11 December 2003
Uzbekistan is denying clergy access to death row prisoners, Tamara Chikunova, head of the Uzbek NGO Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture, has told Forum 18 News Service. This denial violates two articles of the Uzbek Criminal Code, which specifically allow those sentenced to death the right to meet a member of the clergy. Fr Nikolai Rybchinsky, of the Central Asian diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, told Forum 18 that in the case of two death row prisoners "so far at least, Orthodox priests have not been allowed access to these prisoners. We have made an official appeal on this matter to the state administration for carrying out punishments, but have received no reply from there." Fr Rybchinsky also said that "in general, priests face significant difficulties gaining access to prisons." Forum 18 has learned that death row prisoners are denied access to religious literature. When a Muslim death row prisoner asked a senior prison official to give him a Koran, the official reportedly replied: "Are you joking? After all, that is a political thing."
29 October 2003
Hizb ut-Tahir, which is widespread in Central Asia, has told Forum 18 that it aims to introduce a worldwide Caliphate and ban all faiths apart from Islam, Judaism and Christianity, all religious practice being regulated by Sharia law. Buddhism, Hinduism, the Hare Krishna faith and what the party sees as sects within Islam would all be banned. Hizb ut-Tahir members also explained to Forum 18 that the party would give all non-Muslim states a choice between either joining the Caliphate under Sharia law, or paying a tax to the Caliphate. Failure to pay the tax would be punished by military attacks. The USA, the United Kingdom and Israel were described to Forum 18 as the work of the devil and "European democracy" as "a farce". Within the Caliphate, Christians and Jews would be allowed to drink alcohol, if that was required for religious rituals, and to regulate within their own communities marriage, divorce and the assignment of possessions.
21 October 2003
After unilaterally closing six of the nine mosques in his district close to Jalal-abad in southern Kyrgyzstan, Asan Erinbayev, head of Karadarya rural district, has now begun to destroy them, regional Muslim leader Dilmurat haji Orozov complained. He said the six mosques closed down last May were registered with the government's committee for religious affairs. "Yet Erinbayev is still flagrantly flouting the laws," Orozov told Forum 18 News Service. "I simply don't know what to do. All I can do is go to Karadarya and fight it out with him." Erinbayev justified the destruction of the mosques, telling Forum 18 they had been built illegally on state-owned land, claims the Muslims deny.
21 October 2003
When he was kidnapped in the town of Uzgen in southern Kyrgyzstan on 7 September, local mullah Sadykjan Rahmanov became at least the sixth devout Muslim seized in the area, apparently by Uzbek secret police agents from across the border. "The investigation's main line of inquiry is that Sadykjan Rahmanov has been kidnapped by the Uzbek special services," the deputy head of Uzgen district Mamatali Turgunbayev told Forum 18 News Service. "The Uzbek special services act in Kyrgyzstan as if they are at home." He speculates that the Uzbek authorities believe the mullah was connected to the violent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The mullah's brother Salimjon Rahmanov claims he is innocent. "He is simply a believer who has never been involved in politics," he told Forum 18.
22 August 2003
The appeal to the Ministry of Finance from the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ against what it claimed was an unjust tax demand for 110,000 US dollars was rejected on 15 August. "The taxes are simply a means of crushing the church," senior pastor Vasili Kuzin told Forum 18 News Service. Kyrgyzstan's tax code exempts charitable bodies from tax, while the religion law prescribes taxes only on religious organisations' business activities. "It is true that the activity of religious organisations is not subject to taxation, and if the situation is indeed as you say, then the tax inspectorate is breaking the law," Natalya Shadrova of the Committee for Religious Affairs told Forum 18.
17 July 2003
Pastor Vasili Kuzin of the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ says his Church's open letter to President Askar Akayev vowing to seek asylum abroad if pressure on the Church is not ended is "a last resort". "We have no other way of attracting international attention to our unfortunate situation," he told Forum 18 News Service. Banned from registering in several towns and with its churches closed down or threatened, the Church now faces a tax demand of more than 100,000 US dollars, although religious groups are tax-exempt. Sharshek Usenov of the government's religious affairs committee rejects the Church's claims. "No-one is persecuting the Church of Jesus Christ and I do not understand what Kuzin aims to achieve with this letter," he told Forum 18.
