UZBEKISTAN: Jehovah's Witnesses pledge to combat police beatings
Jehovah's Witnesses are to step up their attempts to end what they claim are regular police beatings of their members in Uzbekistan. In the latest incident, Tulkun Khankeldiyev and Oleg Zagibin were detained on 17 June for "illegal" street preaching in the town of Uchkuduk. Jehovah's Witnesses claim they were severely beaten at the police station before being fined. "The police acted very craftily. They beat our brothers so as to cause severe pain, but in such a way as to leave no bruises on their bodies," Jehovah's Witness spokesman Andrei Shirobokov told Forum 18 News Service. Uchkuduk's deputy police chief denied this absolutely, but insisted to Forum 18 the police were right to detain them.
After Khankeldiyev and Zagibin were detained by police in Uchkuduk they were taken to the police station. There officers confiscated their religious literature and identity documents, and severely beat the two, Shirobokov claimed. "The police acted very craftily. They beat our brothers so as to cause severe pain, but in such a way as to leave no bruises on their bodies," he told Forum 18. When the Jehovah's Witnesses came to retrieve their identity documents the following day, they were detained for a further five hours at the police station and questioned about their activities in Uchkuduk.
Khakimov insisted to Forum 18 that the police were right to detain the two. "Zagibin and Khankeldiyev were preaching on the town's streets, which is forbidden under our law." He pointed out that the Jehovah's Witnesses are registered in the town of Fergana in eastern Uzbekistan and Chirchik, a suburb of Tashkent, but not in "our town". He said the two would be fined. "We'll confine ourselves to that, and I appeal to you not to sensationalise this incident."
Forum 18 has learned that on 21 June the Uchkuduk district court fined Zagibin and Khankeldiyev the minimum monthly wage - 5,540 sums (37 Norwegian kroner, 4 Euros or 5 US dollars) under Article 240 of the code of administrative offences, which punishes unregistered religious activity. The average local wage is less than 30 US dollars per month. "We will definitely lodge an appeal," Shirobokov commented on the court's decision.
Of all Uzbekistan's religious minorities, the Jehovah's Witnesses most frequently suffer harassment from the authorities, primarily because they engage most actively in street preaching. The religion law forbids proselytising and the authorities are particularly hostile towards the promotion of religions that are non-traditional in Uzbekistan.
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23 June 2004
Khabibulo Khadmarov, a devout Muslim from the Fergana [Farghona] Valley, has been sentenced to six years in jail. The main accusation was that he was a member of Tabligh and that a manuscript found on him contained "extremist" sentiments. However, one human rights activist, Akhmajon Madmarov, described it to Forum 18 News Service as "a standard work of theology". The staff of the local university philosophy department, who analysed the manuscript, were described to Forum 18 by Madmarov as "the same as those who worked there in Soviet times. In other words, the people who are today acting as experts on Islam are the same as those who previously used to demonstrate the harmfulness and anti-scientific nature of religion." Tabligh members in Central Asia insist on their commitment to the group's original avowedly apolitical foundation.
15 June 2004
It is believed that the Uzbek authorities are behind anonymous night-time telephone calls and continuing threats being made against the wife and young children of Rustam Satdanov, a lawyer forced to flee Uzbekistan and seek political asylum in the USA for his work defending Jehovah's Witnesses. Satdanov received political asylum on 11 May. His wife, Asiya Satdanova, and their young children, who are still in Tashkent, told Forum 18 News Service that they are being anonymously threatened with "serious difficulties" if Satdanov does not return immediately to Uzbekistan. He himself told Forum 18 that if he returns the authorities would, using fabricated criminal charges, punish him for defending religious believers.
11 June 2004
On 1 June a court in the western town of Navoi found Jehovah's Witness Tatyana Briguntsova guilty of membership of an unregistered religious organisation, solely because she put herself down as a founding member of the community in a failed registration application some years ago. She told Forum 18 News Service that police had never recorded her as attending an unregistered meeting. As unregistered religious activity is illegal in Uzbekistan, in defiance of international agreements, this precedent means that any believer who signs a religious community's registration application that is then rejected could lay themselves open to punishment.