Kazakhstan: Pentecostals shut down by the authorities

Russia Religion News (29.03.2018) – Religiia i Pravo (28.03.2018) –  https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/180330b.html – An account of charges for an administrative violation of law has been composed against a resident of Whymkent of South Kazakhstan oblast, Dilobarkhon Sultanova, after she showed a casual acquaintance how to download the Bible from the application “Play Market.” It is planned to try the woman for “evangelism.”

Dilobarkhon Sultanova described how on 11 January of this year police arrested her under the pretext of checking documents and took her to the police department, the Christian megaportal Invictory.com reports, with a reference to Radio Azattyk.

After spending an hour in the police department, she learned that a statement had been written against her by an acquaintance, Elmira Inibekova. Sultanova had become acquainted with her in the “New Life” protestant church in December of last year, at Christmas. Dilobarkhon herself says that she saw Inibekova personally only twice, and she also corresponded with her on the WhatsApp application.

“She wrote me first on WhatsApp. She asked me to come outside and download for her a Bible on her telephone from ‘Play Market.’ Literally after a minute and a half, we parted, and I was arrested. And before this Inibekova had asked me to get a Bible in printed form for her,” Dilobarkhon Sultanova noted.

The Christian emphasized that the Bible is accessible in the “Play Market” app along with all the other books of religious significance (for example, the Quran).

“The Bible is in open access and it does not belong to any single religious association. Besides it is not a religious application (for downloading),” Dilobarkhon Sultanova noted.

The record of charges for the administrative violation of law says that on 11 January of this year, Dilobarkhon Sultanova “disseminated the ideology of the ‘New Life’ religious association, and urged citizen Elmira Inibekova to study the sacred book of the Bible for the purpose of drawing her into the ranks of adherents of the ideology of the ‘New Life’ religious association.”

Sultanova maintains that she never engaged in preaching activity. She said that “she did not disseminate any ideology and she was acquainted with this citizen in church that she [the woman] frequently attended and she was interested in the religious association.”

In addition, Sultanova says, a staff member of the directorate for religious affairs of the South Kazakhstan oblast refused to provide for her a lawyer, which she needed, and did not provide translations of materials of the case and the record of charges in Russian. Only after filing a complaint in the prosecutor’s office in the department for combating corruption did the situation change somehow, the woman says. The Christian also wrote a complaint to the court against the action of the staff member of the directorate for religious affairs of the South Kazakhstan oblast regarding violation of her rights.

The court was supposed to begin consideration of the administrative violation of law regarding Dilobarkhon Sultanova last week, but it was postponed for an indefinite period of time, since it was originally planned to consider the woman’s complaint against the directorate for religious affairs of the South Kazakhstan oblast for violation of her rights.

The pastor of the “New Life” church, Zhetis Rauilov, notes that this incident is not the first in a series of prosecutions of their church by local authorities, and they began finding various violations in the organization back in July of last year. At the time, representatives of the sanitary and epidemiological station arrived on the basis of a complaint by citizens that they supposedly had killed a dog in their church. Rauilov says that it had been hit by a car and the perpetrators were not found.

Now by decision of the court, based on claims of the fire fighting service about shortage of fire detectors in the premises, the activity of the church has been suspended and a fine of 100 times monthly income has been assessed on the organization. (tr. by PDS, posted 29 March 2018)




70,000 law enforcement forces for the protection of places of worship at Easter

HRWF (02.04.2018) – 41,000 policemen and 29,000 gendarmes were mobilized by the Ministry of the Interior to protect Christian and Jewish places of worship during the religious celebrations of Easter and until 7 April, according to a press release published by the Ministry on 30 March (https://bit.ly/2pVGGHY).

