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Religious Communities in Kyrgyzstan Not Protected by Law Enforcement; Live in Fear

KYRGYZSTAN: "We need to protect the rights of the majority"
ICC Note:Kyrgyzstan’s law enforcement continues to stop violent attacks on people exercising their right to freedom of religion. In some cases they have even witnessed mob attacks and done nothing.  Recent attacks, where local police and Public Prosecutors failed to respond, include beatings, threats, property burned down, mob attacks, and the attack of five Baptists in their home village. While the government drags its feet in response, refusing to bring the attackers to justice, religious communities live in fear.

By Mushfig Bayram

06/15/2012 Kyrgyzstan (Forum18)-Kyrgyzstan's law-enforcement and other state agencies are failing to stop or even appear sympathetic to violent attacks on people exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Among recent attacks, a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall in the south-western Jalal-Abad Region has been burnt down twice and five Baptists in Naryn Region were attacked in the home village of one of the Protestants. Local police and Public Prosecutors took no action when they witnessed attackers threatening to destroy the homes of Jehovah's Witnesses and kidnap them. Commenting on threats he witnessed by a mob, a Deputy Prosecutor told Forum 18: "No-one threatened the Jehovah's Witnesses, they just asked them nicely." Asked about these and other physical attacks on religious minorities, the new Head of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA), Abdilatif Zhumabayev, told Forum 18: "We need to protect the rights of the majority." One Jehovah's Witness commented that "failure to prosecute the persons who carried out the mob violence in May 2010 is no doubt the main reason why the mobs felt they could attack our community again in 2012". Forum 18 is aware of similar violent attacks against members of other religious communities.

Kyrgyzstan's law-enforcement and other state agencies have been inactive, very slow to act against, or even apparently sympathetic to violent attacks on people exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Commenting on attacks against members of minority communities, new Head of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) Abdilatif Zhumabayev told Forum 18 that "we need to protect the rights of the majority".

Among recent attacks, a Kingdom Hall of an officially-registered Jehovah's Witness community in the south-western Jalal-Abad Region was burnt down by a mob of people, who had earlier beaten up and threatened the individual members. Local police and Public Prosecutors took no action when they witnessed the same attackers threatening that they would destroy the homes of Jehovah's Witnesses and kidnap them. In the central Naryn Region, police have been reluctant to bring serious charges against those who attacked five Baptists in their home village.

Forum 18 is aware of similar violent attacks against members of other religious communities exercising their religious freedom elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan, but they do not wish to discuss this in public for fear of state reprisals.

In the capital Bishkek on 5 June, the October District Court began hearing a case brought against the Ahmadi Community by Deputy Prosecutor-General Lyudmila Usmanova. She is seeking to have the Community declared "extremist" and banned in Kyrgyzstan. The SCRA has previously denied Ahmadis registration, rendering all their activity illegal, as the National Security Service (NSS) secret police, has stated they are a "dangerous movement and against traditional Islam" (see F18News 21 December 2011http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1650). The case resumed on 14 June, with what is expected to be the final hearing today (15 June).

Destabilising?

Zhumabayev of the SCRA expressed hostility to people exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Asked what law-enforcement agencies are doing to protect people's freedom of religion or belief, why they are reluctant to act against those who use violence against people peacefully exercising fundamental rights, and what the SCRA is doing about this, Zhumabayev told Forum 18 on 13 June that the Jehovah's Witnesses are "peacefully existing in other regions but in Jalal-Abad they are destabilising the situation".

Asked how exactly Jehovah's Witnesses were "destabilising the situation", Zhumabayev replied that "local people do not want them in their region". He elaborated on this by stating that: "For example, a year ago people of [the south-western] Batken Region stated that they do not want Jehovah's Witnesses in their region, so the authorities cancelled their registration for that region."

The SCRA, the NSS secret police, and local authorities have been actively blocking registration applications by many religious communities. Unregistered exercise of freedom of religion or belief by communities is illegal, and some religious communities think their lack of legal status – and for those with under 200 founders the impossibility of gaining this - contributes to violence against them (see F18News 18 January 2012http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1657).

Zhumabayev was appointed on 24 January as SCRA Head by a decree of President Almazbek Atambayev, the presidential website noted the same day. Zhumabayev replaced former Head Ormon Sharshenov. The 35-year-old Zhumabayev studied at the Azreti Umar Islamic Institute in Bishkek and in the Islamic Law Faculty at Al-Azhar University in Egypt. The SCRA website notes that he was an advisor on religious issues to the Interior Minister from 2009, as well as teaching law and Islamic law at universities in Bishkek.

Do minorities have human rights?

Asked by Forum 18 whether this means that minorities cannot enjoy human rights in Kyrgyzstan, and whether in Jalal-Abad the mobs decide who should believe in what, Zhumabayev replied: "I do not give a damn about who believes in what, and we cannot always protect minority rights at the cost of the majority. We need to protect the rights of the majority."

Zhumabayev said that the Jehovah's Witnesses "should just stop struggling and agree to stop their activity in Jalal-Abad". He said the Jehovah's Witnesses complained against the Batken closure to all the courts and eventually to Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court and lost in April. "We know that they are preparing to complain in international courts, and we told them that they can go ahead and complain to whoever they want."

Asked about violent attacks on Baptists in Naryn Region, he told Forum 18, "You were not told all the details of the story." Asked what information was missing and what the Baptists had done wrong, Zhumabayev replied that "we are still investigating the case". He then declined to discuss the case further.

Asked why the government wants to ban the Ahmadi Muslim community, and what wrong they have done, Zhumabayev replied: "You should not be talking to me but to my Secretary, and who gave you my phone number?" He then put the phone down.

Mob attacks, place of worship torched the first time

The Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall in Toktogul in Jalal-Abad Region was first destroyed in 2010 by a mob who also attacked community members. "Despite our multiple complaints in 2010, the persons responsible for the criminal attacks were not charged," the community's lawyer Hamit Iskakov told Forum 18 on 6 June 2012.

Iskakov said that complaints to the national Prosecutor-General in 2010 were no help, as the complaints were "merely forwarded" to the Jalal-Abad Prosecutor's Office. The Jalal-Abad Prosecutor did "virtually nothing" concerning the attacks in 2010, he told Forum 18.

"Failure to prosecute the persons who carried out the mob violence in May 2010 is no doubt the main reason why the mobs felt they could attack our community again in 2012," he lamented.

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