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  1. The state refuses to recognize them and they have been victims of harassment. But Jehovah's Witnesses insist that they lead normal lives and are not a dangerous cult. Yarden Zalimansky is only 25, but comports himself like a staid older citizen. He’s been married for a few years, and wears a white shirt, tie and dark slacks for our meeting; he has a tablet opened to a Bible app and speaks in a deeply serious tone of voice. Until age 19, he styled himself an atheist, now he’s a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He grew up in Tel Aviv in a secular family (“One Holocaust and three cases of cancer was enough for the loss of God”), and majored in film at an arts high school. “I was always interested in history and in religions, and I used to talk to a friend about it. One day, while I was in the army, she told me she was studying Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was bent on stopping her, but as we went on talking, I saw that what I believed in was incorrect and that she had tools to prove that her belief was right,” he relates. What did you find in Jehovah’s Witnesses that you didn’t find elsewhere? “One thing that bothered me in most religions is that at a certain stage, you are requested to stop asking questions – and I had plenty of concrete questions. For example, I couldn’t understand the Holy Trinity in Catholicism, and I felt that my questions about it were not welcome. In Jehovah’s Witnesses, I can always ask questions and get answers from the Bible. They don’t call for blind faith, but base themselves on evidence and on asking questions.” Most of the adherents I met while researching this article told a similar story. They discovered the creed via a friend, a pamphlet they came across or another Witness who “opened my eyes.” Initially skeptical, they were gradually won over, and decided to devote themselves to this mix of Judaism and Christianity. The approximately 1,600 members of the community in Israel obey the laws of the country, pay their taxes and believe that they are upstanding citizens, but refuse to fulfill one national obligation: to perform military service (as they explain below). As with Witnesses abroad, they believe in the Hebrew Bible (Torah, Prophets, Writings), which they call the “Hebrew Scriptures,” and also in the New Testament, or the “Christian Greek Scriptures,” in their terminology. Both together constitute the “Bible.” According to them, at the end of the first century C.E., after the New Testament was written, God ceased to reveal himself to mankind. Accordingly, all the answers about faith, way of life, prohibitions and commandments can be found in the Bible. Every other interpretation, such as that relating to Holy Trinity or full delineation of the laws of kashrut, are later additions and therefore not part of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Given the community’s belief in the sanctity of the Hebrew Bible, it’s surprising to discover that there are many precepts that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not follow, such as observance of the three festivals (Sukkot, Pesach, Shavuot), or circumcision, which is permitted, but not mandatory. Their explanation is that according to the prophecies of Daniel, when the Messiah – namely Yeshua, or Jesus – comes, the offering of sacrifices will be stopped and the Temple destroyed, and from that moment the followers (i.e., the Jehovah's Witnesses) are no longer subjected to the Torah’s precepts. The community takes its name from Isaiah 43:10: “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares Jehovah, / ‘Yes, my servant whom I have chosen’…” (from the 2013 edition of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ “New World Translation” of the Bible). http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.756487
  2. "The Orthodox Church wants a diocese and resident bishop in Turkmenistan," an Orthodox told Forum 18. "But it hasn't yet happened." The Deanery Secretary, a Russian priest, was forced to leave. And the Armenian Apostolic Church is still unable to regain a former church. The Russian Orthodox Church appears no nearer to achieving its goal of a fully-fledged diocese in Turkmenistan, despite an early November visit by two foreign-based hierarchs. "The Orthodox Church wants a diocese and resident bishop in Turkmenistan," a lay Orthodox Christian from the country, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18. "This was raised officially by current [Moscow Patriarchate] Metropolitan Kirill when he visited Ashgabad in 2008, before he became Patriarch. But it hasn't yet happened." Fr Grigory Bochurov, a Russian citizen who has served from 2012 in Turkmenistan as Secretary of the Patriarchal Deanery and senior priest of Ashgabad's St Nikolai Church, was forced to leave by the authorities in June 2016 (see below). Turkemnistan, in defiance of its international human rights obligations, has a long-term policy of isolating belief communities from their co-believers outside the country (see below). And despite repeated attempts, the Armenian Apostolic Church has still not regained its former church in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), despite a November 2012 promise by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to return it (see below). Restricted visits Archbishop Feofilakt (Kuryanov), the Russian-based "temporary" administrator of the Turkmen parishes on behalf of the Moscow Patriarchate, and Metropolitan Vikenty (Morar) of Tashkent, who lives in the Uzbek capital and is head of the Central Asian Metropolitan Area, were allowed a four-day visit to the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] from 3 to 6 November 2016. Fr Mikhail Stolyarov, spokesperson for the Moscow Patriarchate's Uzbek Diocese, explained that Metropolitan Vikenty had travelled alone to Turkmenistan, as often happens on his pastoral visits. "I wasn't there," he told Forum 18 from the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 29 November. "But as far as I know, no meetings were held with officials during the visit. At least, the Metropolitan didn't mention any. So nothing could have been discussed with them." Archbishop Feofilakt is allowed to visit Turkmenistan on short visits several times a year, including earlier in 2016. However, this was the first visit Metropolitan Vikenty has been allowed to make to Turkmenistan since 2013 (see F18News 23 May 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1840). "The Church tried to invite Metropolitan Vikenty once a year, without much success," a lay Orthodox Christian noted (see below). No serving Russian Orthodox Patriarch has ever visited Turkmenistan. Isolating belief communities The Turkmen government's policy of isolating its citizens (including belief communities from their fellow-believers in other countries), together with tight restrictions on which religious communities are allowed legally to exist, means religious communities have only highly limited opportunities to invite foreign religious figures. Only registered religious communities have the right to apply to invite foreigners for religious purposes, though such applications are rarely successful (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676). Any one registered community can generally only invite one foreigner or small group of foreigners (such as a husband and wife) per year, religious community members told Forum 18 from Ashgabad. "In addition, there is always a time limit," one community member explained. "A guest is usually allowed to stay for three days, maximum five days, never more." At least two Protestant communities were able to have such brief visits in 2016, Protestants told Forum 18. In the past, other registered Protestant churches, as well as the Baha'i and Hare Krishna communities have been able to have such short, rare visits by foreign citizens. The state-controlled Sunni Muftiate (Muslim Spiritual Administration) - the only form of the majority religion Islam permitted – appears only to invite foreigners on very rare occasions. Islamic communities outside the framework of the Muftiate are not allowed to exist, and therefore (like Jehovah's Witnesses and many Protestant churches) cannot invite foreign citizens (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676). Registered religious communities are generally not able to invite foreign citizens to live and serve in Turkmenistan. The enforced departure from Turkmenistan in spring 2015 of Fr Grigory Bocharov, the Secretary of the Patriarchal Deanery who had arrived from Russia (see below), appears to leaves only one Russian Orthodox priest from Russia remaining, Forum 18 notes. The one exception is for the small Catholic community, which is served by foreign priests resident in Ashgabad. However, these priests have diplomatic status as staff of the Holy See's Nunciature (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676). Religious communities which might want to invite pastoral leaders or qualified religious teachers to live and serve in Turkmenistan are thus unable to do so. Similarly, the only institution allowed to train clergy of any faith in the country, the small Muslim Theological Section in the History Faculty of Magtymguly Turkmen State University in Ashgabad, is not allowed to have any foreign staff (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676). No Russian Orthodox diocese for Turkmenistan The dozen or so Russian Orthodox parishes in Turkmenistan were transferred by the Church's Holy Synod in October 2007 from the jurisdiction of the then Central Asian Diocese based in the Uzbek capital Tashkent after heavy pressure from the Turkmen authorities. They were formed into a Deanery directly subject to the Patriarch (see F18News 19 October 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1037). On behalf of the Patriarch, the Turkmen Deanery has been led since October 2008 by the "temporary administrator", Bishop Feofilakt (Kuryanov). He has retained his responsibility for "temporarily" overseeing the Deanery over more than eight years, despite having episcopal responsibilities in Russia, first as assistant bishop in the Moscow diocese, then bishop of Smolensk and, finally, bishop of Pyatigorsk from March 2011. Feofilakt became an Archbishop in 2014. The Russian Orthodox Holy Synod established individual dioceses for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – led by their own resident bishops – in July 2011. While the dozen or so parishes in Turkmenistan would form a small diocese, it would still be bigger than the Tajikistan diocese, which has just six parishes (one of them on a Russian military base). Similarly, the Azerbaijan diocese has fewer parishes than in Turkmenistan. OSCE obligations As a participating State of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Turkmenistan has an obligation to respect and facilitate everyone's freedom of religion or belief and linked fundamental freedoms. The Concluding Document of the Vienna Meeting 1986 of Representatives of the Participating States of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe commits participating states to "respect the right" of religious communities to "organize themselves according to their own hierarchical and institutional structure". It also commits participating States to respect their right to "select, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their respective requirements and standards as well as with any freely accepted arrangement between them and their State" (see Forum 18's compilation of OSCE commitments on freedom of religion or belief http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1351). What or who is delaying establishing Orthodox diocese? Forum 18 was unable to reach any Turkmen officials to find out whether the state is preventing the Russian Orthodox Church from structuring itself in the country as it chooses and naming a resident leader of its choice. The telephone of Mekan Akyev, head of the government's Commission for Work with Religious Organisations and Expert Analysis of Resources Containing Religious Information, Published and Printed Production, went unanswered each time Forum 18 called between 28 and 30 November. The telephone of one of the Deputy Chairs, Gurbanberdy Nursakhatov, also went unanswered, though local people told Forum 18 he was out of the country. Forum 18 asked a spokesperson for the Moscow Patriarchate about what is delaying the establishment of a diocese in Turkmenistan, and whether the Deanery is likely to be turned into a Diocese soon. He chose his words very carefully in his response. "What exists exists," he told Forum 18 from Moscow on 28 November. "If something changes, a new structure might be required." Asked how much the Moscow Patriarchate is pushing the Turkmen authorities to be allowed a diocese, the official – who did not give his name – responded: "The structure is important for us, but carrying out religious services is the most important thing." Asked about the current state of negotiations, he added: "I'm not saying if there are or aren't discussions in the Moscow Patriarchate on this, but if there were we wouldn't discuss it publicly." Asked why the Russian-based Archbishop Feofilakt is still the administrator of the Patriarchal Deanery, the Moscow Patriarchate official noted that he had been "temporary" administrator for some years. He did not explain why this provisional status has remained unchanged for more than eight years. Will synod be able to meet in Ashgabad? The Turkmen Deanery is part of the Russian Orthodox Central Asian Metropolitan Area, led by Metropolitan Vikenty (Morar), who is based in Tashkent. The Metropolitan Area is made up of the dioceses of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, together with the Patriarchal Deanery in Turkmenistan. Unlike the Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan dioceses, which he has been able to visit at least once a year, Metropolitan Vikenty has found it more difficult to visit the parishes in Turkmenistan. He first visited the Turkmen parishes in November 2012, then again in April 2013. However, his next visit did not take place until November 2016. Fr Stolyarov, spokesperson for the Uzbek diocese, insisted that Metropolitan Vikenty faces no obstruction visiting Turkmenistan when required. "If we submit a request for such a visit, that request will be met," he told Forum 18. The synod of the Central Asian Metropolitan Area – with the bishops of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as Archbishop Feofilakt representing the Turkmen Deanery – has met in Tashkent and the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. Although Archbishop Feofilakt expressed the hope at the March 2015 synod that the next meeting could be held "in sunny Ashgabad", this did not happen. Deanery Secretary forced out Fr Grigory Bochurov, a Russian citizen from Pyatigorsk diocese, served from 2012 in Turkmenistan as Secretary of the Patriarchal Deanery and senior priest of Ashgabad's St Nikolai Church. Bishop Feofilakt named him to both posts in September 2012. In a December 2014 meeting in Ashgabad with Charygeldi Seryaev, head of the government's then Gengesh (Council) for Religious Affairs, Archbishop Feofilakt praised Fr Bochurov's "constructive work" in coordinating the work of the parishes in Turkmenistan. Fr Bochurov was also present at the meeting. However, in spring 2015 the Turkmen authorities refused to extend Fr Bochurov's permission to remain in Turkmenistan, the lay Orthodox Christian told Forum 18. The priest was forced to leave Turkmenistan and return to Russia, where he resumed duties in the Pyatigorsk diocese. It appears the Church tried to appeal to the Turkmen authorities to overturn the enforced departure, but with no success. Finally bowing to the inevitable, Archbishop Feofilakt issued a decree on 20 June 2016, removing Fr Bochurov from his post as senior priest at Ashgabad's St Nikolai Church and also from his post as Secretary to the Patriarchal Deanery in Turkmenistan. "No changes" for Armenian Apostolic Church Despite repeated attempts, the Armenian Apostolic Church has so far been unable to regain its former church in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), confiscated during the Soviet period and partially destroyed in the mid-2000s. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's November 2012 promise to return what remains of the church and allow it to be restored and reopened for worship have never been fulfilled (see F18News 23 May 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1840). On 12 September 2016, the exiled news website Chrono-tm.org published photographs of the exterior and interior of the half-ruined church in Turkmenbashi. Outside stands a notice "Old Armenian Gregorian church. Historical-Cultural Monument, Registered by the State BN6 10-211". "No changes have occurred," a spokesperson for the Moscow-based Armenian Apostolic Diocese (which includes Central Asia) lamented to Forum 18 on 29 November. The spokesperson added that Archbishop Yezras Nersisyan is planning to visit Central Asia soon, "we hope in December". Asked if the Archbishop will finally be able to visit Turkmenistan and try to restart the Church's activity there, the spokesperson responded: "We'll see." The Armenian Apostolic Church has parishes in Samarkand and Tashkent in Uzbekistan and Almaty in Kazakhstan. The church in Turkmenbashi is the only surviving church building in Turkmenistan. The Armenian ambassador to Turkmenistan tried to arrange an invitation for a priest to visit in 2015, but was unsuccessful, an Ashgabad-based Christian told Forum 18. The last time an Armenian priest is known to have visited was in 1999, when he was only able to hold services and conduct baptisms on Armenian diplomatic territory (see F18News 26 October 2004 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=439). (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2234
