UZBEKISTAN: Jehovah's Witnesses arrested for being Islamic fundamentalists
Six Jehovah's Witnesses have been arrested, having been denounced as "Wahhabis". They were interrogated by several policemen, the most senior of whom was apparently drunk. Of the six Jehovah's Witnesses, who included a 16 year old girl who should not have been held, the men were beaten up and the women and young girl had heavy psychological pressure applied against them, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Begzot Kadyrov, of the government's committee for religious affairs, has told Forum 18 that "The Jehovah's Witnesses are not registered in Bukhara region, and they remain active there despite all our warnings. As long as the Jehovah's Witnesses are not registered at the justice administration for Bukhara region, their conflicts with the police will continue." Jehovah's Witnesses have been denied registration in Uzbekistan. The state, in defiance of the human rights commitments it has freely entered into, routinely punishes unregistered religious activity.
This is not the first time that Jehovah's Witnesses have been described as so-called "Wahhabis" (see F18News 14 April 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=299).
Erkin Khabibov, a Jehovah's Witness from Bukhara, told Forum 18 on 3 July that there was no proof that any religious meeting or sermon was underway at the time. The participants were simply drinking tea, a fact borne out by the cups of untouched tea, he maintained. The Jehovah's Witnesses were held at the police station for 10 and a half hours, where the police gave them no food and did not even let them go to the toilet. Khabibov claims that the men were beaten at the police station, while moral and psychological pressure was exerted on the women and young girl.
The unauthorised interrogation was conducted by police chief Lieutenant-Colonel I. Shernazarov (who appeared drunk at the time), deputy chief of police Lieutenant-Colonel Tuimurod Tursunov, Senior Lieutenant Murtazo Ochilov (who works at the Criminal Investigations Department) and Senior Divisional Police Lieutenant Rafik Rajabov.
During the interrogation Shernazarov beat 19-year-old Aziz Pulatov on the head with a heavy book and strongly pressured him to write a statement under dictation. Tursunov raised a stool over 16 year old Kamila Arabova in a threatening manner, precipitating psychological trauma (a medical report established a diagnosis of "situational neurosis").
Heavy pressure was also brought to bear on all the other detainees, as a result of which the state of mind of four of them was badly affected in detention: Kurbanova, Simina, Kryukov and Pulatov. Arabova, the underage girl, was held at the police until 6pm (around 8 hours altogether), without being allowed to see her mother. She was questioned without her mother's permission and was forced under pressure to write a statement.
The chief specialist at the government's committee for religious affairs, Begzot Kadyrov, told Forum 18 on 6 July that the Jehovah's Witnesses had already lodged a complaint with him about the Kagan incident outside Bukhara, and that he had referred their complaint to the committee's leadership.
At the same time, he emphasised that the committee could not help the Kagan Jehovah's Witnesses. "This is far from being the first time that the Kagan Jehovah's Witnesses have come up against the police. The Jehovah's Witnesses are not registered in Bukhara region, and they remain active there despite all our warnings. As long as the Jehovah's Witnesses are not registered at the justice administration for Bukhara region, their conflicts with the police will continue."
When Forum 18 remarked that even if the Jehovah's Witnesses had broken the law, that did not give the police the right to beat and insult them, Kadyrov responded: "They declare that they are beaten every time, but they can't offer any convincing evidence."
In defiance of its international human rights commitments, Uzbekistan's religion law makes unregistered religious activity illegal. The Jehovah's Witnesses have been denied registration in Bukhara and many other places (see eg. F18News 11 June 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=339), rendering any activity in these communities liable to punishment. (END)
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7 July 2004
In the latest twist to Uzbek authorities' campaign against Christianity in north-west Uzbekistan, the NSS secret police have interrogated two Baptists, beating one up, and threatening both with imprisonment saying that "we will put you away for years". One secret police officer claimed to Forum 18 News Service that "The Baptists' activity is illegal, and so we simply had a chat with them," and that the Urgench Baptist church is a banned organisation "because its registered status was removed". Another NSS officer, Alisher Khasanov, jeered at Baptist Sharovat Allamova for being a Christian and claimed that "you Protestants rely on Western money, the humanitarian western missions who support you are basically espionage organisations. So you yourselves are agents for foreign intelligence services." Also, the local Khorezm branch of the NSS has questioned Forum 18 about why a Norwegian organisation is interested in a "banned organisation".
29 June 2004
One day before he was due to take up his post as imam of a mosque in the town of Margelan, a satellite town near Fergana, young imam Alokhon Ishankhojayev was arrested after police and secret police officers claim to have discovered a gun and bullets during a house search. At his trial, which began on 17 June, five witnesses retracted earlier testimony that he had tried to turn them against the constitutional order. One admitted he was drunk that day and had signed a statement the secret police had drawn up without reading it. Ishankhojayev denied the charges. "I am a believer and have nothing to do with politics, let alone with terrorist activity," Forum 18 News Service heard him tell the court. Prosecutors are continuing the case.
24 June 2004
Jehovah's Witnesses are to step up their attempts to end what they claim are regular police beatings of their members in Uzbekistan. In the latest incident, Tulkun Khankeldiyev and Oleg Zagibin were detained on 17 June for "illegal" street preaching in the town of Uchkuduk. Jehovah's Witnesses claim they were severely beaten at the police station before being fined. "The police acted very craftily. They beat our brothers so as to cause severe pain, but in such a way as to leave no bruises on their bodies," Jehovah's Witness spokesman Andrei Shirobokov told Forum 18 News Service. Uchkuduk's deputy police chief denied this absolutely, but insisted to Forum 18 the police were right to detain them.