Hare Krishna village demolished in Kazakhstan, religious persecution alleged
Friday, November 24, 2006
An ongoing struggle in Kazakhstan between the authorities and a local Hindu village has turned serious. Forum 18 has been documenting the alleged human rights abuse regarding the Hare Krishna village for some time, but as of 21st November events took a drastic turn.
The following was seen and written by Ninel Fokina, president of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, and Andrei Grishin, official member of the International Bureau of Human Rights and Law Observance:
On November 21, 2006 at 1 pm the information was received that according to the court decision to evict the members of the religion organization International Society for Krishna Consciousness from the occupied land near Sri Vrindavan Dham farm, and the demolition of 13 country houses will begin immediately.
Heavy equipment was brought to the suburban community: trucks, demolition machines, three busses with riot policemen, a bus with demolition squad and the local authorities including the Hakim. Electricity was disconnected in the morning of the same day.
There were only women and children in the village. All men went to work in town.
The president of the Almaty Helsinki Committee Ninel Fokina tried to contact different officials in Astana (the capital): B. Baikadamov, the envoy of human rights, B. Muhamedjanov, the minister for internal affairs I. Bakhtibayev, the assistant General Prosecutor; R. Aliev, the deputy minister for foreign affairs.
She had a conversation with B. Baikadamov, the only person she could reach at that time, who promised to communicate to the Committee of Religious Affairs at the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court, and the Court Administration Committee which includes the department of court decision execution.
At 3 pm representatives of human rights organizations: Ninel Fokina, Andrei Grishin, and Maxim Varfolomeev, press-secretary of the Society for Krishna Consciousness, plus, a journalist and representative of Astana TV channel left for the village which is located 40 km from Almaty.
All the roads to village were closed and patrolled by police. They would not let anyone go through. The human rights representatives and the journalist took detour through the fields. It was snowing, but they were able to reach the border of the village because of the four-wheel-drive jeep they were traveling in. But even that road was closed by patrol.
The jeep was not allowed to drive into the village. The patrol explained it was instruction of authorities. When Grishin and the jeep driver tried to pass by walk they were stopped and threatened to be put in handcuffs. And the patrol promised to send for additional force.
Lieutenant colonel, who came with another patrol car, explained that they are not allowed to the village for their own safety. He said that at that time the electric line was being dismounted in the area.
The driver of the jeep had his wife and two months old daughter in the village. He was begging to let him go through, but his request was denied. He was told that safety is guaranteed to his family. This group could still enter the village. They approached it from the other detour road, and leaving the car on the sidewalk, one by one they entered the village.
As they approached the village they met two small groups of young people who were not drunk but unnaturally exited.They held hammers, big dumb-bells, metal crow-bars and sticks. Two of them politely greeted the group, and one said gaily, “Your houses are finished.
Four big busses with toned windows and two cars of ambulance were parked at the entrance of the village in the grove. 30-40 policemen stood by the houses, and 20-30 people in civil clothes including the leaders of the district with the Hakim, the head of local executive authority stood on the street, watching the demolition.
It was snowing. Residents’ household stuff such as mattresses, blankets, utensils cookware, and furniture were laying outside on the lawns by their houses. People in construction outfits (labor people) got inside the houses and started crushing windows and doors, destroying walls. The bulldozer was demolishing the buildings and the big stone fencing with cast iron openwork lattice which separated the houses from the driving area.
A small group of inhabitants (20-30 people, mostly women) did not offer physical resistance. One of the women felt dizzy, fell down and was picked up by the ambulance. Police was bringing down those few (basically women) who tried to interfere with the destruction of their property. Two men tried to prevent the entrance of destroyers into a house, but were brought down by 15 policemen who twisted their hands and took them away to the police car.
During all these events none of the representatives from the Office of Public Prosecutor were present at the place of the event, even though both Krishna people and legal service people demanded meeting with representatives of the Office of Public Prosecutor who are obligated to be present during this type of actions.
The Hakim of the Yetisu district who was personally responsible for this action noticed A. Grishin photographing the destruction of the houses using a digital camera and commanded the policemen to detain him. A. Grishin is an officer of the Human Rights Bureau and a journalist.
To avoid confiscation of the camera A. Grishin tried to escape. He ran away by 200 meters and was caught by the police. Police officers confiscated his digital camera and took away his journalist certificate.
Then he was let free, but police refused to return the camera, saying that they would give it to the Hakim. The camera was indeed found in the car of the Hakim, but the flash card and the batteries were confiscated. When Grishin approached the Hakim to find out for what reason his camera and his journalist ID were confiscated, the Hakim told in front of the witnesses, “If I see you here again, I will personally crash Your eyes, even though I am the Hakim.”
No one of the policemen, who took part in the camera and ID confiscation, wanted to reveal their names.
Ms. Fokina was able to talk with the assistant of the General prosecutor I. Bakhtibayev, who did confirm that he would contact the prosecutor of the province and he would work out this situation.
The envoy of human rights E. Baikadamov, who was also contacted, said that the president of the Court Administration Committee Z. Makashev confirmed that he would contact immediately the provincial department and would give the appropriate instructions.
All the attempts of the representatives of the human rights organizations to find the people in charge of the operation and give them any information were unsuccessful.
All the present officials refused to speak and declared that they were not responsible for the action. The Police colonels would point at bailiffs. The bailiffs did not confirm their being bailiffs.
The OSCE representatives in Almaty Eugenia Benigni and Lisa Zhumakhmetova did not make it to the village. Their car just was stoped by police.
When the darkness fell, at around 6 pm, everything was finished: 13 houses destroyed, people thrown to the snowbound street, the village left without electricity, without heat and water.
The condition of the witnesses can be described as shock. The condition of the people who were thrown from their destroyed houses to the dirt and snow cannot be described.
When all the 13 buildings were destroyed as was planned … while the adjacent houses of other people who do not belong to the Society for Krishna Consciousness were left untouched even though their title deeds have the same status … the bailiffs decided to give an interview to the TV channel “to avoid one-sided opinion.” However no one of them introduced himself. The only thing they could say, “we are executing the court decision.”
Neither the Hakim, nor the police chiefs, nor the bailiffs would listen to the arguments that the governmental commission established to solve the issue around the Society for Krishna Consciousness has not yet come to final decision.
Notice: the notifications of eviction and demolition of the 13 houses owned by members of the cottage cooperative, who are the members of the religious organization Society for Krishna Consciousness, were delivered to the watchman of Sri Vrindavan Dham in the evening of November 20. The date of execution and the period for evacuating the buildings were not stated. It should be noted that the acting Kazakh law does not stipulate such a kind of eviction as the demolition of houses, and the eviction should be accompanied by the inventory of property removed from the evacuated building, while the storage of this property should be provided is necessary.