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4 August 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Registration a weapon against freedom of religion or belief

One of the most widespread human rights violations committed by Uzbekistan - highlighted by the recent UN Universal Periodic Review - is its ban on and punishments for religious activity without state permission. Forum 18 News Service has found that this is a serious problem for Muslims, Protestant and Catholic Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and people of other faiths, and that even those who want state registration face systematic obstruction. The Deputy Head of the state-controlled Muslim Board implied to Forum 18 that controlling religious communities is a motivation for this. Discussing small unregistered mosques, he said that "we cannot control what is going on inside those mosques. Forum 18 has asked officials why Uzbekistan creates registration difficulties, and why unregistered religious activity is punished. The state Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss this with Forum 18. "I don't know," was the answer of a judge who has presided at a trial of Baptists for unregistered religious activity. An official responsible for registration in the capital Tashkent replied that "these are our internal issues, and you have no competence to interfere."

31 July 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Sir Walter Scott & Ivan Turgenev sent for "religious expert analysis"

Uzbekistan continues to target unregistered religious activity by Baptists, as well as followers of the approach to Islam of Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The head of the Sports and Culture Division of Namangan local authority, Shokir Koraboyev, has reportedly been arrested by the NSS secret police for Nursi involvement and is apparently being tried with three others. Forum 18 was told that Koraboyev left his post for "health reasons". Also, members of an unregistered Baptist Church in Mubarek have been fined, and threatened by a Public Prosecutor with criminal prosecution if their church does not register within a year. Against international human rights standards, unregistered religious activity is a criminal offence in the country. In another case, after a police raid on a Baptist's home his library has been confiscated and sent for "religious expert analysis", local police told Forum 18. Amongst the books are works by Sir Walter Scott and Ivan Turgenev, a sign language book, a Koran translated into Russian, and a Russian Orthodox prayer book. The books' owner, Pyotr Zvonov, faces charges of "illegally producing, storing, importing and distributing of materials of a religious nature."

28 July 2009

UZBEKISTAN: "Joy" children's holiday camp attacked

Uzbekistan's Baptist Union is facing criminal charges for allegedly unlawfully teaching children religion, and for supposedly misusing their property as a summer camp, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. As a result, Baptist Union Chair Pavel Peichev faces huge fines, the confiscation of the property, imprisonment, or some combination of these penalties. Baptists have vehemently denied the allegations. The authorities have also instituted checks on the tax and other obligatory payments by the Baptist Union. The first sign of trouble for the Baptists were two articles published by a government-sponsored news agency. Independent human rights defender sources think that the agency is sponsored by the NSS secret police, and that the author may be an NSS officer. The authorities have refused to discuss the details of the case, although the main prosecutor claimed to Forum 18 that "we have nothing against the [Baptist] denomination". Repeated attempts to contact the author of the articles and the news agency have been unsuccessful.

17 July 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Prisoners' freedom of religion or belief denied

Prisoners in Uzbekistan continue to be denied their right to freedom of religion or belief – for example to pray visibly, to have religious literature, or to receive visits from religious clergy, Forum 18 News Service has found. These denials of religious freedom affect not only prisoners of conscience of all faiths, jailed or imprisoned in a labour camp for their religious activity, but also prisoners jailed for other reasons. Prison and labour camp conditions are harsh, and even the communities regarded as the main "traditional" faiths – the state-controlled Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church – appear to have only limited access to prisoners. Other faiths told Forum 18 they have almost no access. Prisoners are often punished for religious activity in jails or labour camps, religious believers and human rights defenders have told Forum 18, however officials insist to Forum 18 that prisoners' religious freedom is respected. These claims, along with other inaccurate information, are also in Uzbekistan's report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which is due to be considered in Geneva on 27 July.

7 July 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Banned from meeting fellow-believers

Gafur Yusupov, who lives in a home for people with disabilities in eastern Uzbekistan, has been banned from attending his Baptist Church, Forum 18 News Service has learned. All his Christian books and audio tapes have also been taken from him, and he has been banned him from having any contact with his fellow believers. When Baptists complained, the home told them to talk to the NSS secret police. Asked by what authority the home did this, its director Tahir Gaziev replied: "We have asked the Baptists to show us an official document that says they are allowed to invite people to their meetings. Only after they show us such a document will we allow him [Yusupov] to attend." When Forum 18 asked why Yusupov is not allowed to decide this himself, Gaziev put the phone down. In a separate case, the family of Protestants punished for "illegal" religious activity have been threatened with administrative or criminal charges and 15-days detention if they carry on protesting about the punishment. Asked why the family were threatened, District Police Chief Izzat Yusupov replied: "You are Forum 18 and I am Barack Obama", before he hung up the phone.