  3. t least 26 shops and 6 homes raided for religious literature sold or distributed without having undergone compulsory censorship by or in places not licensed by State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations. Some individuals already punished. UN Human Rights Committee concerned over religious censorship. Police and officials of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations have raided at least 26 shops and six homes in October and early November across Azerbaijan to seize religious literature being distributed without the compulsory state permission. Some book sellers have already been punished. All the literature seized from shops appears to have been Muslim. Not one State Committee official in Baku or in branches around the country, police officer or court would discuss these raids, literature seizures or punishments with Forum 18. The "Expertise" Department at the State Committee in Baku – which implements the state censorship – told Forum 18 on 16 November its head Nahid Mammadov was out of the office and no-one else could speak for the department. Asked about the many raids, the man simply said that everything done was "in the law". The man who answered the phone of State Committee official Aliheydar Zulfuqarov – who participated in raids on shops in the southern town of Masalli (see below) – put the phone down when Forum 18 introduced itself. The State Committee press office told Forum 18 its head, Yaqut Aliyeva, was away until 18 November and no-one else could speak to the press. Local officials of the State Committee where shops and homes were raided – in Lankaran, Masalli, Baku and Quba (which covers Khachmaz) – refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions. Complete religious literature censorship 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. 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 the end of October, 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. The State Committee does not publish any list of books it has banned, despite promises by the then State Committee Head in April 2013 that it would do so "soon" (see F18News 2 May 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1830). The Old Testament, the 14-volume "Risale-i Nur" (Messages of Light) collection of writings by the late Turkish theologian Said Nursi, and several Jehovah's Witness publications were included on a police list of alleged "banned" religious literature, based on State Committee "expert analyses" (see F18News 6 May 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1955). Police often seize these works in raids on homes. In a 23 August 2016 interview with the Trend news agency and reposted on the State Committee website, Mammadov of the State Committee's "Expertise" Department noted that his Committee regularly provides the Customs Service and the Police with lists of religious books it has banned. Mammadov added that no publishing house would print religious literature without State Committee approval because owners of such firms know the seriousness of the punishments for those who violate the law. Punishments Those who violate the state censorship of all religious literature face punishment. Prosecutors can bring cases under both the Criminal Code and Administrative Code. Criminal Code Article 167-2 punishes: "Production, sale and distribution of religious literature (paper and electronic formats), audio and video materials, religious items and other informational materials of religious nature with the aim of import, sale and distribution without appropriate authorisation". Punishments under Criminal Code Article 167-2 for first time offenders acting alone are a fine of between 5,000 and 7,000 Manats or up to two years' imprisonment. Such an "offence" by a group of people "according to a prior conspiracy", by an organised group, by an individual for a second time or by an official would attract a fine of between 7,000 and 9,000 Manats or imprisonment of between two and five years. Each 1,000 Manats is equivalent to 5,000 Norwegian Kroner, 540 Euros or 580 US Dollars. Administrative Code Article 516.0.2 punishes "Selling religious literature (printed or on electronic devices) audio and video materials, religious merchandise and products, or other religious informational materials, authorised for sale in an order established by the Law on Freedom of Religion of the Azerbaijan Republic, outside specialised sale outlets established with the consent of the relevant executive authority [State Committee and local administration]". Punishment under Article 516.0.2 entails confiscation of the literature, merchandise and products or other materials being the immediate object of the administrative violation and a fine of 2,000 to 2,500 Manats on individuals, 8,000 to 9,000 Manats on officials, 20,000 to 25,000 Manats on legal entities. If the person sentenced is not a citizen of Azerbaijan, they are also ordered deported (see F18News 2 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2184). UN concern The United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern about Azerbaijan's "censorship of religious material and prior authorization requirement for importing, exporting, distributing and publishing such material". The Committee also expressed concern about a wide range of other restrictions on exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief in its concluding observations to its review of Azerbaijan's record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, made public on 4 November (CCPR/C/AZE/CO/4). The Committee called on Azerbaijan to change the law to prevent such abuses. Baku raids Police and State Committee officials raided five shops in the Sadarak shopping centre in Baku's Qaradag District, the Interior Ministry noted on its website on 20 October. Officers and officials seized 287 books and seven discs, none of which had the required stickers from the State Committee to show that they had undergone the compulsory state censorship of religious literature. Cases under Administrative Code Article 516.0.2 were drawn up against owners of the shops. Also in Qaradag District, officers from the 10th Police Station raided homes of four residents of Lokbatan, Qandaf Huseynova, Parikhan Ibrahimova, Ilkin Ibrahimov and his brother Samir Ibrahimov. Officers seized 56 religious books which allegedly had no approval from the State Committee for distribution in Azerbaijan, the Interior Ministry noted on its website on 22 October. In a further raid in Qaradag District also noted by the Interior Ministry on 22 October, officers from the 38th Police Station raided a home in Sahil, a settlement along the Caspian coast south-west of Baku. Officers seized 159 religious books and 9 magazines from a Georgian citizen, Rizvan Hamidov. Police and State Committee officials raided six shops selling religious materials in Baku's Yasamal District on 26 October, the State Committee noted the same day. The State Committee said four of the shops did not have its permission to sell religious materials. Police seized copies of 16 different religious publications which were being sold without permission. The owner of one of the shops, Zohrab Bagirov, as well as a vendor named Samir Karimov, were interviewed and shown in television reports on the raids that evening. Police and officials of the State Committee raided nine further shops selling religious literature in Nasimi, Nizami, Sabunchu, Khatai and Surakhani Districts of Baku, the State Committee announced on 3 November. Eight of the nine shops were not specialised shops selling religious literature. Officers and officials seized 421 different items of religious literature, 13 DVDs and 5 CDs being sold in venues not licensed by the State Committee and the local administration and without the required State Committee stickers. Baku punishments Although the Interior Ministry noted that cases were being brought under Administrative Code Article 516.0.2 only following the raids on the five shops in the Sadarak shopping centre, investigations were said to be underway in all the other cases. Two individuals are known to have been fined in Baku's Yasamal District Court since early November under Administrative Code Article 516.0.2. Judge Akshin Afandiyev fined Ismayil Huseynov on 4 November, according to court records. However, the Judge's assistant refused to tell Forum 18 on 15 November what fine he had imposed on Huseynov. Judge Ramin Qurbanov fined Gulverdi Gulverdiyev 2,000 Manats on 10 November, his assistant told Forum 18 on 14 November. The assistant would not say for what literature the Judge had fined Gulverdiyev, nor whether he had appealed against the punishment. Raids in the north In the northern town of Khachmaz [Xacmaz], Police officers raided a stall at the market run by Hicran Talibova. Officers seized 97 religious books which they claim were being sold without the required state permission, the Interior Ministry website noted on 27 October. Officials at Khachmaz District Court refused to tell Forum 18 on 16 November if any case against Talibova has been brought to court and, if so, what the result was. On 3 November, Sheki [Säki] District Police raided the home of Yashar Aliyev in Turan, a village 50 kms (30 miles) from Sheki in northern Azerbaijan, the Interior Ministry noted on its website the following day. Officers seized 28 printed items of religious literature and two discs, claiming that the items did not have the required permission from the State Committee. Aliyev had been punished earlier for having religious books, the Interior Ministry noted. During a police raid on his home in March 2012, officers seized religious literature. The books seized were mainly by the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi (see F18News 30 March 2012 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1686). On 11 November 2016, Judge Kamran Suleymanov of Sheki District Court sentenced a Yashar Aliyev to 15 days' imprisonment under Administrative Code Article 510 ("hooliganism") and Article 535.1 ("failure to submit to a police order"), according to court records. A court official told Forum 18 on 16 November that this Aliyev was from Turan, but was unable to say if he was the same person as the man whose home was raided on 3 November. Raids in the south State Committee, Police and State Security Service (SSS) secret police officers conducted high-profile raids on two shops in the southern town of Masalli, news agencies noted on 10 November. The raids were led by the Masalli representative of the State Committee, Miryahya Badirov, and a State Committee official from Baku, Aliheydar Zulfuqarov. In one of the shops, Zahra, officials seized four books and six DVDs. In the other unidentified shop, officials seized 55 books, claiming that the shop was selling religious literature without the required State Committee licence. Masalli's Zahra religious goods shop – on the town's main street, Heydar Aliyev Avenue – is one of only 17 listed on the State Committee website as a "specialised religious goods shop". It lists the owner as Namiq Bayramov. Accompanying the officials and officers were camera crews from several news outlets, including ARB Cenub regional television station and APA news agency. They broadcast or posted videos online of the raids that evening. The footage shows Badirov inspecting books, books piled up on a desk in one of the shops while two police officers note down titles. The man who answered Badirov's phone on 15 November denied to Forum 18 that it was Badirov. His colleague in the office told Forum 18 the same day that he had not been present during the raids and only Badirov could explain why they had been conducted. On 11 November, Police and State Committee officials raided three shops selling religious literature in Lankaran in the far south of Azerbaijan close to the border with Iran, The State Committee noted on its site on 11 November. None of the three shops had the required permission from the State Committee or the local administration to sell religious literature. Officials seized 93 publications which did not have permission from the State Committee. Police prepared records of an offence against two of the shop owners. The third was given a verbal warning. "Preventive" conversations were held with all three. US-based Turkish imam's books banned Mammadov of the State Committee also noted in his 23 August interview that books by the US-based Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen had been banned for import into Azerbaijan before the Religion Law was amended in 2009. He claimed that their import "is not appropriate" as they proclaim the superiority of members of Gulen's movement over non-members. The Turkish government has accused Gulen of leading a movement called Hizmet (Service) and organising the failed coup in July 2016 (see F18News 13 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2224). The Azerbaijani government has since moved against alleged Gulen supporters. Mammadov also claimed that the State Committee had banned other religious literature for inciting religious enmity or hatred, or proclaiming members of one religion superior to others. He claimed that among such banned works were Jehovah's Witness, Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, Shia Muslim and Hare Krishna publications, as well as works by Said Nursi. He did not identify any specific publications which allegedly violated the law. In May 2014 the State Committee told a Baku-based Sunni Muslim that Nursi's "Risale-i Nur" is "inappropriate for import in large quantities or publication, and has not objected to it being brought into the country only in special cases when there is no intention of propaganda (and on condition of no more than one copy)" (see F18News 3 June 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1964). "Illegal" religious literature accusations in political cases Police and SSS secret police also use the possession or alleged possession of "illegal" religious literature as an excuse to bring charges in political cases. Following the mid-August arrests in Baku of Fuad Ahmadli, head of the Youth Wing of the Popular Front Party in Khatai District, and Faiq Amirov, and aide to the head of the party, officers claim to have found in their possession books and recordings by Gulen. Ahmadli's lawyer Asabali Mustafayev said that the books allegedly confiscated from his client were sent for an "expert analysis" in early November. He said the list included more than ten books, including works by Gulen and Nursi. "Usually an individual would not read books by both authors," Mustafayev told Forum 18 from Baku on 15 November. He complained that officials would not give him a copy of the list, allowing him only to look at it briefly. Human rights defenders told Forum 18 from Baku that Amirov declares himself an atheist and that police planted three Gulen books and eight discs in the boot of his car. Mustafayev told Forum 18 that cases against five further individuals arrested in Baku's Qaradaq District on 23 and 24 October for alleged "illegal" religious literature have been combined with the cases against Ahmadli and Amirov. (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2231
