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15 April 2011

UZBEKISTAN: Police assault Baptist, Imams fired, gift to Children's Home a "violation"

Uzbekistan has levied a large fine on a Baptist in the capital Tashkent – who was physically assaulted by police – for giving a children's Bible to a work colleague, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The policeman who assaulted Galina Shemetova denied to Forum 18 that he had done anything wrong. Possibly fuelled by the authorities concerns about the impact of the Arab Spring uprisings for freedom, three Tashkent Muslim clerics who studied in Arab countries have been dismissed from their posts. No reasons have been given for the dismissals, and officials refused to answer when asked by Forum 18 whether the dismissals had anything to do with where the clergymen studied. And the officially registered Zarafshan Baptist Church has been raided and given an official warning for making a financial gift to a local children's home. The raid followed the Church's required filing of its financial statements with the regional Justice Department, who then ordered the raid. Among a list of – disputed – violations found by officials is that a tap did not have a notice with the personal data of the person responsible for the Church's use of water. No officials would tell Forum 18 what will happen to the funds the Church gave the Happiness Children's Home.

22 March 2011

UZBEKISTAN: "Anti-terror" raid on old people's home

Six Baptists who led Sunday worship in an old people's home near Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent face criminal and administrative charges after an "anti-terror operation" against their service, Baptists told Forum 18 News Service. Asked why the authorities halted the service and harassed participants, deputy police chief Major Sofar Fayziyev – who took part in the raid – told Forum 18: "They could not produce any proof that they had authorisation for their activity." Elsewhere, three Baptists were fined after police raided a Sunday morning church service. As happens frequently, the court verdict ordered the destruction of Bibles and other confiscated Christian literature. And Judge Abdumumin Rahimov who handed a massive fine to a young resident of Navoi for transporting Jehovah's Witness literature insists that "the main purpose of the punishment is not revenge against the offender, but teaching him to respect the law".

28 February 2011

UZBEKISTAN: "All talk about the Constitution and democracy is hypocrisy"

Uzbekistan continues to harass the officially registered Bible Society, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Officials have forced its General Assembly to take place in the open air, after warning churches not to host the meeting. New Bible Society Director Aleksey Voskresensky has left his teaching position at the Tashkent Protestant Seminary under pressure from the state Religious Affairs Committee. State officials have also told Bible Society officials that "it is not necessary to import Bibles into Uzbekistan since there is an electronic version of the Bible on the Internet and this is enough". Bible Society members have complained to Forum 18 that the authorities "are determined to stop import of Bibles in the national languages, and to stop distribution of the Bible in the country. We can see that all talk about the Constitution and democracy in Uzbekistan is hypocrisy". Officials have refused to discuss the issue with Forum 18.

23 February 2011

UZBEKISTAN: More short-term prisoners of conscience

The same Tashkent judge who sentenced three Protestants to 15-day prison terms in a late-night hearing in May 2010 again stayed up late on 12 February 2011 to hand down 15-day prison terms on a further three Protestants. Fined fifty times the minimum monthly wage at the same time were ten other Full Gospel Church members, Protestants who asked not to be identified told Forum 18 News Service. All were punished on charges of holding an "illegal" religious meeting after a police raid on a birthday party in a church member's home. The District Police Chief refused to tell Forum 18 why police under his command staged the raid. Short-term jail sentences of up to fifteen days are frequent punishments for those who conduct religious activity the government does not like. There are also many long-term Muslim, Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestant prisoners of conscience, sentenced for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.

18 February 2011

UZBEKISTAN: "No need to import Bibles"?

At a January hearing in her absence, Natalya Pitirimova, Accountant of the Bible Society of Uzbekistan, was fined for violating procedures over the import of two shipments of Bibles and Children's Bibles in 2008 and 2010. The state Religious Affairs Committee, which operates Uzbekistan's strict prior compulsory censorship of all religious literature, has refused to release the Bibles, despite successive appeals from Christian churches. Judge Dilshod Suleymanov also ordered that the Bible Society return the shipments - totalling nearly 15,000 copies - to Russia at its own cost. The judge claimed to Forum 18 News Service that the "Bible Society did not present requests on time to the Religious Affairs Committee from churches in Uzbekistan that they need the literature, and subsequently as time passed this violated customs procedures." Justice Ministry officials told the Bible Society "there is no need to import Bibles into Uzbekistan since there's an electronic version on the internet."

