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16 September 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Massive fines, ban upheld and TV vilification for unregistered communities

On 8 September, the Emmanuel Full Gospel Church in Nukus – the last legal Protestant church in the north-western Karakalpakstan region – failed to overturn the justice ministry's ban on its activity, a church lawyer told Forum 18 News Service. In early September a local TV station in nearby Khorezm region broadcast a programme "virtually depicting Protestants as criminals", local Full Gospel pastor Ruzmet Voisov told Forum 18, and the following day unidentified women burst into his home and beat his wife, calling her a traitor to her faith. In Karshi, two Jehovah's Witnesses were sentenced to fines totalling more than 1,100 US dollars, while local wages are about 20 US dollars per month. "These are the largest fines we have ever faced," Andrei Shirobokov of the Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Uzbekistan bans all unregistered religious activity in defiance of its international human rights commitments.

6 September 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Court orders Christian literature destroyed

Nearly 600 Uzbek-language Christian leaflets for children were ordered destroyed by a court in Tashkent region on 12 August, the third time Baptists have had confiscated literature destroyed on court orders. Other books, including New Testaments, seized from a group of Baptists in July were ordered to be handed over to the government's Religious Affairs Committee. The four Baptists found guilty of "illegally" bringing in the books were each fined some 35 US dollars, members of Tashkent Baptist church told Forum 18 News Service. Senior religious affairs official Begzot Kadyrov claimed to Forum 18 that religious literature banned from distribution in Uzbekistan is not destroyed, but returned to the country from which it was brought, though he admitted religious literature has been destroyed. The Uzbek government censors all religious literature and other Protestants, independent Muslims, Hare Krishna devotees and Jehovah's Witnesses have also faced literature seizures and, on occasion, destruction in recent years.

25 August 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Repression continues in Andijan uprising's aftermath

Following the Andijan uprising, the unjustified deportation of Forum 18 News Service's Central Asia Correspondent suggests that Tashkent may have, along with an ongoing crackdown on the independent media, tightened its repressive religion policy. One human rights activist told Forum 18 that "the authorities are persecuting Muslims just as much as they did before the events in Andijan." This is denied by the state Religious Affairs Committee. After the uprising, Muslims from throughout the country told Forum 18 that the situation was worsening. Protestants from a number of churches and Jehovah's Witnesses agree with this assessment. Catholic, Orthodox and Hare Krishna representatives have told Forum 18 that they had not noticed any change since the Andijan events. Protestants in north-west Uzbekistan – whose activities in the region are banned – are under great pressure, as are Hare Krishna devotees in that region.

16 August 2005

UZBEKISTAN: "Entry to the Republic of Uzbekistan closed"

Forum 18 News Service's Central Asia Correspondent, Igor Rotar, describes how he was unjustifiably detained and deported from Uzbekistan. He was barred from contacting anyone, threatened with jail for "a very long time" for offences which officials refused to explain, and not given a reason for his deportation. One official asked him if he knew why he was being deported, and when he began to guess at a reason, the official stopped him and said "just say yes or no." When he explained to officials that detaining and deporting Forum 18's correspondent would only attract negative attention to Uzbekistan, he was told that the country didn't have specialists who could think like that. Finally, Igor Rotar expresses his deep gratitude to the very many people and organisations who fought for his release.

13 August 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Forum 18 reporter officially deported

The Uzbek government has now (13 August) officially deported Forum 18 News Service's Central Asia Correspondent, Igor Rotar, after detaining him without justification at Tashkent Airport on 11 August. The detention was ordered, so Forum 18 was told, "for political reasons at the highest levels," on the instructions of the National Security Service secret police. Initially the Uzbek intention was to try and force Igor to buy his own ticket out and claim that he was not deported, but his principled strong objections to this tactic resulted in his official deportation. Igor Rotar's unjustified detention in Uzbekistan attracted strong expressions of support and concern from a wide range of individuals, human rights organisations, foreign ministries and news and other international organisations.
Forum 18 and Igor Rotar would like to say a very big THANK YOU to everyone who by their prayers and practical actions helped end this totally unjustified detention.
The case has shown how religious freedom is an excellent "litmus test" of the state of human rights, and that attention should remain on the extremely grave human rights situation still faced by Uzbekistan's people.