8 June 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Enormous fines for religious activity continue

Uzbekistan continues to impose enormous fines on people exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In total, 33 people are known to have each been fined up to 100 times the minimum monthly salary in April and May. Fines have been imposed by courts throughout the country, and in some cases appeals against fines have resulted in a reduction. An example was a reduction of fines against six Baptists from 50 times to five times the minimum monthly salary. However in most other cases reductions have not been as significant, for example fine reductions from 80 times to 60, 50 or 40 times the minimum monthly salary. Official hostility continues towards religious literature, in one case literature was ordered to be destroyed after an "expert analysis" from the state Religious Affairs Committee stated that religious books can "only" be used within the confines of the registered religious communities. "Believers are deprived of their right to hold any Christian literature in their homes," Baptists complained to Forum 18. No state officials were willing to discuss the cases.

4 June 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Appeals by prisoners of conscience rejected

Uzbekistan has rejected appeals by nine Muslim prisoners of conscience against their harsh jail terms, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Ikrom Merajov and eight other followers of the approach of theologian Said Nursi had their sentences confirmed on 2 June. Merajov was in April given nine years in jail, with terms of between five and a half years and six years imposed on the others. 25 Nursi-related prisoners of conscience have so far in 2009 been given almost 200 years in jail. Merajov's brother Ilhom told Forum 18 that "no proof of any guilt was presented in court" and that written verdicts have not been given to the nine prisoners of conscience and their lawyers. An appeal to the Supreme Court is being prepared. Meanwhile, a Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience, Irfon Khamidov, has been freed at the end of his sentence but almost immediately deported to Tajikistan. He was allowed to see his two-year-old son for the first time for one night only. Short-term imprisonments for up to 15 days and massive fines continue to be used to punish Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses. No state officials were willing to discuss the cases with Forum 18.

20 May 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Bible and Mel Gibson film banned in Karakalpakstan

Nurulla Zhamolov, the senior religious affairs official in Karakalpakstan Region in north-western Uzbekistan has banned the Bible, the Mel Gibson film "The Passion of the Christ", and other religious literature, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The bans state that the material – which also include a hymn book, a Bible Encyclopaedia, a Bible dictionary, and a children's Bible - is "banned for import, distribution or use in teaching." The material was confiscated during police and NSS secret police raids and it remains unclear what further activity the authorities may undertake following the bans, or how widely they will be used. No officials in the region or the capital Tashkent were willing to discuss the raids and the country's harsh censorship of religious literature, which applies to religious literature of all faiths. The latest known prisoners of conscience studied the works of Said Nursi, a Turkish Muslim theologian whose works are banned.

29 April 2009

UZBEKISTAN: More severe jail sentences for Muslim prisoners of conscience

Uzbekistan has today (29 April) imposed severe jail sentences on nine followers of the Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. In the fourth such trial this year, university lecturer Ikrom Merajov was given nine years' imprisonment. Of the other eight prisoners of conscience, Muzaffar Allayorov, Botir Tukhtamurodov, Shuhrat Karimov, Salohiddin Kosimov and Yadgar Juraev were each given six year jail terms. Three - Bobomurod Sanoev, Jamshid Ramazonov and Alisher Jumaev - each received sentences of five and a half years in jail. "The Uzbek government shouldn't fear Muslims who pray regularly, read the Koran regularly and meet in homes regularly," Merajov's brother Ilhom Merajov told Forum 18. Officials have refused to discuss the harsh sentences with Forum 18. The sentences imposed today bring to 25 the number of Nursi-related prisoners of conscience known to have been convicted this year, with sentences totalling nearly 200 years' imprisonment. Further convictions are likely as cases against others continue.

24 April 2009

UZBEKISTAN: New trial, long prison terms, heavy fines and deportation

Nine Muslim men in Bukhara - eight of whom have been held since December 2008 - went on trial on 22 April, accused of belonging to an "extremist" organisation. Family members have told Forum 18 News Service the nine are peaceful followers of the Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi. The brother of one of the defendants, Ikrom Merajov, told Forum 18 he "only read Said Nursi's books, which were published and sold openly in Uzbekistan". Three other followers of Said Nursi received prison sentences at a Tashkent trial of between twelve and eight years in prison, while a further trial is underway. After a Protestant's Tashkent home was raided by the police and secret police on 10 April, three of those present were each fined more than eight years' minimum wages. Bibles and recordings of Christian songs were among material confiscated. One of those present, a Kazakh citizen legally resident in Uzbekistan, was taken by officials and dumped over the border in Kazakhstan, Protestants told Forum 18. Officials have refused to comment to Forum 18 on why all these individuals are being punished for their peaceful religious activity.

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