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26 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Rehabilitation Centre suspended, leaders under criminal investigation

About 20 residents of a Protestant-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent were driven out during a 31 May Police, secret police and Tax Office raid. Officials confiscated religious literature, office equipment and money before sealing Shelter Rehabilitation Centre. An employee who taught metal-working to residents, Pyotr Tikhomirov, was fined for "illegally" storing religious literature "posing a threat to the peace and security of the population". Criminal cases were opened against him and the Centre's founder, Vladislav Sekan, for allegedly not paying taxes on wages, not having a cash-register and exploiting residents by not paying them for clearing up after themselves. "For twelve years of its work, large numbers of drug and alcohol addicts were freed from their harmful habits and restored to normal life in the Rehabilitation Centre," Sekan told Forum 18 News Service. Anti-Terrorism Police Officer Jabbor Rizkulov, who led the May raid, refused to explain to Forum 18 why the Centre had been raided or exactly what charges were brought against Tikhomirov and Sekan. Prosecutor's Office Investigator Sarvar Akhmedov refused to give Forum 18 details of the investigation or say when it will be completed.

18 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: "We will continue fining you unless you stop storing religious literature in your home"

The police officer who led the raid on the home of a Seventh-day Adventist couple in Samarkand told Forum 18 News Service that it is illegal for them to have religious literature since the Adventist community does not have registration in the city. Protestants believe the raid was a reprisal for lodging a new registration application as the community seeks to regain the registration stripped from it in 2007. Among books seized were a Koran and Bibles in Braille. Police seized religious literature from individuals' homes elsewhere in Uzbekistan. "We will continue fining you unless you stop storing religious literature in your home," Judge Oltinbek Mansurov warned Artur Alpayev in Navoi in early September after fining him six months' average local wages for having religious literature at home. Forum 18 can find no published law which broadly bans individuals from owning religious books or other materials, though materials intended to encourage people to change their beliefs or works which, in the state's interpretation, "distort religious canons" have been banned since January.

5 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Why can't school-age children attend worship meetings?

On the instruction of the authorities in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, teachers and doctors were forced to help the police identify school-age boys attending worship in mosques in late August "and to prevent them from participating in prayers, especially Friday prayers," human rights defender Abdurakhmon Eshanov told Forum 18 News Service. Officials refused to discuss the ban with Forum 18. Deputy Chief Mufti Abdulaziz Mansurov claimed to Forum 18 that both Sharia law and the Religion Law ban children from attending prayers. He then added: "I wish the Law would allow it." After Anti-Terrorism Police raids in Namangan Region on Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses, state-sponsored media attacks noted that "even under-age children" had been present at both meetings. Although the Religion Law does not ban children from attending meetings for worship, officials frequently pressure parents and religious communities not to allow them to attend.

1 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Raids, religious literature seizures, passport confiscations and expulsions

As a Baptist family in Navoi gathered with relatives and friends for a Sunday morning meeting for worship, 11 Anti-Terrorism Police officers and other officials raided the Alpayev family home, church members complained to Forum 18 News Service. They searched the home without a warrant and went on to search the home of another church member present, Nikolai Serin, seizing all the religious literature they could find. Police and other authorities keep telling him and other Baptists – including during the 17 August raid - that he cannot keep his Christian books and even his Bible in his home, Serin complained to Forum 18. "Isn't this a gross violation?" Artur Alpayev's mother (born in Uzbekistan and visiting from Israel) and a couple from Russia (the wife also born in Uzbekistan) were subsequently expelled from Uzbekistan. Fines are expected. Sadriddin, who introduced himself as Assistant Head of the Navoi Anti-Terrorism Police, claimed to Forum 18 that he is "new in the Police Department, and I do not know the details." Raids, literature seizures and fines have continued across Uzbekistan.

24 July 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Another jailing, large fines for meeting upheld, more confiscations

Igor Kulyada, a Baptist from Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, was jailed for three days from 3 to 6 July, Forum 18 News Service has learned. His offence was to put up in public leaflets with verses from the Bible. Some of his property was ordered to be destroyed and a fine was also imposed on him. Asked why she had done this, Judge Nilufar Dadabayeva told Forum 18 that "I need to ask my superiors before I can give you information". In Syrdarya Region four Baptists have been fined 50 times the minimum monthly salary, four Baptists 20 times the minimum monthly salary and one Baptist has been fined 10 times the minimum monthly salary. The "offence" of all nine was to meet together to worship and share a meal on Palm Sunday. Protestants in the central city of Karshi have complained of an Illegal raid and house search against one of their co-believers and intrusive questioning of relatives about her. Local police officer Olim Gulomov put his phone down as soon as he heard Forum 18's name. And state confiscations of the property of Baptists in Samarkand continue to be carried out.

