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Turkmenistan

KAZAKHSTAN: 152 administrative prosecutions in 2019

In 152 known administrative prosecutions in 2019, 128 individuals (1 twice), 2 religious communities and 1 company were punished for worship meetings, offering religious literature and items (including online), sharing or teaching faith, posting religious material online, praying in mosques, inviting a child to meetings, or inadequate security measures. Yet an official claimed "We have no problems in the area of freedom of conscience".

Kazakhstan's authorities are known to have brought at least 152 administrative prosecutions in 2019 to punish individuals, three religious communities and one company for their exercise of freedom of religion or belief. Of these, 132 ended with convictions, with 128 individuals (1 twice), 2 religious communities and 1 company being fined. However, the true number of such administrative cases is likely to be higher.

Almaty Specialised Inter-District Administrative Court RFE/RL The 152 known administrative cases in 2019 represent a fall in the rate of prosecutions. In 2018, 171 such prosecutions are known to have been brought. In 2017, 284 such prosecutions are known to have been brought.

Punishments included not only fines but temporary bans on activity, a permanent ban on a meeting place for worship, and seizures and destruction of religious literature, according to a review of the known 2019 cases compiled by Forum 18 (see full list below).

An official of the government's Religious Affairs Committee department that monitors legal cases punishing the exercise of freedom of religion or belief refused to discuss the prosecutions with Forum 18. "We have no problems in the area of freedom of conscience," Yerzhan Omar claimed (see below).

Muslims, Protestants (especially Council of Churches Baptists), Jehovah's Witnesses, and commercial and private sellers were many of the targets of these prosecutions. Council of Churches Baptists refuse to seek state permission to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief.

Fines were the equivalent of between three weeks' and four months' average wages for those in formal work (35 to 200 Monthly Financial Indicators, MFIs, 88,375 Tenge to 505,000 Tenge in 2019).

Many of the prosecutions were to punish meetings for worship without state permission. Bolat Isabayev was fined for leading a home worship meeting in Kandyagash on the most sacred day annually for Jehovah's Witnesses. A court fined two ethnic Azeri imams in Zhambyl Region for maintaining funeral prayer rooms without state approval. Police fined or tried to fine up to 20 members of Karaganda's Revival Protestant Church after raiding a birthday party.

In five cases, courts ordered seized religious literature to be destroyed: 29 Muslim books seized from a commercial seller in Kyzylorda; 18 Islamic books seized from another commercial seller also in Kyzylorda; 2 Islamic books a visitor from Kyrgyzstan had in her luggage; 4 Muslim leaflets seized from a Muslim in Aktobe; and one Kyrgyz-language Islamic book seized from a visitor from Kyrgyzstan.

In the first known such cases, police in January handed two Jehovah's Witnesses summary fines for sharing their faith under the Administrative Code Article which punishes "Harassment in public places" with small fines. Both fines were overturned on appeal. Similarly, in October a court overturned another police fine on a Jehovah's Witness accused under the same Article (see below).

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