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Monitoring & analysis of freedom of thought, conscience & belief violations in Central Asia, Russia, South Caucasus, Belarus, Turkey https://www.forum18.org
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#Belarus: Christian leaders opposing regime violence and war on Ukraine targeted

Catholic, Greek Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders have been targeted for opposing regime violence after the 2020 election fraud, or opposing Belarus' role in Russia's war against Ukraine. The homes of several Catholic priests were raided in late March 2022. One was given a 10-day jail term, while another had to flee the country. A human rights defender observed that they are targeted "as they have authority in their community and work with a wide range of people, including young people."

#KAZAKHSTAN: Six months after UN decision, no releases from sentences, no compensation

In September 2021 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on Kazakhstan to free eight Muslims "immediately" and compensate them for their imprisonment. They were among nine jailed for participating in a WhatsApp Muslim discussion group. More than six months later, none has had their sentence overturned or been compensated. Five are still jailed and four transferred to sentences based at home. "Unfortunately Kazakhstan hasn't implemented the Working Group Opinion and state bodies do not even refer to it," says human rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis.
#UZBEKISTAN: "Police watch us like we are in the palm of their hands"

From 2018 mosques have had to pay for surveillance cameras controlled by the regime to be installed inside and outside mosques. In early 2022, the Interior Ministry also ordered non-Muslim communities to install the cameras. Muslim and non-Muslim religious communities and followers have told Forum 18 that some people have stopped attending meetings for worship, for fear of being identified and then facing state reprisals. A Muslim commented that "we want to concentrate on our meetings for worship, and not be afraid".

#RUSSIA: First known criminal investigation for opposing Ukraine war on explicitly religious grounds

Nina Belyayeva, a Communist Party municipal deputy who is a Protestant, has become the first known person in Russia to face criminal prosecution for opposing the war in Ukraine on explicitly religious grounds. During a meeting of Semiluk District Council in Voronezh Region she called Russia's invasion a war crime. She later wrote: "I realised that if I kept silent, I would not be able to respect myself. I wouldn't be a true Christian and human being." She fled Russia in early April.

#RUSSIA: Religious opposition to war in Ukraine – prosecutions and detentions

Despite the official support for Russia's invasion shown by many religious leaders, most notably those in the Moscow Patriarchate, small numbers of clergy and laypeople in Russia continue to protest for explicitly religious reasons against the renewed war in Ukraine. They often face detention, prosecution, and the loss of their jobs in consequence. One, Fr Ioann Burdin, told Forum 18 he is appealing against being fined "so that life is not a bed of roses for the authorities and judges".

#BELARUS: First-ever Old Believer Church in Minsk "inexpedient"

After struggling since 1998 for a church, Minsk's Pomore Old Believers were in March 2022 denied building permission. Minsk District Executive Committee Head Vladimir Yurgevich claimed it was "inexpedient", and that completed building plans were not lodged by an August 2021 deadline. The community insists no such deadline was mentioned during meetings with officials in 2021 and 2022. They think officials consulted the Belarusian Orthodox Church before rejecting the plans. The regime often creates property problems for religious communities it dislikes.

#UZBEKISTAN: Muslim jailed for four extra years, Nursi reader arrested

Muslim prisoner of conscience Khasan Abdirakhimov was on 28 April jailed for four extra years in an ordinary regime labour camp. The Judge told Forum 18 he was jailed "because he put likes under [religious] materials, and shared them with others on the internet". On 11 April Muslim Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov who met others to read theologian Said Nursi's works returned from exile in Russia to Uzbekistan. Despite previous assurances he was arrested, and is being held for six months in pre-trial detention.

#RUSSIA: Opposition to war in Ukraine – official pressure and censorship

State censorship and control of religious communities increased following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Lutheran Archbishop Dietrich Brauer, who has left Russia, said that, at the start of the war, President Putin's administration made "a clear demand" of religious leaders to speak out in favour of the invasion. Another Protestant pastor says FSB officers visited clergy to warn them not to say anything critical in sermons or on social media. Protestors against the war on the basis of their faith continue to be detained.

#KAZAKHSTAN: Nine known Muslim prisoners of conscience - torture, solitary confinement

Five of the nine known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief were punished for participating in an online Islamic discussion group. The other four are also Sunni Muslims. Dadash Mazhenov and Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov are facing torture by being held in prolonged solitary confinement. Mazhenov has been physically tortured, most recently in a January 2022 beating with truncheons which broke his jaw. Abduzhabbarov was not allowed to attend his father's funeral, while Galymzhan Abilkairov was not allowed to attend his wife's funeral.

#KAZAKHSTAN: Post-prison "there's a block everywhere!"

When individuals complete prison or restricted freedom sentences for exercising freedom of religion or belief and other rights, punishment does not stop. Many still face often vague bans on specific activity, including exercising freedom of religion or belief. "The Financial Monitoring Agency List says it relates to finance, but it's in fact about everything," one said. "When you want to get a job or open a bank account .. there's a block everywhere!" Restrictions include bank account blocks, driving bans and being unable to work in many jobs.