Friday, February 20, 2009

Forum 18: Maldives, Serbia and Uzbekistan (Direct Post)

18 February 2009

Mohamed Nasheed's election as President of the Maldives was hailed as the dawn of a new era of democracy and freedom in the Indian Ocean country.Under former President Gayoom, the once religiously tolerant Maldives -which tended towards folk Islam - was changed into a society intolerant ofall beliefs except state-approved Sunni Islam. President Nasheed has, Forum18 News Service notes, taken no steps to dismantle the Gayoom legacy of continuing religious freedom violations. Indeed, the scope for violations has been increased by the creation of a new and powerful Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The 2008 Maldivian Constitution, inherited from the Gayoomera, also places many obstacles in the way of establishing human rights.Many Maldivians - especially secular and non-Muslim Maldivians forced to conceal their beliefs - have begun using anonymous weblogs to voice their concern over the situation. Fear of social ostracism and government punishment prevents this concern from being openly expressed. If President Nasheed does not respect all Maldivians' right to freedom of religion or belief, he will not be able to fulfil his promises to respect their human rights.* See full article below.

20 February 2009

State registration, or legal status, is difficult for "non-traditional"religious communities to gain in Serbia, Forum 18 News Service has found.This can prevent communities from, for example, employing people as clergy or other religious workers. However, although some religious communities known to Forum 18 are without legal status, this has not practically affected them. There does not appear to be a pattern in why some communities are practically affected but not others, and the Religion Ministry itself is not actively harassing unregistered organisations. Several unregistered religious communities are challenging the decision not to register them. These include the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, and the Montenegran Orthodox Church, which is not recognised by other Orthodox churches. A number of smaller communities have considered trying to register as non-governmental organisations(NGOs), but as a draft NGO Law has not been passed by Parliament it is unclear when this will be legally possible.

17 February 2009

Uzbekistan continues to attack the sharing of information and opinion in religious literature, Forum 18 News Service notes. In the most recent known cases, contributors to two Islamic religious periodicals - Irmoq (Spring)and Yetti Iqlim (Seven Climates) - are facing criminal charges, allegedly for distributing information on the Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi. Obiddin Makhmudov of Uzbekistan's state Agency of Press and Information told Forum 18 that "I just found out yesterday from the national TV channel that the magazine's [Irmoq's] staff are suspected of having ties with a banned religious organisation." Baptists are being punished for distributing religious literature free-of-charge, in one case being questioned for seven hours without food or water. A different Baptist has been fired from his job as an electrician, after the NSS secret police and ordinary police confiscated his religious literature from his mother-in-law's flat. Asked by Forum 18 why police raided the flat, Police Inspector Alisher Umarov claimed they were "allowed" to do passport control"anywhere and anytime."

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