Wreckage by night

"Wreckage by night" Continued...

Issue: "Reassessing the genome," Oct. 6, 2012

But persecution of religious minorities has gone largely unnoticed. An extremism law passed in 2002 and cleverly disguised as a means to prevent religious violence has produced vague interpretations that target nonviolent religious minorities.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses and a Muslim sect that follow the teachings of Turkish theologian Said Nursi have been the primary targets. A court in 2007 banned 14 of Nursi’s commentaries of the Quran for their assertions of Islam’s “exclusivity.” Five followers served three-year prison terms for charges related to the banned books, according to Forum 18. 

Groups that seek converts are labeled as threats to the country’s Russian Orthodox identity. In an ironic reverse from Communist rule, when Soviet leaders threatened to stamp out religion, now church and state have joined forces to protect “Holy Russia.” A number of priests have publicly declared their support for Putin, and Russia’s foreign ministry claims that Western criticism of the punk rock band trial was proof that Moscow embodies “Christian values” long forgotten in the West. “One needs to remember that the first revolutionary was Satan,” Dmitry Smirnov, a Russian Orthodox official, warned.

Lantos Swett says the disintegrating state of religious freedom in Russia can be placed in the broader spectrum of a Kremlin crackdown on human rights. She lists the mysterious deaths of more than 200 crusading journalists during the past seven years as further proof of deteriorating freedoms.

The international community lost some leverage when Russia became a member of the World Trade Organization in August, but the United States must continue to pressure Moscow to adhere to its international human-rights commitments, she says. 

Lantos Swett, along with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, supports the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, a human-rights bill that would ban Russian officials involved in persecution from entering the United States and using U.S. financial institutions. The bill is named after a 37-year-old attorney and accountant who was imprisoned and beaten to death after uncovering a multimillion-dollar corruption scheme involving Russian tax and law enforcement officers. This legislation would deny visas to and freeze assets of Russian officials linked to human-rights abuses. It has cleared committees in the House and Senate, but the Obama administration has opposed it as a threat to better relations with Russia, and the Kremlin has vowed retaliation if it passes.

“On a range of issues and on a score of fronts Russia is going backwards and going backwards fast,” Lantos Swett warned. For Romanyuk and his now homeless congregation, Russia’s dark and repressive past is still very much their present.

Trumped up charges

Uzbek pastor arrested and set for deportation in rushed trial

By Jill Nelson

Makset Djabbarbergenov with family
Courtesy of Djabbarbergenov family
Makset Djabbarbergenov with family

Authorities in Kazakhstan arrested a Uzbek pastor this month who is wanted on trumped-up charges of terrorism in his home country. He faces possible deportation to Uzbekistan.

The UN granted refugee status to Makset Djabbarbergenov when he fled Uzbekistan for Kazakhstan in 2007 in the wake of heavy persecution. Since then, the Uzbek government has been trying to frame him as a dangerous Islamic militant in an effort to have the refugee sent home for prosecution.

An American living in Kazakhstan since 1999 who is in contact with Djabbarbergenov, says Djabbarbergenov was an “effective pastor” who started numerous churches and led many to Christ. “This is a critical teetering point for Kazakhstan in its commitment to human rights and religious freedom. This would be a serious step backward for them and could set precedents,” said the U.S. worker, who is not identified for security reasons.

Local authorities arrested Djabbarbergenov on Sept. 5 and gave him a rushed trial and a court-appointed lawyer. Family members told Forum 18 News Service that police detained his sister-in-law for two weeks in their attempts to find the 32-year-old pastor. Prison officers denied access to the pastor to Ivar Dale, a representative of the Helsinki Commission, but allowed his lawyer to meet with him on Sept. 11. Family and friends have had no word from authorities on whether he’s been deported. 

The Kazakhstan government denied the pastor’s continued refugee status in 2010, overruling the UN in an unusual move. Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazerbayev is known for his repressive policies and stated in 2008 that new measures were necessary to restrict the activity of missionaries in the country. A new law passed in 2011 imposes heavy-handed restrictions on religious groups. It requires all religious organizations to dissolve and re-register—a difficult if not impossible task for the country’s minority Christians. 

A member of the District Prosecutor’s Office told Forum 18 that Djabbarbergenov was wanted for “violation of the procedure of teaching religion” and “illegal distribution of religious material” under the Uzbek Criminal Code. Each carries a maximum sentence of three years.

Djabbarbergenov is married with four sons and a fifth child due to arrive next spring. He has been arrested, beaten, and imprisoned numerous times for his faith.


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