  4. Kyrgyzstan continues to deny all belief communities permission to exist without state control, Protestants stating they "live and exercise freedom of religion and belief with constant fear." Officials refuse to explain why officials' torture of Jehovah's Witnesses meeting for worship is not seriously investigated. Kyrgyzstan continues to deny state registration – and so state permission to exist – to many belief communities which apply for it, and to ban groups of people from exercising freedom of religion and belief without state permission. Protestant pastors state that they "live and exercise freedom of religion and belief with constant fear." State officials have refused to answer, when asked by Forum 18, why they continue to fail to seriously investigate officials' torture of Jehovah's Witnesses meeting for worship. It also remains unclear whether the prosecution and arrest of Jehovah's Witness mother and daughter Oksana Koryakina and Nadezhda Sergienko, now being investigated by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee, has finally come to an end. The two were apparently targeted in retaliation for their community applying for state registration (see below). Control continues to be exercised over the Muslim Board and Russian Orthodox Church, as well as biased decisions being made in their favour, Almaz Esengeldiyev of Open Viewpoint noting that "the state acts as if it is their mentor" (see below). "I cannot give you such information" Since the 2009 Religion Law came into force, one Jewish Community, up to four Russian Orthodox communities, and about 140 Islamic organisations including mosques, madrassahs, and foundations, mainly under the state-controlled Muslim Board, have been registered. But no Catholic, Protestant, Jehovah's Witness or Ahmadi Muslim communities have been registered. The Ahmadis have been banned as "extremist" and cannot meet or worship together. All other Muslim communities are state-controlled via the Muslim Board (see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013). The Caritas charity organisation, which aims to reflect the core values of the Catholic Church, has been registered and does not undertake any religious activities. Several Protestant Pastors, who lead communities without state permission to exist, told Forum 18 on 8 and 9 November 2016 that they "live and exercise freedom of religion and belief with constant fear." There are also threats by the government against secular human rights defenders in the country see http://www.nhc.no/en/countries/asia/kyrgyzstan/). Mob violence with no state action to protect victims continues to experienced by members of smaller vulnerable religious communities (see F18News 20 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2226). Both Almaz Esengeldiyev of the Open Viewpoint human rights defender organisation and Galina Kolodzinskaya of the Interfaith Council told Forum 18 on 10 November that from 2015 only four new Russian Orthodox communities and about 141 Islamic organisations were registered. The secretary (who refused to give her name) to State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) Head Orozbek Moldaliyev claimed he was not available on 10 November. SCRA lawyer Asel Myktybekova and the Deputy Head of the SCRA registration section Nurbek Shamraliyev both refused to state how many religious communities had been registered. "I cannot not give you such information", Shamraliyev claimed to Forum 18. Myktybekova stated without giving details that "we approved Muslim and Christian organisations' lists". She then admitted under questioning that the only Christian organisations were Russian Orthodox churches. She then claimed that "I cannot give such information over the phone". Long-standing registration denials, harassment Under the 2009 Religion Law all unregistered exercise of freedom of religion and belief is banned. Registration demands among other things 200 founder members of a community to give their personal details to the authorities, which many people are afraid to do for fear of state reprisals. Among the Law's many other demands are details of a community's beliefs. Many communities which may want to apply for registration do not have 200 members, and the authorities take full advantage of the many arbitrary reasons the Law allows for registration to be refused (see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013). These demands flagrantly break Kyrgyzstan's international human rights obligations, which are outlined in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)/Venice Commission Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious or Belief Communities (see http://www.osce.org/odihr/139046). Kyrgyzstan is both an OSCE participating State and a Venice Commission member state. Targeting, arrests, torture Some communities think they and their followers have been targeted by the authorities after applying to register. This appears for example to have happened in the long-running case of Jehovah's Witness mother and daughter Oksana Koryakina and Nadezhda Sergienko, who from March 2013 have faced house arrest and criminal charges in punishment for their community lodging a registration application (see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013). The case was described by a judge as "a fabricated case" in November 2015, but still continued (see F18News 3 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2155). On 14 March 2016 the UN Human Rights Committee, following a complaint from Jehovah's Witnesses, informed the government that it had accepted the case and asked that the two women, their lawyers and witnesses be protected while the Committee considered the case. Osh City Court on 25 April closed the case against the women, stating that the three year limit for legal action was exhausted. Osh City Prosecutors Office with the help of the Russian Orthodox Church appealed against this on 30 May in Osh Regional Court, without success. It is unclear whether Koryakina's and Sergienko's long legal struggle is now finally over. Kyrgyzstan has also refused to follow its international obligations by arresting and trying under criminal law state officials in Osh who tortured Jehovah's Witnesses meeting for worship (see F18News 3 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2155). On 8 July General Prosecutor's Office Senior Prosecutor Urmat Karypbekov wrote to Jehovah's Witnesses claiming that the officials are allegedly being investigated by Osh City Prosecutor's Office. On 18 July Jehovah's Witnesses petitioned the General Prosecutor Office asking for the case to be withdrawn from Osh Prosecutors Office in view of their past open biased decisions. This has not happened. Gulmira Davletbayeva of the General Prosecutor's Office refused to answer Forum 18 when asked by Forum 18 why the torture case had not been withdrawn from Osh Prosecutors Office, and why the General Prosecutor's Office itself is not investigating the case. "We cannot answer such questions over the phone", she claimed, before referring Forum 18 to Osh City Prosecutor's Office. They did not answer their phones on 11 November. Constitutional Chamber ignored by officials In September 2014, a Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court decision removed two major obstacles to the registration of religious or belief communities: a restriction that a religious organisation is limited to carrying out its activity only in the place where it has its legal address; and a requirement that local keneshes (councils) must approve a list of 200 founding members of a religious organisation before it can apply for legal status. Local keneshes have long obstructed registration applications in conjunction with the SCRA (see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013). Yet officials have refused to follow the Constitutional Chamber decision, and the SCRA is preparing a draft Religion Law ignoring it (see F18News 29 May 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2067). And in February 2016 the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Jehovah's Witnesses against keneshs' refusal to register communities in Osh, Naryn, Jalal-Abad, and Batken. Other communities have continued to face harassment from keneshes (see F18News 3 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2155). Esengeldiyev of Open Viewpoint commented that keneshes often give no reasons or vague reasons for refusing to approve lists of founders, complaining that the 2014 Constitutional Chamber decision "has not been executed for the last two years". Fear of giving authorities founder names Protestant pastors, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 on 7 and 8 November that "many new churches across Kyrgyzstan would like to receive registration, but cannot gather 200 founders as they are small communities." It is known that some churches have collected the signatures and details of 200 founders willing to make themselves known to the authorities, along with the other required documents, but the SCRA refuses to register them. None of the churches wish to discuss this publicly, as "it is a sensitive issue, and they are still asking for registration". Aleksandr Shumilin, a Baptist pastor who chairs the Association of Evangelical Churches, told Forum 18 on 10 November that Baptists and other churches have "expressed concerns about having to provide personal data on founding members to the authorities. This data will be given to the ordinary police and National Security Committee (NSC) secret police, which may lead to the founders being put in danger." He knows of churches who have for this reason privately told the authorities that they will not provide lists of founders. Another Protestant pastor expressed concern that giving the authorities the names of 200 founders may lead to community leaders being charged with "illegal missionary work". The Religion Law bans "actions directed to proselytising of the faithful from one denomination to another (proselytism), as well as any other illegal missionary work" (see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013). Biased state treatment of Muslim Board and Russian Orthodox Church "It is impossible not to notice the special treatment given by the state to the so-called traditional religions", Esengeldiyev of Open Viewpoint commented to Forum 18. As well as their organisations and communities getting state registration, he noted that on 2 April 2015 the government freed the Muslim Board from making normally compulsory payments such as taxes and insurance. Esengeldiyev of Open Viewpoint also noted that the Bishkek and Central Asia Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) was registered not as a "foreign mission" but as a local organisation. Under the Religion Law, if a community has "administrative centres located beyond Kyrgyzstan or having foreign citizens in its administrative body" it is classified as a "mission". This must re-register every year and does not have legal status (see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013). "Another example of bias in favour of the Orthodox Church took place on 2 April 2013", Esengeldiyev noted. That day Bishkek City Kenesh with its Decision No. 8, seen by Forum 18, approved the list of founders of a Russian Orthodox community, stating that it did this: "For the purposes of fulfilling the Religion Law, taking into account historical and modern realities, the necessity of preserving and developing the spiritual-moral potential of society, and on the basis of the reference of the religious affairs working group". The same day, with its Decision No. 9 seen by Forum 18 the Kenesh refused to approve the similar lists of nine other communities – one Catholic, one Lutheran, two Presbyterian, one Seventh-day Adventist, the Renewal and Grace Protestant churches, one Jehovah's Witness, and one Jewish community. The unclear reason given was: "Being governed by the Religion Law and for the purposes of regulating the activity of religious organisations of Bishkek City, based on the reference of the religious affairs working group". Yelena Krasheninnikova of Bishkek Kenesh, asked on 10 November 2016 what criteria Kenesh deputies used to approve or reject applications, replied: "We do not have such criteria or mechanisms." Asked what this means, and whether deputies make subjective decisions, she said: I don't know what to say. I cannot answer you over the phone". She then put the phone down. Rabbi Ariye Raikhman of Bishkek's Jewish Community told Forum 18 on 8 November that their community was able to re-register in 2014. "We had to apply for re-registration in 2013, as changes were made to the founding documents", he explained. "At first the Kenesh told us that they could not approve our list of founders as there were no regulations to regulate the process of approval, but later they re-registered us". Rabbi Raikhman stated that he could not remember why the Kenesh changed its mind. [Stating that the SCRA has not issued regulations governing re-registration has been a common excuse used by keneshes to deny registration applications - see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013] Fr. Aleksandr Pelin, Secretary of the Chancellery of the Russian Orthodox Diocese in Bishkek, on 9 November declined to state either how many Orthodox communities had registration, or whether the state gave the Moscow Patriarchate favourable treatment. "Ask the SCRA, the question is in their competence", he told Forum 18. Both Myktybekova and Shamraliyev of the SCRA refused to discuss the questions, Shamraliyev putting the phone down. State control of Muslim Board and Russian Orthodox Church Esengeldiyev of Open Viewpoint also told Forum 18 that state bias towards the Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church "does not exempt them from state control". He noted that both organisations are described as so-called "traditional religions" in the Concept on State Policy in the Religious Sphere 2014-20 (adopted by the Defence Council on 3 February 2014), but "the state acts as if it is their mentor." Esengeldiyev noted, for example, the increased controls imposed on the Muslim Board, including all imams having to be Sunni Hanafi, by the Defence Council after its Decree of 3 February 2014 (see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013). He also noted the SCRA's 2014 expulsion of both Russian Orthodox Bishop Feodosy and catechist Vakhtang Fyodorov (see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2013). (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2230
  5. 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. Legal dissolution of communities can follow. Law enforcement raids on Jehovah's Witness premises have reached a rate of more than three per month in 2016, Forum 18 has found. These unannounced raids, often involving large numbers of heavily armed riot police as well as the FSB security service and "Anti-extremism" investigators, frequently occur during meetings for worship and use disproportionate force. The "discovery" of literature prohibited as "extremist" often occurs during searches. One of many such raids took place in the village of Nezlobnaya in the southern Stavropol Region on 20 September (see below). Jehovah's Witnesses have credibly insisted, with video evidence, that this literature has been planted by the authorities. As well as being distressing to congregations, such raids with the "discovery" of "extremist" literature can also set in motion a chain of legal repercussions up to and including the dissolution of communities (see below). The current wave of raids take place without any advance warning to the communities concerned. One difference from visits from Prosecutors Office officials is that the community concerned is notified in advance by post of these visits. One indicator of the unnecessary nature of the weapons (including infantry assault rifles) and force used by camouflaged state officials in the many raids is that Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide are a doctrinally pacifist community, whose young male members will not do compulsory military service or any other military-connected activity. Jehovah's Witnesses follow their pacifist principles even if the government concerned jails and tortures conscientious objectors to military service, and their families and co-believers (see eg. in Turkmenistan F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220). Increasing raids and prosecutions targeting Jehovah's Witnesses Police have raided Jehovah's Witness places of worship for at least 10 years. A raid on a meeting for worship in April 2006 led to the liquidation of their Moscow community. After a long legal struggle, the community was in 2015 re-registered after an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg (see F18News 28 August 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). However, such raids appear to have increased in frequency and heavy-handedness over the last year, Jehovah's Witness spokesman Yaroslav Sivulsky commented to Forum 18 on 20 October 2016. This is in line with a general intensification of law enforcement scrutiny of Jehovah's Witnesses, Forum 18 notes. This has included rising numbers of prosecutions under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") and Article 20.2 ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket"), as well as the dissolution of several local communities as allegedly "extremist organisations" (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Appeal against "extremism" warning fails In March 2015 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) which the Centre oversees and supports (see F18News 24 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2181). On 12 October 2016, Tver District Court in Moscow rejected the Administrative Centre's attempt to have the General Prosecutor's warning ruled unlawful. The Centre now plans to appeal to Moscow City Court, Sivulsky told Forum 18 on 20 October. It