9 February 2011

UZBEKISTAN: "It's our secret"

In Uzbekistan, police in the central Syrdarya Region have raided and are preparing to prosecute members of an unregistered Baptist Church, Forum 18 News Service has learned. They also confiscated religious literature for "expert analysis", even though it had been bought from the registered Bible Society. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has spoken of the difficulties his church faces in Uzbekistan, noting in particular a ban on missionary activity and opening Orthodox schools, and inability to get state permission for new parishes. The state Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss this with Forum 18. Elsewhere, two short-term Baptist prisoners of conscience have been released. Judge Bobojonov as he initially introduced himself, of the court which convicted the Baptists, changed his mind about what his name was after Forum 18 asked him why the Baptists were jailed. Police Major Asliddin Mirzayev - who stopped the two Baptists - refused to explain why he did this. "It's our secret", he retorted to Forum 18.

4 February 2011

RUSSIA: "It is, in my opinion, religious persecution"

Russia continues to raid meetings of readers of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi in 2011, Forum 18 News Service has found. Azerbaijani national Rashid Abdulov was arrested in Ulyanovsk on 20 January and is still in detention awaiting charge. Other Muslims gathered in the same flat were briefly detained in a raid in which police reportedly used physical violence was used against them, including against children present. Abdulov's lawyer Vladimir Zavilinich told Forum 18 that: "It is, in my opinion, religious persecution, and fits in with the trend of arrests in Novosibirsk and Krasnodar". Abdulov was found to be in possession of materials listed on titles which feature on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, and his lawyer expects him to come to trial in "a maximum of six to nine months, during which time Abdulov will remain in prison". Fellow Nursi reader Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov from Uzbekistan also remains in prison in Russia. This follows an extradition request from his home country and a request he filed to receive refugee status in Russia. Jehovah's Witnesses are also subject to such raids.

3 February 2011

UZBEKISTAN: Prisoner of conscience "released but not free"

Former prisoner of conscience Dmitry Shestakov, who was recently released from a four-year jail sentence continues to be placed by Uzbekistan under the severe restrictions of 'administrative supervision', Forum 18 News Service has learned. Among the restrictions Shestakov faces he has to for one year report to police in person almost every week, he may not be outside his home between 21.00 in the evening and 06.00 in the morning, he may not leave his home town without written police permission, and he cannot visit public places such as restaurants. The term of administrative supervision can be extended, and the punishments for breaking the supervision regime range up to imprisonment for four years. The authorities have refused to explain the reason for the restrictions to Forum 18. "He was released from prison but is not free," a local Protestant complained. Current known long and short-term prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief are Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestants. The latest two short-term prisoners of conscience are two Baptists jailed for distributing religious literature.

21 December 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Heavy sentences at further mass trial of Muslims

At the end of a two month trial which was closed to human rights defenders, 18 Muslims were given prison terms of between three years three months and nine years accused of membership of a "religious extremist" group, Saidjakhon Zainabitdinov, a human rights defender from Andijan, told Forum 18 News Service. A further seven were given suspended sentences. All 25 were members of Shohidiya, an Islamic religious movement which follows the Koran but not the hadiths, the oral traditions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad's sayings. Court and Prosecutor's Office officials refused to discuss the cases with Forum 18. Meanwhile, Baptists are again asking the Supreme Court to re-examine the ten year sentence handed down on Tohar Haydarov. He is not being given letters sent to him at his labour camp "because they were full of religious words like God, and needed to go through censorship," camp officials told his fellow Baptists. Despite also not being given a Bible sent to him, one camp official told Forum 18: "We have religious freedom in our prison."

26 November 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Scepticism that any new Administrative Code will end punishments for religious activity

After a mass police raid on a Protestant church in Chirchik near the capital Tashkent, assistant pastor Vladimir Kim was fined 80 times the minimum monthly wage, while the church's pastor received a fine of 40 times, church members complained to Forum 18 News Service. They were fined under the Code of Administrative Offences for "violation of the procedure for holding religious meetings" as they had not informed the authorities that they would be meeting for worship in their registered church building. Some 20 police officers had caught them during a raid, eleven days after the Harvest Festival at another registered Protestant church in the town was broken up and the pastor fined. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov told parliament that a new Code of Administrative Offences will be prepared, but religious believers told Forum 18 they are sceptical that any new Code will end punishments for religious activity. As well as regular fines, Forum 18 knows of 22 religious believers to have received prison terms of 3 to 15 days under the Code in 2010.

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