UZBEKISTAN: No peace for Peace Church
For the fourth time since the Peace Protestant church in Nukus in Karakalpakstan had its registration stripped from it in August 2000, the church was raided by the police during Sunday worship on 24 August and two if its leaders subsequently fined five times the minimum monthly wage. "This is not the first time that I have fined the Peace church's leaders," judge Oibek Tureyev told Forum 18 News Service. "I can only repeat to you once again that under Uzbek laws registration is compulsory." One of the two leaders fined, Khym-Mun Kim, told Forum 18 the church has repeatedly tried to regain its registration. "We are law-abiding citizens and we want to be registered but the authorities are forcing us to operate illegally."
The fines followed a police raid on 24 August on the church's Sunday morning prayer meeting. Police officers took statements from all the 15 or so church members present, Khym-Mun Kim told Forum 18 on 30 September in Nukus.
The Peace church's difficulties began in August 2000, when the authorities stripped the church of registration. "The reason they gave for removing our registered status was that we had organised a summer camp for children from poor families," Pastor Kim told Forum 18. "We simply wanted to help the children to relax in the summer, and to teach them about what is good." But, he added, the authorities regarded their charitable work as missionary activity because among the children holidaying at the camp were ethnic Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Karakalpaks (historically these peoples profess Islam). Uzbekistan's law on religion bans missionary activity.
Since it lost its registered status the police have raided the Peace church four times (including the latest incident) and on each occasion the church leaders were fined (see F18News 12 March 2003).
Since 2000, the Peace church has tried to register three times, but the authorities have refused them each time on various pretexts. "I am convinced that the authorities are deliberately failing to give us registration because they do not want Christianity to become widespread in Karakalpakstan," Khym-Mun Kim told Forum 18. "We are law-abiding citizens and we want to be registered but the authorities are forcing us to operate illegally." Under the religion law the activity of an unregistered religious community is forbidden.
"This is not the first time that I have fined the Peace church's leaders," Judge Tureyev told Forum 18 on 30 September in Nukus. "I can only repeat to you once again that under Uzbek laws registration is compulsory." When Forum 18 responded that Uzbekistan was a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to meet freely for religious worship and teaching, and that according to Article 2 of the country's law on religion "if different rules are set out in an international agreement signed by the Republic of Uzbekistan from those contained in the Republic of Uzbekistan's law on freedom of conscience and religious organisations, then the rules of the international agreement will take precedence", Tureyev replied that he knew nothing about the covenant.
Likewise Nurula Jamolov, the Karakalpakstan Cabinet of Ministers' representative for religious affairs, knew nothing about the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "I do not know why the Peace church is not succeeding in being registered, but according to our laws the activity of an unregistered religious organisation is forbidden," he told Forum 18 on 30 September.
Increasing attempts by Central Asian states to restrict religious freedom for groups that have not been able to attain registration or do not want it have come under fire from Abdelfattah Amor, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. "Many States, especially those of Central Asia, have used the compulsory registration of religious groups and the imposition of specific regulations governing them to restrict the exercise of freedom of religion or belief, often in violation of the international standards," Amor warned in his interim report to the UN General Assembly (A/58/296, 19 August 2003).
He stressed that registration procedures can only be legitimate if they are specified in law, reasonable, objective and transparent "and, consequently, if they do not have the aim or the result of creating discrimination".
2 October 2003
The deputy head of the Upper Chirchik district administration, Shukhrat Tursunbayev, has insisted he did nothing wrong in closing down an unregistered Protestant church in the village of Ahmad Yassavy on the outskirts of Tashkent. "We were acting within the law," he told Forum 18 News Service. "According to the Uzbek law on religion the activity of an unregistered religious community is forbidden." Police officers and local officials burst into the Sunday service of the Friendship Church on 7 September, took down the names of all those present, sealed the church and warned the Protestants they will be prosecuted under the Code of Administrative Offences.
30 September 2003
An ideology official in the town administration of Muinak in the autonomous Karakalpakstan republic who helped have a Protestant sacked as a sports teacher in a local school last July after he refused to renounce his faith has explained why. "I am convinced that a Protestant may not work as a school teacher in Uzbekistan," Jalgas Saidmuratov told Forum 18 News Service. "Our state is moving towards Islam." The sacking of Lepesbai Omarov violates Uzbekistan's constitution and religion law, which proclaim Uzbekistan a secular state and outlaw discrimination on religious grounds. Karakalpakstan is a religious freedom black spot, with only one non-Islamic religious community that has been able to gain registration.
25 August 2003
Judge Bahtierjon Batyrov, who sentenced five Baptist men to ten days' imprisonment on 16 August for attending a service in a private home in a village near Namangan, has defended his decision. "It is true that the courts generally hand down more lenient sentences to such offenders," he told Forum 18 News Service. "But in our Pap district the number of such cases has increased lately and for this reason I decided to sentence the offenders to a harsher punishment." He also fined three Baptist women. He ordered the men to pay for their own imprisonment.