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KYRGYZSTAN: Orthodox Bishop banned

Last month, Kyrgyzstan refused registration as missionary to a prominent bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. The bishop, who local Orthodox believers defended as a developer of the church’s programs and a caretaker of the poor, was labeled a threat to national security and a cause of “religious discord among the population.” By denying him registration, the Kyrgyz government effectively banned the bishop from religious activity in Kyrgyzstan under the Religion Law – a law which flatly contradicts Kyrgyzstan’s national constitution and international documents Kyrgyzstan has acceded to, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

By Mushfig Bayram

7/18/2014 Kyrgyzstan (Forum 18) – Kyrgyzstan’s State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) on 14 July refused registration as missionary to Bishop Feodosy [secular name Sergei Gazhu], the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Under the Religion Law, this prevents him from working as a religious worker in Kyrgyzstan.

As a Russian citizen, Bishop Feodosy may live and work in Kyrgyzstan without a visa. Under Kyrgyzstan’s international human rights obligations everyone resident in a country has the right to freedom of religion or belief, including sharing their beliefs with others. However, the Religion Law contradicts this legally binding international human rights obligation …

“This is a ban on the Bishop,” Yuliya Farbshteyn, spokesperson for the Orthodox Church told Forum 18 on 16 July. She said that Bishop Feodosy had to leave Kyrgyzstan in early June as his missionary visa and permit expired on 10 June and was not extended. The Church received the official refusal letter on 14 July – more than a month after the Bishop left the country.

The SCRA letter stated that “Russian citizen Sergei Gazhu cannot be given renewed registration as a missionary in Kyrgyzstan as he threatens the public security of Kyrgyzstan and sows religious discord among the population.”

Church spokesperson Farbshteyn told Forum 18 that “This is a lie and absolutely unacceptable form of treatment of the Bishop and the Church.” She said that Bishop Feodosi did “great work for the Church, the Russian believers living in Kyrgyzstan. He has also helped Muslim Kyrgyz people.”

Another Orthodox believer from Bishkek told Forum 18 that “the community and clergy would very much… like him to be able to come back and continue as the Bishop.” Forum 18 was told that, as well as developing many church activities such as a choir, education centre and museum, Bishop Fedosi also established the Sisters of Mercy. These ladies provide free warm meals for anyone who needs them – Kyrgyz, Russian or anyone else – both at premises at the Church and also from a bus that makes food available to anyone on the streets who needs food.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – which Kyrgyzstan acceded to in 1994 – the only grounds on which a state may limit manifestations of freedom of religion or belief are if this is: “prescribed by law” and “necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” “National security” is not a permissible reason to limit the exercise of freedom of religion or belief.

Before Bishop Feodosi left for Russia in early June, Farbshteyn stated that the SCRA had also sent “several insulting letters to the Bishop warning him that complaints had been made to the SCRA that the Bishop patronised illegal preachers, was engaged in unlawful business activity, and encouraged the forced eviction of citizens from the homes belonging to the Church.” She denied these unsubstantiated claims, describing them as an “absolutely unacceptable form of treatment of the Bishop and the Church.”

However, the SCRA did “not say anything in the letters about our requests to renew the Bishop’s registration.”

Colonel Azamat Orozov of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-terrorism Department told Forum 18 on 15 July that “we found no violations by the Church, and have nothing against the Church or the Bishop.”

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