expects the appeal to be heard in two or three months. In the meantime, Sivulsky added, they understand that the warning is not legally enforceable until after any appeal ruling. If the Administrative Centre's appeal fails and prosecutors pursue liquidation, it seems likely that assorted Jehovah's Witness bodies throughout the country may also face dissolution because of their association with the Centre. Jehovah's Witnesses have more than 400 local religious organisations (legal entities) and over 2,500 congregations, according to their main website jw.org . The Centre itself would be added to the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations (which is dominated by far-right and violent nationalist groups, though it already includes five liquidated Jehovah's Witness congregations) and its property would be turned over to the state. The warning states that the Centre will be subject to dissolution if it does not take "specific organisational and practical measures" within two months to eliminate violations of the "Extremism Law", or if new evidence of "extremism" is uncovered. It does not elaborate, however, on what such measures may be or how they will be monitored. It appears that any subsequent extremism-related conviction of an individual or local community (once the appeal process is exhausted) may provide grounds for liquidation. On 3 October, a ninth local Jehovah's Witness congregation, in Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Region, was ruled an "extremist" organisation and ordered to be liquidated. On 18 October, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation rejected the Oryol Jehovah's Witness community's appeal against its liquidation, ordered by Oryol Regional Court in June 2016. Increasing raids and prosecutions targeting many communities If an item is on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, possession of it carries the risk of a fine or imprisonment for up to 15 days, and confiscation of the banned literature. The Federal List as of September 2016 ran to over 3,69 items, often does not include full bibliographical details, and is irregularly updated, making it difficult for anyone to keep abreast of recent bans (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Courts continue to rule texts "extremist", opening the way for more prosecutions for their possession or "mass distribution". These include the Google Translate Russian version of a collection of sayings of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, a video commenting on the attempted seizure by bailiffs of saints' relics from the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, and Jehovah's Witness texts (see F18News 20 March 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2049). No-notice raids on religious communities' premises are not confined to Jehovah's Witnesses. Prosecutions of Muslims under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") often arise after police, prosecutor's office officials, and/or FSB officers have searched a mosque "to check compliance with anti-extremism legislation" and discovered "extremist" literature, according to court verdicts seen by Forum 18 (see eg. F18News 25 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2171). Armed raids on homes, sometimes during prayer meetings or religious celebrations, have often been part of criminal investigations of Muslims who read the works of late Turkish theologian Said Nursi (see eg. F18News 29 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2193). Institutions run by Protestant churches, such as drug rehabilitation centres have sometimes been obliged to close for after fire safety or sanitation inspections found apparently minor and easily resolvable infringements (see eg. F18News 26 March 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1943). In October 2012, bailiffs in the Vladimir Region town of Suzdal disrupted a Russian Autonomous Orthodox Church service in an attempt to seize the relics of two saints kept in the church building (see F18News 3 December 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2020). Since the introduction in July 2016 of the so-called "anti-missionary law", which severely restricts the public sharing of beliefs, law enforcement agencies have raided religious events they suspect of violating the new legislation's regulations. Hare Krishna devotees and Protestants have also been prosecuted for sharing beliefs in public (see F18News 26 August 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2211). A police raid on a Tver sanatorium where Ghanaian Protestant leader Ebenezer Tuah was performing baptisms in a rented hall led to his being prosecuted for conducting "missionary activity" without the necessary documents. He was found guilty on 1 August and fined 50,000 Roubles, the maximum for a foreign citizen (see F18News 26 August 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2211). Police in St Petersburg detained Archbishop Sergei Zhuravlyov of the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church while he was giving a sermon at a Messianic Jewish community. The police had received a message suggesting that Zhuravlyov was trying to convert Jews to Orthodoxy. A court fined the Archbishop 5,000 Roubles on 5 September. Particular focus on Jehovah's Witnesses Jehovah's Witness communities appear at present to be bearing the brunt of law enforcement attention of this type, involving the disruption of meetings for worship, the use of force, and the alleged falsification of material evidence. Police raided 30 Kingdom Halls or other meeting places between January and August 2016, Jehovah's Witnesses' Administrative Centre noted in September. A further five were raided as of 21 October, bringing the total to 35 known raids so far this year. This is a marked increase on the Administrative Centre's figure of 10 for January-August 2015 (14 for 2015 in total). Throughout 2015, 89 known individuals and communities of all beliefs throughout Russia were prosecuted for possession of allegedly "extremist" religious literature (see F18News 25 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2171). The Jehovah's Witnesses in 2013 and 2014 reported eight such raids in each year. Throughout 2014, 65 known individuals and communities of all beliefs throughout Russia were prosecuted for possession of allegedly "extremist" religious literature (see F18News 31 March 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2052). Armed raids, planting of banned materials Law enforcement officers raid Jehovah's Witness meetings at a variety of locations – purpose-built Kingdom Halls, properties rented long-term for worship purposes, temporarily rented business centres or Houses of Culture, and sometimes individuals' homes. Not all raids involve riot police or the halting of meetings for worship, as officers have been known to wait until the meeting is over on a few occasions. But the raids usually involve the disproportionate use of force, disproportionate numbers of officials, the needless disruption of meetings for worship, and either the expulsion of worshippers from the building or their containment in one room. Those present are expelled or confined to one room to prevent observation of searches, Jehovah's Witnesses comment. Officials have also demanded that those present lie down with their faces to the ground, to avoid what officials do being observed. Forum 18 sent written questions to the FSB security service in several regions in which raids have been carried out in the last few months, asking: why these raids were launched, why heavily armed units were used, and why it was deemed necessary to disrupt meetings for worship. No reply has yet been received. Simultaneous raids have sometimes been carried out in the same town or region. This happened to multiple Jehovah's Witness communities in: Petrozavodsk and Kostomuksha in Karelia in July 2016; in Vladikavkaz, Mozdok, and Alagir in North Ossetiya in May 2015; and also on multiple places of worship and believers' homes in Budyonnovsk in Stavropol Region in August 2016. Evidence planting Jehovah's Witnesses state that the law enforcement practice of planting literature began as early as January 2013 and has become part of a coordinated campaign against them. According to a 30 September statement, they are aware of at least 60 cases of the planting and falsification of evidence. "Currently, more than 80 Jehovah's Witness publications appear on the Federal List of Extremist Materials", the Administrative Centre commented on 1 April 2016. "Jehovah's Witnesses believe this is a mistake and seek in the courts to exclude their books and pamphlets from this list. Nevertheless, they do not import, distribute, or store these publications. Believers check carefully to ensure that these materials do not appear in places of worship." That officials plant evidence has also been credibly claimed by Muslims who read the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi. For example, this seems to have occurred in relation to a mosque in Mordovia whose mufti was subsequently fined (see eg. F18News 1 May 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1953). Typical heavily armed raid, evidence apparently planted A typical example of the many raids, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18, took place in the village of Nezlobnaya in the southern Stavropol Region on 20 September. The raid also demonstrates the unnecessary levels of weapons and numbers of officials used in such raids. CCTV footage released by the Nezlobnaya Jehovah's Witness community – available at - shows about 12 fully masked male officials, wearing black and green camouflage uniforms and carrying apparent infantry assault rifles, climbing the fence surrounding the Kingdom Hall. They then begin to force their way through the door using metal-cutting equipment, without giving anyone inside a chance to open it. It is early in the morning (c. 7.30 am) and no meeting for worship has yet bagun, but people are present in the building. In further footage from various indoor CCTV cameras, the heavily armed, masked and camouflaged state officials can be seen spreading out through the building and starting to search it. In the worship hall itself, the video appears to shows two masked men putting books or brochures into a corner cupboard. This material is then uncovered about half an hour later (according to the CCTV timestamp) by another man in civilian clothes. When committee member Yevgeny Vernik arrived, officers refused to let him see any paperwork authorising the search. "When I asked [the senior officer] to show me a copy of the order, he rudely demanded that I leave the building," Vernik complained. Local Jehovah's Witness chair Pavel Puzyrev claims in the video released by the Administrative Centre that his community regularly performs its own searches to check for banned literature, and that there had been nothing in the cupboard the previous day. About 10 law enforcement agents also searched Puzyrev's home, where he alleges they planted banned items from the Federal List in the kitchen. He has since been charged under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials"). Telephones at Stavropol Region police information department went unanswered whenever Forum 18 called on 20 and 21 October. Disruption Other recent raids illustrate the disruption of meetings for worship caused by such raids. In St Petersburg on 11 October, at least 25 law enforcement officers, including "Anti-Extremism" Police, entered a Kingdom Hall during evening worship. Officers announced that the building was to be searched for "extremist" literature. They covered the CCTV cameras with masking tape, before emptying cupboards and taking up the floor, the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre noted on 12 October. Several men were taken to the police station for questioning. Although on this occasion prohibited literature was not found, police confiscated personal Bibles, tablets, and phones. Forum 18 called St Petersburg Police on 21 October to ask why the search had been carried out and why interrupting a service had been deemed necessary. A spokeswoman directed Forum 18 to the head of the information department, Vyacheslav Stepchenko, but telephones in his office went unanswered. In Petrozavodsk in Karelia on 28 July 2016, the FSB security service and armed OMON riot police raided an evening service, the Administrative Centre reported the following day. Officers seized worshippers' phones and other electronic devices and allegedly pushed some worshippers to the floor and kicked them. A search of the premises followed, which uncovered items of banned literature on the Federal List. There then followed a long period of questioning. The last Jehovah's Witness was released after midnight. As a result, the community was fined 50,000 Roubles under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") at Petrozavodsk City Court on 3 October. Asked by Forum 18 on 21 October why the raid had taken place, why armed officers had been used, and why it had been necessary to disrupt religious worship, a spokesperson for Karelia Police said it was "difficult to give such information". She suggested sending questions by email, which Forum 18 did in the early afternoon of the Karelia working day of 21 October. Court proceedings, fines, possible community dissolution As well as the immediate impact of an unexpected and heavy-handed raid, consequences for Jehovah's Witness communities can extend to court proceedings, financial penalties, and possible dissolution and confiscation of community assets. If law enforcement officers find – or claim to find - prohibited literature during a search, administrative charges under Administrative Code Article 20.29 may follow. For legal entities such as religious organisations, conviction under this Article now carries a fine of 100,000 to 1 million Roubles. For individuals, the fine is 1,000 to 3,000 Roubles or up to 15 days' imprisonment; for people acting in an official capacity, 2,000 to 5,000 Roubles (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). Prosecutors may also issue warnings that, should further "extremist activity" be detected, they will seek the liquidation of the community as an "extremist organisation" – this may then be triggered by subsequent raids or prosecutions of individual believers. Rented premises used by the Oryol community were searched three times in 2015 – including the disruption of a service in December 2015 by six officers of the police and FSB – and banned religious literature was found hidden inside stage steps and under a tablecloth. Jehovah's Witnesses insist that this must have been planted there earlier, as the officers allegedly did not bother checking anywhere else. The community was fined multiple times under Administrative Code Article 20.29 and received a warning of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" with the threat of liquidation if violations were not eliminated. In June 2016, the regional branch of the Justice Ministry successfully sought the community's dissolution. The Supreme Court rejected the community's appeal against the ruling on 12 October 2016. Some 20 law enforcement officers "burst into the premises" of the Jehovah's Witness community in Saransk on the evening of 13 October, according to the Administrative Centre, and searched it for two hours, confiscating believers' phones and the building's CCTV equipment. "Turning their backs to the security camera, they planted Federal List material in a cupboard, which they themselves then ‘found'," Jehovah's Witnesses complained on 17 October. Jehovah's Witnesses note that, a few days previously, an FSB officer had called to check the CCTV – he "carefully examined the location of video cameras and other equipment, and assured those present that everything was fine". The Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Mordovia had already issued an extremism warning to the Saransk community on 27 September. If charges are brought as a result of the latest raid, the community could face liquidation. Nine communities ordered liquidated – only one successful appeal A total of nine local Jehovah's Witness organisations have so far been ordered by courts to be dissolved: Taganrog, September 2009; Samara, May 2014; Abinsk, March 2015; Tyumen, October 2015; Belgorod, February 2016; Stary Oskol, February 2016; Elista, February 2016; Oryol, June 2016; Birobidzhan, October 2016 (see eg. F18News 22 March 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2161). The Taganrog, Samara, Abinsk, Belgorod, and Stary Oskol communities appear on the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations. Only one liquidation order – against the Tyumen community – has been subsequently overturned by Russia's Supreme Court. All other appeals so far have been unsuccessful. Two further attempts at liquidation have been unsuccessful – in Arkhangelsk, which was refused by the Regional Court in June 2016, and in Cherkessk, where proceedings were opened in May 2015, were delayed by other civil cases involving the congregation (see F18News 28 August 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). They now appear to have been dropped. At least 10 other communities are known to have received formal warnings of "the inadmissibility of extremist activity" since spring 2015 (some of which have now expired). Three of these – Tikhoretsk (Krasnodar), Chapayevsk (Samara), and Shakhty (Rostov) – are in regions which have already seen the liquidation of Jehovah's Witness congregations (in Abinsk, Samara, and Taganrog respectively). The other seven are in Kaluga, Vilyuchinsk on the Far Eastern Kamchatka peninsula, Teykovo in Ivanovo Region, Stavropol, Novorossiysk, Saransk in Mordovia, and Prokhladny in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya. Four communities (Tikhoretsk, Teykovo, Chapayevsk, Prokhladny) are so far known to have gone to court to have the warnings recognised as unlawful, all unsuccessfully. Severe consequences, increasing legal restrictions The loss of legal status can have a severe impact. Under 2015 changes to the Religion Law, all religious communities that do not have legal status must notify the authorities of their existence and activity. This includes providing the names and addresses of all their members and addresses where any meeting takes place (see F18News 17 September 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2101). Such a requirement is against Russia's international human rights obligations, as outlined in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)/Venice Commission Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious or Belief Communities (see http://www.osce.org/odihr/139046). Russia is both an OSCE participating State and a Venice Commission member state. Communities dissolved for "extremism" also face the possibility of criminal prosecution of their former members for continuing to meet, as happened in Taganrog among other places (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). A further consequence, introduced in July 2016 by an amendment to the Religion Law, is a ban on former members of "extremist" religious organisations carrying out broadly defined "missionary activity" (see F18News 8 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2197). (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2228