State of emergency

In 2017, 20 terrorist attempts were foiled, according to Gérard Collomb, Minister of the Interior. During the state of emergency from November 2015 to 1 November 2017, 32 attempts were foiled, 4457 administrative searches were carried out at the address of individuals having relations with jihadist movements, 625 weapons were discovered (including 78 war weapons: Kalashnikovs, assault rifles and rocket launchers). This led to 998 criminal investigations, 646 custody cases. 752 individuals were put under house arrest and 41 still are. When suspects were under house arrest, they had to stay at home from 8pm to 6am, report to the police or the gendarmerie two or three times per day, and were not allowed to leave their city without the authorization of the mayor or the prefect. During the state of emergency, 19 Muslim places of worship suspected of hosting preachers spreading hate speeches were closed and as of 1 April 11 were still closed. Their situation is still under investigation, minister Collomb said.

Anti-terrorism law

After 1 November 2017, the lawmakers passed an anti-terrorist law meant to replace the legislation in force during the state of emergency. Under the new law, the prefect is still allowed to order administrative searches but only after consulting a prosecutor and after the decision has been validated by a judge.

The prefect is still authorized to close places of worship if they propagate ideas, theories, oral statements and printed material inciting to violence, hatred, discrimination, terrorism or apology of terrorism. However, France has decided that the closure of places of worship was not a priority in its fight against Islamist terrorism because what was pointed at was the lack of a global strategy of prevention involving local actors – associative, social, educational, cultural and police – to put on the radar all weak signals of radicalization.

House arrests are replaced by “individual measures of surveillance”. Freedom of movement is extended from the place of residence to the commune and it can be extended to the département if the suspect accepts to wear an electronic bracelet.

Controls of personal identification documents are possible without prior authorization of a judicial authority at the border, near and in train stations, within a 20-km radius from international ports and airports.

Deportation of foreign dangerous Islamists remains possible. According to governmental sources, more than 60 people have been deported since 2012.

Protection of places of worship during the state of emergency

According to statistics from the Interior Ministry, published on 1February 2017, 4,320 places of worship and religious community buildings were under surveillance and protection of mobile (non-static) patrols by law enforcement and military forces in 2016:
• 2,400 out of 45,000 Christian sites (5%)
• 1,100 out of 2500 Muslim sites (44%)
• 820 Jewishsynagogues, schools and community centers (100%)
Moreover, in the last two years, a budget of 12.5 million EUR was approved to purchase security and video-protection material for the most sensitive religious sites.

Noteworthy is the fact that soldiers who were protecting religious buildings were targets of physical attacks. On 3rd February 2015, three soldiers guarding a Jewish community center were targeted in a knife attack in Nice, and on 1st January 2016, a man tried to run down troops guarding a mosque in Valence.

In 2016, incidents targeting Jewish and Muslim community buildings respectively decreased by 54% and 37.5% in comparison with 2015 while there was an increase of 17.4% concerning Christian (Catholic) places of worship[1]: 949 according to the Ministry of the Interior, including 399 acts of vandalism and 191 cases of theft of worship items.[2]

The Ministry of the Interior also notes that 14 incidents were satanist motivated, and in 25 cases there was an anarchist connotation, but most of the time the perpetrators and their motivations are unknown.

These statistical ups and downs follow the same trend as the global statistics about anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.

Decrease of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents in 2016 and 2017

After a continuous increase from 2008 to 2015, the number of vandalism incidents targeting Christian and Muslim graves and places of worship decreased in 2016 and in 2017 but violent acts against Jews were on the rise and vandalism cases against Jewish sites increased by 22% in comparison with 2016, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

The global statistics in 2017 are clear: 950 racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents in 2017 v. 1128 in 2016 (-16%).

The number of anti-Muslim incidents (121) dramatically decreased by 34.5%.

The number of racist incidents (518) dropped by 14.8%.

The number of anti-Semitic incidents (311) diminished by 7.2%.

However, the number of acts of violence against Jews has dramatically increased: 97 in 2017 v. 77 in 2016.

Concerning acts of vandalism against religious sites and graves, Christian sites were less targeted: 878 in 2017 v. 949 in 2016, and Muslim sites were also less targeted: 72 in 2017 v. 85 in 2016.




Eritrea: Newlyweds among 32 Christians arrested in fresh crackdown

World Watch Monitor (28.03.2018) – https://bit.ly/2E4Beqm – Eritrean police have arrested 32 Christians in the capital, Asmara, this month, including a newlywed couple and ten of their guests.

