisations" (see F18News 15 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2256). "Considering that the religion of the Jehovah's Witnesses is professed by hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens, [liquidation] would be a disaster for rights and freedoms in our country," Administrative Centre representative Yaroslav Sivulsky said in a 15 February statement. "Without any exaggeration, it would put us back to the dark days of persecution for faith, which are still fresh in the memory of the older generation." Jehovah's Witnesses claim nearly 172,000 adherents in Russia, with a peak of nearly 300,000 attending their most important annual commemoration, the Memorial of Christ's Death. Courts around Russia have placed numerous Jehovah's Witness texts on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Many individual Jehovah's Witnesses and communities have been fined and liquidated for possession of these allegedly "extremist" texts. A total of 39 warnings and cautions of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" in 24 regions are known by Forum 18 to have been issued to Jehovah's Witness local religious organisations since late 2007. Although Jehovah's Witnesses frequently challenge these warnings and cautions in court, Forum 18 knows of no instance in which this has been successful. Ten communities have subsequently been ordered to be liquidated (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). March 2016 warning In March 2016, the Jehovah's Witnesses' Administrative Centre in St Petersburg received a formal warning from the General Prosecutor's Office of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity". The warning was explicitly predicated on the alleged "extremist" activities of the local communities and their members throughout Russia, which the Centre oversees and supports (see F18News 24 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2181). Attempts to challenge the legality of the warning have failed (see F18News 15 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2256). Deputy General Prosecutor Grin's order to the Justice Ministry of 27 January 2017 claims that, despite the 2 March 2016 warning, the Centre's "structural subdivisions" (ie. local religious organisations) have continued to engage in "extremist activity" during the past year. Forum 18 has been unable to obtain a copy of the General Prosecutor's Office order. A lawyer for the Administrative Centre was permitted to read but not to copy the document. It is unknown why the authorities did not provide a copy of the order to Jehovah's Witnesses. Jehovah's Witnesses state that, as evidence for the allegation of "extremism", Deputy General Prosecutor Grin refers to the liquidation of some of their communities during 2016, and the conviction of both local organisations and individual believers under the Code of Administrative Offences Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials"). Such prosecutions have continued throughout 2016, despite Jehovah's Witnesses having documented the planting of such materials by police (see eg. F18News 24 October 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2228). After the General Prosecutor's Office warning was issued in March 2016, two local Jehovah's Witness organisations were later in 2016 ruled "extremist" and ordered to be dissolved – Oryol on 14 June 2016, Birobidzhan on 3 October 2016. Both communities' appeals to the Supreme Court were unsuccessful (see F18News 24 October 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2228). In the Birobidzhan case, government documents from 2012 suggest co-ordination with Moscow during local officials' preparation of an initial "extremism" case (see F18News 2 December 2013 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1902). Since Deputy General Prosecutor Grin's January 2017 order, the same "extremism" ruling and liquidation order has been made against the Cherkessk community on 10 February 2017. Ten warnings to local Jehovah's Witness organisations of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" remain in force as of 16 February 2017, rendering them also vulnerable to liquidation (see F18News 15 February 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2256). According to the Supreme Court appeal verdict of 18 October 2016, the incident which provided "new evidence of signs of extremism" in the Oryol community's activities took place on 25 November 2015, when a law enforcement inspection of the Jehovah's Witnesses' rented property allegedly uncovered banned allegedly "extremist" literature. This then triggered liquidation proceedings (see F18News 24 May 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2181). It appears from court records that the incident which allegedly triggered the liquidation suit against the Birobidzhan congregation was a similar police inspection on 26 January 2016, during which banned texts were also found (see F18News 22 March 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2161). As these dates were before 2 March 2016 when the General Prosecutor's Office warning was issued, it is unclear whether they could legally be used as evidence in any liquidation suit against the Administrative Centre. Justice Ministry inspection The Justice Ministry informed the Administrative Centre of the impending inspection on 2 February 2017 and ordered it to hand over documents relating to its property, bank accounts, donations, and subsidiary organisations for the period February 2014 to February 2017. Jehovah's Witnesses handed over about 73,000 pages of such documentation on 15 February, the Administrative Centre stated. The 1 February notification document, seen by Forum 18, was signed by First Deputy Justice Minister Sergei Gerasimov. In it, the Ministry also demanded details of the Jehovah's Witnesses' religious literature and its sources, religious events, educational and missionary activity, and any social media accounts, as well as their "basic teachings and corresponding practices, including the history of [their] religion and the history of the [Administrative Centre]; the forms and methods of its activity; its position on marriage and the family and on education; particulars regarding its position on the health of adherents of that religion; and limitations on the Organisation's members and ministers in connection with their civil rights and duties". The inspection is to be carried out by Svetlana Borisova, Galina Filatova, and Indira Izmaylova, all of the Justice Ministry's department for religious organisations. Forum 18 reached Filatova by telephone on 15 February, and asked whether the Administrative Centre would be closed down after 27 February and how it will be possible to examine 73,000 pages of documents in only 12 days. She refused to answer these questions or comment on the contents of Deputy Prosecutor Grin's 27 January order. Forum 18 called the General Prosecutor's Office to put the same questions on 16 February, but a spokeswoman insisted that all enquiries should be made by fax only. A spokeswoman for the St Petersburg City Prosecutor's Office, in whose jurisdiction the Administrative Centre lies, also would not comment as she said the case was not her office's responsibility. Jehovah's Witnesses fail to overturn March 2016 warning The Administrative Centre has attempted to have the March 2016 General Prosecutor's Office warning ruled unlawful. However, Tver District Court in Moscow rejected their suit on 12 October 2016 (see eg. F18News 24 October 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2228). Moscow City Court rejected the Jehovah's Witnesses' further appeal on 16 January 2017 (see F18News 15 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2256). Should the General Prosecutor's Office succeed in having the Administrative Centre ruled an "extremist" organisation, the Centre will have the right of appeal to Russia's Supreme Court, but previous attempts by Jehovah's Witness organisations to have liquidation orders overturned at this level have been largely unsuccessful. So far, only the Tyumen community has won such an appeal in April 2016 (see F18News 24 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2181). What next? If a liquidation order against the Administrative Centre is made and enters into legal force, it would be placed on the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations and its property would be taken over by the state. This List mainly comprises far-right and violent nationalist groups. There are currently 58 banned or liquidated organisations on the List, including seven Jehovah's Witness communities in Taganrog, Samara, Abinsk, Stariy Oskol, Belgorod, Elista, and Birobidzhan (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). As noted above, it seems likely that the liquidation of the Centre would also lead to the liquidation of all other Jehovah's Witness communities and groups throughout Russia. If Jehovah's Witnesses continue to meet for prayer or Bible study after any liquidation, their former members would be liable to criminal prosecution under Article 282.2 ("organisation of" or "participation in the activities of a banned extremist organisation"). Sixteen Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog were tried and convicted on these charges in November 2015 after their community became the first to be liquidated as extremist (see F18News 3 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2128). Their latest appeal is currently pending at the Supreme Court. Also, July 2016 changes to the Religion Law among many other severe restrictions on freedom of religion and belief ban former members of "extremist" religious organisations carrying out broadly defined "missionary activity". People such as Jehovah's Witnesses who publicly share their beliefs are also liable to prosecution under Administrative Code Article 20.2 ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket") and Administrative Code Article 5.26 ("Conducting missionary activity") (see Forum 18's general Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2246). The import into Russia of Jehovah's Witness literature, even if it has not been ruled "extremist", is routinely blocked (see eg. F18News 14 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2133). Prosecutors in Vyborg are attempting to have the Jehovah's Witness New World Bible banned as "extremist", even though an amendment to the Extremism Law explicitly prohibits the banning of "the Bible, the Koran, the Tanakh and the Kanjur, their contents, and quotations from them" (see F18News 5 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2174). Proceedings are currently suspended while additional "expert" analysis is carried out (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Two Jehovah's Witnesses are also on trial in Sergiyev Posad under Criminal Code Article 282, Part 1 ("Actions directed at the incitement of hatred [nenavist] or enmity [vrazhda], as well as the humiliation of an individual or group of persons on the basis of .. attitude to religion") (see F18News 26 January 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2250). Their next hearing is due on 20 February 2017. (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2257
  9. Translated by Google: February 16, 2017, the Leninsky District Court of Voronezh will consider the case on an administrative offense against the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, which is wrongly blamed for the failure to notify the authorities of the liturgy, which was held October 9, 2016 in a rented sports complex on the street. Voroshilov. On that day, the police invaded a church service with a search (see photo). Believers are convinced that the case be terminated in the absence of an administrative offense. The law does not require authorities to notify about prayer and religious meetings, that it was finally clarified by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation. The decision of 5 December 2012, the Constitutional Court, considering the complaint of the Ombudsman lodged in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses, explained: " The need to inform the authorized bodies of state power or local authorities of such public religious activities and perform other defined burdens legislation by virtue of the mere fact of the meeting is designated for these locations purposes is a misuse of state intervention in the sphere of freedom of conscience guaranteed by each Article 28 Constitution of the Russian Federation and recognized by article 9 of the Convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and unreasonable , not due to the objectives set out in articles 17 and 55 of the Constitution, as well as in paragraph 2 of article 11 of the Convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the restriction the right to freedom of assembly . [...] Law enforcers, including the courts, when dealing with controversial issues on the need to notify the public authorities to hold public religious activities other than those specified in paragraphs 1-4 of Article 16 of the Federal Law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" places, including at deciding on the application of administrative sanctions for failure to comply with this requirement, it should be guided by the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the present Decree and in any case not to use the procedure for holding rallies, demonstrations and marches for prayer and religious meetings held in the non-residential premises , if neither the content of the religious event, or location of the non-residential premises does not require public authorities to take measures to ensure public order, public safety and tranquility "(decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation from 05/12/2012 number 30-P). https://jw-russia.org/news/17021417-96.html
  10. Russia's forced dissolution of local communities, literature bans, and "extremism" prosecutions increasingly restrict Jehovah's Witnesses' freedom of religion and belief. On 16 January, their national Administrative Centre in St Petersburg lost its latest legal challenge of a prosecutors' warning threatening it with liquidation. Russia's forced dissolution of communities, bans on literature, and criminal proceedings for alleged "extremism" increasingly restrict Jehovah's Witnesses' freedom of religion and belief. On 16 January, their national Administrative Centre in St Petersburg lost its latest legal challenge of a prosecutors' warning threatening it with liquidation. A large-scale "unplanned inspection" by the Justice Ministry of the Administrative Centre's documentation and activities is due to be completed by 27 February. Russia's Deputy General Prosecutor Viktor Grin claimed on 27 January that the Administrative Centre's "structural subdivisions" have engaged in "extremist activity" since his 2 March 2016 warning, and specifically mentions the dissolution of local Jehovah's Witnesses as "extremist organisations". Jehovah's Witnesses fear that the inspection is intended to prepare the Centre's liquidation ahead of the expiry on 2 March of a warning of "the inadmissibility of extremist activity" (see forthcoming F18News article). On 9 February, the Supreme Court upheld a decision to dissolve the Birobidzhan congregation as "extremist". On 10 February, a ninth local Jehovah's Witness organisation, in Cherkessk in the North Caucasus, was declared "extremist" and ordered to be liquidated. Its property, like that of other liquidated communities, will be confiscated by the state. Another community, in the Kirov Region, may soon face similar proceedings after prosecutors announced that they were preparing a liquidation suit (see below). In January the Arkhangelsk Jehovah's Witness community was voluntarily dissolved, after coming under heavy pressure from the local government, law enforcement agencies and Moscow Patriarchate "anti-sect" activists (see below). 39 warnings and 10 liquidations in 24 regions, just one successful appeal A total of 39 warnings and cautions of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" in 24 regions are known by Forum 18 to have been issued to Jehovah's Witness local religious organisations since late 2007. Although Jehovah's Witnesses frequently challenge these warnings and cautions in court, Forum 18 knows of no instance in which this has been successful. Ten communities have subsequently been ordered to be liquidated (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Only in the case of Tyumen – in April 2016 - have Jehovah's Witnesses successfully appealed against liquidation at the Supreme Court (see F18News 24 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2181). Frequency of warnings and liquidations increases The frequency of warnings and liquidations has noticeably increased. From 2007 to 2012 there were eight warnings and one liquidation. In 2013 to 2016, however, there were 31 warnings and nine liquidations ordered, with one liquidation attempted. Raids on Jehovah's Witness premises now take place more than three times per month. These raids on doctrinally pacifist religious communities often involve many heavily armed and camouflaged officials, with the "discovery" of apparently planted banned "extremist" literature which can lead to liquidations (see eg. F18News 24 October 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2228). Jehovah's Witnesses are not the only religious community which the government has targeted under the Extremism Law. Mosque communities, individual Muslims, and booksellers offering Islamic texts have also been prosecuted under the corresponding Administrative Code Article 20.29. This punishes the "mass distribution of extremist materials", and prosecutions are launched even if (against the letter of the law) only one copy is found. Many Islamic works which do not incite violence or hatred have been prohibited as "extremist". Muslims who meet to study the writings of Turkish theologian Said Nursi are frequently subject to criminal prosecution for allegedly "continuing the activities of a banned extremist organisation" – "Nurdzhular". Muslims in Russia deny this alleged organisation has ever existed (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). So far these bans and prosecutions have not translated into the kind of campaign being carried out against Jehovah's Witnesses. Russian Muslims have always denied the existence of "Nurdzhular" and so it has never had registered local communities. Falun Gong texts have also been banned, but its practitioners also do not have registered local communities which could be banned and whose property could be taken over. Neither group, therefore, could be targeted in the same way Jehovah's Witnesses are targeted (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Only one local Muslim organisation, in May 2014 in Borovsky village in Tyumen Region, has so far been liquidated on grounds of "extremism" (see F18News 3 December 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2020). It has been added to the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations. This mainly lists far-right and violent nationalist groups. But as well as Borovsky's mosque it also includes seven liquidated Jehovah's Witness congregations, whose property has been taken over by the state. Appeal against liquidation threat against national centre fails In March 2016, the Jehovah's Witnesses' Administrative Centre in St. Petersburg received a formal warning from the General Prosecutor's Office of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity". The warning was explicitly predicated on the alleged "extremist" activities of the local communities and their members throughout Russia, which the Centre oversees and supports (see F18News 24 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2181). The Centre's latest attempt to get the warning overturned failed on 16 January 2017, when Moscow City Court upheld an earlier ruling by the capital's Tver District Court that the General Prosecutor's Office had acted lawfully. "Jehovah's Witnesses are going to use all legal means to prove the absurdity of the charges. They hope that justice will prevail," the Centre said in a press statement on 16 January. "We will challenge the General Prosecutor's Office warning further," spokesman Ivan Belenko added to Forum 18 on 19 January. "We consider that the General Prosecutor's Office has no legal grounds for issuing the first warning, or for issuing a second warning, or for any attempt to liquidate the Centre. We hope that in the General Prosecutor's Office they understand this and do not take steps towards the dissolution of the Administrative Centre." All Jehovah's Witness bodies under threat If prosecutors pursue liquidation, the Centre would be added to the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations, which already includes seven liquidated Jehovah's Witness congregations. The Centre's property would be taken over by the state. It also seems likely that Jehovah's Witness bodies throughout the country (406 registered local organisations and more than 2,500 unregistered religious groups) would face dissolution because of their association with the Centre. "As a result, Witnesses throughout Russia could lose their Kingdom Halls (houses of worship)", Jehovah's Witnesses complained in an article on their website jw.org on 27 April 2016. "Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia could find themselves in a scenario in which they are free to believe as they wish but not free to practice their religion with others." The warning to the Centre, seen by Forum 18, instructs it to take "specific organisational and practical measures" within two months in order to prevent further "offences" under the Extremism Law. The warning cautions that the Centre will be subject to dissolution if it does not eliminate existing "violations" or if new evidence of "extremism" is found in the next 12 months. The document does not state what the "organisational and practical measures" are, nor how they will be evaluated. Any subsequent "extremism"-related conviction of an individual or local community may provide grounds for prosecutors to pursue liquidation of the Administrative Centre. Since the warning was issued on 2 March 2016, three local Jehovah's Witness organisations have been ruled "extremist" and ordered to be dissolved – Oryol on 14 June 2016, Birobidzhan on 3 October 2016. Both communities' appeals to the Supreme Court were unsuccessful (see F18News 24 October 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2228). In the Birobidzhan case, government documents from 2012 suggest co-ordination with Moscow during local officials' preparation of an initial "extremism" case (see F18News 2 December 2013 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1902). In 2017 the first community ordered to be dissolved has been in Cherkessk on 10 February (see below). Prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials"), which can lead to liquidation proceedings, have continued (see eg. F18News 24 October 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2228). Warnings are suspended while legal challenges are underway and reactivated when a decision is reached. It is therefore unclear whether the General Prosecutor's Office will use these dissolutions and prosecutions to initiate court proceedings to liquidate the Administrative Centre. Warnings All liquidations of local communities have followed a similar path, from the discovery of apparently planted "extremist" religious texts onwards (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Formally, attempts to have local religious organisations dissolved as "extremist" have been preceded by a formal warning (preduprezhdeniye) issued by prosecutors' offices. As stipulated in Article 7 of the Extremism Law, these note the "inadmissibility of the implementation of extremist activity", cite occasions when the communities in question (or their members) have been convicted or suspected of breaking the Extremism Law, and threaten communities with liquidation should further evidence of "extremism" be detected within a year. Under Article 6 of the Extremism Law, if prosecutors think community members will carry out "extremist" activity but have not yet done so, a caution (predosterezheniye) may be issued. This is usually addressed to