UZBEKISTAN: Police arrest, insult & threaten to rape female Jehovah's Witnesses
Two female Jehovah's Witnesses, Gulya Boikova and Parakhat Narmanova, have been arrested, insulted and threatened with rape by police in Karshi (Qarshi), Forum 18 News Service has learnt. On 22 January a pending court case against the women was adjourned by Judge Abdukadyr Boibilov, while police gather more evidence. This is one example of the continuing persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Uzbekistan, who are the religious minority most frequently victimised by the authorities. Witnesses have been subjected to vicious beatings by police, and a Jehovah's Witness is the only member of a religious minorities to have been sentenced to jail for his religious beliefs. (There are about 6,500 prisoners of conscience from the majority religion, Islam.) The persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses is probably explained by their being the most active religious minority in trying to spread their beliefs, and the Uzbek religion law banning "actions aimed at proselytism".
After being told that they would be summoned to appear in court under the administrative code, the women were released at 8 pm that evening. On 22 January, the women were tried at the local court, but Judge Abdukadyr Boibilov ordered police to gather additional evidence demonstrating that the women had indeed been preaching, and then adjourned the case. Attempts by Forum 18 to contact Boibilov proved unsuccessful, and a court staff member said that "Boibilov is busy at the moment, and no-one is going to comment on the Jehovah's Witness case until the next legal hearing". "Even if we win the court case, it is still unlikely that the police who spent 11 hours insulting the women will be brought to account," Forum 18 was told by their lawyer, Rustam Satdanov.
Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses continues elsewhere in Uzbekistan. Forum 18 has learnt that the authorities have for the past two years denied an exit visa to Erkin Khabibov, a Jehovah's Witness from Bukhara (Bukhoro). Under Uzbek law, a citizen must obtain a five-year exit visa to travel to countries with which Uzbekistan operates a visa regime. Without an exit visa, an Uzbek citizen may not even travel to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan or Turkmenistan, as there is a visa regime operating with these countries. Speaking to Forum 18, Khabibov said that he has been convicted under the administrative code for preaching, and that a criminal case had been brought against him for the same reason, although this has not reached court because of insufficient evidence. According to Khabibov, the department of visas and citizenship at the city police department told him that the delay in issuing an exit visa was connected with his having been prosecuted under the administrative code for his religious beliefs.
"Khabibov's name is on a list held by the National Security Service (NSS) [the ex-KGB secret police], and this explains the delay in issuing him with an exit visa. Shortly either the NSS will allow us to issue an exit visa to Khabibov, or we will give Khabibov an official refusal setting out our reasons for doing so," Forum 18 was told by Mirzho Akhmedov of the Bukhara police visa and citizenship department.
Of all the religious minorities in Uzbekistan, Jehovah's Witnesses are the most frequently victimised by the authorities. For example, there are several recorded instances where Jehovah's Witnesses have been subjected to vicious beatings at police stations (see F18News 2 June 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=69).
Amongst the country's religious minorities, only a Jehovah's Witness has been sentenced to jail for his religious beliefs. (There are about 6,500 prisoners of conscience from the majority religion, Islam.) In July 2002, Tashkent Jehovah's Witness Marat Mudarisov was arrested by the NSS and spent several months in detention. In November 2002, he was found guilty and sent to prison. On 8 October 2003, Mudarisov's sentence was overturned under international pressure and the Tashkent City Court ruled that he had "caused no harm to public order . . .nor threatened to cause such harm." Criminal charges against him were dismissed.
Tashkent's harsh policy towards Jehovah's Witnesses can probably be explained by the fact that of all the religious minorities, Jehovah's Witnesses are the most active in trying to spread their beliefs, and the Uzbek law on religion clearly bans "actions aimed at proselytism".
For more background information see Forum 18's latest religious freedom survey at
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21 January 2004
State policies in Central Asia towards religious minorities present a varied picture. Orthodox Christians say they have almost no problems at all, which is in stark contrast to the situation of other religious minorities such as Protestant Christians, and to the situation of Islam, the most widespread religion in the region. Throughout the region both Islamic radicalism and proselytism by non-Islamic faiths are viewed very seriously indeed by governments, which frequently seek to control and/or severely repress both Islam and proselytism. This is partially due to fear of religious diversity, and partially due to fear of radical Islamic groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
15 January 2004
An Uzbek official, who fined Baptist pastor Oleg Bader for running children's camps and a children's club attached to his church, has described the fine to Forum 18 News Service as "completely within the law". The church is being forced to change and re-register its statute by 27 January, even though children's work was included in the original statute. The pastor's lawyer has been denied access to the cases documents, and the justice department has refused to tell Forum 18 why this is so. It is feared that, like another church further north, re-registration may be denied and the church declared illegal. Sources have told Forum 18 that the authorities want to close the church because they do not want Christianity to spread in Khorezm region.
11 December 2003
Uzbekistan is denying clergy access to death row prisoners, Tamara Chikunova, head of the Uzbek NGO Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture, has told Forum 18 News Service. This denial violates two articles of the Uzbek Criminal Code, which specifically allow those sentenced to death the right to meet a member of the clergy. Fr Nikolai Rybchinsky, of the Central Asian diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, told Forum 18 that in the case of two death row prisoners "so far at least, Orthodox priests have not been allowed access to these prisoners. We have made an official appeal on this matter to the state administration for carrying out punishments, but have received no reply from there." Fr Rybchinsky also said that "in general, priests face significant difficulties gaining access to prisons." Forum 18 has learned that death row prisoners are denied access to religious literature. When a Muslim death row prisoner asked a senior prison official to give him a Koran, the official reportedly replied: "Are you joking? After all, that is a political thing."