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6 August 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Large fine follows police bullying of children

Pastor Sergei Rychagov of Grace Presbyterian Church near Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent was heavily fined for violating the Religion Law, missionary activity, "illegal" religious teaching and violating the procedure for holding religious meetings. However, he learned of the fine only in June, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Police bullied children from a local orphanage who had been attending the church into writing statements against him, they added. The officer who brought the case insisted to Forum 18 that Rychagov had violated the law, while the judge who fined him refused to explain why he had done so. In Urgench, Anti-Terrorism Police accused a local Baptist of "teaching religion illegally". Police have already seized religious literature and the man's car. Asked by Forum 18 why other Baptists are being questioned to incriminate him, Anti-Terrorism Police Major Shavkat Bekjanov responded: "Who are you and why should I discuss the case with you over the phone?"

4 June 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Tortured till he lost consciousness

Officers at Karmana District Police Station, among them Feruz Ruziyev, tortured Murot Turdiyev until he lost consciousness, while another fellow-Protestant was threatened with rape, Protestants complained to Forum 18 News Service. The two were among four Protestant men stopped at a traffic checkpoint. "The Police knows his car, and the licence plate, and seemingly they were informed about their arrival in town, and were waiting for them there," one Protestant told Forum 18. When Forum 18 asked why he had beaten Turdiyev, Officer Ruziyev immediately put the phone down. Gofur Namozov, Chief of Karmana Criminal Police, adamantly denied to Forum 18 that any of the four had been beaten and tortured. "We only questioned them about the many visas and foreign stamps in their passports," he claimed. Administrative cases against the four appear to have been handed to court. Meanwhile police and other officials went almost daily in May to the Karshi home of Guljahon Kuzebayeva, banging on the gates of the yard "like hooligans" and trying to climb over the wall. She has been in hiding since July 2014 to evade arrest for her religious activity.

24 April 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Short-term jailings, fines and harassment

Doniyor Akhmedov – a Baptist – was one of three Protestants in Uzbekistan known to have been imprisoned for between seven and 15 days in March and April. He was held after offering a religious leaflet to a passer-by on the street. For the last part of his 15-day imprisonment, Akhmedov "was held in a small cell with more than 10 people, where they were squeezed in and there was barely space to sleep on the floor", fellow Baptists complained to Forum 18 News Service. After he was freed he was summoned to court and fined more than three years' official minimum wage. Laziz Kurbonov, Deputy Chief of Ahangaran Police, refused to discuss Akhmedov's case with Forum 18. "I have hundreds of cases, I don't want to talk about this over the phone." Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses are frequently fined and occasionally given short-term prison sentences, but Muslims who exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief often face much harsher penalties, including long prison terms.

14 April 2015

UZBEKISTAN: "She fears police brutality during interrogation and short-term jailing"

Nearly three years after Uzbekistan fired her from her job as a teacher for insisting on wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf), Gulchohra Norbayeva still faces police summonses, a house search for religious literature, accusations she was teaching the Koran "illegally", and pressure to sign statements incriminating Muslim men she did not know. "At the moment they have left me alone. I don't know if the police opened a case," she told Forum 18 News Service. An Anti-Terrorism Police Officer who took part in a raid on her home insisted to Forum 18 that the search was for religious literature and that the case is closed. But police told Norbayeva that, whether or not she wears the hijab, she is on the Preventative Register. This allows police "preventative measures" such as someone being fired from their job. Also, police have renewed their hunt for Guljahon Kuzebayeva, a Protestant in the southern Kashkadarya Region who has been in hiding since July 2014, for allegedly talking to family members about her Christian faith. "She fears police brutality during interrogation and also possible short-term jailing," fellow Protestants told Forum 18. The use of informal physical violence and torture, or threats of this, by the authorities is widespread in Uzbekistan.

4 March 2015

UZBEKISTAN: "Pardoned only after repenting and asking the President for forgiveness"

Uzbekistan in February freed six known Muslim prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. The freed prisoners of conscience include sports journalist Hairulla Hamidov and five other Muslim prisoners of conscience who were jailed because they met to study the works of theologian Said Nursi. The five are: Rashid Sharipov, Akmal Abdullayev, Ahmad Rakhmonov, Ahmadjon Primkulov and Kudratullo (last name unknown). All six had served most of their long jail terms. Other prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief are known to be still in jail, including other Muslims who met to study Nursi's works and one Protestant. The five amnestied readers of Nursi's works were "pardoned only after repenting and asking the President [Islam Karimov] for forgiveness", a source from Uzbekistan who knows the men and who asked to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18.