an individual in an official capacity, such as a community chairperson. If a caution is violated, it may lead to prosecution, but not liquidation of a community. Such cautions can also be handed to private individuals. Such warnings and cautions are active from the date of issue. They are suspended during any court challenge, but are reactivated if a court rules against the religious organisation within a year of the original date of issue. A total of 37 Jehovah's Witness communities are known by Forum 18 to have received warnings of the "inadmissibility of the implementation of extremist activity". Two have received repeat warnings. Ten communities have so far been ordered liquidated as "extremist" organisations, with one ruling subsequently overturned. Ten warnings remain in force as of 15 February 2017 (see list at end of article). Communities almost always try to have such warnings overturned in court. Forum 18 knows of no case where this has been successful, although such cases usually go through multiple stages of appeal. "Voluntary dissolution" in Arkhangelsk In Arkhangelsk the local Jehovah's Witness community in 2015 sought voluntary dissolution from the local Justice Ministry after coming under heavy pressure from the local government, law enforcement agencies and Moscow Patriarchate "anti-sect" activists (see F18News 22 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2161). Despite the community's request for dissolution, prosecutors still lodged a liquidation suit against it at Arkhangelsk Regional Court on 8 April 2016, which the court rejected in June 2016. Had this succeeded, the community would have been declared an "extremist organisation". As a result, members would have been in danger of criminal prosecution had they continued to meet for worship, and their leaders would have been unable to register another religious organisation. Prosecutors argued that the Jehovah's Witnesses had violated the warning of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" they had received on 11 June 2015. This was because claimed community member Ivan Antufyev and leader Aleksandr Parygin had been fined under the Code of Administrative Offences Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") on 2 October 2015 and 22 January 2016 respectively. Judge Arkady Vershinin dismissed the use of Antufyev's conviction as grounds for liquidation, deciding that FSB security service investigators had failed to establish whether Antufyev had given a Jehovah's Witness book to another man before or after the warning was issued. Judge Vershinin also noted that there was no evidence that Antufyev was a member of the "Central" community. Parygin was prosecuted after law enforcement agents allegedly discovered banned "extremist" literature in his car on 16 December 2015, which Jehovah's Witnesses claimed was planted. Judge Vershinin noted that an individual's conviction was not evidence of an organisation's "extremist" activity, pointing out that the "Central" community had not itself been prosecuted for any "extremism"-related offences - either before or after receiving the formal warning. The Judge also accepted expert evidence presented in court, which showed that fingerprints on the literature allegedly found in Parygin's car did not belong to him. According to Federal Tax Service records, the community was dissolved at its own request on 17 January 2017. "Believers are free to carry out their activities in the region without an officially registered legal entity", the Jehovah's Witness press service told Forum 18 on 15 February. More community liquidations Cherkessk On 10 February 2017, the Supreme Court of Karachai-Cherkessia upheld Karachai-Cherkessia Prosecutor's request to have the Jehovah's Witness community of Cherkessk liquidated as an "extremist" organisation. Jehovah's Witnesses think the liquidation suit is an attempt to seize their property for commercial development (see F18News 28 August 2015 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). Police have subjected the Cherkessk community to raids and illegal searches, the claimed planting of banned "extremist" materials, prosecutions, searches of its members' homes, and claimed "beatings and severe psychological pressure" against one of its leaders (see F18News 28 August 2015 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). Prosecutors succeeded on 19 January 2016 in ensuring that they would be able to confiscate the Kingdom Hall and its territory, by claiming in court that the Cherkessk community had made an illegal "contract of donation" with the Jehovah's Witnesses of Mineralniye Vody. This contract allegedly passed the property to the other congregation in order to avoid potential seizure by the state. The City Court ruled that the Cherkessk community had no right to do this while a liquidation suit was pending. This decision was upheld by Karachai-Cherkessia Supreme Court on 13 April 2016. Legal proceedings were re-opened in January 2017 after nearly two years of delays and suspensions because of other civil and administrative cases involving the congregation. If the community now fails to have the liquidation order overturned, its land and building will be passed to the state. As in all other such cases known to Forum 18, prosecutors' request to have the Cherkessk community dissolved was based on the alleged "mass distribution" of banned "extremist" materials. The organisation itself and two of its members, Dmitry Metelin and Andrei Volovikov, were found guilty of this "offence" under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") on 17 March 2015 (see F18News 15 May 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2062. They subsequently failed to have their fines overturned on appeal (see F18News 28 August 2015 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). When Forum 18 telephoned on 14 February to ask how any liquidation would proceed and why the community was considered dangerous, a spokeswoman for the Republic Prosecutor's Office would not answer questions and said that all information could be found on their website. Kirovo-Chepetsk Prosecutors in the Kirov Region town of Kirovo-Chepetsk are also preparing a liquidation suit against the local Jehovah's Witness congregation, local news website chepetsk.ru reported on 26 January 2017. No suit yet appears to have been registered at Kirov Regional Court. On 16 February 2016 at Kirovo-Chepetsk City Court, the community's chairperson Roman Pinegin was fined 2,000 Roubles under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") for posting a link to the Jehovah's Witnesses main international website jw.org on the social network Odnoklassniki. This website is banned and blocked in Russia (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Pinegin's appeal on 7 April 2016 was unsuccessful. This was followed by a warning from the Kirov Regional Prosecutor's Office, which the community attempted to challenge at Kirovo-Chepetsk District Court. After Judge Yelena Aksyonova refused to recognise the warning as unlawful on 11 May 2016, Kirov Regional Court sent the case back for re-examination. But a second district court judge, Marina Alekseyeva refused to uphold the community's suit on 6 December 2016. Jehovah's Witnesses lodged a further appeal at the Regional Court on 6 February 2017, but no hearing date has yet been scheduled. On 8 December 2016, Jehovah's Witness O. Grinishina was fined 1,000 Roubles under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials"), for posting a link to the jw.org/ru website on her VKontakte social media profile. The court verdict, seen by Forum 18, claims that the link was "openly accessible to all users of this social network. Thus, Grinishina allowed the mass distribution of extremist materials". This is despite the jw.org site being blocked in Russia in all language versions (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Kirov Regional Court registered her appeal on 27 January 2017, but no hearing date has yet been set. Officials, including an FSB security service officer and two Prosecutor's Office investigators, raided the Kirovo-Chepetsk community in July 2010. They were apparently seeking to pressure and gain information about the community (see F18News 2 August 2010 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1473). A spokesman for Kirov Regional Prosecutor's Office explained that he could not give out information to a foreign organisation when Forum 18 telephoned on 14 February to ask about the progress of the liquidation suit, why it was being brought, and why the community was considered dangerous. When Forum 18 called Kirovo-Chepetsk City Prosecutor's Office on 15 February and asked about the case, the phone was immediately put down. Community liquidations Increasing numbers of local Jehovah's Witness organisations are being declared "extremist" and ordered to be dissolved (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). The latest liquidations are; Birobidzhan, on 3 October 2016, upheld on 9 February 2017; and Cherkessk, on 10 February 2017. No appeal has yet been submitted in the Cherkessk case. The Taganrog, Samara, Abinsk, Belgorod, Stariy Oskol, Elista, and Oryol communities all appear on the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations and have had their property taken over by the state. Jehovah's Witnesses have lodged three appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg relating to the dissolution of local religious organisations (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). In the case of their Moscow community, it took almost five years after an ECtHR order, until May 2015, to regain its status. The community was dissolved in 2004 when a judge stated it had engaged in "coercion [of members] into destroying the family, encouragement of the refusal of medical assistance, and incitement of citizens to refuse civic duties" (see Forum 18's general Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2246). Appeals in the cases of the Taganrog (Application No. 32401/10) and Samara (Application No. 15962/15) communities are still pending." Impact on communities When a registered religious organisation is liquidated, it loses its status as a legal entity and concomitant rights, such as the ability to own or rent property, employ staff, and hold a bank account. Although an unregistered community should legally be able to continue to operate as a religious group and meet privately for worship and study, this carries the risk of criminal charges if their organisation was liquidated on grounds of "extremism", as happened in Taganrog (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Obstacles also arise if a group of people meets together as an unregistered religious group, not as a religious organisation. Under July 2015 changes to the Religion Law, they must notify local Justice Ministry branches of their creation or continued existence at least every three years, and supply the names and addresses of their members and the addresses at which they hold services. This contravenes Russia's international freedom of religion and belief obligations. The Duma is currently considering a proposed Administrative Code offence to punish non-compliance with this requirement (see Forum 18's general Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2246). Further July 2016 changes to the Religion Law ban former members of "extremist" religious organisations carrying out broadly defined "missionary activity". People such as Jehovah's Witnesses who publicly share their beliefs are also liable to prosecution under Administrative Code Article 20.2 ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket") and Administrative Code Article 5.26 ("Conducting missionary activity"). Individual Jehovah's Witnesses no longer stand on the streets sharing their beliefs because of a March 2016 amendment to the Demonstrations Law. This requires notification to the authorities of a one-person picket if it makes use of "prefabricated collapsible structures" (see Forum 18's general Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2246). Taganrog Jehovah's Witnesses After an unsuccessful appeal at Rostov Regional Court in March 2016, 16 former members of the liquidated Jehovah's Witness community of Taganrog are appealing to the Supreme Court against their convictions under Criminal Articles 282.2, Part 1 or Part 2 ("Organisation of" or "participation in" "the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity"). The 16 were found guilty in November 2015 of continuing the activities of an "extremist" organisation by meeting to pray and read the Bible (see F18News 3 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2128. Charges were also brought against a further six Taganrog Jehovah's Witnesses under Article 282.2 in a separate case which began in 2011 (see F18News 28 March 2012 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1685). These charges were finally dropped on 14 December 2016, Jehovah's Witnesses stated on 12 January 2017. Investigators should now return the defendants' confiscated possessions, and two of their number - husband and wife pensioners Svetlana Chesnokova and Vladimir Chesnokov - should be removed from the Federal Financial Monitoring Service's (Rosfinmonitoring) "List of terrorists and extremists". This means that they will be able to access their bank accounts once more. Their names are still on the list as of 15 February, Forum 18 notes. The two pensioners were originally charged in October 2013 (see F18News 2 December 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1902). None of the 16 Jehovah's Witnesses convicted in November 2015 appears on the Rosfinmonitoring list. - Prosecutors office warnings yet to expire as of 14 February 2017 1.) Saransk, Mordovia Warning issued: 23 September 2016 Challenged: 16 January 2017, Lenin District Court, Saransk – unsuccessful Appeal: none yet submitted 2.) Novorossiisk, Krasnodar Region Warning issued: 1 August 2016 Challenged: 28 November 2016, October District Court, Novorossiisk – unsuccessful Appeal: registered at Krasnodar Regional Court, 6 February 2017 – no hearing date yet 3.) Kirov Warning issued: summer 2016 Challenged: 3 November 2016, October District Court, Kirov – rejected for jurisdictional reasons Appeal: 27 December 2016, Kirov Regional Court – upheld and sent again to October District Court; 8 February 2017, October District Court – unsuccessful again 4.) Novosibirsk, "Zarechnaya" Warning issued: before 30 May 2016 Challenged: 21 September 2016, Central District Court, Novosibirsk – unsuccessful Appeal: 29 November 2016, Novosibirsk Regional Court – unsuccessful 5.) Stavropol, "Central" Warning issued: 14 April 2016 Challenged: 29 September 2016, October District Court, Stavropol – unsuccessful Appeal: 6 December 2016, Stavropol Regional Court – unsuccessful 6.) Snezhnogorsk, Murmansk Region Warning issued: 17 March 2016 Challenged: 26 August 2016, Polyarny District Court, Murmansk Region - unsuccessful Appeal: 23 November 2016, Murmansk Regional Court – unsuccessful 7.) Voronezh, "Central" Warning issued: 11 March 2016 Challenged: 21 July 2016, Lenin District Court, Voronezh – unsuccessful Appeal: none 8.) Kirovo-Chepetsk, Kirov Region Warning issued: between 16 February and 18 April 2016 Challenged: 11 May 2016, Kirovo-Chepetsk District Court, Kirov Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 11 August 2016, Kirov Regional Court – sent back for re-examination; re-examined on 6 December 2016, Kirovo-Chepetsk District Court, unsuccessful; appeal registered at Kirov Regional Court on 6 February 2017 – no hearing date yet Liquidation suit now being prepared 9.) Kaluga (predosterezheniye) Warning issued: late February 2016 Challenged: unknown 10.) Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka Warning issued: 19 February 2016 (preduprezhdeniye); on or before 10 September 2015 (predosterezheniye) Challenged: unknown - Warnings which have led to liquidation in chronological order 1.) Taganrog Warning: 26 October (predosterezheniye) and 31 October (preduprezhdeniye) 2007 Challenged: no Liquidated: 11 September 2009, Rostov Regional Court; upheld by Supreme Court, 8 December 2009; multiple subsequent appeals unsuccessful 2.) Abinsk Warning issued: 20 February 2013 Challenged: no Liquidated: 4 March 2015, Krasnodar Regional Court – upheld by Supreme Court, 5 August 2015; further appeal to Supreme Court unsuccessful on 17 December 2015 3.) Samara Warning issued: 26 June 2013 Challenged: no Liquidated: 29 May 2014, Samara Regional Court – upheld by Supreme Court, 12 November 2014; further appeal to Supreme Court unsuccessful on 18 March 2015 and two more appeals returned without consideration, 29 May 2015 and 11 June 2015 4.) Cherkessk Warning issued: 30 June 2014 (community did not know about it until 18 March 2015) Challenged: 7 July 2015, Cherkessk City Court – unsuccessful Appeal: 23 September 2015, Supreme Court of Karachai-Cherkesiya – unsuccessful; appeal, 11 December 2015, Supreme Court of Karachai-Cherkesiya – unsuccessful Liquidated: 10 February 2017, Supreme Court of Karachai-Cherkesiya 5.) Stariy Oskol Warning issued: 24 December 2014 Challenged: 7 April 2015, Stariy Oskol City Court, Belgorod Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 30 July 2015, Belgorod Regional Court – unsuccessful Liquidated: 10 February 2016, Belgorod Regional Court – upheld by Supreme Court, 16 June 2016; further appeal to Supreme Court unsuccessful on 15 November 2016 6.) Belgorod Warning issued: 11 March 2015 Challenged: 22 July 2015, October District Court, Belgorod – unsuccessful Appeal: 12 November 2015, Belgorod Regional Court, unsuccessful; appeal, 20 April 2016, Belgorod Regional Court – unsuccessful; 12 July 2016, Supreme Court appeal – unsuccessful Liquidated: 11 February 2016, Belgorod Regional Court – upheld by Supreme Court, 9 June 2016; further appeal to Supreme Court unsuccessful on 29 December 2016 7.) Elista, Kalmyk Republic Warning issued: 6 July 2015 Challenged: no Liquidated: 25 February 2016, Supreme Court of the Kalmyk Republic – upheld by Supreme Court, 7 July 2016; further appeal to Supreme Court unsuccessful on 27 December 2016 8.) Birobidzhan Warning issued: summer 2015 Challenged: unknown date, Birobidzhan District Court – unsuccessful Appeal: unknown date, Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region – unsuccessful Liquidated: 3 October 2016, Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region – upheld by Supreme Court, 9 February 2017 9.) Oryol Warning issued: August 2015 Challenged: 25 December 2015, Soviet District Court, Oryol – unsuccessful Appeal: 17 March 2016, Oryol Regional Court, unsuccessful Liquidated: 14 June 2016, Oryol Regional Court – upheld by Supreme Court, 18 October 2016; further appeal to Supreme Court submitted on 27 January 2017 - Warnings which have expired, liquidations successfully challenged or overturned 1.) Salsk, Rostov Region Warning issued: 19 November 2007 (preduprezhdeniye); 4 November 2007 (predosterezheniye) Challenged: unknown 2.) Beslan, North Ossetia-Alaniya Warning issued: 19 March 2009 Challenged: unknown 3.) Mozdok, North Ossetia-Alaniya Warning issued: 20 March 2009 Challenged: unknown 4.) Arkhangelsk, "Central" Warning issued: 28 December 2009 Challenged: unknown 5.) Volgodonsk, Rostov Region Warning issued: 28 December 2009 Challenged: unknown 6.) Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Region Warning issued: 31 August 2010 Challenged: unknown 7.) Spassk-Dalniy, Primorye Warning issued: July 2012 Challenged: unknown 8.) Ussuriysk, Primorye Warning issued: 28 May 2014 Challenged: unknown 9.) Tyumen Warning issued: 29 July 2014 Challenged: unknown Appeal: unknown Liquidation ordered: 16 October 2015, Tyumen Regional Court; overturned by Supreme Court, 15 April 2016 10.) Tikhoretsk, Krasnodar Region Warning issued: 24 March 2015 Challenged: 13 July 2015, Tikhoretsk City Court, Krasnodar Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 24 September 2015, Krasnodar Regional Court, unsuccessful 11.) Arkhangelsk, "Central" Warning issued: 11 June 2015 Challenged: 30 October 2015, October District Court, Arkhangelsk – unsuccessful Appeal: 4 February 2016, Arkhangelsk Regional Court – unsuccessful Liquidation refused: 3 June 2016, Arkhangelsk Regional Court Community voluntarily dissolved 17 January 2017 12.) Tikhoretsk, Krasnodar Region Warning issued: 28 July 2015 Challenged: 17 December 2015, Tikhoretsk City Court, Krasnodar Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 24 May 2016, Krasnodar Regional Court – unsuccessful; appeal to Supreme Court, 18 January 2017 – unsuccessful 13.) Odintsovo District, Moscow Region (predosterezheniye) Warning issued: before 31 August 2015 Challenged: 13 October 2015, Odintsovo City Court – unsuccessful Appeal: 28 December 2015, Moscow Regional Court – unsuccessful; appeal, 30 June 2016 – unsuccessful 14.) Teykovo, Ivanovo Region Warning issued: 11 September 2015 Challenged: 11 February 2016, Teykovo District Court, Ivanovo Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 26 April 2016, Ivanovo Regional Court – unsuccessful 15.) Chapayevsk, Samara Region Warning issued: 2 October 2015 Challenged: 10 March 2016, Chapayevsk City Court, Samara Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 20 May 2016, Samara Regional Court – unsuccessful; appeal, 25 November 2016, Samara Regional Court – unsuccessful; appeal to Supreme Court submitted 30 January 2017 16.) Serov, Sverdlovsk Region Warning issued: 7 October 2015 Challenged: 15 February 2016, Serov District Court, Sverdlovsk Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 25 May 2016, Sverdlovsk Regional Court – unsuccessful; appeal submitted to Sverdlovsk Regional Court on 17 January 2017, no hearing date yet 17.) Shakhty, Rostov Region Warning issued: 8? December 2015 (unclear whether addressed to individual or community) Challenged: unknown 18.) Prokhladny, Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya Warning issued: 24 December 2015 Challenged: 26 February 2016, Prokhadny District Court, Kabardino-Balkariya – unsuccessful Appeal: 29 April 2016, Supreme Court of Kabardino-Balkariya, successful; appeal by prosecutor, 8 September 2016 – appeal ruling overturned and warning left in force; appeal to Supreme Court returned without consideration 10 January 2017 19.) Gelendzhik, Krasnodar Region Warning issued: before 8 February 2016 Challenged: 15 March 2016, October District Court, Krasnodar – unsuccessful Appeal: 26 July 2016, Krasnodar Regional Court, unsuccessful; appeal submitted 23 January 2017, Krasnodar Regional Court – no hearing date yet 20.) Polyarny, Murmansk Region Warning issued: 14 January 2016 Challenged: 15 April 2016, Polyarny District Court, Murmansk Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 29 June 2016, Murmansk Regional Court – unsuccessful (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2256