 

Twenty were arrested on Sunday, 25 March, all of whom remain in detention.

 

The newly married man and two of his guests are being held in a prison north of the city. The newlyweds and ten guests were arrested at the couple’s home on 5 March, a local source told World Watch Monitor.

 

Ten friends were visiting the couple for a traditional coffee ceremony to welcome the bride when the local security officers forced their way into the house and arrested all 12 people there. They were taken to Asmara’s No. 5 Police Station.

 

The authorities released eight of the group two days later, after they presented valid travel IDs (documents of permission to move around Eritrea). The four remaining Christians, including the newlyweds, were moved to Adi Abeito Prison, north of Asmara. According to the World Watch Monitor source, the newlywed couple was split up after the arrest and the bride was released yesterday (27 March).

 

Eritrea’s human rights record was recently condemned at the UN Human Rights Council. Kate Gilmore, the UN’s Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in her opening remarks that over 100 people were arrested in Eritrea in 2017 for practising religions not officially recognised by the state.

 

A monitoring group for the UN, United Nations Watch, said “thousands” of Christians are also facing detention as “religious freedom continue[s] to be denied in Eritrea”. The group also asked why the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, “failed to closely assess this situation”.

 

The UN Human Rights Council heard that the Eritrean government’s claims of improvement in the human rights situation were unfounded.

 

Eritrea is sixth on Open Doors International’s 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian. In 2002, the government introduced a law prohibiting Christian practice outside the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran denominations, as well as Sunni Islam.

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Pakistan: Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan face an existential threat: New report

FOREF Europe (27.03.2018) – https://bit.ly/2uwDWpaThe persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan has worsened in the last several years, as Ahmadis are “violently targeted, intimidated, and harassed at all levels of society.

 

Impunity and incitement have created a climate of religious hysteria in which targeted communities, both Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis are losing their lives with shocking increased frequency,” according to a report published by the International Human Rights Committee and the Asian Human Rights Commission, in partnership with the Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe (FOREF) and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

 

“A noose is tightening around the Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, who face discriminatory legislation and lethal mob violence encouraged by political and governmental authorities,” according to Dr Aaron Rhodes, President of FOREF.

 

The 100-page document, which is based on interviews with hundreds of victims, experts, and journalists, details the legal discrimination faced by the Ahmadi community, relevant developments in international human rights, and social and political tendencies.

 

It further documents crimes, state negligence, and complicity; violations of internationally guaranteed rights and freedoms; prejudice and social exclusion; discrimination faced by women; discrimination in education; and obstacles faced by Ahmadis when professing their faith.

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Algeria closes fourth church in four months

Interior of a church in Tizi Ouzou (photo credit: World Watch Monitor)

 

By Abdelaziz Bouteflika

 

World Watch Monitor (22.03.2018) – https://bit.ly/2I43trM – Another church has been closed down in northern Algeria, as pressure against Christians intensifies in the Maghreb country.

 

The village church in Azagher, near the town of Akbou, was forced to stop all activities on 2 March. The church had been running for over six years.

 

Two weeks earlier, on 18 February, the leaders of the church had received a notification that they must close their church within 15 days.

 

The notification stated that the church building, “which was originally intended for the poultry business”, did not meet the standards required by law in order to host a public meeting. It pointed to the lack of a second exit or fire extinguisher.

 

It also said the fact the church had a foreign pastor (he is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo) contradicted a 2008 law “concerning the conditions of entry of foreigners into Algerian territory and their residence, as well as their movements”.

 

The church is the fourth forced to close in the past four months. The three others were in or around the town of Oran, 600km west of Akbou. Unlike the church in Azagher, the three other churches were all affiliated to the EPA, Algeria’s main Protestant-church body, officially recognised by the government since 1974.

 

Of the EPA’s 45 churches, 25 have received notifications to comply with safety standards in the past few months.

 

Advocacy group Middle East Concern said earlier this year that the closures were part of a “coordinated campaign of intensified action against churches by the governing authorities”.

