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26 April 2004

UZBEKISTAN: New hope for religious communities to get state registration?

As hundreds of religious communities are denied state registration by bureaucratic obstruction, there are hopes that a court ruling will help force officials to issue documents needed for registration. Without registration, all religious activity is banned, and harsh penalties are imposed for worshipping without registration. On 22 April, the Fergana regional civil court upheld an appeal by local human rights activist Mutobar Tajibayeva against the local administration, which has refused for three years to issue a 'letter of guarantee' needed by a local mosque to get registration. However, the justice administration might still find pretexts to block the registration. Local human rights activists seem intent on using the ruling to help dozens of other Fergana mosques get registration. "We were waiting to see if [human rights activist] Tajibayeva would win her case, and now we are going to lobby for registration in the same way as she did," one activist told Forum 18 News Service.

21 April 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Should Christians be shot?

Amid a major crackdown, eleven Protestants in Nukus were questioned at the public prosecutor's office and pressured to convert to Islam. They were also threatened with being shot, though the city prosecutor, M. Arzymbetov, subsequently denied this to Forum 18 News Service. The prosecutor also tried to have a Protestant, Iklas Aldungarov, expelled from his university medical course, but the university rector, Oral Ataniyazova, has resisted the pressure. "How and what Aldungarov believes is his own personal business, and we do not have the right to interfere with it," she told Forum 18. She added that a very large number of young people in the region are becoming Christians. "Evidently, the Christian churches have managed to set up a competent, well conceived operation here. I do not think that is a bad thing. Let's see the mosques here work as well as the Christian churches." Pressure on Protestants elsewhere in Uzbekistan is also continuing.

14 April 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Guilty of the unregistered teaching of a faith - even when charge is disproved

Even though it has been proved that a Jehovah's Witness was not teaching his faith without registration, and so not breaking the law, an Uzbek criminal court has found him guilty of this, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Uzbekistan bans all religious teaching by unregistered religious organisations or private individuals. The persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, along with all other religious groups, continues in Uzbekistan and is compounded by the authorities lack of knowledge of faiths. For example, a deputy public prosecutor has told a Jehovah's Witness that reading their literature causes people either to become a "Wahhabi" (a term widely and loosely used in Central Asia for Islamic extremists), or to become a terrorist. The same prosecutor also claimed that Jehovah's Witnesses hypnotise people.

13 April 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Crackdown on all faiths follows terrorist bombings

After March and April's terrorist bombings that left nearly 50 people dead – blamed by the government on Islamic extremists and linked by some without evidence to Al-Qa'ida - a crackdown on religious believers of all faiths is taking place, Forum 18 News Service has observed. The crackdown's targets include Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Protestants and Hare Krishna devotees. A Jehovah's Witness has told Forum 18 that he was interrogated in a police station, told he was a potential terrorist, and threatened by police that "If you do not renounce your ridiculous beliefs, then I will simply plant drugs on you and put you away for a long time!" Most of those summoned for interrogation are devout Muslims and amongst those detained is a leading imam, Rustam Kilichev, who has tried to persuade imprisoned Muslims to renounce the views of the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. The NSS secret police have refused to say why he is being held. Police are engineering arrests of religious believers by planting leaflets by Hizb ut-Tahrir, drugs, and weapons on people. Also, police are searching believers' private homes, enquiring about their religious views, confiscating religious literature, and in one case detained 25 Muslim women for 24 hours because they were wearing headscarves.

7 April 2004

TURKMENISTAN: Religious freedom survey, April 2004

In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Turkmenistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the almost complete lack of freedom to practice any faith, apart from very limited freedom for Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity with a small number of registered places of worship and constant interference and control by the state. This is despite recent legal changes that in theory allow minority communities to register. All other communities - Baptist, Pentecostal, Adventist, Lutheran and other Protestants, as well as Shia Muslim, Armenian Apostolic, Jewish, Baha'i, Jehovah's Witness and Hare Krishna – are currently banned and their activity punishable under the administrative or criminal law. Religious meetings have been broken up, with raids in March on Jehovah's Witnesses and a Baha'i even as the government was proclaiming a new religious policy. Believers have been threatened, detained, beaten, fined and sacked from their jobs, while homes used for worship and religious literature have been confiscated. Although some minority communities have sought information on how to register under the new procedures, none has so far applied to register. It remains very doubtful that Turkmenistan will in practice allow religious faiths to be practiced freely.

