KYRGYZSTAN: Jehovah’s Witnesses publications to be banned?
Jehovah’s Witnesses publications expected to be banned for ‘extremism’ on 2 December
HRWF (01.12.2021) – In an act that violates religious freedom and basic human rights, Kyrgyzstan is expected to rule on Thursday to ban 13 publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist,” with the aim of following in Russia’s footsteps and banning the Witnesses simply for their peaceful Christian worship. We are hopeful that international criticism prior to the ruling may discourage Kyrgyzstan from following through on the ban.
The case documentation in Kyrgyzstan includes a letter from the country’s GKNB (State Committee for National Security) to the Prosecutor General directing that “a prohibition of this religious organization’s materials (attached) be initiated and a possible ban on its activity in the Kyrgyz Republic be considered.” The GKNB’s recommendation was based on the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned in Russia, as well as in China, Iran, Iraq, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have appealed via letters to the president, stating in part: “The international community has repeatedly condemned Russia in the strongest terms for such violations of religious freedom and fundamental human rights. Therefore, we respectfully ask that your esteemed government urgently direct that the criminal case be terminated and the court application be removed.”
If the Witnesses’ publications are banned on Thursday, it will open the way to raids, arrests, and imprisonments—tactics that are hallmarks of the Russian government’s multi-year campaign of persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“What’s happening in Kyrgyzstan is the latest consequence of Russia’s ambitious foreign-policy strategy to export its systematic persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses under the pretense of fighting extremism,” Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said. “Kyrgyzstan is simply following Russia’s model of repression—ban the Witnesses’ literature with the ultimate goal of banning their organization. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia have over 60 cases pending with the European Court of Human Rights. We hope that the Court will hold Russia accountable for violating international human rights law putting other lands on notice that they will also face consequences if they continue to persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses for peacefully practicing their faith.”
Kyrgyzstan Civil Case Timeline
- On Nov. 23, 2021, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kyrgyzstan were informed that the General Prosecutor’s Office (GPO) opened a civil case six days earlier (Nov. 17) to declare 13 of the Witnesses’ publications “extremist”
- The GKNB and State Commission on Religious Affairs (SCRA) are parties in the case
- Much of the civil case’s court documents reflect language very similar to what has been used in Russia, including so-called expert studies copied nearly verbatim from Russian websites (originally published 8 years ago)
- Civil case court documents reference a criminal case opened in 2019 against the Witnesses that they only learned about earlier this year
- To support the civil claim, the GPO extracted two expert studies from the 2019 criminal case
- A hearing was held Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at the Pervomayskiy District Court before Judge Aydyraliyeva
- Pervomayskiy District Court (Courtroom 18), ul. Moskovskaya, 163/77 Pervomayskiy District, Bishkek
- Two representatives from each agency GKNB, SCRA, and Ministry of Internal Affairs attended
Russia Exports Policies to Target Believers Abroad
- A May 2020 Russian Presidential Decree (Adopting Strategy for Counteracting Extremism) includes strategy to influence of other agencies/nations (see link, § 32 g)
- Russia, along with Kyrgyzstan, party to Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose charter includes combating extremism has been criticized by OSCE at the request of ODIHR
- Tajikistan follows Russia’s model to convict elderly, infirm Jehovah’s Witness, Shamil Khakimov. Court documents show government officials heavily considered legal/judicial activity in Russia (link to court documents with relevant excerpts translated)
- Report by SOVA Center, Anti-Extremist Policies in Russia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, SOVA Center declares: “Russian Extremist legislation has been and remains the model anti-extremist legislation for Central Asian countries….” (see p. 60)
History of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kyrgyzstan
- There are currently 5,266 Jehovah’s Witnesses [ratio of 1 to 1,259 to population (about 6,524,000)]
- Present in the country since 1956, as part of USSR
- JWs hosted first large-scale peaceful, Bible-based convention at Spartak Stadium in Bishkek in 1993
- JWs publications available in the Kyrgyz language since 1994
- National registration in 1998 (first local community registered in 1991)
- National administrative office built in 2004
OTHER RELATED ARTICLE
Russia model restricting religious freedom exported to Kyrgyzstan