18 July 2003
High Turkmen visa fees make it prohibitively expensive for many Uzbek Muslims living close to the western border with Turkmenistan from crossing over to visit family graveyards and places of pilgrimage, Forum 18 News Service has learnt in the Khorezm region of western Uzbekistan. "We can see our forebears' graves through the barbed wire, but if we want to reach them and perform religious rituals, we have to pay money to the Turkmens," the imam of Manak village, Nodyr Formanov, told Forum 18. "The visa regime between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan clearly encroaches on believers' rights," complained Vladimir Artemyev, director of the Uzbek branch of a UNESCO project for the preservation of ancient monuments.
16 July 2003
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. Religious literature is censored, while foreign Islamic websites are blocked. Virtually all religious communities are subject to harsh government control, especially Islam. The leadership of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims is virtually an agency of state authority. The government tries to prevent the spread of Protestant, Jehovah's Witness, Hare Krishna and other religions regarded as non-traditional.
15 July 2003
Interrogated for four hours by an officer of the National Security Service (the former KGB), a member of the Asia Protestant church in Tashkent, Nelya Denisova, was told not to report the interrogation. "Just don't publish an article about our conversation on the Internet," NSS officer Vadim Negreyev told Denisova at the end of the interrogation. "No-one here tortured or raped you! We just had a friendly chat." Vladimir Zhikhar, coordinator of the 27-strong Association of Independent Churches, to which the Asia Church belongs, told Forum 18 News Service members of his church are often called in by the secret police.
10 July 2003
Their Sabbath meeting raided by the secret police on 8 February and fined 23 US dollars each in April, a group of Adventists in Nukus have been summoned to appear again at the city court on 20 July. Deputy procurator Sultan Ibragimov refused to tell Forum 18 News Service why they were being brought to court again. Religious affairs official Nurula Jamalov admitted to Forum 18 that he had told the procuracy that Adventist leaflets confiscated during the raid "should not be distributed in Uzbekistan" but denied that he had banned the Bible, eight copies of which seized.
9 July 2003
Before the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Religion or Belief on 17-18 July 2003, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org/ surveys some of the more serious abuses of religious freedom that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration.
26 June 2003
Around 50 wives demonstrated in Namangan on 17 June calling for their husbands to be freed from prison. They claim the men are "prisoners of conscience", punished simply for being "faithful Muslims". "My husband was not a terrorist, he simply said prayers five times a day and attended the mosque regularly," one of the demonstrators Misor Ubaidulaeva told Forum 18 News Service. She says he has almost lost his hearing as a result of beatings in prison in Karshi, where inmates are not allowed to pray. The local police officer admitted to Forum 18 that he had pressured Ubaidulaeva and her mother-in-law to sign pledges undertaking not to take part in further "unlawful meetings".
19 June 2003
Access to two more foreign-based websites that carry news on religious developments in Uzbekistan has been barred by the authorities, Forum 18 News Service has discovered while using the Internet in Uzbekistan. One of those now barred is the US-based Islamic radical site, www.muslimuzbekistan.com, which aims to inform "about the true situation of Muslims of this region, on the many thousands of tortures which they undergo for their steadfast faithfulness to their religion". One Internet cafe owner in Tashkent told Forum 18 that he is obliged to check that his customers do not look at "forbidden" information, in accordance with instructions from the National Security Service (the former KGB). He said any customer looking at "forbidden" websites he reports to the NSS would be arrested and fined about 46 US dollars.
9 June 2003
The judge who ordered the destruction of 211 copies of a Russian Baptist magazine confiscated from local Baptist Aleksei Yermolayev on his return to the country has strongly defended his ruling. "Yermolayev tried to bring the magazines into Uzbekistan illegally," Marat Alimukhamedov told Forum 18 in Tashkent. He says the magazines would have been sent back had Yermolayev declared them at the customs post on the border. "If the literature was brought into Uzbekistan illegally, then we have the right to destroy it," he insisted. Local Baptists have protested against the court-ordered destruction of the magazine and the fine of 23 US dollars handed down. They also complained that Yermolayev was not even informed that the hearing was taking place.
2 June 2003
Jehovah's Witnesses are considering whether to demand a criminal case against the police officers who beat four of their members in Kagan, one of whom lost consciousness. The four – who were arrested on 1 May for preaching on the street – are being threatened with legal cases. "For the time being we are holding back the reports of the beatings," lawyer Rustam Satdanov told Forum 18 News Service. "But if the case goes to trial despite this, we will call for a criminal case to be brought against the police officers for beating believers." A police officer has denied that any of the Jehovah's Witnesses were beaten. "They had not committed a serious enough offence to deserve a beating!" the deputy head of Kagan's investigation isolation unit told Forum 18.
30 May 2003
Pentecostal pastor Bakhtier Tuichiev's registration application for his church in Andijan – lodged four months ago - has stalled. "Officially, no-one has refused me," he told Forum 18. "It is simply that every day I am told to come back tomorrow. I am sure the authorities are quite deliberately dragging their feet." However, an official of the city administration denied there was any deliberate obstruction. "We have been holding a sports competition, and have not had the time to devote to this issue," Izatullo Khojayev told Forum 18. "I have already told Tuichiev that we will deal with his application very soon." Police have warned the pastor that if the church continues to operate without registration, he will be brought to court.
29 May 2003
Ten days after his home in the village of Yubileiny was raided by police, who confiscated religious literature, Jehovah's Witness Shukhrat Ashurov and his colleague Alisher Argeliyev appeared on 28 May at Gazalkent town court. "According to my sources, at the next hearing Ashurov and Argeliyev will be charged with preaching to children," their lawyer Rustam Satdanov told Forum 18 News Service. "The leaflets were brought to Uzbekistan legally," Ashurov insisted to Forum 18. "As far as I know, there is no ban on the Bible, New Testament and Koran in Uzbekistan." Villagers have demanded that the two abandon the Jehovah's Witness faith and return to Islam, otherwise they will be expelled.
20 May 2003
After a major investigation, Forum 18 News Service established that the Muslim clergy is almost completely under the control of the Uzbek authorities, while the leadership of the muftiate's spiritual administration is virtually an agency of state authority. Imams do not have the right to compose the Friday addresses themselves, but are obliged to read out texts approved by the muftiate. During the US-led war in Iraq, imams felt obliged to speak in support of the campaign, despite their own and popular opposition to it. In defiance of the law, the state appoints and removes imams. Students in Islamic colleges are closely monitored for their political reliability. Many mosques have been denied registration and Forum 18 has seen some being used, as in the Soviet period, as clubs, libraries or museums. Ironically, Islam is the faith in Uzbekistan that is most thoroughly controlled by the authorities.