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9 May 2012

UZBEKISTAN: An "unsanctioned meeting in a private home" - with a bomb?

Uzbekistan continues punishing people exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service notes. In one incident, police and the NSS secret police raided Protestants meeting in the home of Natalya Kim in Yukori-Chirchik, claiming at the time, local Protestants said, that a bomb was in the home. While searching for the alleged bomb, police confiscated Christian books and a laptop. Subsequently, 14 members of the unregistered Protestant Church were fined for an "unsanctioned meeting in a private home". The verdict was supplied after the legally required time, thus preventing an appeal being lodged. Natalya Kim herself was given the biggest fine, of 60 times the minimum monthly salary. Investigator Farhod Raimkulov told Forum 18 that "when many people gather in a certain place, it is the local police officer's duty to inspect and see what is happening". When Forum 18 asked whether the police can or should raid Inspector Raimkulov's home when he holds a party or some other event, he claimed that he was not part of the raid on Kim's home.

11 April 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Continuing freedom of movement bans

Uzbekistan continues to impose bans on entry and exit from the country on people exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. The authorities also use the border crossing points for confiscating religious literature. Referring to bans on people taking part in the haj and umra pilgrimages, human rights defender Shaira Sadygbekova described the authorities, especially the Religious Affairs Committee, as "creating artificial barriers for ordinary Uzbeks". Khaitboy Yakubov of the Najot human rights organisation stating that such barriers are widespread. Among other violations are bans on exit visas for Muslims who have passed the stringent state approval procedures for going on state-organised pilgrimages, bans on Muslims joining waiting lists for these pilgrimages, bans on individual Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses leaving the country, and bans on Hare Krishna devotees and Christians entering the country. Officials have refused to discuss these human rights violations with Forum 18.

19 March 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Religious literature only for "internal use by registered religious organisations"

On 5 February police and NSS secret police officers raided an unregistered mainly ethnic Korean Baptist Church's Sunday worship service near Tashkent. On 7 February the state Religious Affairs Committee ruled that Christian literature confiscated during the raid was allowed only for "internal use" by registered religious organisations. On 13 February the Church's Pastor, Vyacheslav Kim (a 65-year-old pensioner), was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage in his absence. The books and musical instruments seized were ordered handed to the state, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18 News Service. Judge Muhammadali Nazarov defended the fine and confiscations, insisting to Forum 18 that his decision is "in line with the Law". Officials of the Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss their ruling that the literature was not allowed to unregistered communities or outside registered communities. After a raid on a private home in Samarkand, Protestant Khursheda Telyayeva was fined 20 times the minimum monthly wage. Her confiscated Christian books were ordered handed to Samarkand Regional Muslim Board.

16 March 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Islamic and Christian literature ordered destroyed

In two separate cases in February, in different regions of Uzbekistan, courts have ordered religious literature confiscated from four Muslim women and a Protestant destroyed, Forum 18 News Service has learned. All five were also fined, Muslims Nasiba Ashirmatova, Mahsuma Rahimkhujayeva, Iroda Mirzukurova and Mohinur Kholmatova being fined five times the minimum monthly wage and Baptist Odiljon Solijanov being fined 20 times the minimum monthly wage. The four Muslim women work together in a kindergarten, and would sometimes during lunch breaks discuss religious subjects such as how to pray. This led to NSS secret police and ordinary police harassment, leading to a raid, literature confiscations and a fine. The police prevented the women attending the original court hearing, an appeal was rejected, and it is likely that all four women will be closely watched by the authorities. Ashirmatova has already been sacked from the kindergarten. Solijanov was asked by the judge in his court hearing: "Is it true you were distributing literature harmful to our state?" He answered: "The Word of God is not harmful to anyone, and we are called in the Gospel to spread the good news", Baptists told Forum 18.

13 February 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "We treat everybody equally"

The day after a "brutal" raid by Uzbekistan's ordinary police and NSS secret police on two homes of Jehovah's Witnesses in the capital Tashkent, three Jehovah's Witness men were each given 15-day prison terms and fined. Jehovah's Witnesses noted to Forum 18 News Service that this is the first time people have been both given short-term prison sentences and fined in the same case. Four women detained in the raids were each given heavy fines. Also, police and the NSS secret police raided the Sunday morning service of a Baptist congregation in Chirchik. Charges are being prepared against some Baptists. Mahalla Chair Nurmina Askarova, who took part in the raid, told Forum 18 that "we told them to attend another church in Chirchik, which is registered." She also claimed that "we treat everybody equally, both Christians and Muslims", stating that "we closed a mosque in our mahalla, for instance, and asked worshippers to attend a mosque which is both bigger and registered in the neighbouring district".

