UZBEKISTAN: Officials "condone" kangaroo court punishments
When Christian convert Khaldibek Primbetov appealed to the prosecutor's office against fellow-villagers who had beaten him, told him to "return" to Islam or leave his home village in the north-western region of Karakalpakstan, an investigator showed no interest in his complaints, a Protestant source told Forum 18 News Service. The investigator instead told Primbetov he had "betrayed" the faith of his ancestors and threatened to imprison him after he refused to withdraw his complaint. Local prosecutor Rustam Atajanov confirmed to Forum 18 his investigator had visited, but claimed that "he did not threaten local Christians".
Primbetov, who is from the village of Yanboshkala in the Tatirkul district on the edge of Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan autonomous republic, was beaten up several times by his fellow-villagers, told to "return" to Islam or leave Yanboshkala (see F18News 20 April 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=546).
When Primbetov sent a complaint against the villagers who assaulted him to Karakalpakstan's prosecutor's office, an investigator from the Tatirkul district prosecutor's office visited Yanboshkala. But, Forum 18's source reported, it turned out that the investigator had no intention of following cases where force had been used against Christians, instead choosing to investigate the activity of the local Protestant community.
In particular, the investigator started accusing local Protestant Kurbongul Yermanova of incitement. He told another Protestant, Nurumbetova, that reading the New Testament was forbidden, and that she was "ruining society" by reading Christian literature. When Nurumbetova tried to argue with the investigator, he told her that he would hit her if she did not quieten down. Interestingly, the investigator refused to tell Nurumbetova his name and tried to force her to write a statement for him, saying that no-one in the village was putting any pressure on Christians.
The investigator also told Primbetov to withdraw his complaint to the prosecutor's office in writing. When he refused to do so, the investigator said he would send him to prison. The investigator also told Primbetov that he had "betrayed" the faith of his ancestors.
The Tatirkul district prosecutor, Rustam Atajanov, confirmed that an investigation had been conducted into Primbetov's complaint, but denied the Protestants' accusations. "It is true that we sent an investigator to Yanboshkala, but he did not threaten local Christians; he just investigated Primbetov's complaint," Atajanov claimed to Forum 18 on 10 May. "The circumstances cited by Primbetov have not been confirmed. Nevertheless, we have come to the conclusion the Christians' activity in Yanboshkala is lawful and we do not intend to prevent it."
Begzot Kadyrov, the chief specialist at the government's religious affairs committee in the capital Tashkent, claimed that no-one in Uzbekistan was putting any pressure on Christians who had converted from another faith. "Our laws do forbid proselytism – activities designed to turn believers of one faith to another," he told Forum 18 from Tashkent on 10 May. "But if a person has changed his faith anyway, then that is his personal decision, and no-one has the right to stop him."
He said that "unfortunately" the committee has no information about Primbetov's case as he has not complained to it. "If he sends an appeal to our committee, we would certainly investigate the matter and would not permit the persecution of Primbetov or other Christians in this village," Kadyrov told Forum 18.
Karakalpakstan has seen a long-running anti-Protestant campaign. It is almost impossible for Christian churches to gain official registration in the autonomous republic and therefore to meet legally for worship. As part of this campaign, Protestant university students have also been expelled from their university (see F18News 13 December 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=476).
For a personal commentary by a Muslim scholar, advocating religious freedom for all faiths as the best antidote to Islamic religious extremism in Uzbekistan, see http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=338
For more background, see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=546
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=uzbeki
20 April 2005
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the government's wide-ranging defiance of its international religious freedom commitments. Unregistered religious activity is illegal and believers are routinely punished even for religious meetings in private homes. Missionary work is banned, while religious teaching is tightly controlled. Religious literature is censored by the government's religious affairs committee. Virtually all religious communities are subject to harsh government control, especially Islam. The government even controls the numbers of Muslims who can travel on the haj pilgrimage.
7 April 2005
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.
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.