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15 June 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Samarkand – city of closed Protestant churches

The seventh in a series of Protestant churches stripped of state registration in the central Uzbek city of Samarkand in the past four years is still battling to regain it. Without registration, all religious activity is illegal. "For more than a year our church has been trying to establish the illegality of the stripping of registration," a member of Samarkand's Central Protestant Church told Forum 18 News Service. "All the courts either say it is not within their competence or remain silent." Asked if there was any hope that the church would be able to regain its registration, an official of Samarkand Regional Justice Department told Forum 18: "I don't know what decision we will take. I am not a doctor." At least one further local Protestant church has applied in vain for registration for the past decade. "Now all of us have been deprived of the fundamental right to pray together and worship God," one local church leader complained. Local Muslims, Hare Krishna devotees and Jehovah's Witnesses have also faced harassment.

4 June 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Muslims jailed, lawyers, church and Christian former prisoners of conscience threatened

Following a closed trial, Uzbekistan has imposed prison sentences of up to six years and fines on 19 Muslims, Forum 18 News Service has learned. "The case was fabricated," human rights defender Surat Ikramov complained, stating that the trial was conducted in "flagrant violation" of the Criminal Procedure Code. In a separate trial 10 other prisoners of conscience, who read works by the Muslim theologian Said Nursi, were jailed for between eight years and five years and two months. Lawyers defending three former prisoners of conscience from Tashkent's Protestant Church of Christ have been threatened by the authorities that "they could be stripped of their licences if they continue to defend these cases." Similarly, the Religious Affairs Committee has threatened to strip the registered church of legal status if church members continue to complain about the jailings and other human rights violations. Two Protestant former prisoners of conscience in the south have also been threatened by police, and have had to leave their homes. "In one instance one of them was told by a police officer that they will always breathe down their necks, as long as they continue their Christian activity," Forum 18 was told.

18 May 2010

UZBEKISTAN: 15-day jail terms, large fines, literature destruction follow raid

Uzbekistan has continued short-term jailings of religious minorities, with three Protestant Christians from a registered church today (18 May) being given 15 day jail terms, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Three other Protestants – arrested after a raid on the Tashkent church - were each fined 80 times the minimum monthly wage, and two other Protestants were fined five times the minimum monthly wage. Six computers seized during the raid were ordered to be given to the state, and seized Christian literature ordered destroyed. "Everyone was shocked at the verdict because the defendants proved in court that they were innocent and there were so many violations of legal procedure," one Protestant told Forum 18. Unusually the court sat into the evening and the sentences were given at about 10.30 pm local time. Among other recent punishments for "illegal" religious literature, one Baptist has been fined 20 times the monthly minimum wage and his religious literature – including the New Testament - was ordered to be destroyed.

17 May 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Large raid and almost immediate trial starts against registered church

Uzbekistan's police, NSS secret police, Tax Inspectorate, Fire Brigade, and Sanitary-Epidemiological Service raided a Protestant church in the capital Tashkent during its Sunday morning worship service yesterday (16 May), Protestants who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals have told Forum 18 News Service. Eight members of the Church of Christ, a Russian-language registered church, were arrested including Assistant Pastor Artur Avanesyan. The trial of all eight has begun and is due to continue tomorrow (18 May). Church members and relatives were denied access to the initial hearing. During the raid, officials confiscated Christian books, offertory money and computers. Early today (17 May) the police denied that officers had raided the Church of Christ, and that the eight church members were being held. The NSS secret police have also refused to discuss the raid, as well as other recent raids on Protestant churches, such as a Methodist church. Protestants expressed concern to Forum 18 that the authorities might be seeking to close the church.

10 May 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Roadblocks around trial, more Nursi readers arrested

Uzbekistan has begun the trial of Hairulla Hamidov, a journalist arrested for Muslim religious activity, and 18 others, human rights defender Surat Ikramov has told Forum 18 News Service. The trial is being conducted in a building 30 km [19 miles] from the capital Tashkent, which is surrounded by roadblocks to bar access to close relatives, journalists and human rights defenders. Only a few of the defendants have lawyers appointed by their families. The rest have state-appointed lawyers, who will "do nothing to defend them" Ikramov insisted. The defendants face criminal charges with penalties ranging from a fine of 50 times the monthly minimum salary to 15 years in jail. Elsewhere, arrests of readers of the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi continue, and some previously arrested Nursi readers are still awaiting trial. As part of its harsh punishments for those who conduct peaceful religious activity the government does not control, Uzbekistan routinely imposes prison terms. Known prisoners of conscience jailed for religious activity are Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestant Christians.

