Friday, February 27, 2009

Forum 18: Azerbaijan, Serbia, Russia, Uzbekistan (Direct Post)

24 February 2009
Azerbaijan's wide-ranging religious literature censorship system has started to affect the export of such literature, Forum 18 News Service has found. Customs authorities recently confiscated Christian religious literature from Azerbaijani citizens leaving Azerbaijan. No mention is made in Azerbaijan's laws of censorship of religious literature taken out of the country. Similarly, Forum 18 was told by a customs official that customs regulations are also silent on this point. An official of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, speaking after the confiscation of Muslim literature, told Forum 18 that "our society doesn'tneed books that don't suit our laws and our beliefs." He claimed that unspecified religious literature could cause unspecified "social harm andpossibly inter-religious and inter-ethnic violence."

26 February 2009
Apparently unaware that he was giving a public address, the governor of Kaluga Region has ordered that land legally owned by Word of Life Pentecostal Church be seized by "any" means, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The order, made at a recent local government meeting broadcast live via the regional administration's website, has been captured and posted on the Internet site YouTube by a church member. No official was prepared to comment to Forum 18. Word of Life has complained of frequent bureaucratic harassment ever since its land and building became an impediment to shopping mall construction plans in Kaluga. In Udmurtia, Philadelphia Pentecostal Church is the latest congregation to report similar bureaucratic obstruction, which state officials usually insist is lawful and routine. Such problems are usually encountered by Protestants, who are more likely to have unsecured worship premises.

26 February 2009
In its survey analysis of freedom of thought, conscience or belief in Serbia, Forum 18 News Service notes that the most serious remains violent attacks, especially on Jehovah's Witness and Adventist property. The numbers of these attacks have been declining, and a crucial factor in this has been positive changes in media portrayals of non-Serbian Orthodox communities. Gaining legal status is difficult for communities defined by the Religion Law as "non-traditional" who must apply for recognition, and may face apparently arbitrary denials of status. This leads to practical problems for some communities, such as an inability to employ people.Restitution of confiscated property is a problem for most religious communities, including the Serbian Orthodox Church which suffered most communist-era confiscations. Legally, restitution of Jewish property confiscated in the Second World War is also difficult. Education is a sensitive issue, with problems such as negative portrayal of"non-traditional" communities in school religious education.

27 February 2009
Uzbekistan imposed harsh prison sentences yesterday (26 February) on five writers for the Islamic periodical Irmoq (Spring), Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The verdicts were: Bakhrom Ibrahimov and Davron Kabilov received 12 year sentences in general regime labour camps; Rovshanbek Vafoyev received a ten year general regime labour camp sentence; and Abdulaziz Dadahonov and Botyrbek Eshkuziyev each received eight year general regime labour camp sentences. Uzbek officials have refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. All five were arrested in mid-2008 by the NSS secret police on "suspicion of being sponsored by a Turkish radical religious movement Nursi." The Ezgulik human rights society stated that the defendants insisting they had violated no laws. "We want children to know the truth, to be able to tell the difference between black and white," they told the court. "But you call white black and black white." The verdict in a similar case against contributors to the Yetti Iqlim (Seven Climates)Islamic periodical is awaited. As part of the continuing crackdown on religious literature, pressure also continues on Baptists distributing literature in the street.

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