  11. By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 Russia's forced dissolution of local communities, literature bans, and "extremism" prosecutions increasingly restrict Jehovah's Witnesses' freedom of religion and belief. On 16 January, their national Administrative Centre in St Petersburg lost its latest legal challenge of a prosecutors' warning threatening it with liquidation. Russia's forced dissolution of communities, bans on literature, and criminal proceedings for alleged "extremism" increasingly restrict Jehovah's Witnesses' freedom of religion and belief. On 16 January, their national Administrative Centre in St Petersburg lost its latest legal challenge of a prosecutors' warning threatening it with liquidation. A large-scale "unplanned inspection" by the Justice Ministry of the Administrative Centre's documentation and activities is due to be completed by 27 February. Russia's Deputy General Prosecutor Viktor Grin claimed on 27 January that the Administrative Centre's "structural subdivisions" have engaged in "extremist activity" since his 2 March 2016 warning, and specifically mentions the dissolution of local Jehovah's Witnesses as "extremist organisations". Jehovah's Witnesses fear that the inspection is intended to prepare the Centre's liquidation ahead of the expiry on 2 March of a warning of "the inadmissibility of extremist activity" (see forthcoming F18News article). On 9 February, the Supreme Court upheld a decision to dissolve the Birobidzhan congregation as "extremist". On 10 February, a ninth local Jehovah's Witness organisation, in Cherkessk in the North Caucasus, was declared "extremist" and ordered to be liquidated. Its property, like that of other liquidated communities, will be confiscated by the state. Another community, in the Kirov Region, may soon face similar proceedings after prosecutors announced that they were preparing a liquidation suit (see below). In January the Arkhangelsk Jehovah's Witness community was voluntarily dissolved, after coming under heavy pressure from the local government, law enforcement agencies and Moscow Patriarchate "anti-sect" activists (see below). 39 warnings and 10 liquidations in 24 regions, just one successful appeal A total of 39 warnings and cautions of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" in 24 regions are known by Forum 18 to have been issued to Jehovah's Witness local religious organisations since late 2007. Although Jehovah's Witnesses frequently challenge these warnings and cautions in court, Forum 18 knows of no instance in which this has been successful. Ten communities have subsequently been ordered to be liquidated (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Only in the case of Tyumen – in April 2016 - have Jehovah's Witnesses successfully appealed against liquidation at the Supreme Court (see F18News 24 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2181). Frequency of warnings and liquidations increases The frequency of warnings and liquidations has noticeably increased. From 2007 to 2012 there were eight warnings and one liquidation. In 2013 to 2016, however, there were 31 warnings and nine liquidations ordered, with one liquidation attempted. Raids on Jehovah's Witness premises now take place more than three times per month. These raids on doctrinally pacifist religious communities often involve many heavily armed and camouflaged officials, with the "discovery" of apparently planted banned "extremist" literature which can lead to liquidations (see eg. F18News 24 October 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2228). Jehovah's Witnesses are not the only religious community which the government has targeted under the Extremism Law. Mosque communities, individual Muslims, and booksellers offering Islamic texts have also been prosecuted under the corresponding Administrative Code Article 20.29. This punishes the "mass distribution of extremist materials", and prosecutions are launched even if (against the letter of the law) only one copy is found. Many Islamic works which do not incite violence or hatred have been prohibited as "extremist". Muslims who meet to study the writings of Turkish theologian Said Nursi are frequently subject to criminal prosecution for allegedly "continuing the activities of a banned extremist organisation" – "Nurdzhular". Muslims in Russia deny this alleged organisation has ever existed (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). So far these bans and prosecutions have not translated into the kind of campaign being carried out against Jehovah's Witnesses. Russian Muslims have always denied the existence of "Nurdzhular" and so it has never had registered local communities. Falun Gong texts have also been banned, but its practitioners also do not have registered local communities which could be banned and whose property could be taken over. Neither group, therefore, could be targeted in the same way Jehovah's Witnesses are targeted (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Only one local Muslim organisation, in May 2014 in Borovsky village in Tyumen Region, has so far been liquidated on grounds of "extremism" (see F18News 3 December 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2020). It has been added to the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations. This mainly lists far-right and violent nationalist groups. But as well as Borovsky's mosque it also includes seven liquidated Jehovah's Witness congregations, whose property has been taken over by the state. Appeal against liquidation threat against national centre fails In March 2016, the Jehovah's Witnesses' Administrative Centre in St. Petersburg received a formal warning from the General Prosecutor's Office of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity". The warning was explicitly predicated on the alleged "extremist" activities of the local communities and their members throughout Russia, which the Centre oversees and supports (see F18News 24 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2181). The Centre's latest attempt to get the warning overturned failed on 16 January 2017, when Moscow City Court upheld an earlier ruling by the capital's Tver District Court that the General Prosecutor's Office had acted lawfully. "Jehovah's Witnesses are going to use all legal means to prove the absurdity of the charges. They hope that justice will prevail," the Centre said in a press statement on 16 January. "We will challenge the General Prosecutor's Office warning further," spokesman Ivan Belenko added to Forum 18 on 19 January. "We consider that the General Prosecutor's Office has no legal grounds for issuing the first warning, or for issuing a second warning, or for any attempt to liquidate the Centre. We hope that in the General Prosecutor's Office they understand this and do not take steps towards the dissolution of the Administrative Centre." All Jehovah's Witness bodies under threat If prosecutors pursue liquidation, the Centre would be added to the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations, which already includes seven liquidated Jehovah's Witness congregations. The Centre's property would be taken over by the state. It also seems likely that Jehovah's Witness bodies throughout the country (406 registered local organisations and more than 2,500 unregistered religious groups) would face dissolution because of their association with the Centre. "As a result, Witnesses throughout Russia could lose their Kingdom Halls (houses of worship)", Jehovah's Witnesses complained in an article on their website jw.org on 27 April 2016. "Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia could find themselves in a scenario in which they are free to believe as they wish but not free to practice their religion with others." The warning to the Centre, seen by Forum 18, instructs it to take "specific organisational and practical measures" within two months in order to prevent further "offences" under the Extremism Law. The warning cautions that the Centre will be subject to dissolution if it does not eliminate existing "violations" or if new evidence of "extremism" is found in the next 12 months. The document does not state what the "organisational and practical measures" are, nor how they will be evaluated. Any subsequent "extremism"-related conviction of an individual or local community may provide grounds for prosecutors to pursue liquidation of the Administrative Centre. Since the warning was issued on 2 March 2016, three local Jehovah's Witness organisations have been ruled "extremist" and ordered to be dissolved – Oryol on 14 June 2016, Birobidzhan on 3 October 2016. Both communities' appeals to the Supreme Court were unsuccessful (see F18News 24 October 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2228). In the Birobidzhan case, government documents from 2012 suggest co-ordination with Moscow during local officials' preparation of an initial "extremism" case (see F18News 2 December 2013 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1902). In 2017 the first community ordered to be dissolved has been in Cherkessk on 10 February (see below). Prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials"), which can lead to liquidation proceedings, have continued (see eg. F18News 24 October 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2228). Warnings are suspended while legal challenges are underway and reactivated when a decision is reached. It is therefore unclear whether the General Prosecutor's Office will use these dissolutions and prosecutions to initiate court proceedings to liquidate the Administrative Centre. Warnings All liquidations of local communities have followed a similar path, from the discovery of apparently planted "extremist" religious texts onwards (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Formally, attempts to have local religious organisations dissolved as "extremist" have been preceded by a formal warning (preduprezhdeniye) issued by prosecutors' offices. As stipulated in Article 7 of the Extremism Law, these note the "inadmissibility of the implementation of extremist activity", cite occasions when the communities in question (or their members) have been convicted or suspected of breaking the Extremism Law, and threaten communities with liquidation should further evidence of "extremism" be detected within a year. Under Article 6 of the Extremism Law, if prosecutors think community members will carry out "extremist" activity but have not yet done so, a caution (predosterezheniye) may be issued. This is usually addressed to an individual in an official capacity, such as a community chairperson. If a caution is violated, it may lead to prosecution, but not liquidation of a community. Such cautions can also be handed to private individuals. Such warnings and cautions are active from the date of issue. They are suspended during any court challenge, but are reactivated if a court rules against the religious organisation within a year of the original date of issue. A total of 37 Jehovah's Witness communities are known by Forum 18 to have received warnings of the "inadmissibility of the implementation of extremist activity". Two have received repeat warnings. Ten communities have so far been ordered liquidated as "extremist" organisations, with one ruling subsequently overturned. Ten warnings remain in force as of 15 February 2017 (see list at end of article). Communities almost always try to have such warnings overturned in court. Forum 18 knows of no case where this has been successful, although such cases usually go through multiple stages of appeal. "Voluntary dissolution" in Arkhangelsk In Arkhangelsk the local Jehovah's Witness community in 2015 sought voluntary dissolution from the local Justice Ministry after coming under heavy pressure from the local government, law enforcement agencies and Moscow Patriarchate "anti-sect" activists (see F18News 22 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2161). Despite the community's request for dissolution, prosecutors still lodged a liquidation suit against it at Arkhangelsk Regional Court on 8 April 2016, which the court rejected in June 2016. Had this succeeded, the community would have been declared an "extremist organisation". As a result, members would have been in danger of criminal prosecution had they continued to meet for worship, and their leaders would have been unable to register another religious organisation. Prosecutors argued that the Jehovah's Witnesses had violated the warning of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" they had received on 11 June 2015. This was because claimed community member Ivan Antufyev and leader Aleksandr Parygin had been fined under the Code of Administrative Offences Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") on 2 October 2015 and 22 January 2016 respectively. Judge Arkady Vershinin dismissed the use of Antufyev's conviction as grounds for liquidation, deciding that FSB security service investigators had failed to establish whether Antufyev had given a Jehovah's Witness book to another man before or after the warning was issued. Judge Vershinin also noted that there was no evidence that Antufyev was a member of the "Central" community. Parygin was prosecuted after law enforcement agents allegedly discovered banned "extremist" literature in his car on 16 December 2015, which Jehovah's Witnesses claimed was planted. Judge Vershinin noted that an individual's conviction was not evidence of an organisation's "extremist" activity, pointing out that the "Central" community had not itself been prosecuted for any "extremism"-related offences - either before or after receiving the formal warning. The Judge also accepted expert evidence presented in court, which showed that fingerprints on the literature allegedly found in Parygin's car did not belong to him. According to Federal Tax Service records, the community was dissolved at its own request on 17 January 2017. "Believers are free to carry out their activities in the region without an officially registered legal entity", the Jehovah's Witness press service told Forum 18 on 15 February. More community liquidations Cherkessk On 10 February 2017, the Supreme Court of Karachai-Cherkessia upheld Karachai-Cherkessia Prosecutor's request to have the Jehovah's Witness community of Cherkessk liquidated as an "extremist" organisation. Jehovah's Witnesses think the liquidation suit is an attempt to seize their property for commercial development (see F18News 28 August 2015 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). Police have subjected the Cherkessk community to raids and illegal searches, the claimed planting of banned "extremist" materials, prosecutions, searches of its members' homes, and claimed "beatings and severe psychological pressure" against one of its leaders (see F18News 28 August 2015 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). Prosecutors succeeded on 19 January 2016 in ensuring that they would be able to confiscate the Kingdom Hall and its territory, by claiming in court that the Cherkessk community had made an illegal "contract of donation" with the Jehovah's Witnesses of Mineralniye Vody. This contract allegedly passed the property to the other congregation in order to avoid potential seizure by the state. The City Court ruled that the Cherkessk community had no right to do this while a liquidation suit was pending. This decision was upheld by Karachai-Cherkessia Supreme Court on 13 April 2016. Legal proceedings were re-opened in January 2017 after nearly two years of delays and suspensions because of other civil and administrative cases involving the congregation. If the community now fails to have the liquidation order overturned, its land and building will be passed to the state. As in all other such cases known to Forum 18, prosecutors' request to have the Cherkessk community dissolved was based on the alleged "mass distribution" of banned "extremist" materials. The organisation itself and two of its members, Dmitry Metelin and Andrei Volovikov, were found guilty of this "offence" under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") on 17 March 2015 (see F18News 15 May 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2062. They subsequently failed to have their fines overturned on appeal (see F18News 28 August 2015 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). When Forum 18 telephoned on 14 February to ask how any liquidation would proceed and why the community was considered dangerous, a spokeswoman for the Republic Prosecutor's Office would not answer questions and said that all information could be found on their website. Kirovo-Chepetsk Prosecutors in the Kirov Region town of Kirovo-Chepetsk are also preparing a liquidation suit against the local Jehovah's Witness congregation, local news website chepetsk.ru reported on 26 January 2017. No suit yet appears to have been registered at Kirov Regional Court. On 16 February 2016 at Kirovo-Chepetsk City Court, the community's chairperson Roman Pinegin was fined 2,000 Roubles under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") for posting a link to the Jehovah's Witnesses main international website jw.org on the social network Odnoklassniki. This website is banned and blocked in Russia (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Pinegin's appeal on 7 April 2016 was unsuccessful. This was followed by a warning from the Kirov Regional Prosecutor's Office, which the community attempted to challenge at Kirovo-Chepetsk District Court. After Judge Yelena Aksyonova refused to recognise the warning as unlawful on 11 May 2016, Kirov Regional Court sent the case back for re-examination. But a second district court judge, Marina Alekseyeva refused to uphold the community's suit on 6 December 2016. Jehovah's Witnesses lodged a further appeal at the Regional Court on 6 February 2017, but no hearing date has yet been scheduled. On 8 December 2016, Jehovah's Witness O. Grinishina was fined 1,000 Roubles under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials"), for posting a link to the jw.org/ru website on her VKontakte social media profile. The court verdict, seen by Forum 18, claims that the link was "openly accessible to all users of this social network. Thus, Grinishina allowed the mass distribution of extremist materials". This is despite the jw.org site being blocked in Russia in all language versions (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Kirov Regional Court registered her appeal on 27 January 2017, but no hearing date has yet been set. Officials, including an FSB security service officer and two Prosecutor's Office investigators, raided the Kirovo-Chepetsk community in July 2010. They were apparently seeking to pressure and gain information about the community (see F18News 2 August 2010 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1473). A spokesman for Kirov Regional Prosecutor's Office explained that he could not give out information to a foreign organisation when Forum 18 telephoned on 14 February to ask about the progress of the liquidation suit, why it was being brought, and why the community was considered dangerous. When Forum 18 called Kirovo-Chepetsk City Prosecutor's Office on 15 February and asked about the case, the phone was immediately put down. Community liquidations Increasing numbers of local Jehovah's Witness organisations are being declared "extremist" and ordered to be dissolved (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). The latest liquidations are; Birobidzhan, on 3 October 2016, upheld on 9 February 2017; and Cherkessk, on 10 February 2017. No appeal has yet been submitted in the Cherkessk case. The Taganrog, Samara, Abinsk, Belgorod, Stariy Oskol, Elista, and Oryol communities all appear on the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations and have had their property taken over by the state. Jehovah's Witnesses have lodged three appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg relating to the dissolution of local religious organisations (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). In the case of their Moscow community, it took almost five years after an ECtHR order, until May 2015, to regain its status. The community was dissolved in 2004 when a judge stated it had engaged in "coercion [of members] into destroying the family, encouragement of the refusal of medical assistance, and incitement of citizens to refuse civic duties" (see Forum 18's general Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2246). Appeals in the cases of the Taganrog (Application No. 32401/10) and Samara (Application No. 15962/15) communities are still pending." Impact on communities When a registered religious organisation is liquidated, it loses its status as a legal entity and concomitant rights, such as the ability to own or rent property, employ staff, and hold a bank account. Although an unregistered community should legally be able to continue to operate as a religious group and meet privately for worship and study, this carries the risk of criminal charges if their organisation was liquidated on grounds of "extremism", as happened in Taganrog (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Obstacles also arise if a group of people meets together as an unregistered religious group, not as a religious organisation. Under July 2015 changes to the Religion Law, they must notify local Justice Ministry branches of their creation or continued existence at least every three years, and supply the names and addresses of their members and the addresses at which they hold services. This contravenes Russia's international freedom of religion and belief obligations. The Duma is currently considering a proposed Administrative Code offence to punish non-compliance with this requirement (see Forum 18's general Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2246). Further July 2016 changes to the Religion Law ban former members of "extremist" religious organisations carrying out broadly defined "missionary activity". People such as Jehovah's Witnesses who publicly share their beliefs are also liable to prosecution under Administrative Code Article 20.2 ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket") and Administrative Code Article 5.26 ("Conducting missionary activity"). Individual Jehovah's Witnesses no longer stand on the streets sharing their beliefs because of a March 2016 amendment to the Demonstrations Law. This requires notification to the authorities of a one-person picket if it makes use of "prefabricated collapsible structures" (see Forum 18's general Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2246). Taganrog Jehovah's Witnesses After an unsuccessful appeal at Rostov Regional Court in March 2016, 16 former members of the liquidated Jehovah's Witness community of Taganrog are appealing to the Supreme Court against their convictions under Criminal Articles 282.2, Part 1 or Part 2 ("Organisation of" or "participation in" "the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity"). The 16 were found guilty in November 2015 of continuing the activities of an "extremist" organisation by meeting to pray and read the Bible (see F18News 3 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2128. Charges were also brought against a further six Taganrog Jehovah's Witnesses under Article 282.2 in a separate case which began in 2011 (see F18News 28 March 2012 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1685). These charges were finally dropped on 14 December 2016, Jehovah's Witnesses stated on 12 January 2017. Investigators should now return the defendants' confiscated possessions, and two of their number - husband and wife pensioners Svetlana Chesnokova and Vladimir Chesnokov - should be removed from the Federal Financial Monitoring Service's (Rosfinmonitoring) "List of terrorists and extremists". This means that they will be able to access their bank accounts once more. Their names are still on the list as of 15 February, Forum 18 notes. The two pensioners were originally charged in October 2013 (see F18News 2 December 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1902). None of the 16 Jehovah's Witnesses convicted in November 2015 appears on the Rosfinmonitoring list. - Prosecutors office warnings yet to expire as of 14 February 2017 1.) Saransk, Mordovia Warning issued: 23 September 2016 Challenged: 16 January 2017, Lenin District Court, Saransk – unsuccessful Appeal: none yet submitted 2.) Novorossiisk, Krasnodar Region Warning issued: 1 August 2016 Challenged: 28 November 2016, October District Court, Novorossiisk – unsuccessful Appeal: registered at Krasnodar Regional Court, 6 February 2017 – no hearing date yet 3.) Kirov Warning issued: summer 2016 Challenged: 3 November 2016, October District Court, Kirov – rejected for jurisdictional reasons Appeal: 27 December 2016, Kirov Regional Court – upheld and sent again to October District Court; 8 February 2017, October District Court – unsuccessful again 4.) Novosibirsk, "Zarechnaya" Warning issued: before 30 May 2016 Challenged: 21 September 2016, Central District Court, Novosibirsk – unsuccessful Appeal: 29 November 2016, Novosibirsk Regional Court – unsuccessful 5.) Stavropol, "Central" Warning issued: 14 April 2016 Challenged: 29 September 2016, October District Court, Stavropol – unsuccessful Appeal: 6 December 2016, Stavropol Regional Court – unsuccessful 6.) Snezhnogorsk, Murmansk Region Warning issued: 17 March 2016 Challenged: 26 August 2016, Polyarny District Court, Murmansk Region - unsuccessful Appeal: 23 November 2016, Murmansk Regional Court – unsuccessful 7.) Voronezh, "Central" Warning issued: 11 March 2016 Challenged: 21 July 2016, Lenin District Court, Voronezh – unsuccessful Appeal: none 8.) Kirovo-Chepetsk, Kirov Region Warning issued: between 16 February and 18 April 2016 Challenged: 11 May 2016, Kirovo-Chepetsk District Court, Kirov Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 11 August 2016, Kirov Regional Court – sent back for re-examination; re-examined on 6 December 2016, Kirovo-Chepetsk District Court, unsuccessful; appeal registered at Kirov Regional Court on 6 February 2017 – no hearing date yet Liquidation suit now being prepared 9.) Kaluga (predosterezheniye) Warning issued: late February 2016 Challenged: unknown 10.) Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka Warning issued: 19 February 2016 (preduprezhdeniye); on or before 10 September 2015 (predosterezheniye) Challenged: unknown - Warnings which have led to liquidation in chronological order 1.) Taganrog Warning: 26 October (predosterezheniye) and 31 October (preduprezhdeniye) 2007 Challenged: no Liquidated: 11 September 2009, Rostov Regional Court; upheld by Supreme Court, 8 December 2009; multiple subsequent appeals unsuccessful 2.) Abinsk Warning issued: 20 February 2013 Challenged: no Liquidated: 4 March 2015, Krasnodar Regional Court – upheld by Supreme Court, 5 August 2015; further appeal to Supreme Court unsuccessful on 17 December 2015 3.) Samara Warning issued: 26 June 2013 Challenged: no Liquidated: 29 May 2014, Samara Regional Court – upheld by Supreme Court, 12 November 2014; further appeal to Supreme Court unsuccessful on 18 March 2015 and two more appeals returned without consideration, 29 May 2015 and 11 June 2015 4.) Cherkessk Warning issued: 30 June 2014 (community did not know about it until 18 March 2015) Challenged: 7 July 2015, Cherkessk City Court – unsuccessful Appeal: 23 September 2015, Supreme Court of Karachai-Cherkesiya – unsuccessful; appeal, 11 December 2015, Supreme Court of Karachai-Cherkesiya – unsuccessful Liquidated: 10 February 2017, Supreme Court of Karachai-Cherkesiya 5.) Stariy Oskol Warning issued: 24 December 2014 Challenged: 7 April 2015, Stariy Oskol City Court, Belgorod Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 30 July 2015, Belgorod Regional Court – unsuccessful Liquidated: 10 February 2016, Belgorod Regional Court – upheld by Supreme Court, 16 June 2016; further appeal to Supreme Court unsuccessful on 15 November 2016 6.) Belgorod Warning issued: 11 March 2015 Challenged: 22 July 2015, October District Court, Belgorod – unsuccessful Appeal: 12 November 2015, Belgorod Regional Court, unsuccessful; appeal, 20 April 2016, Belgorod Regional Court – unsuccessful; 12 July 2016, Supreme Court appeal – unsuccessful Liquidated: 11 February 2016, Belgorod Regional Court – upheld by Supreme Court, 9 June 2016; further appeal to Supreme Court unsuccessful on 29 December 2016 7.) Elista, Kalmyk Republic Warning issued: 6 July 2015 Challenged: no Liquidated: 25 February 2016, Supreme Court of the Kalmyk Republic – upheld by Supreme Court, 7 July 2016; further appeal to Supreme Court unsuccessful on 27 December 2016 8.) Birobidzhan Warning issued: summer 2015 Challenged: unknown date, Birobidzhan District Court – unsuccessful Appeal: unknown date, Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region – unsuccessful Liquidated: 3 October 2016, Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region – upheld by Supreme Court, 9 February 2017 9.) Oryol Warning issued: August 2015 Challenged: 25 December 2015, Soviet District Court, Oryol – unsuccessful Appeal: 17 March 2016, Oryol Regional Court, unsuccessful Liquidated: 14 June 2016, Oryol Regional Court – upheld by Supreme Court, 18 October 2016; further appeal to Supreme Court submitted on 27 January 2017 - Warnings which have expired, liquidations successfully challenged or overturned 1.) Salsk, Rostov Region Warning issued: 19 November 2007 (preduprezhdeniye); 4 November 2007 (predosterezheniye) Challenged: unknown 2.) Beslan, North Ossetia-Alaniya Warning issued: 19 March 2009 Challenged: unknown 3.) Mozdok, North Ossetia-Alaniya Warning issued: 20 March 2009 Challenged: unknown 4.) Arkhangelsk, "Central" Warning issued: 28 December 2009 Challenged: unknown 5.) Volgodonsk, Rostov Region Warning issued: 28 December 2009 Challenged: unknown 6.) Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Region Warning issued: 31 August 2010 Challenged: unknown 7.) Spassk-Dalniy, Primorye Warning issued: July 2012 Challenged: unknown 8.) Ussuriysk, Primorye Warning issued: 28 May 2014 Challenged: unknown 9.) Tyumen Warning issued: 29 July 2014 Challenged: unknown Appeal: unknown Liquidation ordered: 16 October 2015, Tyumen Regional Court; overturned by Supreme Court, 15 April 2016 10.) Tikhoretsk, Krasnodar Region Warning issued: 24 March 2015 Challenged: 13 July 2015, Tikhoretsk City Court, Krasnodar Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 24 September 2015, Krasnodar Regional Court, unsuccessful 11.) Arkhangelsk, "Central" Warning issued: 11 June 2015 Challenged: 30 October 2015, October District Court, Arkhangelsk – unsuccessful Appeal: 4 February 2016, Arkhangelsk Regional Court – unsuccessful Liquidation refused: 3 June 2016, Arkhangelsk Regional Court Community voluntarily dissolved 17 January 2017 12.) Tikhoretsk, Krasnodar Region Warning issued: 28 July 2015 Challenged: 17 December 2015, Tikhoretsk City Court, Krasnodar Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 24 May 2016, Krasnodar Regional Court – unsuccessful; appeal to Supreme Court, 18 January 2017 – unsuccessful 13.) Odintsovo District, Moscow Region (predosterezheniye) Warning issued: before 31 August 2015 Challenged: 13 October 2015, Odintsovo City Court – unsuccessful Appeal: 28 December 2015, Moscow Regional Court – unsuccessful; appeal, 30 June 2016 – unsuccessful 14.) Teykovo, Ivanovo Region Warning issued: 11 September 2015 Challenged: 11 February 2016, Teykovo District Court, Ivanovo Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 26 April 2016, Ivanovo Regional Court – unsuccessful 15.) Chapayevsk, Samara Region Warning issued: 2 October 2015 Challenged: 10 March 2016, Chapayevsk City Court, Samara Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 20 May 2016, Samara Regional Court – unsuccessful; appeal, 25 November 2016, Samara Regional Court – unsuccessful; appeal to Supreme Court submitted 30 January 2017 16.) Serov, Sverdlovsk Region Warning issued: 7 October 2015 Challenged: 15 February 2016, Serov District Court, Sverdlovsk Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 25 May 2016, Sverdlovsk Regional Court – unsuccessful; appeal submitted to Sverdlovsk Regional Court on 17 January 2017, no hearing date yet 17.) Shakhty, Rostov Region Warning issued: 8? December 2015 (unclear whether addressed to individual or community) Challenged: unknown 18.) Prokhladny, Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya Warning issued: 24 December 2015 Challenged: 26 February 2016, Prokhadny District Court, Kabardino-Balkariya – unsuccessful Appeal: 29 April 2016, Supreme Court of Kabardino-Balkariya, successful; appeal by prosecutor, 8 September 2016 – appeal ruling overturned and warning left in force; appeal to Supreme Court returned without consideration 10 January 2017 19.) Gelendzhik, Krasnodar Region Warning issued: before 8 February 2016 Challenged: 15 March 2016, October District Court, Krasnodar – unsuccessful Appeal: 26 July 2016, Krasnodar Regional Court, unsuccessful; appeal submitted 23 January 2017, Krasnodar Regional Court – no hearing date yet 20.) Polyarny, Murmansk Region Warning issued: 14 January 2016 Challenged: 15 April 2016, Polyarny District Court, Murmansk Region – unsuccessful Appeal: 29 June 2016, Murmansk Regional Court – unsuccessful (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2256
  12. By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 A car has been confiscated from a Protestant because he did not pay illegal fines for giving religious books away. The books were approved by the Religious Affairs Committee, which apparently changed its mind so as to fine the Pastor. Raids and fines continue. Bailiffs in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent in January confiscated a car from Seventh-day Adventist pastor Andrei Ten because he did not pay an August 2016 fine for giving religious books away. The books had originally been approved by the Religious Affairs Committee, which then apparently changed it mind so as to fine the Pastor. He was denied the chance to appeal against the fine, and an extra fine was imposed for not paying the first fine. The confiscated could be worth more than three times the value of the fines (see below). In Nukus, police are pressuring a local Protestant to sign a record officers want to dictate admitting to the "offence" of having religious literature in his home (see below). A total of 19 Jehovah's Witnesses across Uzbekistan are known to have been fined between August 2016 and January 2017 for possessing religious literature and other materials. In the same period, customs officers have confiscated religious books and electronic devices containing religious material from 17 Jehovah's Witnesses arriving in the country (see below). Severe state censorship Uzbekistan enforces strict censorship of all religious publications and all aspects of their distribution. The authorities also impose a de facto ban on religious literature of any belief in homes or in public places. If found such literature is frequently ordered to be destroyed. State pressure is so great that for their own safety some religious believers have destroyed their own sacred texts. The so-called "expert analyses" used to justify such freedom of religion and belief violations are often flawed, or even violate published law. The resulting court trials also often violate the rule of law (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1862). The harshest punishments for the possession of banned religious literature, including on electronic devices, are normally imposed on Muslims. For example, in late 2016 courts imprisoned two more foreign citizens – for five years and three years - for having Islamic sermons on their mobiles as they entered Uzbekistan. One was tortured. Three Tashkent Muslims were given suspended prison sentences, after the father of one was "severely tortured" (see F18News 19 December 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2241). Car confiscated for unpaid illegal fines In August 2016 police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police arrested four men riding in a taxi in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. They then confiscated copies of a religious book which the Religious Affairs Committee had in writing stated that, after "expert analysis", was allowed to be imported and distributed in Uzbekistan. One of the men, Pastor Andrei Ten of the registered Seventh-day Adventist Church, was summoned to a police station and asked to write a statement that he gave out copies of the book. He was only then shown a second "expert analysis" in which the Religious Affairs Committee contradicted itself banning the book. Pastor Ten was on 19 August fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage, the other three men being each fined five times the minimum monthly wage (see F18 News, 4 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2221). Denied chance to appeal Pastor Ten has not been given a copy of the 19 August 2016 decision fining him, so denying him a chance to appeal. Neither his 25 August complaint to Olmazor District Court and 28 December cassation appeal to Tashkent City Court were answered, Adventists who wish to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 1 February. Instead Judge Musa Yusupov sent the decision, which had not entered into force, for execution to bailiffs. Asked why the Judge did this, Aziz Rakhimov, Judge Yusupov's Assistant, on 9 February 2017 claimed that: "I myself gave a copy to Ten three days after the decision". He then declined to discuss the case further. On 18 January Ten received two letters. The first was a decision to exact the administrative fine imposed in August 2016. The second was a new 19 December 2016 decision imposing an extra fine of 10 times the minimum monthly wage, or 1,497,750 Soms, for failure to pay the first fine. The second fine was signed by Bailiff Imamjan Tuychiyev under the Code of Administrative Offences' Article 198-1 ("Failure by a debtor to obey executive orders"). On 19 January Bailiff Tuychiyev with five colleagues broke into the grounds of Ten's home. They waited for Ten, and when he returned home at 8 pm illegally confiscated his car. "Pastor Ten doesn't know where they took the car," Adventists stated. Bailiff Tuychiyev claimed to Forum 18 on 8 February that "we did everything according to the law". Told that Ten was not given a copy of the original court decision and so could not pay the first fine, and that his complaint and cassation appeals were ignored, Tuychiyev replied: "That's not our problem. You need to ask the court which ordered us to exact the fine." Told that the market value of Ten's car could be up 30 million Soms, several times the level of the fine, Bailiff Tuychiyev answered: "I am not a market specialist. When he pays the total sum of the fine he can get it back." Pressure to admit to "offence" Nine police officers, only one of whom was in uniform, broke into Bakhbergen Abdikarimov's flat in Nukus in the afternoon of 27 November 2016. The police did not have a search warrant, so both their breaking into his home and subsequent search were illegal. Police confiscated one Christian book, three CD and DVD discs - one of which contained a video of Abdikarimov's wedding - and one memory chip, local Protestants who wish to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 2 February. Police then took Abdikarimov to Nukus Police Station and questioned him for three hours. The unnamed officers demanded that he write a statement they would dictate, in which he would claim to be illegally storing Christian books in his home. Abdikarimov refused to do this and the police then released him. Since then Nukus Police have been "constantly making phone calls to summoning him to Nukus Police Station", Protestants stated. The police are still trying to force Abdikarimov to sign a police report incriminating himself for allegedly violating Administrative Code Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons"). Major Isak Soliyev of Nukus Police's Criminal Investigation Division refused to discuss the case on 9 February. He asked Forum 18 to call back in one hour, and when called claimed: "We don't know you, and we cannot talk to you over the phone". Fines follow literature, electronic device seizures Police raided and searched homes of 43 Jehovah's Witnesses across Uzbekistan for religious literature between August 2016 and January 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. This resulted in the confiscation of 43 publications and electronic devices and 19 Jehovah's Witnesses being fined. A recent example took place in Jizakh Region. Judge Sherzod Peshmirzayev of Jizakh City Criminal Court fined 23-year old Muborak Abdurakhmanova on 22 December 2016 for reading Jehovah's Witness literature. The Judge fined her 20 times the minimum monthly wage or 2,995,500 Soms under Administrative Code Article 184-2, the Court's Chancellery told Forum 18 on 9 February. Jizakh Regional Administration's official website on 27 January published an article titled "Regret of a woman of thoughtless actions." It instructs readers that "one must not act based on one's impulses but on science and a world view", before adding that: "Wilfulness and thoughtless actions can bring any person like Abdurakhmanova into the court room." The article claims that Abdurakhmanova admitted in Court that she "became interested in Jehovah's Witnesses, and recorded on her mobile phone video-films made by the followers of this sect. She also made notes in her notebook on various religious topics." Abdurakhmanova "studied the Bible, listened to sermons by Jehovah's Witnesses and sang religious songs for one year", the article said. She "illegally kept" the religious materials in her phone until 18 November 2016, when police confiscated it from her. A Jizakh Criminal Court Chancellery official (who would not give his name) refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. Calls to Judge Peshmirzayev went unanswered on 9 February. Uzbekistan frequently raids, arrests, fines, and jails people exercising freedom of religion and belief who possess religious literature. For example, two Protestant five-day prisoners of conscience were ordered in November 2016 to pay 15 per cent each of a month's minimum salary as "compensation" for state prison costs (see F18News 1 December 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2235). Customs seize religious literature Between August 2016 and January 2017, Uzbek customs officers confiscated religious literature and electronic devices from 17 Jehovah's Witnesses entering the country. Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 on 8 February that "in 2006 the Religious Affairs Committee forbade the import of any Jehovah's Witness publications after a shipment of Bibles were confiscated by customs officers (see F18News 24 October 2007 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1039). Asked why the Religious Affairs Committee bans the import of such religious texts, and why customs officers keep confiscating religious literature from people, Begzod Kadyrov, Committee Chief Expert, replied: "Come to our office". He then put the phone down. (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2255
  13. Kazakhstan has detained Kuanysh Bashpayev for criticising the state-controlled Muslim Board, and Satimzhan Azatov for meeting Muslims without state permission. Both face criminal charges of "inciting religious hatred or discord", as does atheist Aleksandr Kharlamov facing a possible new trial. Bashpayev's trial opens 14 February. Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) secret police has arrested two Muslims for exercising freedom of religion and belief without state permission. Kuanysh Bashpayev (30-years-old) criticised the state-controlled Muslim Board and was arrested in Pavlodar in October 2016. Satimzhan Azatov (27-years-old) met with other Muslims without state permission in the capital Astana, and was arrested in early January 2017. The KNB secret police has also arrested some of Bashpayev's former classmates from Medina University in Saudi Arabia, though their names are unknown, Muslims in Kazakhstan told Forum 18 on 31 January. Bashpayev has a Master's degree in Islamic theology from Medina. Bashpayev's trial is due to begin at 10 am on Tuesday 14 February at Pavlodar City Criminal Court No. 2 under court chair Judge Kayirbek Yelemesov, a court official told Forum 18 on 6 February. Bashpayev faces up to seven years' imprisonment if convicted under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Inciting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). The KNB is still investigating Azatov under Criminal Code Article 174. In November 2016 he was fined under the Code of Administrative Offences for "unlawful" missionary activity. Two other Muslims, Nariman Seytzhanov and Bakhtiyorkhon Soliyev, were at that time fined along with Azatov for the same "offence". Soliyev, a Tajik citizen, was also ordered to be deported (see below). The KNB secret police in Astana also arrested and put into two months pre-trial detention Jehovah's Witnesses Teymur Akhmedov and Asaf Guliyev, although Akhmedov needs hospitalisation for cancer treatment. Judge Akmaral Isayeva, who also approved Azatov's pretrial detention, claimed this was to defend a "civilised society" (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). New trial for atheist? As well as the Bashpayev case, Judge Yelemesov has also been involved in the then Article 164 (equivalent of Article 174 of the current Criminal Code) case against atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov (see F18News 4 September 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1871), including refusing to release him from a psychiatric hospital (see F18News 22 August 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1871). One doctor told Kharlamov that he had been sent to the psychiatric hospital "because you are an inconvenient person for the authorities" (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939). Officers searched Kharlamov's home in Ridder, East Kazakhstan Region, on 2 February 2017 as they appear to be preparing to bring him to trial again (see forthcoming F18News article). Criminal charges The KNB secret police lodged charges against both Bashpayev and Azatov of allegedly "inciting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord" under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1, prosecution and court officials told Forum 18. This Article punishes: "Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord, insult to the national honour and dignity or religious feelings of citizens, as well as propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens on grounds of their religion, class, national, generic or racial identity, committed publicly or with the use of mass media or information and communication networks, as well as by production or distribution of literature or other information media, promoting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord". Article 174, Part 1, which Bashpayev and Azatov are charged under, punishes these actions committed by individuals. If convicted, they face two to seven years imprisonment, or two to seven years restricted freedom. Typically, during sentences of restricted freedom individuals live at home, but are not able to leave their town or city without seeking permission. They are often also banned from visiting restaurants, cafes or places of public entertainment. Kazakh human rights defenders, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, and the UN Human Rights Committee have repeatedly criticised this and other broadly defined Criminal Code articles (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). If convicted, Bashpayev and Azatov are likely to be added to the Finance Ministry Financial Monitoring Committee List of individuals "connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism". All known prisoners of conscience convicted under Article 174 have been added to this List, thus freezing any bank accounts they may have, without any additional due legal process. As individuals are not told when they are added to the List, they normally only find out they have been added when they or relatives attempt to withdraw money from their bank (see F18News 10 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2187). Ten alleged members of the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement were added to the List between 17 and 31 January 2017, according to the Financial Monitoring Committee website. One, Kublandy Isatayev, was sentenced in Aktobe in October 2016 to one year's imprisonment. The other nine, led by Baurzhan Beisembai, were sentenced at a group trial in Oskemen in October 2016. Seven of these were given prison terms of between one and two and a half years. The other two each received one year's "restricted freedom" punishments (see F18News 20 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2223). Article attacks Bashpayev On 7 January 2014, Almaty Central Mosque's website published an article commenting on a public debate involving local Salafi Muslim Oktam Zaurbekov. The debate was widely covered at the time in the local media. The article claims that Salafi Muslims - including Zaurbekov and Bashpayev - have "incited religious intolerance" by calling on Muslims not to follow the Hanafi school of Islam, which is the only form of Islam permitted in Kazakhstan (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939). "They [Salafis] laugh at the official Imams and Muslim Board by portraying them as heretics, which is a provocation. Their call not to follow the Hanafi school established in Kazakhstan by calling it the plague of sectarianism is a provocation. They criticise Abu Hanifa [founder of the Hanafi school] and other great scholars of Islam, which is a provocation." The article claims that Salafi Muslims are "sly", giving public support to Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev while opposing the Muslim Board. "It is a