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KYRGYZSTAN: Complaining to local authorities about burial violations is “useless”

Burying loved ones according to their wishes has long been a struggle in Kyrgyzstan, for Christians as well as other religious minorities. Several recent cases underscore this long-standing difficulty, as local imams have prevented Christians from laying their deceased to rest in local cemeteries, even demanding conversion to Islam before the burial can take place. One grieving husband was forced to renounce Christianity and declare faith as a Muslim before being allowed to bury his Christian wife.

By Mushfig Bayram

6/6/2014 Kyrgyzstan (Forum 18) – Kyrgyzstan’s government is continuing its long-standing failure to ensure that people may exercise their right to bury their dead with the religious ceremonies and in the cemeteries they would wish… Protestants, Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees have all long complained that the authorities have not resolved this problem, which causes great distress to the families and friends of the dead. But relatives and friends are frequently afraid to raise this problem, for fear of reprisals aided by state indifference.

In [a] region of Kyrgyzstan which relatives do not wish to be named for fear of reprisals, the authorities failed to intervene when a local imam refused for three days to allow the burial of a deceased Protestant woman in a village cemetery. The imam permitted the burial to go ahead only after the woman’s Protestant husband was forced to publicly renounce his Christian faith and declare that he is a Muslim, a family member and local Protestants who attended the funeral told Forum 18.

The family member commented that the other reason the imam allowed the burial to go ahead was that he was coming under pressure from villagers to allow the burial. However, friends and neighbours were afraid to identify the woman as a Christian as a further reason why the imam should not either interfere in the family’s burial of their relative, or forcibly convert the grieving husband.

At no point did the authorities attempt either to ensure that the family could exercise their rights to bury their dead, or to protect the distressed husband of the woman against being forced to change his faith to bury his wife.

Forum 18 [spoke with] Abdulla Kambarov… [the] chief specialist on social issues [of Jalal-Abad Regional Administration’s Social issues Division].

Asked what concrete action to defend people’s rights the authorities will take in… recent [and similar] Jalal-Abad cases, Kambarov claimed that “I don’t think anyone’s rights were violated. Christians should be buried in a Christian cemetery and Muslims in a Muslim cemetery.”

However, asked whether cemeteries belong to village civil authorities and not to religious communities, and therefore belong to every citizen from the village, Kambarov replied “Yes.”

The authorities have failed for many years to ensure that relatives can bury their dead in the way they would wish… The discredited regime of former President Kurmanbek Bakiev made the situation worse, by in the repressive 2009 Religion Law passing the responsibility to local authorities. This in practice made it impossible for many people to bury their dead in the way they would wish.

Since the fall of the Bakiev regime, repeated complaints about this problem have been made. Yet the authorities have taken no detectable action to ensure that people can exercise their freedom of religion or belief in these distressing circumstances.

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