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22 September 2008

UZBEKISTAN: Criminal trial for teaching religion to restart?

The criminal trial in Uzbekistan of Protestant Christian Aimurat Khayburahmanov is expected to resume tomorrow (Tuesday 23 September), Forum 18 News Service has been told by church members. Khayburahmanov has been detained since 14 June, and is being tried for teaching religion without official approval, and establishing or participating in a "religious extremist" organisation. If convicted, he faces a possible sentence of between five and 15 years' imprisonment. Elsewhere, Alisher Abdullaev, a Baptist, has been fined after police found him distributing free-of-charge Christian literature, which was confiscated. At his trial, it was decided to give the Russian-language literature to the state Religious Affairs Committee, as it could possibly be used by registered religious organisations, and to destroy the literature in Uzbek. The court reasoned that this could be used for missionary activity, which is a criminal offence. The Judge's assistant refused to discuss this with Forum 18.

21 August 2008

UZBEKISTAN: Attacks, including violence, against religious minorities continue

Uzbekistan is continuing its nationwide attacks on religious minorities, Forum 18 News Service notes. The trial of Aimurat Khayburahmanov, a Protestant detained since 14 June in the north-west of the country, is in progress. He faces a possible sentence of between five and 15 years' imprisonment, and is being tried for teaching religion without official approval and establishing or participating in a "religious extremist" organisation. In a related case, Jandos Kuandikov, another local Protestant, has been fined for unregistered religious activity. The judge in that case, Bakhtiyor Urumbaev, claimed to Forum 18 that the Immanuel and Full Gospel churches were banned in Uzbekistan. Kuandikov disputes this, pointing out that his church is seeking re-registration. In a separate case, Navoi police in central Uzbekistan have claimed that the Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in the country. Officials of the state Religious Affairs Committee have neither confirmed nor denied both these claims. Also, Navoi police have denied that they beat up three Jehovah's Witnesses, the female victim suffering concussion and being denied hospital treatment.

14 August 2008

UZBEKISTAN: Religious freedom survey, August 2008

In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has found continuing violations by the state of freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Amongst many serious violations – which breach the country's international human rights commitments - non-state registered religious activity is a criminal offence, as is the sharing of beliefs and meetings for religious purposes in private homes. Religious communities are raided with impunity and their members threatened, assaulted and even tortured. Prisoner of conscience numbers are increasing. The state continues to actively promote religious hatred and intolerance through the state-controlled mass media. Members of religious communities complain that trials are often conducted unfairly. Oppressive laws are symptomatic of oppressive official attitudes, and state officials do not appear to acknowledge any restraints on their actions. The state seeks to completely control all religious activity – by Muslims and religious minorities such as Christians, Baha'is, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews and Hare Krishna devotees - through a web of laws, NSS secret police agents, censorship and the activities of public agencies such as local administrations.

8 August 2008

UZBEKISTAN: Legal status denials and unregistered activity fines continue

A Protestant church in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent has been denied legal status four times in the last 10 months, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The latest registration denial to Eskhol Full Gospel Church comes after an appeal against fines, imposed after a police and NSS secret police raid, was refused. The city Justice Department stated that the two "letters of guarantee", or permission to function in a geographic area, required from the Hokimat (local administration) and from the Mahalla (residential district) Committee did not meet official requirements. To gain state registration, religious organisations must submit two letters of guarantee: one from the district Hokimat, confirming that the organisation to be registered has a building which corresponds to public health and fire safety requirements; and one from the mahalla committee, stating that other mahalla residents do not object to the organisation. Fines for unregistered religious activity – some of them exorbitantly large for a very poor country – continue to be imposed nationwide. Officials have refused to talk to Forum 18 about the denial of legal status and fines for unregistered activity.

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.

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