KAZAKHSTAN: “A new wave of persecution has begun once more”
Unless Viktor Gutyar succeeds in his appeal, he expects the administrative fine of nearly ten months’ minimum wage for leading an unregistered religious community to be docked from his wages as a coalminer. He was not even present when his church in Satpaev in central Kazakhstan was raided on Sunday morning, 11 September. His was one of five Baptist congregations raided in Karaganda Region in September, including a Harvest Festival in Zhezkazgan attended by 150 people raided by police and riot police on Sunday 25 September. “A new wave of persecution,” is how one Baptist described it. “They refuse to register in accordance with our Religion Law, so it’s their problem,” Mereke Myrzabekova of Zhezkazgan’s Internal Policy Department told Forum 18. She admitted they would not have been raided had they been watching football or drinking vodka together “because that’s not religion”. Shymkent’s Ahmadi Muslim community has lost its latest appeal against a ban on using their mosque. “All we want is for our mosque to be allowed to reopen,” one Ahmadi told Forum 18. And two Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kyzylorda failed to overturn punishments – a seven-day jail term and a fine – for holding a religious meeting in a private home.
Communities of at least three different religious affiliations in Kazakhstan have been punished for holding religious meetings in private homes, Forum 18 News Service notes.
Two Jehovah’s Witnesses from the southern town of Kyzylorda [Qyzylorda] – one of whom was jailed for seven days and another fined after a May raid on a religious meeting – have failed to overturn their punishments on appeal. The home owner was warned her home would be confiscated if she continued to hold religious meetings there. And Shymkent’s Ahmadi Muslim community has failed to overturn the court-imposed ban on continuing to use their mosque.
In the past, Kazakhstan’s authorities have often used property cases as a means of targeting religious communities (see eg. F18News 20 August 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1174).
The punishments for religious activity came as Kazakhstan prepares to adopt two draconian new Laws which violate the country’s international human rights obligations. The two new Laws were approved at “unprecedented” speed in Parliament’s Lower House, the Majilis, on 21 September and immediately transferred to the Upper House, the Senate (see F18News 23 September 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1617).
The Senate website confirmed on 26 September that the two new Laws will be considered at the plenary session on 29 September, where observers expect them to be adopted in one session. They were considered by the Senate Working Group on 26 September and by the Senate’s Social and Cultural Development Committee, which is overseeing their passage through the upper house, this morning (27 September).
Once adopted by the Senate, they would need to be signed by President Nursultan Nazarbaev to become law. He indicated his firm backing for these Laws in his address to the opening session of Parliament on 1 September, insisting they are needed “to bring order to our house” (see F18News 2 September 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1608).
Ironically, the Laws’ passage through the Senate coincides with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) human dimension conference in Warsaw, with religious freedom discussed today (27 September).
Kazakhstan’s Ambassador-at-Large Madina Jarbussynova defended the controversial new Laws in remarks prepared for the conference’s 26 September opening and posted on the OSCE website. “It should be emphasized that the draft law under discussion is in no way intended to limit the right to freedom of belief, which is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution,” she claimed.
Amid other current official moves against religious communities, Pastor Yerzhan Ushanov of the New Life Protestant Church in Taraz is challenging a heavy fine imposed on 5 September for allegedly harming the health of a man who he prayed for, charges he denies. And a military-related government agency has refused to explain what “non-traditional religions” are after demanding information from religious communities (see forthcoming F18News article).
Seven day detention and fine
Two Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed to the Kyzylorda Regional Prosecutor’s Office – Almas Zhakupov on 23 September and Tamara Magomedova on 20 July – after both were separately punished in the wake of a 27 May evening raid on a religious meeting in Magomedova’s Kyzylorda home. Zhakupov was sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment, while Magomedova was fined and ordered not to hold religious meetings in her home, Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18.
Police and land inspectors claim that their May raid was to inspect Magomedova’s “usage of the land”. The officials wanted to inspect her house and film it. They alleged that her home was not being used for its intended purpose, arguing that religious worship cannot be conduced in private homes They warned that doing so would result in the land (with the building on it) being legally transferred to the city administration.
Zhakupov, the head of the registered Kyzylorda Jehovah’s Witness community who was present, called a lawyer and gave Magomedova advice about her rights. This angered the inspectors and police officers so they initiated an administrative case against him under Article 355, Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences, which punishes “malicious refusal of the lawful demand” of an official, including a police officer, with a maximum punishment of 15 days’ imprisonment.
Zhakupov was detained and subjected to an alcohol/drug medical examination. In a closed hearing on 28 May, without allowing him legal representation, Judge Narmagambet Abdikalykov of Kyzylorda Specialised Administrative Court found him guilty and sentenced him to seven days’ imprisonment. Kyzylorda Regional Court upheld the Administrative Court decision on 2 June. He then filed the appeal motion to the Regional Prosecutor’s Office.
Magomedova meanwhile was fined on 3 June ten financial units 15,120 Tenge (590 Norwegian Kroner, 76 Euros or 102 US Dollars) for “not using the land for its purpose” under Article 253 of the Code of Administrative Offences. She was issued a one-month warning that unless she uses the land for its intended purpose (meaning that except for living with her family she was not allowed to invite friends for religious meetings), her private land and the house would be taken away. She has lived in the house (which she owns) since 1969, Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18.
Rejecting her appeal on 28 June against the fine to Kyzylorda Specialised Administrative Court was the same Judge Abdikalykov. Appealing the warning to the Kyzylorda City Court was equally unsuccessful. An appeal motion was then filed with Kyzylorda Regional Prosecutor about her fine and a civil appeal was filed with Kyzylorda Regional Court.
“She paid the fine when the court decision entered into force and has had to stop inviting her friends to meetings to pray and read the Bible,” Jehovah’s Witnesses lamented to Forum 18.
Forum 18 was unable to question Judge Abdikalykov, because he died two days after rejecting Magomedova’s appeal.