UZBEKISTAN: "Illegal" Baptists under more pressure as authorities try to stop Christianity
In the latest twist to Uzbek authorities' campaign against Christianity in north-west Uzbekistan, the NSS secret police have interrogated two Baptists, beating one up, and threatening both with imprisonment saying that "we will put you away for years". One secret police officer claimed to Forum 18 News Service that "The Baptists' activity is illegal, and so we simply had a chat with them," and that the Urgench Baptist church is a banned organisation "because its registered status was removed". Another NSS officer, Alisher Khasanov, jeered at Baptist Sharovat Allamova for being a Christian and claimed that "you Protestants rely on Western money, the humanitarian western missions who support you are basically espionage organisations. So you yourselves are agents for foreign intelligence services." Also, the local Khorezm branch of the NSS has questioned Forum 18 about why a Norwegian organisation is interested in a "banned organisation".
On 25 June, local Baptist Sharovat Allamova was called in to the Khorezm region NSS headquarters, where the officer who interviewed her, Alisher Khasanov, jeered at her for maintaining her Christian faith. "You Protestants rely on Western money," he told her. "The humanitarian western missions who support you are basically espionage organisations. So you yourselves are agents for foreign intelligence services." He ordered Allamova to say which foreign organisations were in contact with local Baptists, threatening that if she refused he would imprison her under the article of the criminal code that forbids knowingly giving false evidence.
On 26 June, the same Khasanov called in another Baptist, Dilshod Dilbaev, for questioning. Dilbaev was also asked about the Baptists' links with foreigners and about the humanitarian aid they received from abroad. However, Forum 18 has learned that this time Khasanov was more brutal, hitting Dilbaev several times and threatening that if he did not give the required information straightaway they would plant drugs on him. "We will put you away for years," he threatened.
Forum 18's attempt to establish from the Khorezm NSS what had happened yielded an unexpected response. In its telephone call on 5 July, even before Forum 18's correspondent had time to introduce himself an NSS officer asked if he was the journalist Igor Rotar. He said that Khasanov was on leave, but that he was also called Alisher. "There's no need for you to know my surname, but I can answer your questions," he told Forum 18. He questioned why a Norwegian organisation was so interested in a "banned organisation". "We keep track of your visits to Urgench. When do you intend to visit us next?" the NSS officer asked Forum 18's correspondent. "We also know that they intended to complain about us. Please call us next time you come to Urgench."
Forum 18 has learned that a local journalist who helped Forum 18 News Service in Urgench in February was summoned to the NSS in March to be questioned in detail about why a correspondent for a Norwegian organisation was visiting Khorezm region.
Baptists in Urgench began to experience difficulties in February this year, when the justice administration for Khorezm region removed their church's registered status for "the enticement of underage children into religious organisations, and also their religious instruction against their or their parents' will" (see F18News 4 March 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=267 ). Uzbekistan's Religion Law bans the activity of unregistered religious communities. Moreover, the authorities even judge a discussion between several people about religion to constitute "activity" of a religious community.
Article 3 of Uzbekistan's Religion Law does indeed forbid "the enticement of underage children into religious organisations, and also their religious instruction against their or their parents' will". However, as Oleg Bader, pastor of the Urgench Baptist church, told Forum 18 in February, work with children was included in the church's statute, which had been registered with the same regional justice administration on 30 December 1999.
Baptists in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, who preferred not to be named, believe that the real reason for the closure of the Urgench church was that the authorities simply do not want Christianity to become widespread in Khorezm region. Currently, there is only one registered Christian community left in Khorezm region - the Korean Protestant church.
For more background, see Forum 18's latest religious freedom survey at
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29 June 2004
One day before he was due to take up his post as imam of a mosque in the town of Margelan, a satellite town near Fergana, young imam Alokhon Ishankhojayev was arrested after police and secret police officers claim to have discovered a gun and bullets during a house search. At his trial, which began on 17 June, five witnesses retracted earlier testimony that he had tried to turn them against the constitutional order. One admitted he was drunk that day and had signed a statement the secret police had drawn up without reading it. Ishankhojayev denied the charges. "I am a believer and have nothing to do with politics, let alone with terrorist activity," Forum 18 News Service heard him tell the court. Prosecutors are continuing the case.
24 June 2004
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.
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.