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

Village cemeteries in Kyrgyzstan technically belong to the civil authorities, rather than any religious community. Local imams, however, can use their social power and influence to entirely block Christians from such cemeteries, refusing to allow burials or even demanding that Christians become Muslims before their loved ones can be laid to rest. Following the death of a Christian woman, her family was “categorically refused” a place to bury her by local and even regional Muslim leaders. Government officials never intervened; some insisted later that Kyrgyzstan treats its citizens equally, while others supported the right of the imams to act as they did.

By Mushfig Bayram

6/6/2014 Kyrgyzstan (Forum 18) – In the village of Oktyabr, Erkayim Jeyinbekova, a 73-year old member of the Protestant Church of Jesus Christ, died on 31 December 2013. The following morning, local Imam Saypiddin Matazimov and several villagers stopped Jeyinbekova’s relatives from burying her in her village cemetery.

Sanjar Jeyinbekov, Jeyinbekova’s son, who is a member of Greater Grace Protestant Church, told Forum 18 on 27 May from Bishkek that, although his mother was Christian, she had asked her Christian family members to bury her according to local Muslim tradition “because this was the only way she could be allowed to be buried in the village cemetery where her relatives and ancestors were buried.”

Jeyinbekov stated that Imam Matazimov “at first demanded that three relatives write a statement that my mother was not a Christian and that she was a Muslim.” When under pressure three relatives wrote such statements, Imam Matazimov then produced a new demand that “I and my two sisters [who were present for the burial] renounce our Christian faith. We did not do this,” Jeyinbekov told Forum 18.

Imam Matazimov then produced a third new demand that the family get permission from Kazy Abdulaziz Zakirov, Chief Imam of Jalal-Abad Region, for the burial in Oktabyr village cemetery – which is owned by the local village civil authority, not any religious community.

That same afternoon, 1 January, the relatives visited Kazy Zakirov in the city of Jalal-Abad about 25 kms (16 miles) away. But he “categorically refused” to give permission for the burial, Jeyinbekov told Forum 18. “One of my aunts almost fell down on her knees, and pleaded with him for permission, but he still with no emotion on his face cold-bloodedly said ‘No,'” Jeyinbekov recounted.

Local Imam Matazimov then threatened Oktyabr villagers that those “[who] leave Islam and become Christian will not be buried in the village cemetery.”

Jeyinbekov explained that the cemetery where his mother is buried is now known as a Christian cemetery, and has burials from Russian Orthodox, ethnic German, and Kyrgyz Protestant families. Many of these families, Jeyinbekov stated, “also faced similar difficulties and humiliations when they first tried to bury their dead in local village cemeteries.”

Myrbolot Myrzakhmedov, Head of Suzak District Administration, insisted to Forum 18 on 30 May that “Kyrgyzstan is governed by the Constitution and its laws, which protect the rights of all citizens equally.” He then claimed that “non-Muslim Kyrgyz can be buried in the same cemeteries with Muslims. We can also allocate separate land plots to solve these problems.”

However, Oktyabr village Head Shergaziyev disagreed with District Administration Head Myrzakhmedov. [Shergaziyev] claimed that “we cannot go against the majority of people and what they decide in the village. Yes, the cemetery belongs to every citizen, resident of the village, but we can’t interfere if the majority is against the burial in the particular cemetery where Muslims are buried.”

Asked whether it is the duty of state authorities to defend individuals’ rights, Shergaziyev stated: “It is democracy when the authorities agree with the opinion of the majority.”

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