  6. A South Korean court has ruled in favor of a man who refused to take part in the country's mandatory military service on religious grounds. The Gwangju District Court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal by prosecutors, upholding a previous ruling that found the man not guilty. It also acquitted two other so-called "conscientious objectors" who had been sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison. All three of the men are Jehovah's Witnesses, who say they are prohibited by their faith from entering the military. The court said the men's refusal of mandatory military service was consistent with their religious faith and conscience, considering how they were brought up. It cited an international trend of recognizing conscientious objectors, and pointed to a growing consensus that some kind of alternative military service is needed in such cases. The Defense Ministry urged the court to use caution and prudence, as cases like this may affect national security, cause a decrease of morale for active-duty servicemen, and enable others to evade military service. http://world.kbs.co.kr/english/news/news_Po_detail.htm?lang=e&id=Po&No=122586&current_page=2
  7. MOSCOW, October 18 (RAPSI, Oleg Sivozhelezov) – The Supreme Court of Russia has upheld a lower court’s decision to ban The Jehovah’s Witnesses branch in the city Oryol as extremist organization, RAPSI reports from the courtroom on Tuesday. On June 14, the Oryol Regional Court liquidated the organization on the request of the Justice Ministry’s regional Directorate. The Jehovah’s Witnesses representative said earlier that no violations had been found during the inspection conducted by the Justice Ministry on April 1, 2013. On Tuesday, representatives of the Justice Ministry and prosecutor’s office insisted that the Oryol court’s ruling was legal and valid and asked the Supreme Court to uphold it. The Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives in turn said that liquidation of the organization is a disproportionate measure restricting people’s rights to freedom of religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses have had many legal problems in Russia. On October 12, a court in the Jewish Autonomous Region ruled to ban a branch of “The Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Birobidzhan because of distributing extremist literature by the organization. On June 16, Russia’s Supreme Court declared “The Jehovah’s Witnesses of Stary Oskol” in the Belgorod Region an extremist organization and ruled to liquidate it. On June 9, the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Belgorod was banned as extremist organization. In March 2015, a court in Tyumen fined the organization 50,000 rubles ($792) and seized prohibited literature. In January 2014, a court in Kurgan ruled to ban the organization’s booklets as extremist. The books talk about how to have a happy life, what you can hope for, how to develop good relations with God and what you should know about God and its meaning. In late December 2013, the leader of the sect’s group in Tobolsk, Siberia was charged with extremism and the prevention of a blood transfusion that nearly led to the death of a female member of the group. In 2004, a court in Moscow dissolved and banned a Jehovah’s Witnesses group on charges of recruiting children, encouraging believers to break from their families, inciting suicide and preventing believers from accepting medical assistance. Jehovah's Witnesses is an international religious organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Since 2004 sever branches and chapters of the organization were banned and shut down in various regions of Russia. http://rapsinews.com/judicial_news/20161018/276985074.html
  8. Two South Korean men who refused to do military service have had their convictions overturned in a landmark ruling against the government. Cho Rak Hoon and Kim Hyung Geun were freed by an appeals court in the southern city of Gwangju today. They had been sentenced to 18 months in prison for refusing military service at their trials, in June 2015 and May 2016 respectively, according to Amnesty International. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/appeal-court-frees-jehovahs-witnesses-who-refused-to-serve-in-south-korean-military-p0x3gvdcn
  9. MOSCOW, October 12 (RAPSI) – A court in the Jewish Autonomous Region has ruled to ban a branch of “The Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Birobidzhan because of distributing extremist literature by the organization, according to the court’s website. A lawsuit seeking prohibition of the local religious organization “The Jehovah’s Witnesses” has been filed by the Main Department of the Ministry of Justice of the Khabarovsk Krai and Jewish Autonomous Region. According to the Ministry, facts of keeping and distribution of extremist materials were revealed in 2015 and 2016. Leaders of “The Jehovah’s Witnesses” were held administratively liable; the organization was formally noticed about inadmissibility of carrying out extremist activity. The defendant’s representative, committee chairman of “The Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Birobidzhan, has not admitted plaintiff's claim. The ruling may be appealed in the Supreme Court of Russia. Jehovah’s Witnesses have had many legal problems in Russia. On June 16, Russia’s Supreme Court declared “The Jehovah’s Witnesses of Stary Oskol” in Belgorod Region an extremist organization and ruled to liquidate it. On June 9, the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Belgorod was banned as extremist organization. In March 2015, a court in Tyumen fined the organization 50,000 rubles ($800) and seized prohibited literature. In January 2014, a court in Kurgan ruled to ban the organization’s booklets as extremist. The books talk about how to have a happy life, what you can hope for, how to develop good relations with God and what you should know about God and its meaning. In late December 2013, the leader of the sect’s group in Tobolsk, Siberia was charged with extremism and the prevention of a blood transfusion that nearly led to the death of a female member of the group. In 2004, a court in Moscow dissolved and banned a Jehovah’s Witnesses group on charges of recruiting children, encouraging believers to break from their families, inciting suicide and preventing believers from accepting medical assistance. Jehovah's Witnesses is an international religious organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Since 2004 sever branches and chapters of the organization were banned and shut down in various regions of Russia. http://rapsinews.com/judicial_news/20161012/276957385.html
  10. 34 attendees at an "illegal" home meeting for worship on the most sacred annual observance for Jehovah's Witnesses were fined nearly a year's official minimum wage. The leader of a Sunni mosque in Baku forcibly closed in July has failed to overturn his fine. In mid-September the final seven of 34 Jehovah's Witnesses lost their appeals against fines of more than three months' average wages each. The 34 were punished for participating in a 23 March meeting for worship in a home in the north-western town of Gakh [Qax] which the authorities claim was "illegal". Similarly, on 23 September the leader of a Sunni mosque in the capital Baku failed in his attempt to overturn a similar fine for leading an "illegal" religious community. The authorities forcibly closed down the mosque as "illegal" in July. The 34 Jehovah's Witnesses were punished for attending a meeting for worship commemorating the Memorial of Christ's death, the most sacred annual observance for Jehovah's Witnesses. Police raided and halted the observance (see below). Of the 35 individuals, 34 were each fined 1,500 Manats (15,400 Norwegian Kroner, 830 Euros or 1,900 US Dollars). This is more than eleven times the minimum monthly wage, or three months' average wages for those in formal work. However, many of those fined are without formal work and for them the fines represent even more of a punishment, Forum 18 notes. The other individual was fined 1,800 Manats. The Sunni Omar bin Khattab Mosque in Qobustan in southern Baku, forcibly closed in July, was built on the Simirov family's private land and had functioned since 1990. The family have gone to court to try to protect the Mosque and plot of land from possible seizure (see below). The enforced closure is part of what appears to be the state's determination to close Sunni mosques across the country. The closure came just days after the state forcibly closed the Lezgin Mosque in Baku's Old City on the excuse that "repairs" were needed. Earlier in July, a Sunni Mosque in a village in the northern Quba Region was ordered to close for all activity except Friday prayers. A privately-built Sunni home mosque which had functioned for 20 years was closed in January in the town of Shirvan, south-west of Baku (see F18News 20 September 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2216). Controls in defiance of international human rights commitments In defiance of its international human rights obligations, Azerbaijan insists that exercising freedom of religion or belief without permission from the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations is illegal. Those who violate these strict controls – including by meeting for worship in homes or talking to others of their faith – are punished. Alongside this insistence that state permission is required, the State Committee refuses to process registration applications from many religious communities seeking legal status. Many communities which applied in 2009 - when the Religion Law was amended and mandatory re-registration was again imposed – are still waiting for the State Committee to process these applications (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2081). International human rights bodies have repeatedly called on Azerbaijan to revoke these restrictions. On 26 April the United Nations Human Rights Committee prepared questions to Azerbaijan ahead of the consideration of its record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 20 and 21 October in Geneva (CCPR/C/AZE/Q/4). The Committee asked Azerbaijan to "indicate any steps taken towards abolishing the requirement of registration for religious communities. Please also describe any measures taken to amend the 2009 religion law with a view to bringing it into full compliance with the Covenant." It also asked if the government has taken any steps to abolish the requirement that all Muslim communities be subject to the state-backed Caucasian Muslim Board. The government submitted its response to the Human Rights Committee on 14 July and it was made public on 9 August (CCPR/C/AZE/Q/4/Add.1). The government response failed to address these questions. It merely claimed that "the registration procedure is very simple" and blamed religious communities themselves when the State Committee failed to process their applications. The government insisted to the Human Rights Committee that Muslim communities must be subject to the Muslim Board because the law demands it. It did not explain why the law prevents Muslims from forming communities as they might like. Gakh: Religious meeting raided On 23 March, police officers in Gakh raided the home of Givi Khusishvili. They abruptly stopped the observance of the Memorial of Christ's death. Police officers showed what purported to be a court order authorising their search and confiscated personal copies of religious publications, including Bibles. Officers then took all the attendees to the local police station, interrogated them, and ordered them to write statements. Police drew up records of an "offence" under the Administrative Code against six of the men present. All were released soon after 9 pm. A 23 March statement on the Interior Ministry website claimed that Khusishvili had violated the procedure for organising and holding religious meetings. It claimed the meeting had therefore been "prohibited by law". It said that of the 56 people present, more than 44 were local, while 9 were from Zakatala [Zaqatala], the region north of Gakh. Five were from Baku. The Interior Ministry said the 19 DVDs, two videos and 219 items of religious literature seized during the search had not been approved by the State Committee (see F18News 2 June 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2184). Gakh: Police protests overturn acquittals In early May, Police opened cases against 34 attendees under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. This punishes "A religious association operating outside of its registered legal address" with a fine for individuals of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats. Cases against 27 were opened by Gakh Police and against seven by Zakatala Police. Masim Adigozelov and Sahaddin Hasanov, two of the officers of Zakatala Police, refused to explain to Forum 18 on 5 October why they had opened the administrative cases against the Jehovah's Witnesses. Both put the phone down without responding to any questions. Cases against 27 attendees from Gakh were handed to Gakh District Court. However, the Court's Judge Atabay Kichibayov dismissed all the cases for lack of an "offence". Ten of them were heard and dismissed on 24 May, the remaining 17 on 27 May (see F18News 2 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2184). Gakh District Police appealed against the May acquittals of the 27 attendees to Sheki Appeal Court. Between 28 July and 1 August, various Judges at Sheki Court of Appeal reversed the acquittals. The Court imposed convictions and fines of 1,500 Manats on 26 of the attendees, according to court records. Khusishvili, the home owner, was fined 1,800 Manats. Gakh: Seven further fines, upheld on appeal In early May, cases against the other seven were handed to Zakatala District Court, the home region of those individuals. However, in early June the Court handed these cases to Gakh District Court. Following the reversals of the acquittals and the punishments handed down to 27 attendees, Judge Kichibayov then considered the cases of the other seven, handed on from Zakatala District Court. On 4 August he found the seven – including Gulbahar Guliyeva, Konul Guliyeva, Yevdokia Sobko, Matanat Qurbanova and Vaqif Aliyev – guilty under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. He fined each of the seven 1,500 Manats, according to the subsequent Appeal Court verdicts seen by Forum 18. A court official told Forum 18 from Gakh on 5 October that Judge Kichibayov was not in the court building. She confirmed that he had fined the seven Jehovah's Witnesses but refused to say why they had been punished