11 February 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Detention, fine, literature confiscation was "hospitality we got for bringing mandarins"

Forced to remain under restrictions in Uzbekistan for more than two months at their own cost after two Muslim books and Islamic recordings were found on mobile phones as they entered the country, two Russian lorry drivers were eventually deported on 5 February, one of them told Forum 18 News Service. One was fined in Karakalpakstan 50 times the minimum monthly wage for "smuggling". The phones were ordered destroyed and the books confiscated. Two Muslims were fined in 2014 in Karakalpakstan for importing Islamic books from neighbouring Kazakhstan (one of them was subjected to an "anti-terror" raid on his home). Nurullo Zhamolov of Karakalpakstan's Religious Affairs Department claimed to Forum 18 that "no-one should be fined or punished" for importing a Koran, Bible or other "legally allowed" religious literature into Uzbekistan. He was unable to say why the two lorry drivers from Russia or the two local Muslims had been punished.

8 December 2014

UZBEKISTAN: State-sponsored media attacks continue

Uzbekistan's state-sponsored mass media continues attacking named people exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. The victims are not given a right of reply and media staff evade answering question on the attacks. The authors of attacks have included a Judge who subsequently fined people he attacked. Asked whether this made the Judge prejudiced against one party in a case, his assistant replied: "Who are you to question the Judge's rights and what he can and cannot do?" Recent allegations against named people include "making zombies out of children", improperly associating with young girls, drug dealing, and that "a sudden death awaits every member of the [named religious community] who owns any kind of property and lives alone". Various religious believers commented to Forum 18 on the contradiction between state-supported media making serious allegations of crime, and law enforcement agencies making no known investigations. Belief communities thought the purpose of media attacks was to publicly discredit them, and when full names and addresses are published to make people afraid of physical attack.

26 November 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Koran translation banned, New Testaments destroyed, planted evidence and witness, large fines

Uzbekistan has banned a poetic translation of the Koran into Uzbek by a poet, Jamol Kamol, who has translated William Shakespeare's works. Forum 18 News Service has learned. The country has also continued to fine people for meeting to exercise their freedom of religion or belief, recently fining 15 Protestants and a non-Christian flat owner who rented her flat to Christians. The fines imposed varied between 10 and 55 times the minimum monthly salary, and books and other religious material were ordered to be confiscated. In one case resulting in a fine of 55 times the minimum monthly salary it appears that police planted "evidence" and a witness. Judge Sherzod Yuldashev fell silent when asked by Forum 18 why he ordered the destruction of Christian holy scriptures. When Forum 18 repeated the question he replied "I cannot explain these things to you over the phone" and then put the phone down. He also fined Durdona Abdullayeva and Ulugbek Kenzhayev, whose personal New Testaments they were, 30 times the minimum monthly salary.

22 October 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Prison death result of accident, illness, torture, neglect?

Nearly three years into a ten-year prison term, Nilufar Rahimjanova died on about 13 September aged 37 in the women's labour camp near Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. Relatives say the mother of four was imprisoned to punish her Iran-based husband and her Tajikistan-based father, both Muslim theologians the Uzbek authorities do not like. Rahimjanova's body was handed not to her husband or father, but to her brother in Tashkent. He was told to bury it quickly in Uzbekistan without conducting a post-mortem examination. Erkin Bobokulov, Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry's Chief Directorate for the Enforcement of Punishments, declined to talk about Rahimjanova's death in labour camp over the phone. "I don't know the details exactly," he told Forum 18 News Service. Asked whether the prison authorities took steps to save Rahimjanova's life, Bobokulov did not respond.

1 October 2014

UZBEKISTAN: No imam? No prayers

Members of the Toshkuprik Mosque in Samarkand Region's Pakhtachi District were effectively banned from holding Friday prayers from 8 August onwards, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. They were told they could not choose one of their number to lead prayers in the absence of their Muslim Board-appointed Imam and one community member lamented to Radio Free Europe's Uzbek Service that the authorities ban prayers in private homes. Uzbekistan's Deputy Chief Mufti, Abdulaziz Mansurov, insisted to Forum 18: "Please, do not exaggerate - this is not a big problem." In defiance of Uzbekistan's Constitution and published laws, the state enforces a Muslim Board monopoly on all Muslim activity. Mansurov admitted that the Board appoints all Chief Imams of the regions with the consent of the government's Religious Affairs Committee. Meanwhile, secret police and Anti-Terrorism Police officers raided a Baptist community in Andijan as they held a meeting for Sunday worship. They threatened to seize the three children of a widow who lives in the private house where the church was meeting, as well as the house.

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