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12 April 2013

UZBEKISTAN: "All believers are backward-looking fanatics who drag society down"

A small Baptist church in Mubarek in south-eastern Uzbekistan which has endured more than a decade of official harassment was again raided during Sunday morning worship on 24 March, church members complained to Forum 18 News Service. The secret police officer who led the raid told the Baptists that "all believers are backward-looking fanatics who drag society down". Officers filmed those praying, took their names and without a warrant searched the house where the church meets. They seized personal notes and family photos, as well as all the money from the church's cash-box. "I don't know which agencies participated, but it definitely was not from our division," Major Rajab Shavkatov, Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division of Mubarek Police, told Forum 18. The raid came two months after bailiffs seized a washing machine and other household items to cover unpaid fines handed down on church members in 2012.

11 April 2013

UZBEKISTAN: "Unbelievable" fines after no trial and raid with no warrant

Protestant married couple Ashraf and Nargisa Ashurov were each fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage by a court in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent without a hearing, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Also fined was their babysitter. The fines followed a raid on the home where they are staying, conducted without a warrant, and seizure of Christian literature belonging not to them but to the home owner. "For a couple, who barely earn any living, this total fine of nearly 16 million Soms is an unbelievable punishment," a Protestant who knows the couple complained to Forum 18. An officer of the Police Criminal Investigation Division told Forum 18 that the Anti-Terrorism Police had conducted the operation.

11 March 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Extradition overturned, but new charges and transfer to prison close to Uzbekistan

The appeal in Kyrgyzstan by Uzbek former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov against his extradition back to Uzbekistan has been upheld, Forum 18 News Service notes. The successful appeal followed his being recognised as a refugee by the Bishkek office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – but he was immediately afterwards detained again and sent by the NSC secret police to a prison in Osh, very close to the border with Uzbekistan. "We had to tell the lawyer – no one had told him of the transfer," Sulaimanov's wife Albina Karankina told Forum 18. She complained that no one would tell the family why he was transferred to Osh, where he is being held and what the new accusations against him are. His lawyer Toktogul Abdyev understands that the new charges relate to an alleged illegal border crossing in 2012, but the UNHCR is "waiting for an official confirmation concerning his transfer and charges brought against him". The NSC secret police would not tell Forum 18 what new charges Sulaimanov faces. But officials confirmed that he is in the Osh Region NSC Investigation Prison.

26 February 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Will international law protect Uzbek imam from extradition?

The wife of Uzbek former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov has spoken of her concern for her husband, detained since October 2012 by Kyrgyzstan's NSC secret police. "I'm very worried that they could extradite him back to Uzbekistan," Albina Karankina told Forum 18 News Service. "We want him freed. It is very hard for the children to live without their father." She observed that "they [Kyrgyz authorities] keep delaying the case" in court. Sulaimanov's next appeal hearing against his deportation is due at Bishkek City Court on 1 March. Karankina has been denied access to her husband in detention, and called for the "fight for justice" for him to continue. "We're grateful to all who have shown concern for us," she told Forum 18. Sulaimanov's only "crime" in Uzbekistan was to lead religious communities. The Bishkek office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Forum 18 that Sulaimanov is protected under international human rights law against refoulement, or being sent back to his home country.

6 February 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Imam still faces extradition to Uzbek torture

The legal appeal by former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov against his extradition from Kyrgyzstan back to Uzbekistan resumes on 12 February, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Officials failed to produce Sulaimanov for the first hearing yesterday (5 February). His lawyer argued in court that if Sulaimanov is returned to Uzbekistan, he is likely to face torture. However, Kyrgyzstan's General Prosecutor's Office, which wants to send him back, insisted to Forum 18 – against overwhelming documented evidence - that "the risk or basis to believe that torture would be used against Sulaimanov does not exist". Sulaimanov's wife, Albina Karankina, calls for the proposed extradition of her husband to Uzbekistan to be halted. "We also want him to be freed from the Investigation Prison", she told Forum 18. Human rights defenders continue to condemn the possible extradition, but the General Prosecutor's Office denied to Forum 18 that it had received an appeal letter on the case from Human Rights Watch. The letter in English and in Russian was submitted to the General Prosecutor's Office in hard copy on 1 February, and signed confirmation of receipt was given. Apart from one five minute visit, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has not been allowed access to Sulaimanov, and family members have been refused visits.