contradiction. Submission to the ruler means submission to his authorised representatives. In the religious sphere this authority was given to the Muslim Board." The article refers to a 19 February 2013 statement of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, stating that "our President clearly demonstrated his position on the Muslim Board: the only officially recognised organisation of Islam in our country is the Muslim Board. The recently adopted Religion Law recognises the place and role of the Hanafi school in the spiritual life of the people. The President", the article continues, "personally asked the Muslim Board to make religious-legal rulings (fatwas) on urgent issues. This indicates the necessity of submission to the Muslim Board." Even before the Religion Law was adopted, officials were insisting that all mosques independent of the state-backed Muslim Board must be closed. All Islamic literature that is not Sunni Hanafi is banned by the stringent state censorship. All mosques must have their imams appointed by the Muslim Board, and these imams must only read out sermons at Friday prayers which have been provided to them by the Board. All mosques must also give the Board 30 per cent of their income. Independent mosques strongly objected to these state-imposed restrictions (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939). The article also claims that "they [Salafis] go on not submitting to the [official] imams of mosques, and continue their activity in discrediting the Hanafi school. This in itself is a road to extremism and undermines the security of our country. Instead of supporting President and uniting around the Muslim Board, they undermine its authority." Bashpayev's arrest Pavlodar Regional KNB secret police arrested Bashpayev on 13 October 2016. He has been held since then in Pavlodar City Police Investigation Prison. Colonel Bekezhan Kalkomanov of Pavlodar KNB claimed to Forum 18 that Bashpayev had "insulted the religious feelings of Kazakhstan's traditional Muslims". He "said on the internet that it is not right for Kazakh Muslims to visit graves and pray for their deceased relatives, which he thinks is idolatry", the Colonel told Forum 18 on 31 January. Bashpayev "also spoke against the official representatives of Islam in Kazakhstan, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan [the Muslim Board], by which he tried to sow discord among the Muslims", Colonel Kalkomanov claimed. In video and audio recordings of some of his sermons posted online, Bashpayev sometimes criticised the views of the Muslim Board. In the recordings Forum 18 listened to, there were no calls for the human rights of other people to be violated. Bashpayev's fellow Muslims described him to Forum 18 as "a peaceful believer who prayed for Kazakhstan and its leaders". They added: "His only guilt is to have explained the Koran's teachings on the internet and in private discussion with other Muslim believers." Asked whether it is right to punish an individual for having a different view of Islam from that of the Muslim Board, KNB Colonel Kalkomanov replied: "This is not like the times in Kazakhstan immediately after the Soviet Union, when crowds would dictate their views. We are governed by laws and not subject to the views of crowds." Colonel Kalkomanov then added that "if the Court sees mitigating circumstances in his life or actions, maybe they will give a suspended prison sentence." Baurzhan Myrzakerov, Deputy Chief Prosecutor of Pavlodar Region, refused to say what Bashpayev allegedly did, apart from stating on 31 January "he is accused of inciting religious hatred". Azatov's first trial Meanwhile, in Astana, on 26 September 2016 an anonymous informer told the city's Anti-Extremism Police about an earlier meeting in a cafe, according to the subsequent court decision. "Azatov, together with between 40 and 50 Salafi Muslims, held an unauthorised religious discussion on 24 September from 4 pm to 7 pm." Along with Azatov, Nariman Seytzhanov and Bakhtiyorkhon Soliyev "conducted unauthorised missionary activity and propagated their radical religious ideas and beliefs." Azatov allegedly told the participants that "one needs to fear Allah and become a Muslim before one dies". Prosecutors brought cases against all three men under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3. This bans: "Carrying out missionary activity without state registration (or re-registration), as well as the use by missionaries of religious literature, information materials with religious content or religious items without a positive assessment from a religious studies expert analysis, and spreading the teachings of a religious group which is not registered in Kazakhstan". The punishment is a fine of 100 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs), with deportation if the individual is a foreign citizen. Missionary activity can only be carried out by a state-approved person, from a state-approved religious community, who uses state-approved religious materials, in a place approved by the state (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939). On 1 November 2016 Judge Kuralai Arkhabayeva of Astana's Specialised Inter-District Administrative Court fined Azatov the prescribed 100 MFIs or 212,100 Tenge under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3. Anti-Extremism Police Officer Damir Baybazarov, who led the case, refused to discuss it with Forum 18 on 1 February. Judge Arkhabayeva defended her decision. "He was involved in missionary activity without state permission", she told Forum 18 on 1 February. Asked why she gave such a large fine to Azatov for exercising his freedom of religion and belief, she replied "he had a lawyer". Judge Arkhabayeva also fined Seytzhanov the same fine as Azatov in a separate hearing on 1 November 2016. He was fined 100 MFIs or 212,100 Tenge under Article 490, Part 3. Judge Kanat Imanaliyev of Specialised Inter-District Administrative Court imposed the same fine on Soliyev as Azatov and Seytzhanov on 21 October 2016. He also ordered him to be deported within five days, but Soliyev had already left Kazakhstan on 7 October. On 23 November 2016 Judge Madeniyet Omarbekova of Astana City Court upheld the fine on Seytzhanov. In separate hearings the following day, Judge Kazima Aytkaliyeva of Astana City Court rejected the appeals of Azatov and Soliyev and upheld the fines. Soliyev's deportation entered into force on the same day, the court decision notes. KNB secret police arrest Azatov Astana KNB opened the criminal case against Azatov in late December 2016. Officers arrested Azatov in Astana in early January 2017. Anti-Extremism Police officer Baybazarov, who led the earlier case against Azatov, told Forum 18 on 1 February that Astana KNB secret police opened the criminal case against Azatov. "The Anti-Extremism Police has nothing to do with it", he claimed. Lieutenant Colonel Daniyar Tajigulov, Deputy Chief of Astana KNB's Investigations Division refused to discuss the case. "I do not know you and we will not discuss it with you over the phone," he told Forum 18 on 1 February. He then put the phone down. On 6 January Judge Akmaral Isayeva of Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2 agreed to the KNB request to have Azatov held in pre-trial detention. Adilet (who refused to give his last name), Judge Isayeva's assistant, would give no further details of the case on 1 February and refused to put Forum 18 through to the Judge. Judge Isayeva on 20 January similarly approved two month detention for Jehovah's Witnesses Teymur Akhmedov and Asaf Guliyev, although Akhmedov needs hospitalisation for cancer treatment. Judge Isayeva claimed the detention was to defend a "civilised society" (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). The two Jehovah's Witnesses similarly face prosecution under Criminal Code Article 174 ("Inciting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). Astana KNB is also leading the case against them (see F18News 2 February 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252). (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2253
  14. The Prosecutor’s Office in Kirovo-Chepetsk (northeastern European Russia) is getting ready to ban the activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs), a religious group with many followers in the world, and about 400 branches in Russia. “Work that was conducted in the past year jointly with the FSB* and the Prosecutor's Office has permitted us to identify the leaders and active participants of the organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses who engaged in distribution of forbidden extremist literature,” Police chief Oleg Luchinin said. In August, police raided two branches of Jehovah's Witnesses in Karelia, beating up people found with “extremist” literature. Russia’s law against religious extremism has created problems and allowed violent crackdowns against people for professing their faith. In 2009, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld a ruling by a court in Rostov to dissolve and ban the Witnesses in Taganrog, Neklinov and Matveeva Kurgan because of their extremism. According to police, Pinegin Roman, head of the group’s branch in the city of Kirovo-Chepetsk, posted a link on his Odonklassniki* page to an entity considered extremist between 2013 and 2014. The link remained online between 20 and 30 December 2015. Police also said that religious literature with negative statements against traditional Christianity was distributed at Witnesses’ religious gatherings. According to some witnesses, Roman Pinegin was responsible for the distribution of destructive religious propaganda fuelling hostility towards traditional religions and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church. On 16 February 2016, the Kirovo-Chepetsk District Court found Roman Pinegin guilty of "production and distribution of extremist material" and was fined 2,000 rubles (US$ 33.5). In some regions of Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced brutal repressionfrom the federal government for years. The reason for this lies with their objection to military service on religious ground and their refusal to accept blood donations. For Russian authorities, this is dangerous and the reason for its harsh reactions. http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/2017/02/kirov-district-ready-to-ban-jehovahs.html
  15. Kazakhstan's KNB secret police has arrested two Jehovah's Witnesses for discussing their faith with KNB informers. Teymur Akhmedov and Asaf Guliyev are in two months' pre-trial detention, although Akhmedov needs hospitalisation for cancer treatment. The Judge claimed this was to defend a "civilised society". On 18 January Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) secret police arrested two Jehovah's Witnesses in the capital Astana, for discussing their faith with young people recruited as KNB informers. A court ordered Teymur Akhmedov and Asaf Guliyev to be held in pre-trial detention for two months, although Akhmedov is suffering from cancer and needs hospitalisation. The Jehovah's Witnesses appear, as in other cases involving Muslim and Protestant prisoners of conscience, to have been set up for prosecution by the KNB using informers it recruited. These informers invited the Witnesses to meetings the KNB recorded (see below). Judge Akmaral Isayeva claimed that the Jehovah's Witnesses' "crime presents a danger to the public in that it violates a fundamental constitutional principle, the principle of equality". She goes on to claim that "observance of this principle is one of most important conditions for the existence and development of any civilised society" (see below). The Judge was presented with a report from the National Scientific Center for Oncology and Transplantation (the national cancer centre) which "recommends an operation and requests that Akhmedov undergo an examination before being hospitalised". His lawyer argued that he should therefore held in house arrest to enable treatment. But the Judge refused this, claiming that the "report is a recommendation". The Judge has been repeatedly unavailable for questions, so Forum 18 has been unable to ask her how her decision demonstrated that Kazakhstan was a "civilised society" (see below). At least two Muslims, Kuanysh Bashpayev from Pavlodar and Satimzhan Azatov from Astana, are also in pre-trial detention facing similar accusations (see forthcoming F18News article). Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov has tried to appeal against his imprisonment to the Supreme Court, but this has been refused. Fellow-Christians state that "Yklas conveys his greetings to all who are praying for him .. these letters are a great support to him" (see below). Criminal charges All four men are facing charges under Criminal Code Article 174 ("Incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord, insult to the national honour and dignity or religious feelings of citizens, as well as propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens on grounds of their religion, class, national, generic or racial identity, committed publicly or with the use of mass media or information and communication networks, as well as by production or distribution of literature or other information media, promoting social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord"). Part 2, which the two Jehovah's Witnesses Akhmedov and Guliyev are charged 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". Part 1, which the two Muslims Bashpayev and Azatov are charged under, punishes these actions committed by individuals. If convicted, they face two to seven years imprisonment, or two to seven years restricted freedom. Typically, during sentences of restricted freedom individuals live at home, but are not able to leave their town or city without seeking permission. They are often also banned from visiting restaurants, cafes or places of public entertainment. If convicted, the Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses are likely to be added to the Finance Ministry Financial Monitoring Committee List of individuals "connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism". All known prisoners of conscience convicted under Article 174 have been added to this List, thus freezing any bank accounts they may have, without any additional due legal process. As the government does not state who is on the List, people normally find out they have been added when they or relatives attempt to withdraw money from their account (see F18News 10 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2187). Human rights defenders' criticise Article 174 Article 174 has been strongly criticised by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai. He stated that Articles such as this "pose serious risks of criminalizing and penalizing legitimate activities of associations". "The Code does not strictly define what is meant by ‘incitement of discord', which may leave the term open for arbitrary interpretation," he warned in his 16 June 2015 report following his January visit to Kazakhstan (A/HRC/29/25/Add.2) (see F18News 9 November 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2119). During the visit he noted stated intimidation of those he met and commented on officials' "general unwillingness to properly protect human rights" (see F18News 25 February 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2043). Kazakh human rights defenders have repeatedly called for Criminal Code Article 174 to be reworded or abolished. "We have more than once criticised it [Article 174] because it does not contain a precise and clear formulation of what constitutes social, national or other hatred," Yevgeny Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law told a press conference in Almaty in January 2016. Twelve Kazakh human rights organisations, including Adil Soz and the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, strongly criticised the government's human rights record to the UN Human Rights Committee (see F18News 8 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2186). In June 2016 the Human Rights Committee expressed concern about "the broad formulation of the concepts of ‘extremism', ‘inciting social or class hatred' and ‘religious hatred or enmity' under the State party‘s criminal legislation and the use of such legislation on extremism to unduly restrict freedoms of religion, expression, assembly and association (see F18News 22 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2201). Informers, secret surveillance The two Jehovah's Witnesses are 60-year old Teymur Akhmedov and 43-year old Asaf Guliyev. Teymur Sultan ogly Akhmedov (born 7 May 1956) is married with three sons, and suffers from cancer (see below). Asaf Gadzhiaga ogly Guliyev (born 4 October 1973), who is also married, is a citizen of Azerbaijan but long resident in Kazakhstan. In the indictment of the two Jehovah's Witnesses, seen by Forum 18, Major Medet Duskaziyev of Astana KNB secret police gives short accounts of what he claims were conversations Akhmedov and Guliyev had about their faith with others in 2016. The conversations were in private homes of city residents, and Major Duskaziyev claims that the two men "spoke negatively about representatives of the religions of Islam and Orthodoxy" and "advocated the exclusivity and superiority of one religion over another". In Major Duskaziyev's view this constituted violations of Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2. "Akhmedov committed a grave crime against public order and security," he claimed. Jehovah's Witnesses described Akhmedov and Guliyev as "victims of a fabricated case." They told Forum 18 on 31 January that the two men were invited to the rented flats of several adult males, who claimed to be university students interested in the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses. Akhmedov and Guliyev met the young men for discussions on various dates in 2016. "Unbeknown to Akhmedov and Guliyev the ‘students' covertly recorded the discussions using a high quality video camera," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. All the approximately 16 religious discussions "were secretly video recorded". During those discussions, the "students" asked Akhmedov and Guliyev "provocative questions about Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church". Jehovah's Witnesses insist that despite Major Duskaziyev's claims, their discussions "were entirely peaceful". Asked about the case on 27 January, Astana KNB told Forum 18 that Major Duskaziyev was "not available," and referred it his superior, Lieutenant Colonel Daniyar Tajigulov, Deputy Head of the Investigations Division. Asked why the KNB was doing this, he replied "I cannot discuss this with you over the phone." "Operational/investigative measures" The government seems to often use the KNB secret police to set people up to exercise their internationally recognised right to freedom of religion and belief, and then jail them for exercising their freedom. The KNB is routinely in the lead in such prosecutions, describing the spies and informers it uses as carrying out "operational/investigative measures". The KNB-led investigations and prosecutions rely on the regime having banned many aspects of the right to freedom of religion and belief. This includes banning exercising this freedom by people without state permission, banning sharing beliefs without state permission, and banning religious publications that have not passed state censorship (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939). Seventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov was in December 2015 sentenced to two years in a labour camp, for discussing his faith with students recruited by the KNB secret police in a KNB-rented flat (see F18News 29 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2136). In June 2016 Muslim Rustam Musayev was imprisoned for two years in a labour camp for talking to possible KNB officers about his Islamic faith. The KNB recorded the discussions and they may have set up the meetings (see F18News 10 November 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2229). Both were, like the two Jehovah's Witnesses currently in pre-trial detention, charged under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1. Forum 18 spoke to one KNB spy, Sanat Aktenberdy, used to infiltrate and find evidence to jail members of the Tabligh Jamaat Islamic missionary movement. He refused to explain to Forum 18 what if any wrongdoing he might have found, or what exactly the alleged "extremist activity" of the movement is (see F18News 22 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2170). Alleged members of Tabligh Jammat continue to be jailed with the KNB being in the lead of prosecutions. Two - Saken Tulbayev and Khalambakhi Khalym - were convicted and imprisoned under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1. Like the other 44 alleged members of Tabligh Jamaat prosecuted since December 2014, they were also sentenced under Criminal Code Article 405. This punishes involvement in a "banned movement" (see F18News 9 January 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2245). Warning letters On 14 January Almazbek Mambetov, of Astana Administration's Religious Affairs Department, sent Akhmedov and Guliyev warning letters. The texts, seen by Forum 18, are identical and state that the Religious Affairs Department "warns you of the following in connection with a complaint (..) received from citizen of the Republic of Kazakhstan A. A. Rakhymzhanov, born 10 November 1997." According to Rakhymzhanov's alleged complaint, the Jehovah's Witnesses "tried to persuade him that it was the only true religion" and "coerced him to adopt their faith." "It is prohibited for religious associations to forcibly involve citizens of Kazakhstan, foreigners and stateless persons in their activity," Mambetov states. He stresses that prior official permission is required for "missionary" activity (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939). In conclusion he warns them to "obey the Laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan in relation to religion". Arrest, pre-trial detention KNB secret police officers arrested Akhmedov and Guliyev in Astana on 18 January. On 19 January the KNB charged the two men under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2 and Major Duskaziyev requested that they be held in two months' pre-trial detention. On 20 January Judge Akmaral Isayeva of Saryarka District Court No. 2, in separate hearings for the two men approved this. "Danger to the public", "civilised society"? Judge Isayeva in her decision argues that Akhmedov is "suspected of committing a grave criminal offence". She claims that "this crime presents a danger to the public in that it violates a fundamental constitutional principle, the principle of equality". She goes on to claim that "observance of this principle is one of most important conditions for the existence and development of any civilised society." The Judge added that the "object against which the crime was committed is the principle of international law and the constitutional principle that the incitement of of social, national, clan, racial, or religious hatred or discord must not be allowed." Jehovah's Witnesses state that in court they raised the freedoms enshrined in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which Kazakhstan has a solemn international obligation to implement, and the UN Human Rights Committee's criticisms. But these points were ignored. Detaining not hospitalising a cancer sufferer Judge Isayeva notes in her decision that Akhmedov's lawyer "made a motion for preventive measures in the form of house arrest to be imposed because her client suffers from cancer." A report from the National Scientific Center for Oncology and Transplantation (the national cancer centre) was submitted to the court, which "recommends an operation and requests that Akhmedov undergo an examination before being hospitalised." Judge Isayeva argues that the "report is a recommendation," but that the "defence did not submit any documents proving that it was impossible for the suspect to be in detention due to his illness." Therefore, the "court denies the defence lawyer's motion to impose preventive measures in the form of house arrest." The Judge further argues that "considering that Akhmedov is suspected of committing a grave criminal offence (..), the court has grounds to believe that if he is left at large, he could hide from the pre-trial investigation agency and the court, obstruct an objective investigation of the case, and continue to engage in criminal activity. Therefore the court finds no grounds for denying the investigator's motion and imposes preventive measures on Akhmedov in the form of detention." Between 25 and 27 January Saryarka District Court No. 2 officials, including Judge Isayeva, were repeatedly claimed to be "busy" and not available to answer questions. So Forum 18 was unable to ask Judge Isayeva to explain how putting two men entrapped by the KNB into detention, one of whom has cancer and a medical recommendation for hospitalisation, demonstrated that Kazakhstan was a "civilised society". What "grave crime against public order and security"? Kanat Tileuzhan of Saryarka District Prosecutor's Office, who is leading the prosecution in the case, told Forum 18 on 26 January that the initiative to put prisoners of conscience Akhmedov and Guliyev in custody was "not my own decision but our whole leadership supported it." Told that Jehovah's Witnesses think that that the case is fabricated by the KNB, and asked what exactly the alleged "grave crime against public order and security" was, Prosecutor Tileuzhan replied: "I am not competent to talk to you over the phone." On 30 January, Judge Eleonora Ungarsynova of the Judicial Chamber for Criminal Cases of the Astana City Court in separate hearings rejected Akhmedov and Guliyev's appeal against the pre-trial detention (see below). Held at Astana Investigation Prison Prisoners of conscience Akhmedov and Guliyev are being held in Astana's Investigation Prison No. 12. Major Majidov (who would not give his first name) of the prison claimed to Forum 18 on 24 that "they are doing fine." "They have food and all they need." Asked whether they can read their Bibles and pray, Majidov did not answer. "I cannot discuss this over the phone," he told Forum 18. He then declined to talk further, asking for any questions to be sent in writing. