By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18
Kyrgyzstan has registered over 60 communities, most of them Protestant, since December 2018. But some Jehovah’s Witness communities still cannot get state permission to exist, while Ahmadi Muslims remain banned. Amid physical attacks on and burial denials to non-Muslims,” giving registration does not guarantee that people can exercise their freedom of religion and belief”.
In an apparent change of policy, Kyrgyzstan has given many religious communities state registration and therefore permission to exist in recent months. These communities include various Christian churches, Baha’i communities, the Falun Gong Chinese spiritual movement, and some but not all Jehovah’s Witness communities. However, Ahmadi Muslims are still banned.
However, state registration does not remove many obstacles to exercising freedom of religion and belief. Members of a variety of communities throughout the country, all of whom wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, pointed out to Forum 18 that among the problems they face “communities cannot have public meetings outside their registered addresses unless they receive prior permission for each event from the authorities, and our experience is that the authorities do not normally give permission”, and “the authorities have punished people for sharing their beliefs in public places with adults”.
“So practically speaking, registration only gives you permission to exist,” one person commented. “Registration does not give you the freedoms one should expect” (see below).
Many leaders of registered communities declined to discuss registration and other problems relating to freedom of religion and belief, for fear of state reprisals (see below).
One Protestant thought that the authorities’ change of approach may be due to a combination of: a change in staff at the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) and official awareness that physical attacks on religious communities and individuals “is not good for the international image of Kyrgyzstan” (see below).
In January-February 2020 the United Nations Human Rights Council will hold its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Kyrgyzstan.
“The authorities are playing a game,” a Kyrgyz human rights defender, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 on 25 June. “They kill two birds with one stone,”showing the international community that there is democracy and silencing religious communities, “as many of them have been vocal critics of the authorities’ policies in the past” (see below).
“There is an atmosphere of fear in the country,” the human rights defender commented. “The fact that I am afraid to give you my name, and that leaders of registered communities would not discuss registration and other problems relating to freedom of religion and belief, demonstrates this.”
The human rights defender also pointed to the authorities’ failure to resolve the problems of burials and attacks on people exercising their freedom of religion and belief, including by failure to punish perpetrators.”In this context giving registration does not guarantee that people can exercise their freedom of religion and belief” (see below).
A Protestant leader, who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, had separately come to the same conclusion as the human rights defender. The Protestant believes that by failing to punish perpetrators of violent physical attacks and of burial problems the authorities “send a message that they quietly agree with attacks and do not want people to exercise their freedom of religion and belief ” (see below).
In the most recent such case, when a Protestant Eldos Sattar uuly was attacked leaving him in need of immediate surgery, the authorities dropped the criminal case using the excuse of Sattar uuly’s absence. He fled the country because he received threats from his attackers during the police cross-questioning in Bishkek (see below).
One Protestant said that the widespread condemnation of the attacks on Sattar uuly and members of his church on social media may have influenced the residents of Tamchi to stop attacks (see below).
“Registration only gives you permission to exist”
Kyrgyzstan has given many religious communities state registration and therefore permission to exist. The State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) registered over 60 Christian churches and organisations, most of them Protestant, between the end of 2018 and June 2019, a Protestant leader who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 24 June.
Fr Viktor Reymgen of the Russian Orthodox Church and Fr Remigiusz Kalski of the Catholic Church told Forum 18 on 12 June that all of their Churches have been registered. Farangiz Zeynalova, Chair of the Baha’i Community, told Forum 18 on 18 June that all of their 12 communities have been registered as independent communities.
The Chui-Bishkek Justice Department in the capital Bishkek registered a public association of the Falun Gong Chinese spiritual movement on 26 January 2018, according to Falun Gong sources. The Justice Department refused to confirm or deny this to Forum 18 on 5 July 2019.
A Falun Gong association was registered in July 2004, but – under Chinese pressure – was liquidated by Bishkek’s Lenin District Court in February 2005.
Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, Bishkek
The Jehovah’s Witnesses Community in Osh was given registration in early 2019 after 10 years of attempting to gain registration. In the course of their attempts, two Jehovah’s Witnesses, Nadezhda Sergienko and her daughter Oksana Koryakina, were placed under house arrest for many months after their March 2013 arrest for alleged swindling but in reality apparently because of the Osh community’s attempts to gain registration. Judge Sheraly Kamchibekov acquitted the two women of all charges, telling Forum 18 in November 2014 that “it was a fabricated case”. After a long legal battle the case was closed in 2016, but hearings in the prosecutions attempt to reopen the case continued into 2017.
However, in 2019 the Osh community was registered not as an independent community but as a branch of their community in the capital Bishkek, Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18 on 26 June. “But it was a positive development that we finally received registration.”
However, the Jehovah’s Witness communities in Naryn, Jalal-Abad, and Batken regions still do not have registration. “This creates certain problems from time to time, and local officials warn us that we cannot conduct exercise our freedom of religion and belief in public.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses have lodged three complaints with the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee over the registration denials: on 7 September 2012 against the authorities in Osh, Naryn and Jalal-Abad Regions; on 26 March 2013 against the authorities in Batken Region; and on 27 January 2017 against the SCRA over refusal to register four communities in Osh, Batken, Naryn and Jalal-Abad.