for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. She then put the phone down. All seven appealed to Sheki Appeal Court. At separate hearings under various Judges on 14 and 16 September, the attendees insisted that their right to meet with others for religious purposes is defended by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, the Judges dismissed their appeals, according to the decisions seen by Forum 18. The man who answered the phone of Mehman Ismayilov, regional representative of the State Committee in Zakatala, refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions on 5 October. Gakh: Acquittals in other cases The same Judge Kichibayov at Gakh District Court who had initially acquitted the 27 Jehovah's Witnesses in May has also dismissed other cases against individuals accused of violating the strict controls on freedom of religion or belief. On 11 April police in Gakh detained Jehovah's Witnesses Gulara Huseynova and Rasmiyya Karimova for allegedly distributing religious publications. Jehovah's Witnesses insisted to Forum 18 that at the time the two women were simply walking on the street. The officers seized religious publications from their bags and took them to Gakh District Police Station. Later, the police charged both women under the Administrative Code. At a hearing on 12 May, Gakh District Court Judge Kichibayov acquitted both women. On 15 May, Jehovah's Witnesses Rahim Karimov and Luka Khusishvili talked to a man about the Bible for approximately 15 minutes in a market in Gakh. They had spoken to the man previously, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. After the two Jehovah's Witnesses said goodbye, police detained them and took them to Gakh District Police Station. They later charged the men under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. On 9 June, Gakh District Court Judge Kichibayov acquitted the two. Fine threats Police who detain individuals for speaking to others on the street about their faith – or who appear to be preparing to do so – often threaten them with prosecution under Administrative Code Article 515 and fines of 1,500 Manats or more. On 22 April police in Baku detained Jehovah's Witnesses Khayala Jafarova and Jaarey Suleymanova for talking to their neighbours about their faith. Officers took them to the 35th Police Station. The women were interrogated, ordered to write statements and to sign protocols. Police confiscated all their religious literature, including the Bible. One officer threatened that they would be charged under Administrative Code Article 515 and fined 1,500 Manats. They were released and ordered to return the next day. "The next day, the women were subjected to further verbal abuse and offered release if they would renounce their religion," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. On 24 July police in Baku detained Gulgaz Novruzova and Rakhila Shukurova "for speaking to people about the Bible in a public park", Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Officers took them to Khatai District Police Station. "The women were asked why they did not read the Koran and officers sneered at the name Jehovah." An Officer named Sadig threatened to fine the women 1,500 Manats. The women were ordered to write statements before being released. On 4 August, Jamila Gurbanova and three other female Jehovah's Witnesses planned to go from Barda to Yevlakh in central Azerbaijan to share their beliefs. On the bus, they decided to speak with other passengers about their faith and gave out several pieces of literature. One of the passengers was a State Committee official, who phoned the police. Officers took Gurbanova and the State Committee official to the police station. Officers asked Gurbanova why she preaches Christianity instead of the Koran. They confiscated her religious literature, even though it had the required stickers from the State Committee. Officers threatened to have Gurbanova fined under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. She was released that evening, having written a statement. All religious literature produced in, published in or imported into Azerbaijan is subject to prior compulsory censorship. In addition, it can only be sold of distributed in places approved by the State Committee. 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). Baku mosque leader's fine upheld On the afternoon of 23 September, Judge Vuqar Mammadov of Baku Appeal Court upheld the fine on Ahmad Simirov, according to court records. Simirov was leader of a Sunni Muslim Mosque on private land in Qobustan on the southern edge of Baku. Omar bin Khattab mosque was forcibly closed by the Police, State Security Service (SSS) secret police, Qaradag District administration officials and Anar Kazimov, Baku representative of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations. Simirov had appealed against a fine of 1,500 Manats under Administrative Code Article 515.0.1, handed down by Qaradag District Court on 11 August (see F18News 20 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2216). Administrative Code Article 515.0.1 punishes "A religious association's leader evading registration of the association with the relevant executive authority [State Committee]" with a fine for individuals of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats. "I told the appeal hearing that I have no job, and that I can be imam of a mosque on my own property," Simirov told Forum 18 from Qobustan on 6 October. "They told me I couldn't, even if it's my property." Simirov said it was "pointless" for him to appeal further against the fine through the Azerbaijani court system. But he added that he might bring a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In the meantime, he said he would have to pay the fine in instalments. "Otherwise they'll seize my property, sell it and take the money from that." Family goes to court to protect Mosque and land from seizure The Simirov family have brought a suit to court to try to prevent any seizure of the Mosque and land in Qobustan. The suit has been lodged against the head of Qaradag District Administration, the Caucasian Muslim Board and the State Committee. "They closed our Mosque and demand that we hand the Mosque over to them," Simirov told Forum 18. "We are seeking to prove that this is our property, that my father Uzeyir Simirov built the Mosque on his own property." The first hearing in the case took place on 4 October under Judge Tahira Asadova at Baku's Administrative-Economic Court No. 1. The case is due to resume in late October, Simirov added. (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2222
  11. Uzbekistan arrested four men, confiscating a book a government "expert analysis” stated was permitted. Adventist Pastor Andrei Ten was later shown a second "expert analysis” banning the book and fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage, the other three being each fined smaller amounts. Police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police on 2 August arrested four men riding in a taxi in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. They then confiscated copies of a religious book, "The Great Controversy”, which the Religious Affairs Committee had in writing stated that after "expert analysis” was allowed to be imported and distributed in Uzbekistan. On 8 August 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 below). Many similar cases take place in Uzbekistan against physical and electronic religious literature held by people of many beliefs, often involving sometimes very large fines and jail sentences. In some cases, rape threats and physical abuse has been used by male officials against female religious believers (see below). Arrested in taxi On 2 August, police and NSS secret police officers in the Olmazor District of Tashkent detained Pastor Andrei Ten, Olimzhan Mirzamambetov, Anarvoy Ergashev and Rahim Tursunov while they were riding in a taxi. Pastor Ten is from the officially registered local Seventh-day Adventist Church, but Mirzamambetov, Ergashev and Tursunov are not part of this Church and had been hired to do work on its building, Adventists who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 12 September. Officers searched the men and confiscated from each of them a copy of a Russian translation of "The Great Controversy”, a book by Ellen White. She was one of the founders of what would become the Adventist Church. Adventists told Forum 18 that the Religious Affairs Committee had on 2 May written to the Bible Society stating that, after "expert analysis”, it was allowing "The Great Controversy” to be imported and distributed in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan imposes strict censorship on all religious publications and all aspects of their distribution. There is a de facto ban on religious literature of any faith in homes and if found such literature is frequently ordered to be destroyed. State pressure is so great that for their own safety some religious believers have destroyed their own sacred texts (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862). Contradictory "expert analysis” On 8 August, six days after the men were stopped in the taxi and the books confiscated from them, Officer Shavkat (who did not give his last name) of Olmazor District Police phoned Pastor Ten. Shavkat asked Ten to come to Olmazor Police Station at 5 pm the same day. When Ten came to the Police Station, Officer Shavkat demanded that he write a statement that he gave the books to the three men. After Pastor Ten wrote the statement, police then showed him another "expert analysis” by the Religious Affairs Committee. This contradicted the first "analysis” and stated that "The Great Controversy” is banned. So-called "expert analyses” are often flawed, or even violate published law. 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). Shovkat Khamdamov, Press Secretary of the Religious Affairs Committee in Tashkent, refused to tell Forum 18 on 27 September why the Committee contradicted itself on the book "The Great Controversy”. He referred Forum 18 to Begzod Kadyrov, Chief Expert of the Committee. Khamdamov also refused to answer Forum 18's other questions, and put the phone down. The phones of Kadyrov and other Committee officials were not answered on 27 September. Cases launched After showing Pastor Ten the contradictory "expert analysis”, Olmazor Police then opened cases against all four men under the Code of Administrative Offences' Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons”). Olmazor Police told Forum 18 on 26 September that the only officer named Shavkat who works for Olmazor District Police is Deputy Chief of Olmazor Police Myrzajanov. Forum 18 on 26 September called the mobile phone number from which Ten was called. Officer Shavkat (who refused to give his last name) answered the phone. But after Forum 18 started asking about the case he then claimed that it was a "wrong number” and put the phone down. Subsequent calls went unanswered. Deputy Police Chief Myrzajanov's land line phone number went unanswered on 26 September. "Anti-terrorism” ? Asked why cases were opened against Ten and the other three men, Olmazor Police Department on 26 September referred Forum 18 to Makhmud Tolipov, the head of the local Anti-Terrorism Police. Police did not explain what so-called "anti-terrorism” has to do with these cases. Asked about the case on 27 September, Anti-Terrorism Police officer Tolipov refused to comment. "These are internal issues of Uzbekistan,” he claimed to Forum 18. "Talk to our Foreign Ministry and they will explain them to you.” He put the phone down. Four fines On 19 August Judge Musa Yusupov of Olmazor District Criminal Court of Tashkent fined Pastor Ten, Mirzamambetov, Ergashev and Tursunov. Ten was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage, 13,024,000 Soms. The other three men were each fined five times the minimum monthly wage, 651,200 Soms. (Large discrepancies exist between the market and official currency exchange rates.) "Judge Yusupov unlawfully ordered the confiscation of the books,” the Adventists stated. Olmazor Court officials (who would not give their names) between 26 and 27 September refused to comment on the case or put Forum 18 through to Judge Yusupov. Many fines, jail sentences, rape threats and assaults Many similar cases take place in Uzbekistan. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses have told Forum 18 that between January and July 2016 at least 51 Jehovah's Witnesses across all of Uzbekistan were fined for "offences” related to the possession of religious literature. Fines imposed varied between three and 60 times the minimum monthly wage. They commented that "the use of or even the mere possession of the Bible” outside the building of their only state-registered religious community, in Chirchik, "is considered to be an administrative violation”. Only belief communities that have state registration are allowed to exist, violating international human rights law (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1862). These kind of fines and other punishments for having religious literature affect people of many beliefs. One Baptist, Stanislav Kim, was on 26 August given two years corrective labour living in his home for having religious books at home (see F18News 29 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2219). Similarly, two Jehovah's Witnesses were on 27 January jailed for 10 days and, with 28 others, fined for "illegal” literature and meeting for worship (see F18News 28 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2192). Materials in electronic form are also targeted, Jehovah's Witnesses noting that religious literature and electronic devices were confiscated from the homes of two Jehovah's Witnesses in Chirchik on 11 May and from two others in Fergana on 11 June. No prosecutions appear to have followed. Bakhtiyor Khudaiberdiyev was arrested on 9 January at Tashkent Airport for having suras [verses] from the Koran and other material on his phone, and at least two Muslims are serving five-year prison terms for the Koran and sermons in their mobile phones (see F18News 7 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2165). During some of raids and confiscations in 2016, male police threatened female Jehovah's Witnesses with rape and also physically assaulted women (see F18News 25 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2182). Torture is "routine” in Uzbekistan, the United Nations (UN) Committee has found (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1862). (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2221
