UZBEKISTAN: Perpetual raids on village Baptist church
Almost two months after eight church members were sentenced for their activity with the church, Forum 18 has been unable to find out from officials why they are still preventing a local Baptist church from meeting for worship in the village of Khalkabad in Namangan region. "We are doing this at the request of the Baptists' parents, who are unhappy that their children have changed their faith," local police officer Bahtier (who refused to give his full name) claimed to Forum 18 News Service. "Police officers come to virtually every meeting we hold," Aleksandr Tyan – one of five church members imprisoned for ten days in August - told Forum 18.
Forum 18 has been unable to find out from officials why they are still preventing the church from meeting. The divisional police officer for Khalkabad, Bahtier, even refused to give Forum 18 his full name. "I have a junior job. Why do you want to talk to me? Go to Pap, and talk to my superior," he told Forum 18 on 7 October in Khalkabad. However, Bahtier admitted that the police were indeed still attending the Baptists' meetings. "We are doing this at the request of the Baptists' parents, who are unhappy that their children have changed their faith," he claimed. "Personally, I cannot understand these Baptists either. Why do they think it is a sin to watch television and read newspapers?"
The most recent problems for the church began on 15 August, when police arrested eight church members – five men and three women - during a service in a home in Khalkabad. The following day the Pap district criminal court sentenced the five men – E. Kim, S. Stanislavsky, Nikolai Zulfikarov, and Odiljon Solijonov, in addition to Tyan - to 10 days' imprisonment, with each being ordered to pay 816 sums for each day of detention in temporary cells in Namangan (63 Norwegian kroner, 8 Euros or 8 US dollars for the total of 10 days). The women Baptists, Irina Boiko, N. Stanislavskaya and the owner of the apartment A. Osnovina, were each handed down a fine of 6,440 sums (51 Norwegian kroner, 6 Euros or 7 US dollars) (see F18News 25 August 2003).
Tyan told Forum 18 that although initially he and his four fellow Baptists had been ordered to pay for their detention in temporary cells, the authorities had now retracted this demand, although they were still forbidding them to meet.
The Khalkabad congregation belongs to the Council of Churches (or unregistered Baptists), which split from the All-Union Council of Baptists in 1961, when further state-sponsored controls were introduced by the then Baptist leadership. It has refused state registration ever since in all the post-Soviet republics where it operates, believing that such registration leads to unwarranted state interference. According to one of its pastors in Moscow, it has 3,705 congregations throughout the former Soviet Union.
Khalkabad is a village attached to a rubber factory. The average monthly wage for a factory worker is around 25,000 sums (180 Norwegian kroner, 22 Euros or 25 US dollars), and even this is only paid with a six month delay. When the Soviet Union collapsed, most of the factory workers were ethnic Russians and today the majority of them have emigrated to Russia. Almost all the people who remain in the village are pensioners and alcoholics.
6 October 2003
Anti-terrorist police officer Alisher Kurbanov, who banned an unregistered Baptist church in Navoi from meeting for worship, has dismissed Baptist complaints about the move. "This is not a church at all, just a religious mob," he told Forum 18 News Service. "Under Uzbek laws a church is not allowed to operate without registration, but the Baptists refuse to register." The ban came after Kurbanov confiscated books from a mobile Baptist street library on 27 September and threatened library organiser Nikolai Nikulin with criminal prosecution. Nikulin has already served a ten-day prison sentence for his work with the church. The ban on the Navoi Baptist church is the latest move to forbid the activity of unregistered Protestant churches in Uzbekistan.
3 October 2003
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."
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.