 

But the Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs denied discriminating against the country’s Christian minority. Mohamed Aissa told Ennahar TV earlier this month that the churches “did not meet the standards required of a place of worship”.

 

“The institutions that were closed have been closed down because they were built without complying with the regulations of the Republic,” he said, adding that if a building lacks emergency exits, it must be closed, “even if it is a mosque”.

 

“When a place of worship is built without any notice showing it’s a place of worship, which may enable the state to protect it, this place must be closed,” he added.

 

In response, a spokesperson from the EPA told World Watch Monitor “the government is simply implementing the 2006 law of regulating non-Muslim worship. This law is a Sword of Damocles suspended above the churches. It is the legal instrument that the government uses to silence the Church. The purpose of this law is precisely to curb the activities of churches and to control them”.

 

The law stipulates that permission must be obtained before using a building for non-Muslim worship, and that such worship can only be conducted in buildings which have been specifically designated for that purpose.

 

But in practice, the authorities have failed to respond to almost all applications from churches for places of worship, including churches affiliated with the state-approved EPA.

 

In view of the authorities’ failure to respond to applications, it has become standard practice for churches to rent premises and inform the local authorities that they have done so.

 

A local church leader, who wanted to remain anonymous, told World Watch Monitor the government “does absolutely nothing to help Christian communities to afford an adequate place of worship”. He added that it is almost impossible for Christian communities to buy their own plot of land because it is so expensive.

 

As a result, all Protestant churches, affiliated with the EPA or not, are forced to rent premises, while those who rent their properties to a church also face threats and intimidation from the authorities, making it even more difficult for Christian communities to find a place to meet.

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Russia backed Luhansk ‘republic’ bans Jehovah’s Witnesses and other ‘non-traditional’ faiths

KHPG (06.02.2018) – https://bit.ly/2HYkrYA – The self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ [LPR] has yet again followed Russia’s lead, this time by banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses, calling them and other banned faiths ‘religious groups’.  The move comes just days after the Kremlin-backed ‘LPR parliament’ passed several ‘laws’, including one aimed at hunting down and prohibiting so-called extremism in religious or political organizations, as well as in the media.

 

Dmytro Sidorov, who is called the ‘acting LPR minister of culture, sport and youth’ announced the ban on Monday 5,  He explained that in the so-called ‘law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations’, adopted on February 2, they had specifically excluded ‘religious groups’.  He defined the latter as organizations with five people (presumably meaning at least that number) which “do not have a direct relation to any of the traditional faiths”. Although he suggests that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been removed earlier, Monday’s announcement is the first formal confirmation of an actual ban on the organization, not its literature.   It comes nine months after Russia reverted to Soviet practice and banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claiming the faith to be ‘extremist’.

 

It took the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ until 28 July 2017 to declare Jehovah’s Witnesses’ printed material ‘extremist’. It was claimed that the material aroused enmity on religious grounds and propagandized the superiority of the Jehovah’s Witnesses over other faiths.

 

In ‘LPR’, they went even further, claiming, on 28 August 2017, that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were helping Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] and “neo-Nazi groups”.  An investigative search had supposedly established not only that the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Luhansk and Alchevsk were in breach of ‘LPR law’, but that they were probably “agents of influence of the Ukrainian Security Service”.  It was asserted that the search carried out had found agitational material containing Nazi symbols, as well as leaflets calling for cooperation with the SBU.  Leaflets from the SBU and the Azov Civic Corps, it was claimed, had previously been pasted around Alchevsk.

 

The suggestion that Jehovah’s Witnesses, who avoid any involvement in politics and have faced persecution rather than take up arms, should have “assisted radical, neo-Nazi groups and other military formations” was overtly absurd, and unbacked by any evidence.

 

According to the same ‘law’, all religious organizations and associations in ‘LPR’ will need to undergo compulsory registration, otherwise their activities will be regarded as illegal.

 

It is unclear what is required for such compulsory ‘registration’, but the imposition of Russian requirements in occupied Crimea was used to put pressure on and / or drive out a number of religious organizations.  In both Crimea and the militant-controlled areas of Donbas all faiths and denominations except the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate have come under major pressure.