  12. Kazakhstan has misled the UN Human Rights Committee about the numbers of people it has fined and jailed for exercising freedom of religion and belief. Four days after the Human Rights Committee examined the country, Kazakhstan fined three more people for exercising their freedom. Contrary to claims by Kazakhstan's Delegation to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee in late June that just eight individuals had been so far in 2016 punished for violating the Religion Law, the true number is higher, Forum 18 notes. More than 20 individuals are known to have been punished for exercising the right to freedom of religion and belief without state permission. Most of the Muslims, Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses were punished for offering religious literature the state has not approved in places the state has not permitted, talking about their beliefs with other people without state permission, or meeting for worship without state permission. Also, two shop owners have been fined for having religious literature in their shops without state permission, and banned from commercial activity for three months (see list at base of this article). At least one person, Baptist Roman Dimmel, was given a short-term jail term for refusing to pay earlier fines for such "offences”. There are also increasing numbers of Muslim and Christian prisoners of conscience given long jail terms for exercising freedom of religion and belief. In addition to being jailed, these prisoners of conscience also have bank accounts blocked by the government without being informed of this, without additional legal process, and are also required to pay for "expert analyses” used to convict them Four days after the Human Rights Committee considered Kazakhstan's record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Geneva on 22-23 June, three more Muslims in the eastern town of Semei were fined for going door to door to talk to people about their beliefs and invite them to a mosque (see below). Kazakhstan's Delegation similarly understated the known number of individuals punished for, contrary to the Religion Law, exercising their freedom of religion and belief in 2013. This has been the peak year so far for such punishments (see below). Twelve Kazakh human rights defender organisations have strongly criticised the government's record to the Human Rights Committee, including the ban on exercising freedom of religion and belief without state permission. They noted that the government directly violates its UN human rights obligations Nearly 50 Jehovah's Witnesses from Kazakhstan have joined complaints to the Human Rights Committee against fines (and deportation for foreigners) imposed for sharing their faith with others On 27 June Kazakhstan was elected onto the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member for two years from 1 January 2017. Fines without court hearings start being imposed In a new move, police have without a court hearing started to fine people for exercising their freedom of religion and belief. Three Council of Churches Baptists have been fined by police without trial so far in 2016. Prosecutors later annulled one of the fines. Police have had the right to issue certain fines for exercise freedom of religion and belief without state permission since the beginning of 2015. But Baptists state that such summary police fines were not used against them before early 2016 (see forthcoming F18News article). Recent fines for exercising freedom of religion and belief In addition to the Muslims fined for exercising their freedom of religion and belief while the Human Rights Committee examined the government's record, in April 2016 a shopkeeper in the northern city of Petropavl was fined for religious books his wife kept in his shop. He was also banned from conducting commercial activity for three months. Also in April, two Muslims visiting the southern town of Zhetysai were fined for standing outside the main mosque encouraging others to attend the namaz (prayers). Protestants were also fined in Spring 2016 for meeting for worship without state permission (see below). Punishments are generally fines of 50 or 100 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs). A fine of 100 MFIs is currently 212,100 Tenge (about 5,200 Norwegian Kroner, 560 Euros or 625 US Dollars). This is about seven weeks' average wages for those in work, according to June 2016 average income figures from the government's Statistics Committee. However, some of those fined are unemployed or pensioners on lower incomes. "False information”? The Kazakh Delegation to the Human Rights Committee – which was led by Deputy Justice Minister Elvira Azimova – admitted that "a 100 or so” individuals were in 2013 punished under the Code of Administrative Offences for violating the Religion Law, according to the 23 June 2016 French-language UN press report on the session But the Delegation understated the number of individuals punished in 2013, the peak year so far for such punishments. Forum 18 has documented 153 such punishments on 126 named individuals between January and early November 2013. Other individuals also appear to have been punished. As noted above, punishments for exercising freedom of religion and belief continued until the end of 2013 and beyond. This includes the more than 20 people known to have been so far punished in 2016 (see list at base of this article). This compares to the 8 in 2016 claimed by the Kazakh Delegation. Zukhra Galiyeva, an aide to Minister Azimova, told Forum 18 from Astana on 14 July that the Minister was not available. Asked whether the government Delegation had not been informed of the true numbers of those punished for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief or had deliberately given the UN Committee lower figures, Galiyeva responded of Minister Azimova: "She didn't give false information.” However, Galiyeva refused to give any further information, including how many individuals are currently being punished for exercising freedom of religion or belief and why. She said all questions should be sent by post to the Justice Ministry. New restrictions on freedom of religion and belief planned Continuing punishments for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief come as officials draft further amendments to the Religion Law and Criminal and Administrative Codes. These amendments seem set to impose even more restrictions on the right to freedom of religion or belief, with possible wider or increased punishments in the two Codes Fined after Human Rights Committee examines record On 7 June, three Muslims were stopped in the dacha district of Vostochnoi in Semei, in East Kazakhstan Region. Bakhytbek Tursynov, Erzhan Shomatayev and Asilkhan Tumeshbayev were speaking to local residents about their faith on the way back from evening prayers in the mosque. East Kazakhstan Regional Internal Policy Department drew up a record of an offence against Tursynov, Shomatayev and Tumeshbayev under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3. This punishes: "Carrying out missionary activity without state registration (or re-registration), as well as the use by missionaries of religious literature, information materials with religious content or religious items without a positive assessment from a religious studies expert analysis, and spreading the teachings of a religious group which is not registered in Kazakhstan”. The punishment is a fine of 100 MFIs, with deportation if the individual is a foreign citizen (The UN Human Rights Committee considered Kazakhstan's record under the ICCPR in Geneva on 22-23 June.) On 27 June Judge Gibrat Valiyev of Semei Specialised Administrative Court found all three Muslims guilty. He imposed the prescribed fine of 100 MFIs, 212,100 Tenge, according to the court verdict of 28 June seen by Forum 18. The three men "do not consider their actions missionary activity”, the court verdict cites them as telling the hearing, "as inviting people to the mosque is the obligation (farz) of every Muslim”. Kazakhstan requires that only people with state permission may share their beliefs and imposes severe restrictions on who may talk about their beliefs, where they may talk about them, and what materials they may use Petropavl: shopkeeper fined for religious books On 4 January, officials including at least one religious affairs official raided Rustem Seidaliyev's shop in Petropavl's Korona shopping centre. The officials found religious literature on the top shelf of the display window. As Seidaliyev does not have the compulsory state permission to sell religious literature, they insisted he had committed a crime or an offence. Kazakhstan imposes state censorship on all religious literature and objects, for example banning all Muslim literature that is not Sunni Hanafi, and imposes strict limitations on who may sell or distribute such material and where this may happen. Some bookshops which might be able to get state permission for this have decided not to apply for permission for fear of problems from the authorities On 29 February, officials decided to halt a criminal investigation against Seidaliyev, according to the subsequent court verdict in the case. On 17 March Bulat Omarov of North Kazakhstan Region Religious Affairs Department drew up a record of an offence under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3. This punishes: "Violating the requirements of the Religion Law for .. import, production, publication and/or distribution of religious literature and other religious materials, and items for religious use”. The punishment for individuals is a fine of 50 MFIs On 20 April, Judge Alena Devyatkina of Petropavl Specialised Administrative Court rejected Seidaliyev's insistence that the religious books were not being offered for sale, and that his wife kept them in his shop. His wife teaches religion in a mosque in the city, she told the court, and used the books to teach fellow female Muslims. However, the Judge dismissed Seidaliyev's wife's testimony as invalid because she would not want her husband to be punished. Judge Devyatkina punished Seidaliyev with the prescribed fine of 50 MFIs, 106,050 Tenge, according to the court verdict seen by Forum 18. Seidaliyev was also banned from commercial activity for three months. He did not appeal against the punishment and the court verdict came into force on 4 May, according to court records. The court verdict does not say whether officials confiscated any religious books in the 4 January raid and, if so, whether they were to be returned to Seidaliyev, handed to someone else or ordered destroyed. Courts frequently order religious books to be destroyed "It's not correct to ask who suffered” Duman Espenbetov, who represented the regional Religious Affairs Department, refused to discuss the court verdict. "Our law says no one has the right to comment on court verdicts,” he claimed to Forum 18 from Petropavl on 12 July. He refused to say if officials confiscated any religious books from Seidaliyev. Asked who had suffered because Seidaliyev had had religious books in his shop, Espenbetov responded: "It's not correct to ask who suffered. He broke the law.” Asked why books related to religion are under government censorship, he denied that censorship is imposed. Asked whether Seidaliyev would have been fined had the books been about football he refused to respond and put the phone down. On 23 May, court bailiffs began proceedings to recover the unpaid fine from Seidaliyev, according to Justice Ministry records. The telephone of Irina Fomkina, the bailiff in Petropavl handling the case, was switched off when Forum 18 called on 14 July. Spring 2016: raided, fined for meeting for worship without state permission In Spring, on the same day, police raided five Protestant congregations in an area of Kazakhstan, fellow Protestants told Forum 18. They asked that names and other identifying details not be given for fear of state reprisals. The congregations have chosen not to apply for state permission to exist, as is their right under Kazakhstan's international human rights obligations. Against international human rights law, Kazakhstan bans all exercise of freedom of religion and belief by more than one person without state permission. During the raids, police confiscated religious literature, documents, computers and money, fellow Protestants complained. Officers told church members that their activity was banned as they do not have state registration. Administrative cases against several church members were handed to court and they were subsequently fined. As the church members refused to pay the fines, court bailiffs came to the individuals' homes and confiscated money and other items. "The churches are under close surveillance and can't function as they would wish,” fellow Protestants told Forum 18. All religious communities are thought to be under surveillance by the ordinary police and National Security Committee (KNB) secret police Zhetysai: fined for inviting people to meet for worship In Zhetysai, in South Kazakhstan Region, two Muslims have been punished for inviting people to worship in the town's main mosque. Kairat Abuov of the regional Religious Affairs Department found the two men – Askar Kaliyev from Atyrau and Shokan Ualikhanov from Almaty – inviting people to pray on 4 April. The two Muslims do not live in Zhetysai. At separate hearings on the evening of 8 April, Judge Altai Utemisov of Maktaaral District Court found Kaliyev and Ualikhanov guilty of violating Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3 (""Carrying out missionary activity without state registration”). The Judge imposed the prescribed fine of 100 MFIs, 212,100 Tenge, according to the court verdicts seen by Forum 18. Neither appealed against the fines and the decisions came into force on 19 April. "They were talking to people about their faith” Abuov of the regional Religious Affairs Department defended the prosecution of the two men. "They were talking to people about their faith and coming to people's homes,” he told Forum 18 from the regional capital Shymkent on 12 July. Asked why talking to others of their faith should lead to punishment, Abuov laughed. "They broke the law.” Abuov said Kaliyev and Ualikhanov had approached two people walking on the street. When they invited them to pray at the mosque, one of them called the police. "In Kazakhstan no-one can approach another person and tell them to come to a place of worship, except an imam or clergyman,” Abuov insisted to Forum 18. "They are not officials of a religious organisation approved as missionaries. People don't want to listen to things about religion from unknown people.” On 28 June, court bailiffs in Kaliyev's home city of Atyrau began proceedings to recover the unpaid fine from him, according to Justice Ministry records. Reached in Atyrau by Forum 18 on 12 July, the bailiff handling the case, Kuanish Kaliyev (no relation), refused to discuss how he plans to recover the money from Askar Kaliyev. Atyrau: appeals fail Two members of the Protestant New Life Church in Atyrau failed to overturn earlier fines on appeal. In separate hearings on 23 June, Judge Bagila Nurzhanova of Atyrau Regional Court upheld the fines of 35 MFIs each and a three-month ban on unspecified activity on Bagitzhan Zholdybayev and Aleksandr Revkov, according to the court verdicts seen by Forum 18. The two men were punished on 26 May under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 1 for drinking tea in a café with five other church members after their Sunday meeting for worship on 17 April Known 2016 Administrative Code punishments (Name; faith or occupation; date and place of hearing; Administrative Code article; punishment.) 1. Viktor Shtrek; Jehovah's Witness; 25 January Ayirtau District Court; Article 490, Part 3; fine 100 MFIs. 2. Ruslan Bayanbayev; Jehovah's Witness; 28 January Almaty Specialised Interdistrict Administrative Court; Article 490, Part 7; fine 50 MFIs (acquitted on appeal). 3. Ruslan Bayanbayev (second case); Jehovah's Witness; 18 February Almaty Specialised Interdistrict Administrative Court; Article 490, Part 7; fine 50 MFIs. 4. Tatyana Pastukhova; giftshop owner; 25 February Atyrau Specialised Administrative Court; Article 490, Part 1, Point 3; fine 35 MFIs, plus 3 month ban on commercial activity. 5. Gennadi Zhirov; Council of Churches Baptist; 24 March Arkalyk City Court; Article 490, Part 1, Point 3; fine 35 MFIs (book destruction order overturned on appeal). 6. Yuri Bekker; Council of Churches Baptist; 24 March Arkalyk City Court; Article 490, Part 1, Point 3; fine 35 MFIs (book destruction order overturned on appeal). 7. Shokan Ualikhanov; Muslim; 8 April Maktaaral District Court; Article 490, Part 3; fine 100 MFIs. 8. Askar Kaliyev; Muslim; 8 April Maktaaral District Court; Article 490, Part 3; fine 100 MFIs. 9. Nikolai Levin; Council of Churches Baptist; 20 April Sandiktau District Court; Article 669; fine 10 MFIs. 10. Rustem Seidaliyev; shopkeeper; 20 April Petropavl Specialised Administrative Court; Article 490, Part 1, Point 3; fine 50 MFIs, plus 3 month ban on commercial activity. 11. Dina Sarsebekova; Jehovah's Witness; 25 April Oral Specialised Administrative Court; Article 490, Part 3; fine 100 MFIs. 12. Roman Dimmel; Council of Churches Baptist; 3 May Shet District Court; Article 669; 3 days' prison. 13. Yegor Prokopenko; Council of Churches Baptist; 22 May Zyryanovsk police; Article 489, Part 9; fine 100 MFIs. 14. Bagitzhan Zholdybayev; Pentecostal; 26 May Atyrau Specialised Administrative Court; Article 490, Part 1, Point 1; fine 35 MFIs, plus 3 month ban on unspecified activity. 15. Aleksandr Revkov; Pentecostal; 26 May Atyrau Specialised Administrative Court; Article 490, Part 1, Point 1; fine 35 MFIs, plus 3 month ban on unspecified activity. 16. Bakhytbek Tursynov; Muslim; 28 June Semei Specialised Administrative Court; Article 490, Part 3; fine 100 MFIs. 17. Erzhan Shomatayev; Muslim; 28 June Semei Specialised Administrative Court; Article 490, Part 3; fine 100 MFIs. 18. Asilkhan Tumeshbayev; Muslim; 28 June Semei Specialised Administrative Court; Article 490, Part 3; fine 100 MFIs. 19. Council of Churches Baptist; date unknown Akmola; Article 489; police imposed fine without court hearing (Prosecutor later annulled fine). 20. Council of Churches Baptist; date unknown Pavlodar; Article 489; police imposed fine of 50 MFI's without court hearing. 21. [Names withheld for fear of state reprisals]; Protestants; one area in Spring 2016; fines after 5 raids on same day. (END) http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2199
