There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including detentions. Members of law enforcement and security services actively enforced restrictions on religious freedom while investigating alleged religious extremism. The government also enforced strict registration requirements for religious groups.
Authorities maintained bans on nine religiously-oriented groups, including Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, Kurdish Peoples’ Congress, Organization for the Release of Eastern Turkistan, Hizbut Tarir, Union of Islamic Jihad, Islamic Party of Turkistan, and Takfir Jihadist. During the year, the government added the Church of Unification to the banned list.
The government continued to restrict the activities of Muslim groups it considered threats to security. For example, it banned Hizbut Tahrir (HT) and classified it as “extremist” although its philosophy professed nonviolence and no violent acts were attributed to it. Membership in HT was illegal as was any activity on behalf of the group. Authorities used their powers broadly to enforce the ban. In April 2011, the most recent data available, the State Committee on National Security estimated there were 1,900 HT members in the country. During the first four months of the year, the authorities detained 40 HT members and sentenced 23 to prison terms. Law enforcement officials also seized 719 electronic texts, 1,202 pieces of “extremist” literature, and more than 2,000 leaflets. At year’s end, the Ministry of Internal Affairs refused to release information regarding HT membership.
Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to experience harassment and discrimination. The government prosecuted Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused as conscientious objectors to contribute funds to the MOD as required by law, despite their willingness to make a monetary contribution to non-defense related areas in place of military service.
On May 17, approximately 40 persons attacked and burned down the local Jehovah’s Witnesses’ place of worship in Toktogul after harassing the volunteers working on the building for weeks. Observers reportedly witnessed a senior employee of the Toktogul city council helping to organize the attack. Police made no arrests in the case by year’s end.
The May 17 attack in Toktogul took place nearly two years to the day after a mob looted and destroyed the same worship hall in 2010. Police initially made no arrests following the 2010 attack in spite of the fact that authorities reportedly knew many of the perpetrators. After the Jehovah’s Witnesses made multiple requests, local police opened a criminal investigation in late 2011. On December 1, the Toktogul Regional Court convicted five defendants of hooliganism, inciting religious hatred, and arson. All five defendants were given a suspended sentence and ordered to pay 5,000 som (approximately $100), while the Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed the damage to their hall exceeded 1.3 million som (approximately $27,000).
On June 15, a court dismissed the prosecutor general’s attempt to label the local Ahmadiyya Muslim Community an “extremist sect.” The prosecution relied on testimony, including from a former mufti, to support the argument that the Ahmadiyya community’s activities divided the country’s Muslims and caused “social instability.” The prosecution mentioned that recent clashes between Ahmadi Muslims and Sunni Muslims in Indonesia illustrated the “threat” posed by Ahmadis to the country. Lawyers representing the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community relied largely on procedural arguments to defend their clients, arguing that current legislation required prosecutors to convene a special government council in order to label a group “extremist,” rather than relying on individual expert testimony. In dismissing the case, the judge cited the failure of the government to set up an independent commission before filing the complaint as the grounds for dismissal.
Since 1996 the SCRA has registered more than 1,300 foreign citizens as religious missionaries, including 12 registered during the year. At year’s end, there were 2,397 officially registered religious groups, educational establishments, and places of worship, of which 1,913 were Islamic, 370 Christian, and 114 had other religious affiliations.
On June 13, the SCRA unilaterally withdrew the local registration of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in Toktogul. The SCRA asserted that the move was necessary to maintain public order and to ensure the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ safety. In August a Bishkek court ruled the SCRA’s denial of registration was illegal and restored the group’s registration.
During the year, several religious groups experienced difficulties registering. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) initially applied for registration with the SCRA in 2004, but had not received approval by year’s end. Officials attributed the registration delays to erroneous or insufficient applications.
According to the Open Viewpoint Foundation, a central-Asian based NGO, other religious communities complained that authorities used discrepancies in existing legislation as an excuse to avoid registering them or to force them to re-register, which was a lengthy process. As a result, some groups reportedly abandoned the effort to register. Throughout 2011 and 2012, the SCRA refused to register Jehovah’s Witnesses in Naryn, Osh, and Jalalabad. Although a Bishkek inter-district court ordered the SCRA to allow registration, the Bishkek City Court overturned the ruling upon the SCRA’s appeal. On May 31, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision. According to Open Viewpoint Foundation and Freedom House, the SCRA frequently refused to inform religious groups of why it denied their registration or re-registration.
Religious groups with fewer than the required 200 members found it difficult to gather members because the government prohibited meetings of unregistered groups. Other religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, have succeeded in registering in some cities, only to be told that their registration did not apply in other cities.
During the year, the SCRA continued its practice of regularly monitoring religious services of registered groups, taking photographs, and asking questions.
The prosecutor general’s office has the power to investigate and prosecute publications and individuals for the dissemination of materials that “incite ethnic hatred.” The SCRA did not prosecute any specific cases involving anti-Semitism in 2012.