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29 July 2008

UZBEKISTAN: Prisoner of conscience numbers increase

Following an alleged "anti-terror cleaning" raid, two Jehovah's Witnesses have been jailed, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Abdubannob Ahmedov was sentenced to a four year prison term and Sergey Ivanov to three and a half years. Four other Jehovah's Witnesses were also punished, Nazira Rahmanova being fined nearly a million Uzbek Sums. Svetlana Shevchenko, Aziza Usmanova and Raya Litvinenko were each given suspended three-year sentences. Court officials refused to tell Forum 18 the exact terms of the sentences, but stressed that Ahmedov was sentenced to "deprivation of liberty", not prison. This means he will probably serve his sentence in a labour camp. Following the anti-terror police raid, the authorities admit that literature found contains neither an "anti-constitutional tendency", nor calls to extremism. However, they claim that the materials "contradict the principles of tolerance, inter-religious accord and the laws of the Republic".

14 July 2008

UZBEKISTAN: Fifteen year sentence for reading "prohibited" Christian literature?

Aimurat Khayburahmanov, a Protestant from Nukus in Karakalpakstan, faces criminal trial later in July on charges of teaching religion without official approval and establishing or participating in a "religious extremist" organisation, the investigator in the case Bahadur Jakbaev told Forum 18 News Service. The latter charge carries a penalty for those found guilty of between five and fifteen years' imprisonment. Justifying the accusation of extremism, Jakbaev said that Khayburahmanov gathers people in his home to read "prohibited" Christian literature. Jakbaev said the Bible was not banned, but refused to specify what the prohibited books were. Protestants told Forum 18 Khayburahmanov's body is "covered with bruises" from beatings administered in isolation cell since his 14 June arrest. Meanwhile, the head of Uzbekistan's Jewish community, Chief Rabbi Abe David Gurevich, finally left Uzbekistan on 5 June after the Justice Ministry refused to renew his accreditation. "His return to the country depends on whether or not he will get a visa from the Uzbek authorities," a Jewish representative told Forum 18 from Tashkent.

11 July 2008

UZBEKISTAN: No "need" for Bibles?

On 8 July Uzbekistan's Bible Society finally learnt that the government's Religious Affairs Committee – which implements the system of compulsory prior censorship of all religious literature – had refused permission for a Bible shipment to clear through Customs, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "This represents a ban on the import of Bibles into Uzbekistan," the Bible Society told Forum 18. The shipment of 11,000 Bibles and Bible-related books in Uzbek, Karakalpak and Russian has been held in Customs in the capital Tashkent since 19 May. The Bible Society says it will continue to press for the shipment to be allowed in. The Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss with Forum 18 why the shipment has been blocked. Asked by Forum 18 whether people in Uzbekistan can read the books they like, an official of the government's National Human Rights Centre responded: "I haven't the right to answer this question." Meanwhile, Justice Ministry officials conducted an extra check-up on the Bible Society's activity from 4 to 10 July.

1 July 2008

UZBEKISTAN: "People have a right to know"

The import and production of religious literature in Uzbekistan remains under tight state control, even for texts such as the Koran and the Bible, Forum 18 News Service has found. Defending the practice of not importing Islamic texts, a student at the state-controlled Islamic University told Forum 18 that "I don't think scholars from other countries are better than ours. We have no need to import from abroad." Imam Obidkhon Nazarov, the exiled former imam of Tashkent's Tukhtaboi mosque, told Forum 18 that even books by renowned Muslim scholars were no longer published. Nazarov emphasized that "people have a right to know. If there are good books on Islam and the Koran published abroad, why should people be deprived of opportunities to read them," he asked. Religious minorities have also fallen foul of the state's tight web of censorship laws and regulations. Christians are concerned about a shipment of Bibles and related books held by customs since May. Jehovah's Witnesses are concerned about a shipment held since August 2006. In both cases, there is the possibility of extremely expensive official charges for storage being imposed on religious minorities.

27 June 2008

UZBEKISTAN: Protestant in detention facing criminal charges, Baptists jailed for 10 days

A Protestant from north-west Uzbekistan, Aimurat Khayburahmanov, was arrested on 14 June and is still in detention before facing criminal trial on terrorism charges, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Uzbek police have also recently falsely accused a Protestant refugee in Kazakhstan of terrorism charges. Amongst other recent violations of freedom of thought, conscience and belief, four Baptists in Tashkent Region - Natalya Ogai, Filipp Kim, Dmitri Kim and Nurlan Tolebaev – have been fined and sentenced to ten days' imprisonment, because of their peaceful religious activity. Fines continue to be imposed on other Protestants. However, in a highly unusual move, a court in the capital Tashkent found that charges against a Protestant had been fabricated and ordered police to be punished for this. But members of Tashkent's Hare Krishna community have been banned from taking part in a music and environment festival.

