Astana cracks down on extremism in religions
Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses are convicted for "inciting religious hatred". Trials are often done in secret. A new theology programme is introduced in prisons to prevent the radicalisation of prisoners
Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More and more cases have come before Kazakh courts under Article 174 of the Criminal Code against "inciting religious hatred".
In such cases, trials are held in camera, with no information released to the public. Even when there are reports, little is known because the secrecy makes it hard to vet the charges.
Kazakhstan’s corrections service on June 13 announced a new theology programme to curb the spreading of radical Islamist ideology, extremism, and terrorism among inmates. However, not only Muslims have been accused of inciting religious hatred.
The Norway-based Forum 18 press agency has reported several cases, including those of four Sunni Muslims who had studied at the Islamic Medina University in Saudi Arabia.
Nariman Seytzhanov, 28, was sentenced to five years in prison on 9 June by a court in Kokshetau, in the Akmola region. His trial, which began on 25 April, was behind closed doors.
The charges were based on three recordings in which Seytzhanov addressed pilgrims that he was accompanying to Saudi Arabia last October as a tour guide for an Astana travel agency.
According to a friend, Seytzhanov "simply explained to people how to conduct the haj or umra pilgrimage”.
The case of Satymzhan Azatov, the last of these four, will be reviewed again tomorrow in Astana. Azatov is accused of stirring up hatred in a café.
To present its case, the prosecution has again turned to Roza Akbarova to provide "expert analysis" to demonstrate the extremist nature of what he said. She claims that he spoke negatively about Shia Muslims, stating that they had blown up a mosque.
Akbarova’s expert testimony helped convict Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov (two years of forced labour) and Jehovah's Witness Teymur Akhmedov (five years in prison).
Both religions are seen as extremist, which is used in trials.
According to Akbarova, some of the literature found in Kabduakasov's home in 2015 contained "expressions of the superiority of the Christian religion and the inadequacy of the Islamic religion”.
Akhmedov was instead arrested in January for talking about his faith with seven young men, who turned out to be informants for Kazakhstan’s secret police, the National Security Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan (NSC), pretending to be students.
Other Jehovah’s Witnesses were investigated in mid-April. The criminal case was launched against one after he gave "an interested person" a copy of the Jehovah's Witness publication.
Police claimed the book is "extremist" since it was banned in neighbouring Russia. Yet, no Jehovah's Witness publications is known to have been banned as "extremist" in Central Asian countries.