12 August 2005

UZBEKISTAN: International condemnation of Forum 18 reporter's detention grows

Igor Rotar, Forum 18 News Service's Central Asia correspondent, is still today (12 August) being held at Tashkent airport. Forum 18 has been told by reliable sources that the detention was "for political reasons at the highest levels," on the instructions of the National Security Service secret police. International condemnation of the detention is growing, as Igor Rotar is a respected religious freedom journalist. Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch stated that "this is an ugly situation, and it is in line with the repressive measures that this government has taken against the media and freedom of religion." Alex Lupis of the Committee to Protect Journalists said that "we are very concerned for Rotar's safety and call on the Uzbek authorities to release him and to end their campaign of harassment and intimidation against the independent media." Amnesty International told Forum 18 that it "is concerned for his safety and see his detention as part of a wave of intimidation and harassment of journalists and human rights defenders by the authorities of Uzbekistan." The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and diplomats from a number of countries continue to closely follow the detention.

11 August 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Forum 18 reporter detained at Tashkent airport

Igor Rotar, Forum 18 News Service's Central Asia Correspondent, was this morning (11 August) detained by the Uzbek authorities on arrival at Tashkent Airport. He is still being held by the Uzbek authorities, who are forcibly preventing him from communicating with anyone. Reliable sources indicate that the detention was ordered "for political reasons at the highest levels" and that the detention was carried out by the Immigration Service and Border Guards, on the instructions of the National Security Service secret police. The Uzbek authorities are refusing to comment on the case, but the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and other international diplomats are following Igor Rotar's continuing detention closely.

10 August 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Increasing use of criminal law against Jehovah's Witnesses

Three Jehovah's Witnesses are being prosecuted under the Criminal Code for missionary activity, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Religious minorities are normally prosecuted under the Administrative Code and the last known criminal prosecution – against a Jehovah's Witness and Pentecostal Christians – was in late 2004. All three Jehovah's Witnesses are from small congregations, which do not meet the legal membership threshold for gaining state registration. Questioned about how people from such small congregations can, under Uzbek law, meet for religious activity, Begzot Kadyrov, of the state Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18 that congregation members must travel to towns where registered congregations exist. The nearest registered congregations for the three on trial are over 500 km. (310 miles) east of their homes. In a separate development, the largest registered Jehovah's Witness congregation may be in danger of losing its registration.

4 August 2005

KAZAKHSTAN: New "national security" law contradicts itself

Kazakhstan's new "national security" requirement that all religious activity must be registered contradicts itself, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Both Professor Roman Podoprigora, a legal expert, and Aleksandr Klyushev, of the Association of Religious Organisations in Kazakhstan, note that Article 6-2 of the amended Religion Law, in Professor Podoprigora's words, "says that formal registration [or notification] is adequate, which directly contradicts Articles 4 and 9 of the same law, which says that juridical registration is compulsory!" Klyushev thinks that this is a legal loophole, and Professor Podoprigora believes that the contradiction arose because parliament did not notice it. Ninel Fokina, of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, argues strongly that the new Law is against the Kazakh Constitution. Religious minorities continue to voice deep anxiety. "It's as if they were playing chess with us," Valentina Volkova of the Hare Krishna community told Forum 18.

22 July 2005

TURKMENISTAN: "Virtual catastrophe" for Muslim Theological Faculty

President Niyazov has ordered "a virtual catastrophe" for Turkmenistan's only official institution for training Muslim imams, a local staff member has told Forum 18 News Service. All Turkish staff members must return to Turkey, 20 students are being expelled, and the Muslim Theological Faculty's status is to be downgraded. Forum 18 has been told that "many staff don't want to work with the new teachers and would rather leave the university." The move is possibly part of an overall government attempt to tighten the already harsh controls over the country's officially registered religious communities, as there have recently been attempts to increase Turkmen state control over the Russian Orthodox Church and isolate the church. Other officially registered religious communities, such as the Baptists, Seventh day Adventists, Pentecostals and Hare Krishna devotees, also face strong official pressure and restrictions, as do the unregistered - and de facto illegal - communities.

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