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Christians in Kyrgyzstan Cannot Bury Loved Ones

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Kyrgyzstan’s government continues its long-standing failure to ensure that people may exercise their right to bury their dead with the religious ceremonies and in the cemeteries they would wish, Forum 18 News Service notes.

Protestants, Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees have all long complained that the authorities have not resolved this problem, which greatly distresses the families and friends of the dead. But they are frequently afraid to raise this problem, for fear of reprisals aided by state indifference.

The most recent publicly documentable failures by the authorities to ensure people may exercise their rights concern Protestants, when in two villages in Jalal-Abad Region local imams interfered in the conduct of funerals.

In one case an imam blocked the burial of a Protestant woman and forced her grieving husband to convert to Islam to get her buried. The authorities appear to be content to allow local imams to control who is buried in state-owned cemeteries not owned by religious communities.

The relatives do not wish to be named for fear of reprisals, the authorities failed to intervene when a local imam refused for three days to allow the burial of a deceased Protestant woman in a village cemetery. The imam permitted the burial to go ahead only after the woman’s Protestant husband was forced to publicly renounce his Christian faith and declare that he is a Muslim, a family member and local Protestants who attended the funeral told Forum 18.

The family member commented that the other reason the imam allowed the burial to go ahead was that he was coming under pressure from villagers to allow the burial. However, friends and neighbours were afraid to identify the woman as a Christian as a further reason why the imam should not either interfere in the family’s burial of their relative, or forcibly convert the grieving husband.

At no point did the authorities attempt either to ensure that the family could exercise their rights to bury their dead, or to protect the distressed husband of the woman against being forced to change his faith to bury his wife.

Complaining to local authorities about the violations is “useless”, Pastor Kapar Yusup uuly – who was stopped from participating in his brother’s funeral – told Forum 18. He insisted that the authorities could resolve some problems by giving land plots in nearby towns for such burials.

In one documented case, the police and local administration actively collaborated with a drunken mob to deny people’s human rights. The police forcibly broke into the family home of a deceased 14-year-old Baptist boy, stole the body and buried it 40 kms (25 miles) away.

Pastor not allowed to participate in brother’s burial

In Kyrgyz culture the brother of a deceased man must wash his body and lower it into the grave. It is deeply humiliating for the family if this does not take place. However, in the village of Zherge-Tal, village Imam Arstan stopped Protestant pastor Kapar Yusup uuly Abdukayimov from participating in the burial procession on 26 January of his deceased 51-year old brother Japar Abdukayimov.

“Imam Arstan insulted me with all kinds of unrepeatable words, calling me a traitor, and told people at the procession this will happen to anyone who leaves Islam and accepts Christianity or other religions,” Pastor Yusup uuly told Forum 18 on 27 May from Bishkek. The Imam stated publicly to the funeral procession that “such people will not be allowed to participate in their relatives’ burials or even be buried in the village cemetery when they die”.

The Imam then told villagers gathered for the funeral that “when the pastor dies he will not be allowed to be buried in the same cemetery, and the same will happen to anyone who follows him”, relatives complained to Forum 18. He also – pointing with his hands at the Pastor – told villagers that “there is no place for this kind of infidel among us”.

Jumagul Egamberdiyeva, the central government’s Jalal-Abad Representative, refused to comment on the cases or state what measures will be taken to both punish those who prevented people from exercising their rights, and to ensure people will be able to exercise their rights in future. “I am ill and cannot talk to you at the moment,” she claimed from her office to Forum 18 on 5 June.

Egamberdiyeva asked Forum 18 to speak instead with either Gulzod Ashirova, Head of Jalal-Abad Regional Administration’s Social issues Division, or Abdulla Kambarov, the Division’s chief specialist on social issues.

Kambarov of the Regional Administration claimed to Forum 18 on 5 June that Ashirova is also “ill and not available”.

“I don’t think anyone’s rights were violated”

Asked what concrete action to defend people’s rights the authorities will take in both the most recent Jalal-Abad cases, Kambarov claimed that “I don’t think anyone’s rights were violated. Christians should be buried in a Christian cemetery and Muslims in a Muslim cemetery.”

However, asked whether cemeteries belong to village civil authorities and not to religious communities, and therefore belong to every citizen from the village, Kambarov replied “Yes.”

However, he then contradicted himself by claiming that “I do not see a problem if Christians are buried in a Christian cemetery”. Asked why a citizen who happens to be Christian can be banned by another citizen who happens to be an imam from participating in his brother’s funeral, he replied: “I’m only a specialist here, and I can’t tell you what measures will or won’t be taken.”

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