8 July 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Almost incommunicado in Investigation Prison

Relatives of Tajik citizen Zuboyd Mirzorakhimov have told Forum 18 News Service that he remains almost incommunicado in an isolation cell in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. A meeting with his wife in January – which would have been the first since his September 2013 arrest – was blocked, the day after his 38th birthday. Although she had travelled from Tajikistan, prison officials refused to explain why she could not meet him. Hopes Mirzorakhimov would be amnestied from a five-year jail sentence appear to have been dashed. His "crime" was to have had Muslim sermons in his mobile phone. Another prisoner given the same term on similar grounds - Zoirjon Mirzayev – has been allowed a visit from relatives in prison in Karshi. And another person accused of entering Uzbekistan with "illegal" religious material in his phone, Uzbek citizen Ikhtiyor Yagmurov, has been punished instead under the Administrative Code with a fine. Serious concerns remain over both the torture of Muslim prisoners of conscience and health of Muslim and Christian prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief.

4 July 2014

UZBEKISTAN: "Legally" preventing human rights

Uzbekistan is formalising harsher restriction than those which formally already exist, Forum 18 News Service notes. A new Prevention Law, which enters into legal force on 15 August, automatically places people convicted by the courts on a Preventive Register, subjecting them to a variety of police "preventative measures" for one year or more. Many agencies are able to initiate placing individuals on the Preventive Register, from health care to nature protection agencies, allowing many possibilities for officials to arbitrarily arrange for people to stay on the Register for many years. The Law also gives mahalla committees wide powers to among other things with police "take measures to prevent the activity of unregistered religious organisations". It also "legalises unofficial informers" a legal expert from Tashkent noted to Forum 18. Heavy punishments continue to be imposed on people exercising freedom of religion or belief, a police officer in a recent raid insisting to Forum 18 that people "are allowed to gather and talk about their religion only in their communities' legally-registered addresses, but not outside those buildings or in private homes".

13 May 2014

UZBEKISTAN: "To prevent illegal religious materials"

A court in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent has fined both Grigory Kasparov and his wife Yelena for "illegally storing" Kasparov's Christian books in their private home. This was despite Yelena Kasparova refusing to sign a "confession" police attempted to force from her for this "offence". The verdict in Kasparov's case states that the books were destroyed even before the Court had found Kasparov "guilty" and decided what to do with the books. A court official admitted to Forum 18 News Service that bailiffs destroyed the books, but refused to state whether bailiffs are allowed to do this before a verdict. In another case, the NSS secret police and ordinary police have ignored a court order stating that they must return confiscated books and other material. In the Kasparov case the court verdict states the fine followed "investigation and search operations with the purpose to prevent illegal religious materials". In a very similar recent case, the verdict states that the NSS secret police conducted "an operation .. to identify persons who illegally store religious materials".

9 May 2014

UZBEKISTAN: "Let him pay the fine and we'll return the car"

Court bailiffs in Uzbekistan's central Samarkand Region admit they confiscated a car, a vacuum cleaner and other household items from two families beyond the legally-defined deadline. "We and our colleagues can't keep up with the volume of work, so we were a bit late with these confiscations," bailiff Sadriddin Salahuddinov admitted to Forum 18 News Service. The seizures came after the two Baptists refused to pay fines imposed in 2012 to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. "Let him pay the fine and we'll return the car to him," the bailiff added about Veniamin Nemirov. Meanwhile, 15 police and other officials raided a church's Sunday meeting for worship in a home in Syrdarya. "When the officials broke in they were preparing a dinner, and getting ready to celebrate the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem," Baptists lamented to Forum 18. Police officer Oybek Turdikulov, who took part in the raid, told Forum 18 that they "received an instruction from above to go to check up on the gathering."

2 May 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Another 5 year prison term for sermons in mobile

Nine years after he moved to Russia to find work, Zoirjon Mirzayev was arrested at a Tashkent Region train station on his return to his native Uzbekistan after customs officials found 29 recordings of Muslim sermons in his mobile phone. The Religious Affairs Committee said the recordings were "extremist" and on 8 April Mirzayev received a five-year prison term, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18 News Service. Assistant Prosecutor B. Kamilov, who led the case in court, told Forum 18 "it's the minimum punishment that we could ask the court for". He was unable to say who had banned the sermons as "extremist" and when. "The sentence is not just and Mirzayev's relatives are preparing to file an appeal," human rights defender Surat Ikramov told Forum 18. Uzbek citizen Ikhtiyor Yagmurov was arrested on similar grounds at Tashkent airport and is awaiting trial, but officials refused to tell Forum 18 what charges he faces.

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