17 June 2003
With its congregations in Karakol and Osh closed down after failing to gain registration, a senior pastor of the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ has accused the authorities of launching a campaign to close down the Church and its affiliates. "We have not managed to register our affiliates in the provinces and the authorities are taking active advantage of that," Vasili Kuzin told Forum 18 News Service. The religious affairs committee warned Kuzin that if members of the closed Osh church continue to meet in private apartments, his Bishkek congregation will have its registration removed. Murmurzak Mamayusupov, chairman of the religious affairs committee, denied there was any deliberate obstruction. "No-one is putting obstacles in the way of their registration," he told Forum 18.
22 May 2003
The regional Muslim leader has accused Asan Erinbayev, head of Karadarya district in southern Kyrgyzstan, of "blatantly arbitrary" action in closing six out of nine local mosques. "He behaves like a medieval khan," Dilmurat haji Orozov told Forum 18 News Service from Jalal-abad. He said the Muslim community would be campaigning for the return of the mosques to believers. When Forum 18 visited the district on 9 May, Erinbayev arrived by car within ten minutes and forced Forum 18's car to stop. He made no attempt to deny the closures, but claimed the mosques had been built on state-owned land. "Now that the mosques have been closed, I can monitor the activities of the imams on my territory," he told Forum 18.
12 May 2003
Six Muslims whose daughters have encountered problems for wearing the Islamic headscarf, the hijab, in school in Karasu have appealed for help to the imam of the town's central mosque, his son Roshad Kamalov told Forum 18 News Service. School director Khalima Ibragimova invited the girls to the staff room, where she and a police officer with responsibility for minors searched the girls' bags and confiscated religious literature they found there. Ibragimova then told the girls she would exclude them from school if they did not stop wearing the hijab. Ibragimova defended her actions, telling Forum 18 she could see nothing unlawful in them. She maintained that school uniform does not allow girls to wear the hijab. However, Kyrgyzstan's senior religious affairs official disagrees. "The schoolgirls have the right to wear the hijab to school," Mumurzak Mamayusupov told Forum 18.
12 May 2003
Muslim pupils who perform daily prayers complain they are now being persecuted in schools in Bazar-Kurgan in southern Kyrgyzstan. Local resident Salimakhar Batirova told Forum 18 News Service how the director of her daughter's school had entered the class and asked who practised Islam. Five pupils came to the front of the class, whereupon the director wrote down their names and left. "Then the teacher, Mashrapkhan Isakulova, started to hit the children on their heads and faces. She told them to conceal the fact that they were carrying out Islamic practices. She kept the children in after lessons and sent for their parents." The head of the district administration categorically denied that any order had been given to find out which pupils are studying Islam. "We are simply concerned about the activity of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party," Khaldarabai Shamsuddinov insisted to Forum 18. "Its activity has become much more dangerous since the launch of military action by the United States and Great Britain."
22 April 2003
Despite authoritarian rule, high levels of censorship of the local media and periodic barring of access to foreign-based political opposition websites, Central Asia's governments have so far only enacted limited censorship over access to religious websites based outside the region, a Forum 18 News Service investigation has found. Uzbekistan permanently bars access to the London-based website of Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, though not to its Pakistan-related site. In several Uzbek Internet cafes, Forum 18 even came across the notice: "Viewing of religious and pornographic sites is forbidden". But with low Internet use in Central Asia and a population too poor to be able to afford access, Central Asia's governments – which to a greater or lesser extent try to control all religious activity - may believe they do not need to impose religious censorship on the Internet.
27 March 2003
A week-long investigation by Forum 18 News Service across the Fergana valley – the most devoutly Muslim region of Central Asia that straddles Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – has revealed widespread popular hostility to the US war on Iraq, which one local called "a war of civilisations". Yet there was no evidence that this hostility to the war – which enjoys the tacit support of the Uzbek government – will lead to new instability in the Fergana valley. "While the situation will quickly become strained in the rest of the Muslim world, here everything will stay virtually unchanged," a local Muslim leader told Forum 18 in the Kyrgyz town of Osh. Even members of the banned Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir conceded that people are more concerned about surviving in the harsh economic climate than about their fellow-Muslims. "You must understand that our people are asleep," Uzbek Hizb ut-Tahrir members told Forum 18. "Even the co-operation between [Uzbek president]Islam Karimov and the US and the extermination of Iraqi Muslims have not awoken Uzbeks."