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules, A/C.3/70/L.3), which require governments to respect the freedom of religion or belief and other human rights of prisoners. Muslim prisoners of conscience have stated that their human rights are violated in prison, including by being banned from reading the Koran and other religious books (see eg. F18News 9 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2156). Akhmedov and Guliyev's prison address is: 010000 Astana Alash Tas Zhol street 30/1 SI-12 (ETs 166/1) Kazakhstan Supreme Court refuses to hear challenge Adventist prisoner of conscience Kabduakasov tried to appeal against his imprisonment to the Supreme Court in Astana. However, in November 2016 the Supreme Court refused to accept the appeal. The Court "did not give any explanation for its decision to the lawyer," Kabduakasov's fellow-Christians told Forum 18 on 23 January. He was in December 2015 sentenced to two years in a labour camp, for discussing his faith with students recruited by the KNB secret police in a KNB-rented flat (see F18News 29 December 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2136). Prisoner of conscience Kabduakasov is serving his two-year prison sentence in the northern city of Pavlodar. "Nothing has changed with Yklas yet," fellow-Christians stated. "He was refused the right to be released on parole." They added that "Yklas conveys his greetings to all who are praying for him. He said that he receives up to 150 letters from around the world every day, and that these letters are a great support to him." His prison address is: 140000 g. Pavlodar Severnaya promyshlennaya zona Uchr. AP-162/3, 4 otryad Kabduakasovu Yklasu Kairullinovichu Kazakhstan Muslim prisoner of conscience Tulbayev is also in the same prison. On 2 July 2015 he was sentenced to four years eight months' imprisonment. He was also banned from exercising freedom of religion or belief, including praying with others and reading the Koran, until the end of 2022 three years after his release (see F18News 8 July 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2078). His prison address is: 140000 g. Pavlodar Severnaya promyshlennaya zona Uchr. AP-162/3 Tulbayevu Sakenu Peisenovichu Kazakhstan (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2252
  16. President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, shedding blood of Jehovah's Witnesses ERITREA – The hands of President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea are filled with the blood of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have died for inhuman treatment under incarceration for daring to serve God. Under President Isaias Afwerki, at least 5 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses have died. They were arrested for unknown reason and kept in detention under condition only good enough to fall sick and die. Misghina Gebretinsae and Yohannes Haile died in the Meitir prison, while Kahssay Mekonnen and Goitom Gebrekristos and Tsehaye Tesfamariam died after they were released. “Tsehaye Tesfamariam died in Asmara on November 30, 2016. He was released from prison on September 10, 2015, because he was critically ill and did not receive proper medical care and treatment during his incarceration. “On October 5, 2011, Mr. Tesfamariam and 24 other male Witnesses imprisoned at the Meitir Camp were placed in a half-buried metal building for special punishment until August 2012. “After enduring through the intense summer heat with inadequate food and insufficient water, the health of several of them became critical ”, the JW.org said. He was born in 1941 in Nefasit, Eritrea, and is survived by his wife, Hagosa Kebreab, whom he married in 1973. They had four daughters and three sons. He was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1958. http://starconnectmedia.com/2017/02/01/how-eritrean-authority-killed-incarcerated-jehovahs-witnesses/
  17. By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 Prosecutors state Yevgeny Kim faces up to 10 years' imprisonment for studying a Muslim theologian's works with friends. His criminal trial began in Blagoveshchensk on 25 January after a year in prison. Two Jehovah's Witness elders face "inciting religious hatred" criminal charges in Moscow Region. Thirteen months after his December 2015 arrest by the FSB security service, the trial of 42-year-old Muslim Yevgeny Kim began yesterday (25 January) in Blagoveshchensk in the Far Eastern Amur Region, Forum 18 has learned. Kim is charged with "extremism" offences for meeting with others to study the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi. The trial is due to resume on 7 February. Amur Regional Prosecutor's Office said in November 2016 that Kim faces up to 10 years' imprisonment. Kim is among 11 Muslims (all of them men) being prosecuted for meeting to study Nursi's works in four separate cases across Russia. Another case is expected to reach court in the next few months in Novosibirsk, while the FSB security service is still investigating cases in Makhachkala and Krasnoyarsk. Three of the defendants, including Kim, remain in pre-trial detention, while another six are under travel restrictions (see forthcoming F18News article). On 8 December 2016, Forum 18 wrote to all the regional FSB branches responsible for these prosecutions, asking how long those in detention were likely to remain there and when exactly court proceedings would begin. Forum 18 received no reply by 26 January 2017. Meanwhile, Jehovah's Witnesses are again facing criminal charges under "anti-extremism" legislation for exercising their right to freedom of religion and belief. Vyacheslav Stepanov and Andrei Sivak, both community elders in Moscow Region, are undergoing a re-trial for alleged incitement of religious hatred, of which they were initially fully acquitted in March 2016 (see below). Kim, Stepanov, Sivak and most of the other Muslims under investigation have had their assets frozen as alleged "terrorists and extremists", even though they have not been convicted of any crime (see below). Nursi cases All four ongoing prosecutions of Muslims who study Nursi's works have arisen from circumstances similar to those of previous cases: people who have met to read and discuss Nursi's books are accused of creating "cells" of the banned "extremist" organisation "Nurdzhular", which Muslims in Russia deny exists. Prosecutors then bring charges under Criminal Code Article 282.2, either under Part 1 ("Organisation of the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity") or Part 2 ("Participation in the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity") (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). The 11 accused Muslims are being prosecuted under the pre-July 2016 version of Criminal Code Article 282.2. If convicted under Part 1, courts could hand down fines of 300,000 to 500,000 Roubles, compulsory labour of up to five years or prison sentences of up to six years. If convicted under Part 2, courts could hand down fines of up to 300,000 Roubles, compulsory labour of up to three years, or prison sentences of up to four years. Each 100,000 Roubles is the equivalent of 14,000 Norwegian Kroner, 1,550 Euros, or 1,650 US Dollars. Increased penalties So-called Yarovaya "anti-terrorism" legal changes came into force on 20 July 2016 (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). They increased the then-existing Article 282.2 penalties to: Part 1 ("organisation") – a fine of 400,000 to 800,000 Roubles; or 2 to 4 years' income; or 6 to 10 years' imprisonment with a ban on working in one's profession of up to 10 years and restrictions on freedom for 1 to 2 years; Part 2 ("participation") – a fine of 300,000 to 600,000 Roubles; or 2 to 3 years' income; or compulsory labour for 1 to 4 years with a ban on working in one's profession for up to 3 years or with restrictions on freedom for up to 1 year; or 2 to 6 years' imprisonment with a ban on working in one's profession for up to 5 years or with restrictions on freedom for up to 1 year. No prosecutions under these amended terms are known to have begun between 20 July 2016 and late January 2017. Financial penalties even if not convicted Officials have placed both Jehovah's Witness defendants and nine of the 11 Muslims currently being prosecuted on the list of "terrorists and extremists" maintained by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring). Banks are thereby obliged to freeze their assets. From 30 January 2014 the law has been relaxed to allow small transactions not exceeding 10,000 Roubles per month. (For a detailed description of this financial blacklisting, see Forum 18's Russia Extremism survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Blagoveshchensk Nursi Yevgeny Lvovich Kim (born 5 October 1974) is being prosecuted in a criminal case initiated by the FSB security service. The FSB accuses Kim of having organised religious gatherings in Blagoveshchensk between September and November 2015. At these he allegedly "decided to quote from" and discuss Nursi's collection of writings "Risale-i Nur" ("Messages of Light"), according to a December 2015 court document granting the FSB permission for a property search, seen by Forum 18 (see F18News 21 January 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2141). Law enforcement interpreted this as "disseminating the religious ideas of the international religious association Nurdzhular, [while] fully aware of the fact that .. [it] had been recognised as extremist and its activities prohibited on the territory of the Russian Federation". Sharing such "extremist" texts, even in private homes, can make those involved liable to criminal and administrative prosecution. Muslims who read Nursi's works deny that the alleged organisation Nurdzhular exists (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). FSB-ordered "expert analysis" found that what Kim and others said at these meetings was "aimed at inciting religious hatred", promoted the "superiority of the Turkic peoples", and contained "negative evaluations" of Armenians and Russians. "Expert analyses" can be biased and may be produced by people who are not, in fact, "experts" (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). Kim and several friends were detained and interrogated after an armed unit of the FSB raided Kim's flat on 26 December 2015, during a gathering to celebrate the birthday of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed (see F18News 21 January 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2141). All but Kim were later released. Among those also detained was Kim's friend Anton Pavlovich Starodubtsev (born 4 April 1980). He has since complained of the treatment they received during both arrest and questioning, including threats and attempted blackmail, and has categorically denied any involvement in extremist activity, (see F18News 11 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2166). The FSB arrested Kim initially under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1. A 30 November 2016 statement on the Amur Regional Prosecutor's Office – which did not name Kim – revealed, however, that charges had also been added under Criminal Code Article 282, Part 1. The announcement said Kim denied any wrongdoing. It added that he faces up to 10 years' imprisonment if convicted. Prosecutors also charged Starodubtsev under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 2 ("participation in an extremist organisation", but his whereabouts remain unknown. FSB investigators have added both Kim and Starodubtsev to the Rosfinmonitoring list of "terrorists and extremists". Criminal Code Article 282, Part 1, punishes "actions aimed at the incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of a person or group", based on "sex, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, or social group" (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). Kim's additional charge under Article 282, Part 1, is unusual for a Nursi-related case. Forum 18 knows of only two other individuals who read Nursi's writings who have been taken to court for this alleged offence since the works began to be banned in 2007 – Ilham Islamli was convicted under Article 282, Part 1, alone in August 2010; in September 2011, Rashid Abdulov was convicted under Article 282, Part 2(v), as well as Article 282.2, Part 1 (see F18News 14 October 2011 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1625). Kim is being prosecuted under the pre-July 2016 Article 282, Part 1, which means he faces the following possible punishments under this Article: a fine of 100,000 to 300,000 Roubles or 1 to 2 years' income; or community service (obyazatelnaya rabota) for up to 360 hours; or correctional labour (ispravitelnaya rabota) for up to 1 year, or compulsory labour (prinuditelnaya rabota) for up to 4 years; or imprisonment of up to 4 years. Blagoveshchensk trial begins Kim's trial began at Blagoveshchensk City Court with a preliminary hearing on 13 January. The first full hearing was on 25 January, according to court records. The next hearing is due on 7 February, his lawyer Natalya Terekhova told Forum 18 from Blagoveshchensk on 26 January. Meanwhile, Kim remains in custody at Blagoveshchensk Investigation Prison No. 1, where he has been held since 26 December 2015. The address of Blagoveshchensk's Investigation Prison, where Forum 18 believes Kim to be detained, is: 675007 Amurskaya Oblast Blagoveshchensk Seryshevsky pereulok 55 Sledstvenny Izolyator No. 1 Russia Forum 18 telephoned the prison in the evening of 26 January in Blagoveshchensk and asked whether Kim was being allowed to pray and have access to the Koran and other religious literature. The duty officer said he could not answer any questions as it was outside working hours. Why the campaign against Nursi readers? Nothing in Nursi's writings appears to advocate hatred, violence, or the violation of any human right. Despite this, numerous Russian lower courts have ruled that various Russian translations of his works (and of some other Islamic and Jehovah's Witness texts) are "extremist", and have had them added to the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Materials(see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). The grounds for Russia's ongoing nationwide campaign against readers of Nursi's works are obscure, with quite different reasons offered for banning Nursi writings and "Nurdzhular" in different contexts. The primary cause, however, appears to be state opposition to "foreign" spiritual and cultural influence (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). Little or no reasoning is given in the court decisions which have added Nursi's works to the Federal List, Forum 18 notes. Among the few specific instances of "extremism" cited, for example, are Nursi's descriptions of non-Muslims as "frivolous", "philosophers" and "empty-talkers". Yet the freedom to criticise any religious or non-religious belief is a central part of the freedom of religion and belief (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). Sergiyev Posad Jehovah's Witnesses After Moscow Regional Court overturned their original acquittal on 26 May 2016 at the request of prosecutors, Jehovah's Witness elders Vyacheslav Yuryevich Stepanov (born 20 March 1977) and Andrei Petrovich Sivak (born 28 March 1974) are once again due to appear at Sergiyev Posad City Court. Both are charged with inciting religious hatred under Criminal Code Article 282, Part 2. Their re-trial began in August 2016, but most hearings have been postponed. Judge Liliya Baranova ordered further "expert analysis" in November, and the first (twice delayed) hearing of the new year is due to take place on 20 February, according to the court website. Criminal Code Article 282, Part 2, punishes publicly performed "actions aimed at the incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of a person or group", based on sex, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, or social group", when committed a) with violence or the threat of violence; b) by a person using their official position; c) by an organised group (of which Stepanov and Sivak are accused). As their alleged offences took place before amendments to the Criminal Code increased extremism-related sentences in February 2014 and July 2016, Stepanov and Sivak face the following possible punishments: a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 Roubles or 2 to 3 years' income; or community service for up to 480 hours; or 1 to 2 years' correctional labour (ispravitelnaya rabota); or up to 5 years' compulsory labour (prinutdelnaya rabota); or up to 5 years' imprisonment. Officials have placed both Stepanov and Sivak under travel restrictions, Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Ivan Belenko told Forum 18 on 19 January. So-called Yarovaya "anti-terrorism" legal changes came into force on 20 July 2016 (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2215). They increased the then-existing Article 282 penalties to: Part 1 – a fine of 300,000 to 500,000 Roubles; or 2 to 3 years' income; or compulsory labour (prinutdelnaya rabota) for 1 to 4 years with a ban on working in one's profession for up to 3 years; or 2 to 5 years' imprisonment; Part 2 – a fine of 300,000 to 600,000 Roubles; or 2 to 3 years' income; or compulsory labour (prinutdelnaya rabota) for 2 to 5 years with a ban on working in one's profession for up to 3 years; or 3 to 6 years' imprisonment. Sergiyev Posad: earlier prosecution ended in acquittal The Sergiyev Posad District Prosecutor's Office opened their original case against Stepanov and Sivak in April 2013. This case appears to have been based on covert video surveillance of the defendants and their congregation dating from the autumn of 2010, according to the 4 March 2016 court verdict seen by Forum 18. Sivak and Stepanov were brought to Sergiyev Posad City Court only in August 2015. The period of the initial investigation was "artificially extended", Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Belenko explained to Forum 18 on 10 January, when Sivak and Stepanov were added to the Interior Ministry wanted persons database on three occasions without any grounds and without their knowledge. The two men were acquitted at Sergiyev Posad City Court on 4 March 2016 when Judge Yelena Aminova found them not guilty of organising gatherings, "veiled under the guise of 'religious meetings'", with the aim of "inciting hatred and enmity against followers of all religions other than adherents of the 'Jehovah's Witnesses' religious organisation, and humiliating human dignity on the grounds of religion". According to the written verdict, prosecutors also accused them of "contrasting the 'Jehovah's Witnesses' religion to other religions, declaring [the latter] 'false', [and] evaluating them very negatively, as well as appealing to citizens to refuse their civic responsibilities and commit illegal actions" – claims for which the judge concluded there was no evidence in the recordings presented to the court. The judge dismissed the "expert analysis" performed by Natalya Kryukova, Director of the Centre for Socio-Cultural Analysis in Moscow (which held that Stepanov and Sivak's sermons in the recordings bore signs of "extremism"). The Judge instead agreed with the findings of the Justice Ministry's Legal Expertise Centre, which were that services had "an educational, discursive character" and that "views inherent in the religion are evaluated as true and correct, which is an integral important feature of religious discourse". Judge Aminova concluded that "A different assessment of [Sivak and Stepanov's] speeches defies common sense and logic". "The court recognised [the defendants'] right to rehabilitation," Belenko told Forum 18 on 10 January, "including compensation for moral damages and the reinstatement of labour, pension, housing, and other rights." Forum 18 called Sergiyev Posad District Prosecutor's Office on 26 January to ask why the original acquittal was challenged and why the two men are considered dangerous. When Forum 18 mentioned the case against Stepanov and Sivak, the phone was immediately put down. (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2250
  18. Russia's a nation of laws, just like here, and there's no legal barrier now for those who hate us to shut down the Branch. The brothers lost a critical legal appeal at Moscow City Court. Putin may not even know about it. He's had a lot on his plate lately. Places like Russia favor the 'house' church. They don't necessarily believe it, they likely don't, but they favor it because it's a force for national unity. 'What can we do for you?' they ask. 'Take out the competition,' is the reply from the Church. How could any brother in Russia not think it a remarkable coincidence? The enemies of Jehovah's Witnesses are fully empowered to close Bethel. And at Witness meetings worldwide this week was played the movie about how the Assyrian army was poised to destroy Jerusalem, and in one night a single angel destroyed them all. Yet the movie was made two years ago, and the Bible reading schedule that determines when to play it is many years old! Hezekiah, the Israelite King, wasn't overconfident. He didn't assume God was going to bail him out - for maybe he wouldn't. He just knew that he was to trust fully in God and remain faithful. But I hate to see the brothers go through more harassment, if not total shut-down. They've been through so much already. 'Hey, remember that angel we dispatched to Jerusalem? I'm impressed with his portfolio. Check on his availability, won't you?' Is there that sort of discussion somewhere? Will it work that way? Or will world opinion prevail upon leaders there to carry on as every other nation does, Russia being the only nation on earth to ban JW.org. It's laughable. The house church makes them look like utter fools before the world. (not to mention it kills us) Nobody can watch JW.org and think it is, even to the tiniest degree, extremist. Our brothers bear up under persecution when they must, and it often brings honest-hearted (and courageous) people into the fold. People say 'why are they making trouble for the Jehovah's? They're nice people.' ............ Tom Irregardless and Me.