29 April 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Three short-term jail sentences for prisoners of conscience

Two Protestant Christians in southern Uzbekistan have been given 15 and 10 day jail terms respectively, local sources have told Forum 18 News Service. Azamat Rajapov and Abdusattor Kurbonov were apparently sentenced for unregistered religious activity and began their jail terms on 23 April. No notice was given of the trial and the first the prisoners' families and friends knew was a brief telephone call from one informing them the two were in jail. The following day a Jehovah's Witness in Tashkent received a 15-day term. The cases mark a resumption of the policy of using 5 to 15-day jail sentences against selected Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. In a separate case the head of the police in Almalyk, near the capital Tashkent, has continued sending letters threatening religious believes with criminal charges. In incidents unrelated to these two cases Forum 18 continues to be made aware of cases of torture, and of women (and sometimes men) detained for their religious activity being targeted by male officials with overt or implied threats of sexual violence. Forum 18 notes that it is highly unusual for victims to want to document their experiences publicly.

26 April 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Muslims jailed long-term, short-term Christian jailings re-start

Uzbekistan continues to jail Muslims and Christians for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Labour camp terms of between six and a half and seven years have been given to three Muslim women for leading and taking part in unauthorised religious meetings, and a Baptist's appeal against a 10-year prison sentence – on apparently fabricated drugs charges – has been rejected. Relatives of the three jailed Muslim women have been pressured not to appeal against the convictions. The state has also re-started its policy of short-term jailings of religious minorities, with two Protestants and one Jehovah's Witness being each jailed for between 10 and 15 days. Criminal cases are still pending against a Muslim journalist, along with 38 other Muslims, as well as against 40 readers of the approach to Islam of Said Nursi. Officials have mostly refused to comment on the cases. The UN Human Rights Committee has expressed its concern over Uzbekistan's "limitations and restrictions on freedom of religion and belief".

23 April 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Raids, fines, more raids, more fines

Protestant Christians in Karakalpakstan in north-west Uzbekistan continue to face raids, threats, fines, literature confiscations and court-ordered destruction of religious literature, Forum 18 News Service has been told. In two recent cases in the region, police demanded that Protestants sign statements that they will not associate with other Christians or have any Christian books in their homes. Students in the region and elsewhere have also been put under pressure to be vigilant against "alien for us religious and extremist influences and the impact of inferior 'mass culture' " The unclearly defined phrase occurs in a government programme for 2010, designated "The Year for the Harmonious Development of the Generation". Religious activity by school and higher-education students has long attracted official hostility. Courts in the region continue to order religious literature to be destroyed, including Bibles and New Testaments, and to find those found in possession of these books. Religious literature seizures continue throughout Uzbekistan.

21 April 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Feeding homeless people is "not according to charter"

Protestants in Uzbekistan continue to be targeted, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Police raided a Protestant youth conference, claiming to check identity documents. Many of the about 70 young people were playing football and basketball, and 43 were taken to a police station where they were fingerprinted and photographed. Two leaders are under investigation for "violation of the procedure for holding mass events" and "violation of the law on religious organisations". Two days after that raid, police, tax inspectors and local officials raided Eternal Life Protestant Church in the capital Tashkent. At the time of the raid, church members were feeding homeless people. Officials complained this was "not according to their [registered] charter" and police detained several church members. Police admitted to Forum 18 that the NSS secret police had led the raid. Following an alleged "Anti-terror" raid on a birthday party, ten Pentecostals – eight of them pensioners - were fined 100 times the minimum monthly salary.

16 March 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Internet censorship continues

Uzbekistan continues to impose widespread and swift internet censorship on Russian-language websites, Forum 18 News Service notes. This was demonstrated on 9 March, when internet users in the country were blocked from viewing a Russian-language news article on Lenta.ru (reposted from Uznews.net) about the difficulties a bearded Muslim in Samarkand encountered in getting a passport. The Russian news website Ferghana.ru – which reported the blocking – is one of a number of Russian-based news websites which Forum 18 notes are blocked within Uzbekistan. Forum 18 has found that three Russian religion news sites are also blocked. Blocking is carried out by the NSS secret police. Elbek Dalimov of Uzbekistan's State Agency of Communications and Information told Forum 18 that his agency does not block websites. However Dalimov stated that access to some sites was banned in licensing agreements with internet providers. Also, Uzbek-based websites - such as those of the Full Gospel Protestant Union and detained Muslim journalist Hairulla Hamidov - have been forced by the authorities to close.

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