UZBEKISTAN: Five days in prison, then pressured to renounce his faith
Freed with a fellow Jehovah's Witness at the end of February after five days in prison on charges of "disruptive behaviour", Oleg Umarov was again summoned by police in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 4 March. Two secret police officers then pressured him to renounce his faith, Jehovah's Witness spokesman Andrei Shirobokov told Forum 18 News Service. They warned they would soon seize other Jehovah's Witnesses and pointed out to Umarov articles of the criminal and administrative codes under which they could be prosecuted. Police and secret police officers have a history of trying to pressure Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and believers of other minority faiths who come from a traditionally Muslim background to convert to their "historic" faith.
Begzot Kadyrov, chief specialist at the government's committee for religious affairs, told Forum 18 from Tashkent he was "not aware" of the detention and sentencing of the two Jehovah's Witnesses or the secret police pressure on Umarov to renounce his faith. "If they appeal to us, we will sort it out," he declared.
Trouble began for Umarov and fellow-Jehovah's Witness Dmitri Plashchev, both from Tashkent, on 23 February, when they were detained by police outside their home, Shirobokov reported. The two men were taken to the Yunusabad district police station, where they were beaten up and then thrown into a cell. The following day the two were sentenced to five days' imprisonment under Article 183 of the code of administrative offences, which punishes "disruptive behaviour". "Our brothers were accused of apparently approaching women in public while drunk, but that's pure fabrication," Shirobokov told Forum 18. "Remarkably, there wasn't even a lawyer in court."
He said the men's parents have appealed against the sentences to the public prosecutor's office, but have so far had no response.
Then, on 4 March, the divisional inspector summoned Umarov to his office, "supposedly for questioning", Shirobokov told Forum 18. Fearing for his safety, Umarov brought his parents when he came to see the inspector. Present were two national security officers, one of whom presented his identity card in the name of senior national security lieutenant Lapshev. Shirobokov reported that the two secret police officers tried to force Umarov to sign a statement written under dictation that he was renouncing his religious beliefs. The officers also said they would soon seize other Jehovah's Witnesses and pointed out to Umarov articles of the criminal and administrative codes under which they could be prosecuted.
The secret police officers also tried to turn Umarov's father against his son, calling on his Muslim background. "This clearly shows that the arrest of the two Jehovah's Witnesses for disruptive behaviour was pure fabrication," Shirobokov insisted. "Interestingly, the two national security officers who spoke to Umarov did not try to hide the fact that both the arrest and the court case were engineered by their organisation."
Police and secret police officers in Uzbekistan have a history of trying to pressure Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and believers of other minority faiths who come from a traditionally Muslim background to convert to their "historic" faith.
For background information, see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=105.
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=uzbeki
17 March 2005
For the third time in recent years, religious literature confiscated from Baptists returning to Uzbekistan has been confiscated. The literature was seized on 6 March from seven church members from Tashkent, together with the car they were travelling in. The seven – who were quizzed for six hours - now face an administrative court, though a customs official insisted to Forum 18 News Service they were being investigated not for importing religious literature but for crossing the border on an unmarked road. "For us as believers, Christian literature is a great treasure, and so we are highly concerned that this time too our literature will be burnt," local Baptists told Forum 18. Religious affairs official Begzot Kadyrov told Forum 18 that as members of an unregistered church, the seven have no right to import any religious literature, which is subject to vigorous official censorship in Uzbekistan.
16 March 2005
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's surprise announcement last month of the abolition of the State Committee for Religious Affairs is a powerful signal to the rest of the region that governments should end their meddling in religious life, argues former Soviet political prisoner Professor Myroslav Marynovych, who is now vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University http://www.ucu.edu.ua in Lviv, in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. He regards the feeling in Ukraine that the communist model of controlling religion is now dead as the greatest gain of the "Orange Revolution" in the sphere of religion. Yet Professor Marynovych warns that other countries will find it hard to learn from the proclaimed end of Ukrainian government interference in religious matters without wider respect for human rights and accountable government. Without democratic change – which should bring in its wake greater freedom for religious communities from state control and meddling - it is unlikely that religious communities will escape from government efforts to control them.
25 February 2005
There has recently been an increase in trials in which Muslim religious convictions form part of the case against devout Muslims, Forum 18 News Service has noted. Thus, unusually, Uzbekistan has this month jailed two followers (adepts) of Sufi Islam, a movement which was supported by the authorities but which they now view with great suspicion. Also jailed were eight Muslims whose only crime seems to have been forming a kind of "club" of like-minded people, who discussed religion and read the Koran, as well as Mannobjon Rahmatullaev, who was kidnapped from Russia and sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment. The trial of 23 Muslim businessmen, who are accused of belonging to an Islamic charitable organisation continues. Before now, devout Muslims put on trial by the authorities were usually only accused of terrorist activity without any convincing evidence. Protestant Christians, the relics of Russian Orthodox saints and martyrs, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses, have all also recently been targeted by the authorities.