25 June 2008

UZBEKISTAN: Protestants reject government's religious hatred encouragement

Leaders of 26 Protestant congregations across Uzbekistan have published an open letter rejecting state-controlled TV stations' repeated broadcasts of a film encouraging intolerance and hatred of religious minorities, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Protestant leaders also condemn "garbled facts, aggressive attacks, lies and slander" against named individuals and churches by the state TV broadcasts, and accuse the state and those who took part in the film of violating Uzbek criminal law through the broadcast. The leaders also complain that the state-controlled leaderships of schools and colleges strongly encouraged students to watch the film and so encouraged religious hatred and intolerance amongst young people. State-run newspapers and websites carried linked articles attacking religious minorities and their sharing of their beliefs, one such article stating that religious minorities "have one aim: to infringe on human freedom with all the consequences that flow from it." Officials Forum 18 has spoken to now either say they know nothing of the protest, or refuse to discuss the film. But one participant defended it.

13 June 2008

UZBEKISTAN: "The government is trying to stir up Muslims against Christians"

Uzbekistan's state-run TV has for a second time shown a film inciting religious hatred, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Entitled "In the clutches of ignorance", the film was shown before live coverage of the Euro 2008 football championship, to attract the largest possible audience. The first broadcast of the film made some members of religious minorities then "afraid to go out on the street where they live for fear of being persecuted." A member of a religious organisation not attacked in the film stressed to Forum 18 that members of their community are disturbed "that members of religious minorities are cast in such a negative perspective." A Protestant attacked in the film told Forum 18 after the second showing that "the government is trying to stir up Muslims against Christians." Following the first showing, a Baptist congregation which has been attacked elsewhere in the state-run mass media was raided and banned from meeting. One Baptist complained to Forum 18 that "broadcasting such a film amounts to incitement of religious hatred in our country."

4 June 2008

UZBEKISTAN: "Even in Kazakhstan the Uzbek authorities will not let him live in peace"

The Criminal Police in the Uzbek town of Nukus have again tried to have Protestant Christian, Makset Djabbarbergenov, brought back home for trial, where he could face up to three years' imprisonment for his peaceful religious activity. Despite being recognised by the UNHCR as a refugee in neighbouring Kazakhstan, he was seized by the Kazakh KNB secret police on 29 May after a detention request from Uzbekistan claimed he is an Islamic fundamentalist and terrorist, a Protestant told Forum 18 News Service. Djabbarbergenov was freed two days later after the UNHCR office in Almaty intervened, the office confirmed to Forum 18. Nukus Criminal Police refused to tell Forum 18 why they gave false information to the Kazakh authorities to try to get Djabbarbergenov returned. The Uzbek Interior Ministry also refused to discuss his case. "Makset is not afraid for himself but is more concerned for his family's security," the Protestant noted.

29 May 2008

UZBEKISTAN: Raids, fines, literature confiscations, and police bullying of children

Raids, fines and literature confiscations against religious minorities across Uzbekistan are continuing, Forum 18 News Service has found. One church raid was justified by a court as "anti-terrorist activity," although the police officer concerned was unable to specify to Forum 18 what threat the raid was supposed to stop. There are also reports of Protestant services in Uzbek – a state language – being barred and of a Protestant higher-education student being threatened with expulsion, unless he either renounces his faith or spies on his church for the NSS secret police. There has been no change in the status of Chief Rabbi Abe David Gurevich, who is faced with the possibility of deportation. Police and a schoolteacher have also directly threatened the children of Baptists at a school, telling them that if they attended churches they would be put into prison. The children were also interrogated about what their parents taught them, what books they read, what films they watched, what music they listened to and what songs they sang, and whether they liked this.

23 May 2008

UZBEKISTAN: More state media incitement of intolerance

Uzbekistan continues to use state-run mass media to incite intolerance of religious minorities and freedom of thought, conscience and belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. In the latest national TV attack, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians and Methodists were all described as conducting unspecified "illegal missionary activities." This was described as "a global problem along with religious dogmatism, fundamentalism, terrorism and drug addiction." A Protestant shown in the film told Forum 18 that it used police film taken during raids on worship. "It was very unpleasant, I felt like I had no privacy," Forum 18 was told. "Believers from our church are angry at this." Police had claimed that the film "was necessary for further investigation." The film has encouraged intolerance, a member of a religious minority stating that some people are now "afraid to go out on the street where they live for fear of being persecuted." However, Forum 18 was told, "people who understand a little bit what's going on in the country sympathise with us." The state TV official responsible for the film could not explain to Forum 18 why he was involved in attacking human rights.

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