10 February 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Renounce your beliefs or you won't be released

Two Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience near the end of their jail sentences in  Uzbekistan, Olim Turaev and Sergei Ivanov, are due to face new criminal trials "possibly within days". If convicted, they could remain in prison for up to a further five years each, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. On 7 or 8 February prosecutors completed the cases against them on charges of disobeying orders while in Tashkent Region's Tavaksay Prison, which under the law gives a court 15 days to begin the trials. The two – jailed in 2008 for four and three and a half years respectively - began their sentences in open labour camps. But in 2009 they were both moved to "more punitive general regime prison" in Tavaksay after they asked the authorities to be amnestied. While serving their sentences, the two – along with another Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience - were in summer 2011 "visited by a prison official and told that they would not be released at the end of their terms unless they renounced their faith", Forum 18 was told. Officials have refused to discuss the cases with Forum 18.

24 January 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "I don't care about the law or your rights"

One of the police officers accused of beating local Protestant Shokir Rahmatullayev after a raid on his home in Jarkurgan in Surkhandarya Region has adamantly denied that any violence was used, but refused to discuss the case. Captain Ruzi Nazarov insisted to Forum 18 News Service that police did "not beat or threaten" Rahmatullayev. Police chief Bahrom Tursunov not only beat and threatened Rahmatullayev with a false murder charge, but threatened that his mother "could become Tursunov's concubine", sources told Forum 18. Tursunov told Rahmatullayev that he, with his Christian activity, is "helping Russians to take over Uzbekistan". Another officer involved in the beatings told him: "I don't care about the law or your rights". Administrative charges have been lodged against Rahmatullayev and two other church members. Other Protestants continue to be fined elsewhere in Uzbekistan. But in one case in Tashkent, the fine was reduced on appeal, though the judge upheld the decision to destroy confiscated Christian literature.

8 December 2011

UZBEKISTAN: Authorities try to stop children attending meetings for worship

The authorities in Uzbekistan's city of Angren have warned local religious communities not to be involved in unspecified "proselytism" and "missionary activity", as well as not to allow children and young people to take part in meetings for worship, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Saidibrahim Saynazirov, Deputy Head of the Administration, made these demands at a meeting of representatives of a variety of religious communities. He also demanded that the communities provide him with lists of their members. Many at the meeting do not want to do this, as one put it to Forum 18, for fear of pressure by the authorities against individual members. When asked what legal basis he had for his demand for membership lists, Saynazirov told the meeting "it's not in the law but we recommend that you do it". He adamantly denied to Forum 18 that he had demanded that communities provide lists of their members. "I did not demand such lists," he insisted. But he admitted that he "only asked" for them. However, the city's Catholic community hope that they will at last be allowed to be legally registered.

5 December 2011

UZBEKISTAN: Illegal prosecutions and punishments

Sergei Kozin, a Baptist, has been fined 80 times the minimum monthly wage after a police raid on a group of Baptists who were reading on holiday together, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The case – as also one other recent case – was brought even though it was beyond the legal time limit to bring charges. Baptists stated to Forum 18 that the case was "fabricated", with the alleged "witness" not producing the required identity documents. The judge in the case had noted the lack of evidence as well as lack of legal documents produced by police. In another case, five officials raided a home in Fergana without a search warrant. When the wife of the occupant refused the officials entry, they "pushed her out of the way" and "with threats" entered the house. And in another case, after being summoned to a police station for questioning two schoolgirls stopped coming to a church. The police threatened them that "they will be in police records and thrown out of school", Baptists elsewhere told Forum 18.

7 November 2011

UZBEKISTAN: New haj pilgrimage, same old restrictions

The Uzbek authorities have again this year imposed severe restrictions on how many pilgrims could take part in this year's haj pilgrimage, now underway in Saudi Arabia. Only 5,080 out of a potential quota of about 28,000 travelled to Mecca. About as many pilgrims travelled from Kyrgyzstan as from Uzbekistan, more than five times more populous. An official of one Sergeli District mahalla (neighbourhood), with between 3,000 and 7,000 residents, told Forum 18 News Service that "our mahalla will be able to send pilgrims only in 2012. Several people are on the waiting list but maybe only one will go." As before, an "unwritten instruction" banned would-be pilgrims under the age of 45, officials of a local mahalla committee in Tashkent told Forum 18. Pilgrims faced official screening, while secret police officers reportedly accompany the pilgrims. An Imam outside Tashkent, who did not wish to be named for fear of state reprisals, complained that "unofficial payments" more than doubled the cost of the haj. "The number of applicants would be much, much higher if the cost was not so high," he lamented to Forum 18.

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