26 March 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Lawyer disbarred for defending believers?

Tashkent-based lawyer Nail Gabdullin believes he has had his licence to practice stripped from him in retaliation for his work defending religious believers. "There is no other reason," he told Forum 18 News Service. Among those Gabdullin has defended are Pentecostals, Baptists and Adventists, and he is working to regain the registration stripped from the Urgench Baptist Church in February. But a specialist at the Tashkent city justice administration familiar with his case denied he has been punished for his work. "Defending believers has nothing to do with it," Svetlana Zhuraeva insisted to Forum 18, though she refused to give what she claims is the reason. Only a handful of Tashkent's 2,000 lawyers are disbarred each year.

18 March 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Justice department tries to limit church & mosque numbers

The Protestant Greater Grace Church in Samarkand has repeatedly had attempts to get state registration, without which under Uzbek law it would be forbidden, turned down, its Pastor Artur Karimov has told Forum 18 News Service. Other Protestant churches in Samarkand have also had difficulties with the authorities. Officials of the regional justice department have told Forum 18 that are trying to ensure that the number of mosques "does not exceed reasonable levels," and to also limit the number of Christian churches under this policy. The officials also said that Muslims became very upset about the spread of Christianity in the region, and stressed their displeasure at the continued activity of Matti Sirvio, a Finnish missionary who founded the Greater Grace Church.

16 March 2004

UZBEKISTAN: JW sentenced under criminal law, and Bible to be destroyed

In the first such case since 2002, a Jehovah's Witness from Samarkand, Vladimir Kushchevoy, has been sentenced under the criminal law for "failing to observe the prescribed manner of communicating religious doctrine" to three years "corrective labour" and 20 per cent of his wages are to be confiscated by the state, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. His Bible, New Testament, and other religious literature were ordered by the court to be destroyed. No proof was produced that Kushchevoy was actually giving religious instruction, Forum 18 was told. This sentence appears to be part of a growing trend to destroy religious literature, as well as to target both Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestant Christians. However, since 2002, the authorities had not been using the criminal law against these religious minorities, using other means of attacking them instead.

8 March 2004

TURKMENISTAN: Why was former chief mufti given long jail term?

Reliable sources in Turkmenistan have told Forum 18 News Service that they believe the country's former Sunni Muslim chief mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, was sentenced to a long jail term for his opposition to tight presidential control over the Muslim community. Government prosecutors claimed he was part of an assassination attempt against the president. Although previously known for his obedience, Ibadullah began to oppose the cult of personality around the president by reportedly obstructing the use in mosques of the president's moral code Ruhnama (Book of the Soul). Imams are forced to display this book prominently in mosques and quote approvingly from it in sermons, as are Russian Orthodox priests in their churches. Ibadullah is also believed to have been targeted as an ethnic Uzbek, Forum 18 having noted the government removing ethnic Uzbek imams to replace them with ethnic Turkmens.

8 March 2004

UZBEKISTAN: University attacks Hare Krishna followers, along with secret police

Claiming without evidence that Hare Krishna followers were terrorists, had tried to stage a putsch in Russia and are now trying to stage a coup d'etat in Uzbekistan, Razumbai Ischanov, dean of Urgench University's Natural Sciences Faculty, has reportedly said he will expel all students who are Hare Krishna followers. Since the speech by the Dean, which had the support of University authorities, rumours have been spread that female Hare Krishna students are prostitutes, causing several planned weddings to be cancelled, and a lecturer in the natural sciences faculty forced a student Krishna devotee, against their religion, to eat meat and drink vodka. The NSS secret police have also started monitoring Hare Krishna students since the speech.

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