  13. MOSCOW, June 16 (RAPSI) – The Supreme Court of Russia on Thursday declared “The Jehovah’s Witnesses of Stary Oskol” in Belgorod Region an extremist organization and ruled to liquidate it, RAPSI learned in the courtroom. Previous ruling to liquidate organization, issued by the Belgorod Regional court on February 10, was found legal. The ruling came into force today. Representatives of the organization claimed that its liquidation is a disproportionate measure that is cruel to believers. An appeal also mentioned refusal to consider motions filed by the organization. A lawyer representing the Jehovah’s Witnesses said that the Belgorod Regional court mistakenly found the organization extremist because forbidden literature was found in possession of some of its members. He also said that Russian law enforcement agencies are showing discriminatory attitude towards the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He quoted rulings of Russia’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, referring the inadmissibility of restrictions on freedom of conscience, including the guise of fighting extremism. Jehovah’s Witnesses have had many legal problems in Russia. On June 9, Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Belgorod as extremist organization. In March 2015, a court in Tyumen fined the organization 50,000 rubles ($773) and seized prohibited literature. In January 2014, a court in Kurgan ruled to ban the organization’s booklets as extremist. The books talk about how to have a happy life, what you can hope for, how to develop good relations with God and what you should know about God and its meaning. In late December 2013, the leader of the sect’s group in Tobolsk, Siberia was charged with extremism and the prevention of a blood transfusion that nearly led to the death of a female member of the group. In 2004, a court in Moscow dissolved and banned a Jehovah’s Witnesses group on charges of recruiting children, encouraging believers to break from their families, inciting suicide and preventing believers from accepting medical assistance. Jehovah's Witnesses is an international religious organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Since 2004 sever branches and chapters of the organization were banned and shut down in various regions of Russia. Source: http://rapsinews.com/judicial_news/20160616/276324256.html
  14. Kazakhstan's President orders harsher Religion Law drafted by mid-August, as fines for exercising freedom of religion or belief continue. 89-year-old Baptist Yegor Prokopenko was again fined for leading his community, while an Atyrau giftshop owner was fined for offering four Korans for sale. At the age of 89 and a half, former Soviet-era Baptist prisoner of conscience Yegor Prokopenko has again been fined for leading a meeting for worship. He is believed to be the oldest victim of Kazakhstan's policy of fining those who exercise the right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission. Two Protestants in the same city were fined for drinking tea in a cafe after a Sunday meeting for worship. A giftshop owner in Atyrau was fined for offering four copies of the Koran for sale without a state licence, which the judge deemed would have "harmful consequences". With Kazakhstan's president ordering harsher restrictions in the Religion Law to be prepared by mid-August, with likely new associated punishments in the Code of Administrative Offences, exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief seems set to be punished even more widely. Kazakhstan's 2011 Religion Law already violates the country's international human rights obligations. It bans meetings for worship by communities without state approval, meetings for worship in venues that have not been approved, distribution of books about religion and other religious items without state approval or in venues that do not have state approval for religious literature distribution, and discussing religion with others if the individual does not have state approval as a "missionary". These bans are backed up by punishments in the Administrative Code. In addition, 32 individuals are known to have been given criminal convictions since December 2014 for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Most of these have been imprisoned. Many have also had their bank accounts frozen. Wide-ranging legal amendments ordered Following violence which began in the north-western city of Aktobe [Aqtobe] on 5 June, President Nursultan Nazarbayev was quick to blame "followers of the non-traditional religious movement of Salafism". He told a meeting of the Security Council in the capital Astana on 10 June that in response legal changes would be made to a range of laws "to ensure national security". President Nazarbayev instructed the government "within a two-month period to draft a package of legislative initiatives in the sphere of countering terrorism and extremism, production, storage and sale of weapons, in the area of regulating migration and religious associations", according to the presidential website. He added that it is "necessary" to include the entire legislative package in the legislative plan for 2016. When the new restrictive version of the Religion Law and amendments to other laws were adopted in 2011, they too had not been in the legislative plan for the year. However, they suddenly reached parliament in September 2011, were adopted that same month and signed into law in October. "To limit as far as we can the possibility to conduct illegal meetings" Also on 10 June, Galym Shoikin, the head of the Culture and Sport Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee told the Expert discussion club in Astana that his Committee is already working on amendments to the 2011 Religion Law. He noted that the Law already determines that many activities in the area of religion are "illegal". "We want here to widen the norms set out in order to limit as far as we can the possibility to conduct illegal meetings, including in flats and other premises," the local media quoted Shoikin as declaring. "We have a mechanism, but it needs to be strengthened from the point of view of widening." Shoikin noted that under the 2011 Religion Law, holding meetings away from state-registered places of worship requires permission from the local Akimat (administration). "At present many, for example Protestant Christian organisations, practice this, they agree this with Akimats and hold such events," he said. "We simply want to tighten the requirements and make them more precise." Shoikin said he was unable to expand on the details, as the proposals need to be discussed with deputies of the Majilis (parliament). He claimed that "we will take into account international legal acts on the freedom of the individual", as well as legal practices in other countries. Shoikin claimed that recruitment of religious radicals "takes place not in mosques but at such illegal meetings. We must study how it is possible to restrict this." He added that this task was handed to his Committee only several days earlier. He gave no deadline for presenting any proposed amendments to the Religion Law. Muslim Board and state officials earlier claimed to Forum 18 that allowing independent mosques to exist "will breed terrorists". But officials have not produced proof for these assertions. Religion Law amendments to be open to public discussion? The amendments to the Religion Law are being prepared by the Legal Department of the Religious Affairs Committee, an official of the Department told Forum 18 from Astana on 13 June. Once the Committee has prepared the initial draft amendments, they will be reviewed by other "relevant structures", including the Interior Ministry, the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police and the Prosecutor's Office, the official added. The official did not say whether or not the Religious Affairs Committee is involved in preparing any associated amendments to the Criminal Code or Administrative Code to increase penalties for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief or to widen the scope of such "crimes" or "offences". The official noted that the amendments being drafted stemmed from a "political decision" and followed President Nazarbayev's instruction. The official refused to identify what proposed changes are likely to be in the amendments. When Forum 18 pointed out that the 2011 Religion Law already violates many of Kazakhstan's international commitments in the area of freedom or religion or belief, freedom of association and freedom of speech, the official declined to comment. The official claimed to Forum 18 that during the consideration phase, the proposed amendments will be opened up to public discussion. However, the official declined to say how long any public discussion will last and whether comments from the public will be taken into account. Administrative Code amendments underway At the beginning of 2016, just a year after it came into force, the Justice Ministry established a working group to propose amendments to the Administrative Code, sources in Astana told Forum 18. Initially the Ministry apparently planned to soften some of the punishments, including those for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. However, following the violent attacks in Aktobe and the President's 10 June order to tighten laws and punishments, the Justice Ministry review is likely – among other changes - to widen and increase punishments for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, sources told Forum 18. The Religious Affairs Committee is likely to contribute to any Administrative Code amendments. However, drafting is likely to be in the hands of the Justice Ministry, with consultation from the Interior Ministry, KNB secret police and Prosecutor's Office. 89-year-old fined for leading worship The 89-year-old Prokopenko – who leads a Council of Churches Baptist congregation in Zyryanovsk in East Kazakhstan Region – was again fined. On 22 May local police officer Dulat Baydindoyev led a raid on the home where the church was holding Sunday morning worship. He was accompanied by three men in civilian clothes, one church member who was present told Forum 18 on 13 June. Officers filmed church members at worship and questioned them after the service was over. Later in the day Officer Baydindoyev returned with a record of an offence against Prokopenko under Administrative Code Article 489, Part 9. This punishes "Leadership of the activity of a social or religious organisation not registered under established legal procedure". He fined him 100 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs), 212,100 Tenge (5,200 Norwegian Tenge, 550 Euros or 625 US Dollars). He gave Prokopenko a form showing him how to pay. Were Prokopenko in work, this fine would represent two or three months' average wage. However, he has been a pensioner since before Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991. Prokopenko rejected all accusations of wrongdoing and refused to sign any documents, church members told Forum 18. Officer Baydindoyev defended the raid on the church. "We didn't raid," he claimed to Forum 18 from Zyryanovsk on 13 June. "We arrived after the service." He said he had been accompanied by a cameraman from the police, an officer from the Criminal Investigation Department and a Prosecutor's Office official. He insisted the church was wrong to meet because it does not have state registration. "We filmed them after the service because Prokopenko refused to sign the record." Officer Baydindoyev then put the phone down. Article 489, Part 9 is one Article of the Administrative Code that police officers have the right to fine individuals under with no court hearing. Council of Churches Baptists refuse on principle to seek state permission to be able to meet for worship. They are routinely fined for leading or attending such worship. They also have a policy of civil disobedience, refusing to pay such fines. This often leads to short-term prison sentences, confiscation of property and a ban on leaving Kazakhstan. Prokopenko appealed to Zyryanovsk District Prosecutor Konstantin Pichugin. However, on 3 June the Prosecutor's Office rejected his complaint, Prosecutor Talgat Tudubekov told Forum 18 from Zyryanovsk on 13 June. The Regional Prosecutor's Office is now considering a further appeal, he added. Prokopenko also has the right to appeal to court. Prokopenko served a total of six and a half years' imprisonment for his faith during the Soviet period. He served three and a half years of a five-year sentence handed down in 1972, and the full three-year sentence handed down in 1982. He was fined for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief in 2006, 2008 and 2013. Prokopenko was aged 87 and three months when he was last fined two weeks' average wages in February 2014. He was also put on the exit blacklist for refusing to pay his fine. In court he denied any wrongdoing, insisting that members of a religious community may have the right to form a religious association but are under no obligation to do so. The judge dismissed his views and punished him. Meeting in unapproved venues On 23 March, Astana's Jehovah's Witness community observed the Memorial of Christ's death – their most important annual commemoration - at rented premises in a trade centre. Afterwards, local police and Religious Affairs Department officials interrogated community members and began preparing an administrative case against them for not confirming that location for a religious meeting with the Religious Affairs Department. "It is noteworthy that Astana city administration officially seized the community's house of worship just a few months earlier under the pretext of a city utility project," Jehovah's Witnesses complained. "Now the community has no official place to meet together for worship." Fined for drinking tea after worship Two members of New Life Protestant Church in the Caspian port of Atyrau, Bagitzhan Zholdybayev and Aleksandr Revkov, have been fined for drinking tea in a cafe with five other church members after their Sunday meeting for worship on 17 April. After detaining and questioning the seven church members, Religious Affairs Department official Kairulla Kuskaliyev prepared records of an "offence" against the two under Article 490, Part 1, Point 1. This punishes "violation of procedures established in law for conducting rites, ceremonies and meetings" with a fine for individuals of 50 MFIs. In separate hearings at Atyrau's Specialised Administrative Court on 26 May, Judge Zamira Bainazarova fined both Zholdybayev and Revkov, according to the court decisions seen by Forum 18. Given their disability (both are deaf) the Judge reduced the fines by 30 per cent to 74,235 Tenge each and issued a ban on their unspecified activity for three months. Both Zholdybayev and Revkov denied any wrongdoing in court, but Religious Affairs official Kuskaliyev insisted on their guilt. He explained that their rights had been explained to them using a sign language interpreter. Shop owner fined for selling Korans Booksellers are frequently fined for selling religious literature and other materials – such as icons – without licences. In May 2013, four books confiscated from a bookseller in East Kazakhstan Region – including two with prayers to Russian Orthodox saints Serafim of Sarov and Sergius of Radonezh – were ordered destroyed when the bookseller was fined. After a raid by officials of Atyrau Region Religious Affairs Department, owner of an Atyrau giftshop Tatyana Pastukhova was fined for offering for sale four copies of the Koran without the state licence needed before any sale of religious literature or materials is lawful. At her eight-minute trial at Atyrau's Specialised Administrative Court on 25 February, Pastukhova admitted her "guilt". Nevertheless, Judge Bainazarova observed that selling religious literature without a state licence would have "harmful consequences", according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The Judge found Pastukhova guilty under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point 3. This punishes: "Violating the requirements of the Religion Law for .. import, production, publication and/or distribution of religious literature and other religious materials, and items for religious use". The punishment for individuals is a fine of 50 MFIs. Pastukhova's fine was reduced by 30 per cent for mitigating circumstances (her expression of regret) to 74,235 Tenge and a ban on activity for three months. The Judge ordered that the four Korans should be returned to Pastukhova. Pastukhova did not appeal against the sentence to Atyrau Regional Court. Fined for discussing faith Individuals are frequently fined under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3 for talking about their faith with others. This punishes: "Carrying out missionary activity without state registration (or re-registration), as well as the use by missionaries of religious literature, information materials with religious content or religious items without a positive assessment from a religious studies expert analysis, and spreading the teachings of a religious group which is not registered in Kazakhstan". The punishment is a fine of 100 MFIs, with deportation if the individual is a foreign citizen. On 25 April, Oral (Uralsk) Specialised Administrative Court in West Kazakhstan Region found Jehovah's Witness Dina Sarsebekova guilty of "illegal" missionary activity and fined her 100 MFIs, 212,100 Tenge. Her appeal was rejected in May. On 6 April, a representative of Semei City administration in East Kazakhstan Region issued a record of an offence of "missionary activity" to two Jehovah's Witnesses. In January 2016, a Jehovah's Witness was convicted of "illegal missionary activity" in North Kazakhstan Region. He was fined 100 MFIs, 212,100 Tenge. (END) Source: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2188

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