  19. Emmanuel Thomas l Thursday, January 19, 2017 MOSCOW, Russia – The Appeal Court in Moscow, Russia has granted Russian Prosecutor the leave to liquidate activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses(JW) in Russia after branding them extremist group. The JW had appealed the decision and tried to establish that the accusations of “extremist activity” are based on fabricated evidence and false statements that have been manufactured by local authorities to portray sincere worship as criminal activity. In the October 12, 2016, hearing, Judge M. S. Moskalenko of the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow did not allow testimony or video that exposed the illegal actions of the local authorities who are bent to ensuring that JW do not exist in Russia. However, on January 16, 2017, the Moscow City Court dismissed the Witnesses’ appeal that challenged the legality of the Prosecutor General’s warning issued against their national headquarters. The three-judge panel rejected all arguments filed by the Witnesses’ attorneys and rendered its decision after a 10-minute recess. The decision upholds the October 12, 2016, Tverskoy District Court decision that ruled in favor of the Prosecutor General’s Office.The warning, dated March 2, 2016, is now enforceable. Speaking before the hearing, International human rights lawyer James Andrik spoke of the implication. “If the Moscow City Court dismisses the appeal, the Prosecutor General’s Office could act on its threat against the Administrative Center. It could liquidate the Administrative Center and further harass the religious communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses and restrict their worship throughout Russia. If, on the other hand, the court upholds the appeal, it would be a breakthrough for justice”, he said. However Jehovah’s Witnesses are a peaceful group who hold their worship in the open and denounce all sorts of religious extremism. They believe in the Bible which also encourages them to respect secular authority. It is now left to the world to appeal to President Vladimir Putin to halt this attempt to wipe out witnesses from Russia http://starconnectmedia.com/2017/01/19/russia-gets-go-ahead-to-liquidate-jehovahs-witnesses-organisation/
  20. Three Jehovah's Witnesses, two Baptists, and a bookseller have each been fined three to four months' average wages. Their "offences" include discussing beliefs, offering religious literature, and meeting for prayer. And an unlicensed mosque has been raided and had allegedly "superstitious" items confiscated. In early January 2017, a higher court rejected the appeal by three Jehovah's Witnesses from Goranboy District in western Azerbaijan against large fines, imposed for discussing their faith with others and offering religious literature. The accused were not allowed to prepare a defence or speak in court (see below). Two Baptists in the northern Zakatala [Zaqatala] District were fined in December 2016 for leading worship services without state permission after a large police raid two weeks earlier. The Saturday morning raid on an "illegal" meeting for prayer resulted in the detention of more than 30 adults and children present, after which 16 women and 10 men were questioned at the local police station until 10 pm at night. Police sent confiscated religious literature to the capital Baku for alleged "expert analysis". "Everything was done well," police Major Amil Muradov told Forum 18 before putting the phone down (see below). Also, a Baku court fined local resident Elnara Qasimova for selling religious materials without the compulsory permission from the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations and the local administration. However, on 17 January 2017 Baku Appeal Court cancelled the fine and sent the case back to the lower court for a new hearing (see below). It appears that Qasimova's prosecution was a result of raids by State Committee officials as well as police officers on at least five shops selling religious literature in Baku's Sabail and Nasimi Districts, announced on 2 December 2016. Officials said five shops were selling religious literature "illegally" (see below). The three Jehovah's Witnesses, two Baptists and Baku bookseller Qasimova were each fined about three to four months' average wage. (The State Statistics Committee gives the average monthly wage for those in work between January and October 2016 as nearly 494 Manats.) Also, officials in Baku confiscated 59 religious books, 19 videotapes, 27 DVDs and 80 CDs which they claimed had not passed state censorship, adding that unspecified items "included elements of khurafat [prejudice or superstition]". This term does not appear in published law. The confiscation followed a December 2016 raid on a Shia Muslim community operating without state permission (see below). Fined for discussing faith Trouble began in mid-November 2016 for two Jehovah's Witnesses in Goranboy District, Jaarey Suleymanova and Gulnaz Israfilova. The two women had been visiting a woman "who had enjoyed their Bible discussions for many months", Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Subsequently, the Goranboy District Police charged the two women under the Code of Administrative Offences' Article 515.0.4 ("Religious associations operating away from their registered legal address"). The fine for individuals for this "offence" is between 1,500 and 2,000 Manats (see F18News 2 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2184). Police handed the case to Goranboy District Court. On 17 November 2016, Judge Ismayil Abdurahmanli handed them each the maximum fine of 2,000 Manats, more than four months' average wages for those in work, according to court records. Suleymanova and Israfilova lodged appeals against the fines to Gyanja [Gäncä] Appeal Court. However, on the afternoon of 5 January 2017, Judge Fikrat Aliyev rejected their appeals, according to court records. Goranboy District Police brought exactly the same charges against another local Jehovah's Witness, Ziyad Dadashov. "Four men from his village testified that Ziyad Dadashov had spoken of his beliefs and offered Bible literature," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Police handed the case to Goranboy District Court. On 2 December 2016, Judge Shirzad Huseynov found Dadashov guilty under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. The Judge fined him 1,500 Manats, more than three months' average wages for those in work, according to court records. Dadashov similarly appealed against the fine to Gyanja Appeal Court. However, on the morning of 5 January 2017, Judge Badal Aliyev rejected his appeal, according to court records. "In neither case did the defendants have the opportunity to prepare their defence, nor did they have the opportunity to speak during court hearings," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. Reached on 17 January, an official of Goranboy District Police refused to discuss anything with Forum 18 and put the phone down. Meeting for prayer raided On the morning of Saturday 26 November 2016, about 10 uniformed police officers and several men in plain clothes (including local State Committee representative Mehman Ismayilov) raided the home of a Baptist leader in the village of Aliabad in Zakatala District. They arrived about half an hour after a regular prayer meeting had begun in the home of Hamid and Hinayat Shabanov, fellow Baptists told Forum 18. About 30 adults and several children were present at the prayer meeting. The officers ordered Hamid Shabanov and his fellow Baptists to halt the prayer meeting, "saying it was illegal because of the lack of state registration". An Interior Ministry statement on the day of the raid said State Committee representatives accompanied Zakatala Police on the raid. The statement did not identify the community as Baptist, speaking only of "an illegal religious gathering aimed at spreading a religious sect banned under the law". It added that 16 items of religious literature had been confiscated and sent for "expert analysis" to the State Committee in Baku. Alleged "expert analysis" is used to justify the stringent imposition of state censorship (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2081). Colleagues of Zakatala State Committee representative Ismayilov told Forum 18 on 17 January 2017 that he was not in the office. They refused to comment on the raid on the Baptists. Over several hours on 26 November 2016, officers held those present for the prayer meeting in a room in Shabanov's home. They allowed individuals out only to go to the toilet, one at a time. Officers wrote down the names and identity document details of all those present. They also compiled a list of all the religious literature they could find belonging to the church or its members, Baptists complained to Forum 18. Police then took 26 church members (16 women and 10 men) to the District Police Station, where officers demanded that they each write a statement. Police had already confiscated several of the individuals' phones. By 10 pm officers had released all 26 of those detained. Only on 29 November did police return the confiscated identity documents to the church members. The same day the investigator announced that charges were being brought against church members for meeting "illegally" without state registration. The investigator did not say how many cases had been prepared and when they would be handed to court. Against international human rights law, all exercise of freedom of religion and belief by more than one person without state permission is banned (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2081). All those detained during the raid signed an appeal to the State Committee in Baku for their Church to be allowed to worship freely, Shabanov told Forum 18. The Church has received no response. Two fined, church banned from meeting Police summoned to Zakatala Police Station on 12 December all 26 church members who had been detained during the 26 November raid. Police had prepared records of an offence against two church members, Hamid Shabanov and Mehman Agamammadov under Administrative Code Article 515.0.2 ("Violating legislation on holding religious meetings, marches, and other religious ceremonies"). The fine for individuals for this "offence" is between 1,500 and 2,000 Manats (see F18News 2 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2184). The cases were handed to Zakatala District Court. There in a 15-minute hearing on 12 December 2016, Judge Arif Ismayilov found both Shabanov and Agamammadov guilty and fined them each the minimum fine, 1,500 Manats, the Judge told Forum 18 from the Court on 17 January. Judge Ismayilov claimed to Forum 18 that both men had admitted their guilt in court. Shabanov denied this. "I told the court it was not our fault, as we applied but they won't give us registration," he told Forum 18. Judge Ismayilov insisted that Shabanov and Agamammadov had been given the court decisions in writing, though he refused to say when or how. However, Shabanov denied this. "We rang the court and visited it, but they wouldn't send or give us the decision," he told Forum 18. "We had 10 days to appeal against the fine but that's now gone. But they haven't demanded the money either." On 15 December 2016 officials returned all the confiscated books to the church. "The State Committee in Baku looked at them and could find nothing wrong with them," Shabanov told Forum 18 However, police and the Judge told the Church that it is illegal for church members to meet for worship. They were warned that if they do so they will be fined. One Zakatala Police officer who prepared the prosecution materials in Agamammadov's case for the court, Major Amil Muradov, refused to discuss the ban on the church's activity or the raid. "Everything was done well," was all he would tell Forum 18 on 17 January 2017 before putting the phone down. History of raids, fines, imprisonments, registration denial Shabanov's church and a fellow Baptist congregation in Aliabad have been seeking state registration since the mid-1990s. However, state officials have consistently refused to process the applications, including the most recent application the Church submitted in 2010 after changes to the Religion Law (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2081). State officials have repeatedly harassed Aliabad's Baptists since the 1990s, with repeated police raids on worship meetings and confiscation of religious literature. Several church members were sacked from their jobs because of their faith, including a nurse from a hospital and the head of the local kindergarten. Baptists were banned from using the collective farm's agricultural machinery for their plots, and from receiving state subsidies provided to other farmers, Ilya Zenchenko, the head of the Baptist Union, complained to Forum 18 from Baku. Officials have in the past denied registration to children of local Baptists who had chosen Biblical names for their new-born children (see eg. F18News 25 February 2010 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1414). One of the Church's pastors, former prisoner of conscience Zaur Balaev, was imprisoned on false charges from May 2007 to March 2008 (see F18News 19 March 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1102). Another pastor of the Church, former prisoner of conscience Hamid Shabanov, was held in pre-trial detention from June to November 2008. In February 2009 he was given a two-year suspended sentence on charges he and his fellow-Baptists insisted were also fabricated to punish him for exercising his freedom of religion and belief (see F18News 12 February 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1254). "Despite all this they continue to meet to this day," Pastor Zenchenko noted, "under the leading of their hearts – which love God – and in accordance with Azerbaijan's Constitution guaranteeing freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience and religious belief." But Baptists feel angry that police action had violated the alleged 2016 Year of Tolerance declared by President Ilham Aliyev. The regime uses claims of its alleged "religious tolerance" to camouflage its multiple human rights violations (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2081). Police and religious affairs officials raid Baku bookshops State Committee officials and police officers raided at least five shops selling religious literature in Baku's Sabail and Nasimi Districts, the Interior Ministry and the State Committee announced on 2 December 2016. State Committee officials said five shops were selling religious literature and other religious items "illegally". Police confiscated 433 different religious titles being sold without the compulsory hologram sticker showing that the books had the required permission from the State Committee to be sold. Officers drew up records of an offence in each case. The latest Baku bookshop raids appear to be a continuation of earlier raids. Police and officials of the State Committee raided at least 26 shops and six homes across Azerbaijan in October and early November 2016 to seize religious literature being distributed without the compulsory state permission. Some book sellers were then punished. All the literature confiscated from shops appears to have been Muslim (see F18News 16 November 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2231). Religious literature and other materials can be sold or distributed only at specialised outlets which have been approved both by the State Committee and the local administration (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2081). In addition, all religious literature produced in, published in (including on the internet) or imported into Azerbaijan is subject to prior compulsory censorship. When the State Committee does give permission to publish or import a work it also specifies how many copies can be produced or imported. All religious materials sold must have a sticker noting that they have State Committee approval. State officials have repeatedly denied that this represents censorship (see F18News 1 October 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2107). The stickers from the State Committee cost religious communities or bookshop owners 0.02 Manats each. However, acquiring them can be difficult. Jehovah's Witnesses complained that between April and October 2016, the State Committee told them that it had run out of stickers. This meant that even publications the State Committee had given Jehovah's Witnesses permission to import could not be distributed without fear of punishment (see F18News 16 November 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2231). Fined for religious literature, but fine overturned One case is known to have been brought to court in Baku's Sabail District, though it remains unclear if this was as a result of the raids. On 28 December 2016 Judge Rauf Ahmadov of Sabail District Court fined local resident Elnara Qasimova 2,000 Manats for selling religious items without the compulsory permission from the State Committee and the District administration, the court told Forum 18 on 16 January. Qasimova was fined under Administrative Code Article 516.0.2 ("Selling religious literature (printed or on electronic devices), audio and video materials, religious merchandise and products, or other religious informational materials, which have been authorised for sale under the Religion Law, outside specialised sale outlets established with the permission of the relevant government authority distributing religious literature, religious objects and information material without State Committee permission"). Punishments under Article 516.0.2 entails confiscation of the literature, merchandise and products or other materials concerned. Additional punishments under Article 516 are: for individuals fines of between 2,000 and 2,500 Manats; for officials fines of between 8,000 and 9,000 Manats; for organisations fines of between 20,000 and 25,000 Manats; and for foreigners and stateless persons fines of between 2,000 and 2,500 Manats with deportation from Azerbaijan (see F18News 2 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2184). Qasimova's appeal against her punishment was handed to Baku Appeal Court on 11 January. On the morning of 17 January Judge Ilqar Murquzov partially upheld Qasimova's appeal. He cancelled the fine, but sent the case back to the lower court for a new hearing, according to court records. The official who answered the phone of the Baku city representative of the State Committee on 17 January, who refused to give his name, refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions as to why officials raided the bookshops, confiscated religious literature or brought a case to punish Qasimova. Baku Muslim community raided State Committee officials, together with officers of the police, State Security Service (SSS) secret police and officials from Baku's Sabail District local administration raided a Shia Muslim community, State Committee officials told the local media on 8 December 2016. They claim to have been responding to information that the community in Badamdar in south-western Baku was functioning "in violation of procedures governing the activity of religious organisations". The Muslim community is not one of the four mosques the State Committee allows to function in Sabail District. The regime has a policy of closing mosques operating without state permission and without a leadership the State Committee has appointed. Sunni mosques are especially severely targeted for forcible closure (see eg. F18News 20 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2216). During the raid, State Committee officials confiscated 59 religious books, 19 videotapes, 27 DVDs and 80 CDs which they claimed did not have the required State Committee permission. Officials added that they found unspecified items "which included elements of khurafat [prejudice or superstition]". They claimed to have then launched an investigation. Azerbaijan's legal database does not include the term "khurafat" in any law or legal document. It remains unclear why State Committee officials think the unspecified confiscated items are illegal. (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2247
