UZBEKISTAN: University attacks Hare Krishna followers, along with secret police
Claiming without evidence that Hare Krishna followers were terrorists, had tried to stage a putsch in Russia and are now trying to stage a coup d'etat in Uzbekistan, Razumbai Ischanov, dean of Urgench University's Natural Sciences Faculty, has reportedly said he will expel all students who are Hare Krishna followers. Since the speech by the Dean, which had the support of University authorities, rumours have been spread that female Hare Krishna students are prostitutes, causing several planned weddings to be cancelled, and a lecturer in the natural sciences faculty forced a student Krishna devotee, against their religion, to eat meat and drink vodka. The NSS secret police have also started monitoring Hare Krishna students since the speech.
In his November 2003 speech to a general meeting of students and lecturers of Urgench university, Ischanov alleged that Krishna devotees had already tried to mount a coup d'etat in Russia and that they were now trying to do the same in Uzbekistan. He also claimed that Krishna devotees studied the Kama Sutra so that they could have sex 365 days a year. Ischanov said that he would expel all students who were Krishna devotees. His speech received the full support of the university authorities.
Since Ischanov's speech, many female student devotees started to experience problems in their private lives. Rumours soon spread through the university that female Krishna devotees were prostitutes and, given the conservative nature of Uzbek society, several of their fiancés ended their engagements. Khasanov complained that Ischanov's speech was interpreted as a signal to start "persecuting" Krishna devotees. One lecturer at the natural sciences faculty made a student Krishna devotee eat meat and drink vodka, knowing that followers of Hare Krishna do not touch meat or alcohol.
Khasanov told Forum 18 that after Ischanov's speech he telephoned the National Security Service (NSS, the former KGB) and suggested that they come to his home and look at his literature. He explained to the NSS officers that he translated Indian religious literature from Russian into Uzbek. "The people who are being called Krishna devotees at university are in fact nothing of the kind - they are simply people who study Indian philosophy," he maintained. "I also explained to the NSS that I give out books on Indian philosophy to students and that there is nothing illegal in this. The security officers did not take any punitive measures against me, but since that time my apartment has been under surveillance."
Loila Babajanova, a female devotee and fourth-year student at the natural science faculty, outlined the problems she had experienced. "Basically, we feel like lepers in the university," she told Forum 18 on 1 March in Urgench. "Our room in the student lodgings is called the 'Krishna room', and the security guard refuses to let any visitors see us, saying he has been ordered to do this by the dean's office." She said devotees cannot carry Hare Krishna literature around in the university because they are immediately accused of preaching their faith (under Uzbek law activity aimed at converting believers from one faith to another are illegal). "We are being shadowed and the dean of the faculty knows precisely when we visit Khasanov. We do not know exactly who is shadowing us, whether it is university staff or the NSS."
Ischanov admitted the truth of most of Khasanov's complaints and did not deny that he had called Krishna devotees terrorists. "That Krishna followers tried to mount a coup d'etat in Russia is a well-known fact and I find it odd that you have not heard about it," Ischanov told Forum 18 on 2 March. He also said that he found out that Krishna devotees allegedly read the Kama Sutra from his own "anonymous sources".
While denying categorically he had threatened to expel Krishna devotees, Ischanov maintained his determination to keep the Hare Krishna faith out of the university. "Religion is separate from the state in Uzbekistan, but things haven't reached the stage where Krishna devotees openly finger their beads at lectures," he told Forum 18. "They can preach whatever they like in their own homes, but I will not allow Krishna propaganda within the walls of an educational institution!"
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4 March 2004
The Turkmen government has been replacing ethnic Uzbek imam-hatybs (mosque leaders) with ethnic Turkmens, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The authorities are also forcing imam-hatybs to place the Turkmen flag above mosque entrances, to begin every sermon by praising "Turkmenbashi", "Father of the Turkmens", as President Saparmurat Niyazov insists on being called. Also, a copy of Niyazov's book, the Ruhnama (Book of the Soul), must be placed at the entrance to every mosque and Muslims must touch it as if it were a sacred object. Similar instructions have reportedly been given to other Sunni Muslim mosques and Russian Orthodox Churches. These are the only two confessions allowed some limited freedom to operate in Turkmenistan.
4 March 2004
On 27 February, Forum 18 News Service has learnt that the authorities in Khorezm region decided to close the Urgench Baptist Church. The only other church in the region is the Protestant Korean Church. It was decided to close the church as it had been working with children and would not revise its statute. Statute revision requires church re-registration, which the authorities have denied to other churches making them illegal. The authorities claim that children's work was taking place without parental consent, but parents had given their consent – only to have the NSS secret police pressure them into denying this. Those parents have now asked the church's forgiveness, Forum 18 has been told. Article 3 of Uzbekistan's law on religion forbids "the enticement of underage children into religious organisations, as well as the religious instruction of children against their or their parents' will". Unregistered religious communities are illegal and banned from operating, which provision is against international law.
24 February 2004
Just hours before US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was due to arrive in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, Forum 18 News Service has learnt that an appeals court today (24 February) commuted a six-year sentence of hard labour imposed on a 62-year-old Muslim grandmother, Fatima Mukhadirova, to a fine roughly equivalent to 2/3rds the average annual salary. She is the mother of Muzafar Avazov, a religious prisoner tortured to death in August 2002. It has been suggested by Human Rights Watch that the authorities prosecuted Mukhadirova to take revenge, primarily because she tried to get a genuine investigation into the murder of her son and because she is an "independent Muslim woman". Her lawyer, Alisher Ergashev, told Forum 18 that "She is free now, but the court has not declared her innocent, so I am not satisfied with the ruling."