 

The ‘arrest’ of world-renowned religious scholar Ihor Kozlovskyy in January 2016 coincided with propaganda measures against the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and other faiths which the militants called ‘sects’.  While that was in ‘DPR’, there is nothing to suggest that the Luhansk militants would follow different policy.

 

The ‘bill’ on religious organizations was fast-tracked through ‘parliament’ on 2 February, together with similar ‘laws; on ‘countering extremist activities’, ‘counter-terrorism’;  and one allowing for detention without a court order for up to 30 days..  If the documents, which are as yet not posted,  do happen to clearly define ‘extremist activities’, the official ‘LPR’ website is not letting on.

 

Whatever ‘extremism’ may be, the bill now establishes “a system of state bodies” aimed at countering it.  Should these ‘state bodies’ consider that political, religious or other organizations are carrying out harmful extremist activities, their activities can be suspended before a court bans them, with the same ‘preventive measures’ allowed  with respect to the mass media.  Dissolution is envisaged, by court order, of legal  entities considered to be providing an ‘extremist organization’ with financial support, venues,  printing or educational facilities and technical back-up.

 

Some of the measures are directly lifted from the Russian measures seen applied in Crimea since Russia’s invasion.  These include the possibility of formally ‘warning’ the leaders of religious organizations, political parties or the media of “the inadmissibility of doing things which could result in extremist activities”.  In Russia, two such ‘warnings’ can be sufficient to seek an organization’s or media publication’s closure.

 

All of this coincides with a change to the ‘LPR constitution’ allowing for individuals to be detained for up to 30 days without a court order.  This is purportedly to prevent actions which could threaten the ‘republic’s security, and is allegedly during the unspecified period of ‘martial law’.

 

At one level, it is difficult to see how the measures introduced differ from what has long been the case.  Most of the people seized and held hostage in the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republic’, simply disappeared, with few, if any, normal procedural requirements observed.

 

The warning now, however, is that any media, religious or political organizations could be summarily closed for what the Russian-controlled militants deem to be ‘extremism’.   ‘LPR’ has already imposed 10, 14 or even 17-year ‘sentences’ for no more than critical comments on a blog or a flash mob against the ‘LPR flag’, and there is no reason to expect that ‘extremism’ charges will be any more justified.

 

Ihor Kozlovskyy, who was released in the exchange on 27 December 2017, after almost two years’ imprisonment, calls the situation for religious organizations in occupied Donbas “catastrophic”.  He says that the militants are imitating Russia with respect to religious matters, and that anti-Semitism and Islamophobic sentiments are rampant, and expressed also by the leaders of the so-called ‘republics’.

Religious situation in Crimea annexed by Russia

 

Religious freedom in Russian-occupied Crimea is greatly curtailed. According to the United Nations, there were roughly 2,200 religious organizations, both registered and unregistered, in Crimea before the 2014 occupation. As of September 2017, only 800 remained. In June 2017, after the Russian Supreme Court decision to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremist, all twenty-two local Witnesses organizations in Crimea, representing 8,000 congregants, were officially banned as well.

 

Although Russian repression of Crimean Tatars is mainly motivated by political rather than religious concerns, it disrupts Crimean Tatar religious activities and institutions. Russian authorities have co-opted the spiritual life of the Muslim Crimean Tatar minority and arrested or driven into exile its community representatives.

 

Oppression through the judicial process also continues apace. For example, in August 2017, the main church space of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) in Simferopol, the administrative capital of Crimea, was seized by bailiffs enforcing a February 2017 court decision transferring its ownership to the Crimean Ministry of Property and Land Relations. According to the United Nations, five UOC churches have been officially seized or shut down since 2014. Meanwhile, Russia’s laws on religion and extremism, strengthened in July 2016, have been used to punish believers of various churches, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, for the exercise of their faith. (Source: Atlantic Council/ Excerpt, 31 January 2018: https://bit.ly/2nvfq13

 

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