  21. Turkmenistan has ignored some questions by the UN Committee Against Torture about tortured Muslim and Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience, but provided details of a Sunni Muslim prisoner's three trials. The country also continues to deny the right to conscientious objection to military service. Young Muslim leader Bahram Saparov serving a 15-year-prison term in Turkmenistan's isolated top-security Ovadan-Depe Prison, in the Karakum Desert 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat], has been tried and sentenced three times, a delegation from Turkmenistan's government claimed to the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (CAT). The most recent trial, the government claimed, was in June. The government delegation completely ignored the Committee's questions as to why prisoner of conscience Saparov – and other prisoners – are being held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners, and why his three trials were not in open court (see below). The government delegation also did not mention the approximately 20 people sentenced with prisoner of conscience Saparov at his original trial, as well as the serious physical torture inflicted on him (see below). The government delegation also did not reply to questions from the Committee Against Torture about why prisoner of conscience Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov had been tortured, including by severe beatings and injections with unknown drugs. It also ignored Committee questions about the torture of the other current Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Bahram Hemdemov, and of Jehovah's Witness former prisoners of conscience Mahmud Hudaybergenov and Ahmet Hudaybergenov (see below). Committee Against Torture questions about whether independent investigations of torture complaints were carried out were also ignored by the government. Under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Turkmenistan is obliged to arrest and try under criminal law any person suspected on good grounds of having committed torture (see below). Turkmenistan's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Atageldi Haljanov, also denied the internationally recognised right to conscientiously object to compulsory military service, as Turkmenistan has repeatedly done at the UN. Six conscientious objectors – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses – are known to have been convicted and sentenced in Turkmenistan so far in 2016. A full review of the country's record by the UN Human Rights Committee is due to take place in March 2017 (see below). No time to discuss cases? The Committee Against Torture's Co-rapporteurs on Turkmenistan had raised the cases of prisoners of conscience Saparov, Masharipov and Hemdemov at the first 2016 hearing on Turkmenistan's record before the Committee in Geneva on 21 November. The Co-rapporteurs also reminded the seven-member government delegation of questions on other cases it had failed to answer in the government's 22 August written responses ahead of the hearings. Ambassador Haljanov of Turkmenistan's Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva gave the partial responses of the government delegation on named individuals during the 22 November session. However, he claimed to the Committee that he did not have time to discuss the cases of prisoners of conscience Saparov and Masharipov, and that the government delegation would submit its responses in writing. It did so on 24 November. No reply Forum 18 tried to reach Ambassador Haljanov at Turkmenistan's Mission to the UN in Geneva. The woman who answered the phone on 5 December refused to put Forum 18 through to Ambassador Haljanov because "I do not know you". She asked Forum 18 to send written questions. Forum 18 asked Ambassador Haljanov in writing mid-morning Geneva time on 5 December about his delegation's responses to the Committee Against Torture on prisoners of conscience Saparov and Masharipov. On Saparov, Forum 18 asked why the government delegation's response did not explain why he is being held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners, and why the government did not explain why Saparov had not been tried in open court where the evidence against him could be heard. Forum 18 asked for copies of the three verdicts against him. Saparov led a Hanafi Sunni Muslim community in Turkmenabad. He and about 20 members of his group were given long prison sentences in May 2013. He and at least two others were transferred to Ovadan-Depe Prison, where torture is frequent and prisoners are held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners (see F18News 26 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2218). On Masharipov, Forum 18 asked why the government delegation's response did not say anything about the torture he endured (severe beatings, injections with unknown drugs in a drug rehabilitation centre) and why it did not explain why he is being punished for exercising his rights to freedom of religion or belief. Police raided Jehovah's Witness Masharipov's home in Dashoguz in July 2014, confiscated (subsequently destroyed) religious literature, severely tortured him, injected him in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre (from which he escaped) with unknown drugs. He was jailed after June 2016 arrest for one year (see F18News 21 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2217). Although Ambassador Haljanov rejected suggestions during the hearing that the Turkmen government is "closed" and insisted that it cooperates with foreign and local media, Forum 18 had received no response to its questions to him by the end of the working day in Geneva on 6 December. Another member of the government delegation to the Committee Against Torture hearings, Pirnazar Hudainazarov, Chair of the Mejlis (Parliament) Legislative Committee, refused to speak to Forum 18. Reached on 6 December, he told Forum 18 to address its questions to the Foreign Ministry before it was able to ask any questions. He then put the phone down. Prisoner of conscience Saparov: Sentenced 3 times, repeated severe torture The 34-year-old prisoner of conscience Saparov – who is married with three children - led a Hanafi Sunni Muslim community in the eastern city of Turkmenabad [Turkmenabat] (formerly Charjew) in Lebap Region until his imprisonment in March 2013. Saparov organised meetings in homes from 2007 to study the five pillars of Islam and the attitude of Islam to the family and neighbours. Up to 10 young people initially joined the group, but it later grew to about 60 people in two groups. Saparov and members of his group soon came to the attention of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police. In 2008 and 2009, MSS officers frequently summoned them individually for interrogation. Officers tortured some of the group. The police and MSS secret police arrested Saparov and about 20 others on 9 March 2013 and all were convicted at a mass, closed trial in May 2013. After his conviction, Saparov was initially imprisoned at the labour camp in Tejen, south-east of the capital Ashgabad. He was transferred to the top-security Ovadan-Depe prison in October 2014. An individual who saw prisoner of conscience Saparov in the prison in late 2014 – the last time he is known to have been alive – barely recognised him. "Bahram's face – and the faces of the other prisoners in the block – were unrecognisable because of the beatings," one source told Forum 18. "Officers in uniform came weekly from Ashgabad in helmets and riot gear and beat the prisoners." Two others known to have been sentenced with him - Adylbek and Meylis (last names unknown) - were also seen alive in the prison about the same time (see F18News 26 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2218). After the arrest of Saparov and the 20 or so others, police and MSS secret police are believed to have arrested further group members. Forum 18 has been unable to find out what happened to them. Prisoner of conscience Saparov: Serious charges In its 24 November information to the Committee Against Torture on Saparov's case, the government delegation claimed that the Muslim leader had been sentenced on 22 May 2013 at Lebap Regional Court to 15 years' imprisonment under a range of serious charges. According to the government delegation, Saparov was sentenced under Criminal Code Article 174, Part 1 ("Conspiracy to seize power"), Article 175, Part 2 ("Calls to violent change of the constitutional order"), Article 177, Part 3 ("Incitement of social, ethnic or religious hatred"), Article 275, Parts 1 and 2 ("Creation of an organised group, criminal association or other criminal structures or participation in their activity") and Article 291 ("Theft of extortion of weapons, military materiel, explosive substances and explosive devices"). This last charge was subject to Article 14, which covers cases where an individual did not manage to carry out the crime through circumstances that did not depend on themselves. Under Criminal Code Article 63, Part 1, which covers how to aggregate punishments when more than one crime is involved, Saparov was given a punishment under each Article separately. The government delegation claimed that on 4 July 2014 – while already imprisoned – prisoner of conscience Saparov was tried and punished again on the basis of alleged "the appearance of new facts (testimonies against him)" relating to an earlier period. The government delegation did not reveal where this trial took place, but it may have been in Tejen Prison where he was then being held. Prisoner of conscience Saparov was again sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. He was again convicted under Criminal Code Article 275, Part 2 ("Creation of an organised group, criminal association or other criminal structures or participation in their activity"), as well as Article 227, Part 4 ("Theft"). This time Article 63, Part 5 was used, under which a previous criminal sentence is subsumed into the punishment given in the latest case. The third trial took place on 7 June 2016, the government delegation told the Committee Against Torture. Again it took place on the basis of an alleged "appearance of new facts (testimonies against him)" relating to an earlier period. Again the government delegation did not reveal where this trial took place, but this may have been in Ovadan-Depe Prison where, according to the government delegation, he is still being held. At this third trial, prisoner of conscience Saparov was given a further 15 year prison term again under Criminal Code Article 227, Part 4 ("Theft"), as well as Article 231, Part 2 ("Robbery"). Article 63, Part 5 was again used, subsuming the two earlier punishments into the latest 15-year sentence. Prisoner of conscience Saparov: Closed trials, held incommunicado The government delegation claimed in its response to the Committee Against Torture that Saparov's relatives have been able to hand in 55 food parcels for him. The government delegation did not mention any meetings with relatives. Human rights defenders told Forum 18 that it is highly unlikely that any food parcels have been allowed since Saparov's transfer to Ovadan-Depe. They point out that the prison is isolated, closed and kept under strict secrecy. Many prisoners sent there have not been heard of for many years and may have died there, possibly under torture. Human rights defenders note that prisoners in ordinary labour camps, such as Tejen, can receive visits and food parcels, though prison staff often demand bribes for this. Prison conditions are harsh and include the torture of prisoners (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1676). The government delegation completely ignored the Co-rapporteurs' questions on why many prisoners in Turkmenistan – including Saparov – are held incommunicado without contact with anyone except officials and possibly fellow-prisoners, and why trials are closed. Saparov's prison address: Ahal velayat Upravlenie politsii Ahalskogo velayata uchr. AH-T/2 Saparovu, Bahramu Prisoner of conscience Masharipov: No reply on torture The 32-year-old Masharipov, an ethnic Uzbek Jehovah's Witness from the northern city of Dashoguz, was sentenced to one year's imprisonment on 18 August in his home city for allegedly assaulting a police officer back in July 2014, charges he denies. Following his 2014 arrest, he was tortured. He escaped from a Drug Rehabilitation Centre where he was being injected with unknown drugs that harmed his health. He was re-arrested in Ashgabad in June 2016 before being transferred back to Dashoguz for trial (see F18News 21 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2217). Evidence of torture inflicted on prisoner of conscience Masharipov was in 2014 submitted to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (see F18News 1 August 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1981). Despite being asked both in advance and by Committee Against Torture Co-rapporteurs during the first day of hearings before the Committee on 21 November, the government delegation failed to say whether any independent investigation had been conducted into the torture of Masharipov. Under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Turkmenistan is obliged to arrest and try under criminal law any person suspected on good grounds of having committed torture (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1676). In its 24 November written submission to the Committee, the government delegation merely recounted the known details of prisoner of conscience Masharipov's imprisonment and adding that he is an "adherent" of the unregistered Jehovah's Witnesses. (Religious communities without registration are not allowed to exist, in dfince of Turkmenistan's international human rights obligations - see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1676.) The government delegation then noted that Masharipov is being held in Seydi Labour Camp. The government delegation claimed Masharipov receives "regular" visits in prison from relatives. It said a short visit had taken place on 3 November and a longer visit from his brother Ulugbek on 19 November. It added that Masharipov had been allowed food parcels on 23 August and 22 September. Prisoner of conscience Hemdemov: No reply on torture Similarly, the government delegation failed to answer repeated questions about reports that fellow-Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Hemdemov had been tortured in pre-trial detention. Police arrested Hemdemov during a March 2015 raid on his home, following which they tortured him. The 53-year-old Jehovah's Witness is serving a four-year sentence handed down in May 2015 on charges of inciting religious hatred, charges he denies. He is being held in the general regime section of the Seydi Labour Camp (see F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196). In its 22 August written submission to the Committee Against Torture, the government delegation claimed that Hemdemov, "with a view to the promotion and incitement of religious enmity .. engaged in his home with members of this group in propaganda activities, thereby inciting religious discord and enmity towards another religion". During the November Committee hearings, the government delegation did not even mention Hemdemov, despite a repeated request from the Co-rapporteurs for information on whether any independent investigation had taken place into the torture of him. Prisoners of conscience Masharipov and Hemdemov's address in prison is: Turkmenistan 746222 Lebap velayat Seydi uchr. LB-K/12 Prisoners of conscience Hudaybergenovs: Still no reply on torture In advance of the hearings, the Committee Against Torture also asked the government delegation about the torture of two Jehovah's Witness former prisoners of conscience, the brothers Mahmud Hudaybergenov and Ahmet Hudaybergenov. In March and October 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of four young men by imprisoning them for refusing compulsory religious service on grounds of religious conscience. The Committee also ruled that beatings and other maltreatment of the Hudaybergenov brothers, as well as of Zafar Abdullayev and Sunnet Japparov represented torture. Turkmenistan has failed to recompense these victims of human rights violations or change laws and procedures to prevent such violations recurring (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164). The 22 August written response from the government delegation failed to even mention the Hudaybergenov brothers and the torture they had undergone. Five Muslim prisoners: No response on torture reports Ahead of the November hearings, the Committee Against Torture asked the government delegation if any investigation had been undertaken into an incident in February 2015 in which five Muslim prisoners at Seydi labour camp were allegedly subjected to severe beating by prison guards. Five Muslim men imprisoned on charges of religious extremism, who arrived in Seydi strict regime labour camp in February 2015, were severely physically tortured on arrival. Forum 18 was unable to establish if they – and a group of about 10 Muslim men transferred from that labour camp to the top-security Ovadan-Depe prison in December 2014 – are prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freeom of religion and belief (see F18News 18 February 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2039). In its 22 August response to the Committee, the government delegation claimed: "There is no information concerning the incident". Reminded by the Committee of the allegations of torture against the five Muslim men during the November hearings, the government delegation did not reply. Harsh prison conditions, torture Prisoners generally have to endure harsh conditions, especially for those unable or unwilling to pay bribes to secure access to reasonable living quarters, food or washing facilities. Although the general regime Seydi Labour Camp (where those imprisoned for exercising freedom of religion and belief are often held) has its own prison mosque, prisoners are afraid to attend, according to a former prisoner in the camp. "The mosque is open to any prisoner, but Muslim prisoners won't go for fear of being branded a ‘Wahhabi'," the former prisoner told Forum 18. "So at Friday prayers there are usually only about four or five people." The former prisoner added that the prison library – which prisoners make good use of - has no religious literature (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164). The term "Wahhabi" is widely used in Central Asia for any devout Muslim, regardless of whether they do or do not commit or espouse violence or are Wahhabis. Torture of prisoners is widespread. Prisoners branded as "Wahhabis" are given harsh treatment and are often confined in special sections of prisons. In February 2015 in the strict regime Seydi Labour Camp, Muslim prisoners convicted of alleged "Wahhabism" were subjected to brutal torture through physical attack. One man suffered a broken hand, while another suffered a broken rib and damage to his lung (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164). In 2011 the UN Committee Against Torture found that, in Turkmenistan "persons deprived of their liberty are tortured, ill-treated and threatened by public officers, especially at the moment of apprehension and during pretrial detention, to extract confessions and as an additional punishment after the confession" (see UN reference CAT/C/TKM/CO/1 http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4ef0540f2.html). In March and October 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of four further Jehovah's Witness young men by imprisoning them for refusing compulsory religious service on grounds of religious conscience. The Committee also ruled that beatings and other maltreatment (such as a head being repeatedly bashed against a wall) of Zafar Abdullayev, Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Ahmet Hudaybergenov and Sunnet Japparov is torture and the government needs to provide reparations (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164). The UN Human Rights Committee adopted five further decisions in July 2016 that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of five more Jehovah's Witness former prisoners of conscience, including by the use of torture against them (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220). Latest rejection of conscientious objection to military service Ambassador Haljanov also denied individuals' internationally recognised right to conscientiously object to compulsory military service. Turkmenistan has repeatedly denied this right to the UN, for example the Human Human Rights Committee (see eg. F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196). "Unfortunately there are citizens in our society who refuse their constitutional duty towards their homeland," he told the Committee Against Torture at the 22 November hearing. Six conscientious objectors – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses – are known to have been convicted and sentenced in Turkmenistan so far in 2016 to punish them for refusing to perform compulsory military service on religious grounds. Five received two-year suspended sentences. The sixth received a one-year corrective labour sentence, where he lives at home under restrictions and a fifth of his wages are confiscated. All six young men were sentenced under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. This punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces in peacetime with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or two years' corrective labour (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220). No conscientious objection, no alternative service Ambassador Haljanov told the UN Committee Against Torture in November 2016 that before bringing to court individuals who refuse military service on grounds of conscience, "complex measures are undertaken by a range of organisations in Turkmenistan, including youth organisations, local authorities, parents and elders to explain to them their constitutional duty". Turkmenistan offers no alternative to its compulsory military service. Article 58 of the new 2016 Constitution describes defence as a "sacred duty" of everyone and states that military service is compulsory for men. Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220). A proposed Alternative Service Law was reportedly drafted in 2013, but officials have been unable to tell ForumF18News 29 September 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2002). Turkmenistan has repeatedly, for example between 2012 and 2015, rejected UN Human Human Rights Committee calls for the country to allow conscientious objection to military service, along with other manifestations of freedom of religion and belief (see eg. F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196). In July 2016 the Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan violated the rights of five further Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These decisions bring to 9 the number of such findings by the Committee against Turkmenistan in conscientious objection-related cases. The Committee also adopted a list of issues for consideration of Turkmenistan's record under the ICCPR (UN reference CCPR/C/TKM/Q/2 http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2FC%2FTKM%2FQ%2F2&Lang=en). A full review of the country's record by the Human Rights Committee is due to take place in Geneva in March 2017 (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220). President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov signed a new Constitution into law on 14 September. It ignored recommendations in a July 2016 legal review of the proposed Constitution by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Among other human rights and freedom of religion and belief concerns, the review recommended that the Constitution should make explicit mention of the right to opt for an alternative to military service (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220). The latest April 2016 Religion Law also repeated the ban on conscientious objection to military service. Members of several religious communities complained that "no religion" is allowed during military service (see F18News 18 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2169). The latest revision of the Religion Law totally ignores a 2010 OSCE legal review of the then Religion Law, which criticised many of its provisions for violating international human rights standards. The Review called for many changes, including to allow conscientious objection to compulsory military service, as well as an end to the ban on the exercise of freedom of religion and belief without state permission, and the ban on private teaching of beliefs (see F18News 20 December 2010 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1523). (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2236
  22. Parents at the Brook Hill School in Bullard claim they will be homeschooling their children next year after what they allege are harsh rules enforced on their child, and other rules that may impede on their constitutional rights. Rudy and Yvonne Wright allege their child was sent home from school several days in a row because of hair color that the school called “not natural.” The Wrights allege the school officials said as long as their child toned down the blue roots, the style would be fine. however, when she did, they sent her home a second time, asking her to change it again. The parents say the school kept raising the bar, and sent her home a third time, insisting that the color still wasn’t “natural” enough. In addition, the Wright's are Jehovah's witnesses, and complain a letter sent home earlier in the year in response to National Anthem protests impedes on their religious freedoms. "It’s really heartbreaking when rules are put forth that potentially violate the freedom of religion," said Wright. "And then other rules are applied randomly, and applied overly harsh to us." Wright said if the school had told the family on the first day that the hair style was not allowed, it would have been acceptable. "But to put us through this emotional anguish, and deal with a heartbroken child, we have decided we are going to go ahead and home school from now on," he said. Wright said out of frustration, their daughter has decided to shave her hair entirely. The school’s headmaster, Rod Fletcher, said "It would be inappropriate for me to address a special student or incident. We do have a dress code that includes grooming guidelines. From time to time we ask students to make adjustments to adhere to the guidelines. We asked students not to protest the playing of the national anthem. Abstaining respectfully for religious reasons could be very different." http://www.cbs19.tv/news/local/parents-will-no-longer-send-children-to-brook-hill-school-over-harsh-rules/355081460

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