Kanybek Niyazbayev, head of the SCRA section responsible for religious organisation registration, claimed to Forum 18 on 3 July that “we will register them [these three communities]. A couple of days ago we had a meeting with and asked them to prepare their documents. If all their documents are in order we will register them.”
Ahmadi Muslims still banned
Ahmadi Muslims have been banned as “extremist” and have not met together for worship since July 2011. All other Muslim communities are state-controlled via the Muslim Board.
“We consulted with our world leaders and local leaders, and decided that we should not be publicly active for the time being and not meet for worship as a community,” an Ahmadi Muslim, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 in mid-June 2019.
In December 2015 Ahmadi Muslim Yunusjan Abdujalilov was murdered. A human rights defender who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 at the time that “the authorities turn a blind eye to hate speeches on TV, other mass media, and mosques about Ahmadi Muslims and other vulnerable religious groups”.
The human rights defender also noted that, in addition to attacks by Muslim Board imams, the Ahmadis were refused state registration. “All of this created a tense situation and hatred against the Ahmadis.”
Police told Forum 18 that “there are two sides of the issue, one is the murder, and the other is the unregistered freedom of religion or belief of the Ahmadis”. Asked why the authorities are seeking to punish the Ahmadis instead of investigating the murder, police stated that both the murder and the Ahmadi Community’s activity are being investigated.
The Ahmadi declined to discuss the authorities’ investigation of the murder. But they told Forum 18 that “I heard that former Chief Mufti Chubak azhy Zhalilov [who resigned in July 2012 amid corruption allegations] was warned by the authorities not to give hate speeches, and I have not heard him making public hate speeches recently.” The Ahmadi added: “If we see goodwill towards us from the authorities, of course we would love to register again and meet for public worship. At the moment we only pray individually in our private homes.”
“Registration only gives you permission to exist”
However, state registration does not remove many obstacles to exercising freedom of religion and belief. Members of a variety of communities throughout the country, all of whom wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, pointed out to Forum 18 on 3 July that “communities cannot have public meetings outside their registered addresses unless they receive prior permission for each event from the authorities, and our experience is that the authorities do not normally give permission”.
“Religious literature can be imported only after passing compulsory state censorship,” one person told Forum 18, “and the authorities also demand that they censor and give permission for any text we want to give out in open public places. This is a significant obstacle to sharing one’s beliefs.”
Others commented: “The authorities have punished people for sharing their beliefs in public places with adults, and young people under 18 cannot even share their beliefs with others in their schools.”
“So practically speaking, registration only gives you permission to exist”, one person commented. “Registration does not give you the freedoms one should expect.”
In the years after the 2009 Religion Law came into force, one Jewish Community, up to four Russian Orthodox communities, and about 141 Islamic organisations including mosques, madrassahs, and foundations under the state-controlled Muslim Board, were registered. But no Catholic, Protestant, Jehovah’s Witness or Ahmadi Muslim communities were given registration. The Caritas charity organisation, which aims to reflect the values of the Catholic Church, was registered and does not undertake any overtly religious activities.
One of the obstacles is that the Religion Law demands that religious communities must have at least 200 adult permanent resident citizens as founders, who must give their full details to local keneshes [councils] who decide whether to approve them as founders.
Many religious communities of a variety of faiths have pointed out that people are afraid to identify themselves to the authorities as founders, and that many smaller communities do not have 200 founders and so have no possibility of legally existing.
attack on Sattar uuly on 15 May “because the two sides came to an amicable solution between themselves. The Court can terminate prosecutions in such cases.”
Court Chair Sydykov denied the evidence that Sattar uuly was attacked and left in need of surgery because of his faith. “That is not true. The charges against the perpetrators were for hooliganism. It was not because of Sattar uuly’s religion.” Sydykov then claimed before ending the call: “This is not a phone conversation. Please come and visit us and we will talk.”
Kanat Aydakeev, Issyk Kul Regional Police Chief, on 3 July told Forum 18 that “we finished our investigation and referred the case to Issyk-Kul District Court.” Asked why the case was dismissed, he claimed: “We did our job and what the Court decides does not concern us.” Asked why the Police or other authorities did not object to the Court’s decision when much evidence exists of the attack against Sattar uuly, he replied: “Please talk to the Court.”
A Protestant, who knows Sattar uuly and members of his church in Tamchi, and who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 on 27 June: “There have been no new attacks on Christians or their families or friends in recent months.”
In one of the attacks that continued on Christians and others into 2019, 10 people violently attacked a Muslim friend of the family in Tamchi “because they are a good friend of Sattar uuly’s family and refused to stop being friends with them”.
Asked why there have been no further attacks, the Protestant commented: “The authorities did not punish the attackers of Eldos or the other attackers in the village. But the issue was widely discussed in social media and the attacks were widely condemned by society, including many who identified themselves as Muslims. Many said that the attackers should be seriously punished.”
The Protestant added: “People are very active in social media and pay attention to what is being expressed there. This is what I think may have influenced the residents of Tamchi.”
Categories: The Muslim Times