31 January 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Raids, criminal charges and Christmas Bible destruction

After two raids on her home in Urgench in north-west Uzbekistan this January and being detained for 11 hours, Protestant Christian Sharofat Allamova is facing criminal prosecution for "illegally" storing religious literature, the police officer who led the raids told Forum 18 News Service. The criminal charges carry a fine up to 200 times the minimum monthly wage, or a prison term of up to three years. Also, Protestants in Tashkent Region have told Forum 18 that they are upset and outraged over a judge's order to destroy Bibles. They are particularly upset as the decision was handed down on 24 December 2012, as church members were beginning their Christmas celebrations. Judge Ikrom Obidov – who fined four local Protestants in the same case – has already punished many people locally for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. In an appeal against an earlier fine of 100 times the monthly minimum wage imposed by Obidov, also for "illegally" distributing religious literature, the appeal judge ignored evidence that the original case against Protestant Vadim Shim had been fabricated.

28 January 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Extradition "would violate our international human rights obligations"

Khabibullo Sulaimanov – who led a mosque in the Uzbek capital Tashkent and is seeking asylum in Kyrgyzstan - is fighting extradition back to Uzbekistan. "If the former imam is handed back to Uzbekistan, he faces torture and conviction on fabricated charges of 'extremism'", insists Vitaly Ponomarev of Memorial, who is among human rights defenders following the case. Sulaimanov was detained by Kyrgyzstan's NSC secret police in October 2012. "I can only see him at court hearings, and we can talk together for no more than five or ten minutes," his wife Albina Karankina told Forum 18 News Service. Tursunbek Akun, Kyrgyzstan's human rights Ombudsperson told Forum 18 that "extraditing Sulaimanov back to Uzbekistan would violate our international human rights obligations. (..) I will use all my authority and influence to prevent Sulaimanov's extradition." In sharp contrast, Kanabek Uzakbayev of Kyrgyzstan's General Prosecutor's Office, asked by Forum 18 about breaking international law by sending an individual back to Uzbekistan where they might face torture, responded: "Let them [the Uzbek authorities] do it. It doesn't bother me at all." The next appeal hearing is due on 5 February in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek.

20 December 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Muslim prisoners of consciences' appeals rejected, Christians warned against sharing beliefs and international contacts

A court in Uzbekistan today (20 December) rejected appeals by two Muslim prisoners of conscience - Gayrat Khusanov and Shuhrat Yunusov – against seven year jail terms for meeting with seven others to read the Koran and pray together, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The other seven Muslims' appeals against three year suspended jail terms were also rejected. Also, some officially-permitted Protestant churches in Tashkent Region have been told to remove statute provisions that their aims include sharing their beliefs. A Justice Ministry official denied this to Forum 18, despite this activity being banned in the Criminal and Administrative Codes. But another official thought there may have been "instructions from above". A local Protestant, who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 "that this may be being done to stop Christian South Koreans from visiting or helping these churches" due to South Korean investments in Uzbekistan. A Protestant from Karakalpakstan Region – which bans all non-Russian Orthodox and non-state-controlled Muslim communities - told Forum 18 that ethnic Koreans have been told that they must not have contacts with other countries. The authorities have also stated that "Uzbek or other ethnicities from a Muslim background should not come to churches".

17 December 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Singing and reading Bibles on holiday prosecuted

Police in Uzbekistan on 1 December raided a group of about 80 Protestants on holiday together, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Charges under six different articles of the Code of Administrative Offences have been brought against four of the group, who were meeting together discussing their faith and singing Christian songs. Police confiscated three Bibles and 100 Christian songbooks, insulted the group, and took their fingerprints of all present. People must worship "only in registered places specifically set up for religious purposes", police insisted to Forum 18. In November three Protestants were fined sums of between 100 and 20 times the minimum monthly wage for meeting together, reading their Bibles, singing Christian songs, praying, and possessing religious books – all without state permission. The books, including Bibles, were ordered to be destroyed. And a Jehovah's Witness has been fined 10 times the minimum monthly wage for possessing religious books.

29 November 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Fined for discussing their faith and praying together

Uzbekistan continues to fine and raid people meeting to discuss their faith and pray together. In Tashkent Region a Protestant was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage for allegedly illegally distributing religious literature, and books including Bibles and New Testaments were been ordered to be destroyed, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Legal procedures were violated, the official who produced "expert analyses" allegedly managing to within one working day read 1,300 books, 2,100 brochures, 450 leaflets, 50 magazines, watch 200 videos, and listen to 350 audio cassettes. "This beats the Guinness Book of Records", a local Protestant observed to Forum 18. In the central Samarkand Region, three Baptists were given one fine of 50 times the minimum monthly wage and two fines of 10 times the minimum monthly wage for allegedly distributing religious literature. They deny this, telling Forum 18 that "we had some of our neighbours, friends, and relatives with us. About 10 people met to read the Bible and pray together." Legal procedures were also violated in this case.

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