UZBEKISTAN: Bookburning, fines and jail used against Jehovah's Witnesses
Forum 18 News Service has learnt that two Jehovah's Witnesses have been fined a month's wages for "failing to observe the prescribed manner of communicating religious doctrine" and their literature, including a copy of the New Testament, has been sentenced to be burnt. Judge Jamila Khojanova told Forum 18 that " "if we hadn't made the decision to have the literature destroyed, then Khojbayev and Ajigilev would have started distributing it again and we cannot allow that.". Forum 18 pointed out that this literature is not illegal, and so the bookburning is illegal. Another Jehovah's Witness has been sentenced to three days in jail. These sentences are part of a continuing pattern of persecution throughout Uzbekistan, in which the NSS (National Security Service) secret police have threatened "to work on the Jehovah's Witnesses in earnest".
Judge Khojanova strongly defended the court ruling. "The Jehovah's Witness organisation is not registered in the republic of Karakalpakstan and therefore may not preach on the territory of the republic," she told Forum 18 from Takhiatash on 11 February. When Forum 18 commented that "Awake!", "Watchtower" and especially "The New Testament" were not forbidden in Uzbekistan and that therefore the decision to have them destroyed was unlawful, Khojanova responded "if we hadn't made the decision to have the literature destroyed, then Khojbayev and Ajigilev would have started distributing it again and we cannot allow that." "The confiscated literature will most likely be burnt, but the Jehovah's Witnesses can try and appeal against the decision within 10 days," Khojanova told Forum 18.
These repressive sentences against Jehovah's Witnesses are part of a continuing pattern of persecution throughout Uzbekistan, in which the NSS (National Security Service) secret police have threatened "to work on the Jehovah's Witnesses in earnest" (see F18News 28 January 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=237 ).
Forum 18 has also learnt that at Pastdargomsy district criminal court in Juma, Samarkand (Samarqand) region (western Uzbekistan) a Jehovah's Witness from Samarkand, Aliakbar Davranov, was sentenced to three days of administrative arrest, this, like the sentences in Takhiatash, also being under article 241. "I went to the town of Juma on business on 4 December 2003, and at about 6 o'clock in the evening I went to see my friend Damil Mukharamov, who lives on Nadirabegim street," Davranov wrote in his protest to the chairman of the Samarkand regional court. "There were six people at his house, whom I know because they are fellow-believers who, like me, preach the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses, which is an international religious organisation. I was delighted to meet them and we started to talk about things to do with the Bible, as all Jehovah's Witnesses do throughout the world, not just in Samarkand region. I didn't entice anyone, or teach, or in particular force anyone to come to Mukharamov's house."
For more background information see Forum 18's latest religious freedom
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11 February 2004
Ethnic Uzbek Imams leading mosques in southern Kazakhstan have resisted state pressure to come under the 'Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Kazakhstan', Forum 18 News Service has found. Pressure followed a 2002 attempt to change the law on religious associations, which the Constitutional Council ruled contradicted the constitution. Kazakh officials have frequently privately told Forum 18 that the region is the country's "hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism". However, Kyrgyzstan is the only state in Central Asia where Hizb-ut-Tahrir (which seeks to unite Muslims worldwide under the rule of a Caliphate) is not officially banned, and most Hizb-ut-Tahrir members in South Kazakhstan region are ethnic Kazakhs. Commenting on this ethnic difference, a local NGO told Forum 18 that "Uzbeks in Kazakhstan live much better than they do in Uzbekistan," so they "are not interested in seeking open confrontation with the authorities."
10 February 2004
In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, Forum 18 News Service notes that after restrictive amendments to the religion law were thrown out by the Constitutional Council in April 2002, the religious freedom situation has improved. Muslim, Baptist and Jehovah's Witness communities that did not wish to or failed to get registration had been routinely pressured or fined, but this has now stopped. However, an article of the Administrative Offences Code still prescribes punishment for leaders of unregistered religious communities and allows registered religious communities that hold youth meetings to be banned. Some officials – though not all - still maintain to Forum 18 that registration of religious organisations is compulsory.
28 January 2004
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".