UZBEKISTAN: Baptist jailed and Bible to be destroyed for "illegal" religious meeting
Baptist Farkhod Khamedov was sentenced to jail for 10 days and his Bible ordered to be destroyed, for conducting a religious meeting in a private flat, by Judge Turman Tashmetov in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, Forum 18 News Service has found. Judge Tashmetov told Forum 18 that the Bible was being held "as material evidence" and had not yet been destroyed. "Khamedov has filed an appeal and his case will now be considered by another judge," he told Forum 18. "That judge will decide what to do with the Bible." Khamedov has appealed against the sentence. Begzot Kadyrov, chief specialist of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, claimed to Forum 18 that Judge Tashmetov had made a "mistake" and that "I'm sure that it will be returned to Khamedov once his case is reheard." Uzbek courts have in recent years burnt religious literature confiscated from the homes of Muslims, Protestant Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Speaking to Forum 18 on 4 April, Judge Tashmetov stated that the Bible was currently being held at the courthouse "as material evidence" and had not been destroyed. "Khamedov has filed an appeal and his case will now be considered by another judge," he explained. "That judge will decide what to do with the Bible."
Contacted by Forum 18 on 4 April, Begzot Kadyrov, the chief specialist at the Uzbek government's Committee for Religious Affairs, admitted that Judge Tashmetov's order to destroy the Bible had been a mistake. "Mind you, the Bible wasn't destroyed, and I'm sure that it will be returned to Khamedov once his case is reheard – we will be following it closely."
Kadyrov also maintained that the Christian literature confiscated by customs officers on 7 March would be returned to its Baptist owners if they addressed a statement to the Committee for Religious Affairs (see F18News 17 March 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=527). 1039 items of Christian literature were seized, including 290 copies of Luke's Gospel, 200 copies of Mark's Gospel and copies of Baptist magazines. There are fears that this literature may be burned by the government.
"That case should not be regarded as religious," Kadyrov claimed. "The Baptists were detained as smugglers - they were trying to bring literature into the country while evading customs. Nevertheless, we are prepared to help them and return the literature." Told of Baptist claims that Bibles have been destroyed by court order on two previous occasions in Uzbekistan, Kadyrov maintained that he personally was aware of only one such instance. "It occurred in violation of the law," he maintained. "We are prepared to consider any evidence the Baptists might submit."
Strict censorship of religious literature is practiced by Uzbekistan, and religious literature confiscated from the homes of Muslims, Protestant Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses has been destroyed under court orders in recent years (see F18News 17 March 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=527 , 17 November 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=455 , 16 March 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=277 and 9 June 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=75). (END)
For more background, see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=105
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=uzbeki
1 April 2005
At least twelve Jehovah's Witness congregations were targeted in coordinated police raids on the evening of Thursday 24 March to coincide with the most important Jehovah's Witness religious observance of the year, the memorial of Christ's death. Two Jehovah's Witnesses from Karshi are now serving ten day sentences in retaliation for their participation, while others were reportedly beaten by police. Begzot Kadyrov of the government's religious affairs committee admitted that "very many" Jehovah's Witnesses had been detained on one day but categorically denied that the raids heralded a new campaign against the group. "Police raids on the commemoration service of Christ's death happen here every year," he told Forum 18 News Service.
24 March 2005
Freed with a fellow Jehovah's Witness at the end of February after five days in prison on charges of "disruptive behaviour", Oleg Umarov was again summoned by police in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 4 March. Two secret police officers then pressured him to renounce his faith, Jehovah's Witness spokesman Andrei Shirobokov told Forum 18 News Service. They warned they would soon seize other Jehovah's Witnesses and pointed out to Umarov articles of the criminal and administrative codes under which they could be prosecuted. Police and secret police officers have a history of trying to pressure Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and believers of other minority faiths who come from a traditionally Muslim background to convert to their "historic" faith.
17 March 2005
For the third time in recent years, religious literature confiscated from Baptists returning to Uzbekistan has been confiscated. The literature was seized on 6 March from seven church members from Tashkent, together with the car they were travelling in. The seven – who were quizzed for six hours - now face an administrative court, though a customs official insisted to Forum 18 News Service they were being investigated not for importing religious literature but for crossing the border on an unmarked road. "For us as believers, Christian literature is a great treasure, and so we are highly concerned that this time too our literature will be burnt," local Baptists told Forum 18. Religious affairs official Begzot Kadyrov told Forum 18 that as members of an unregistered church, the seven have no right to import any religious literature, which is subject to vigorous official censorship in Uzbekistan.