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.
8 April 2003
Five years after it was closed by the authorities, Muslims in the Fergana valley city of Namangan have told Forum 18 News Service that their repeated attempts to register the Panjera mosque – where up to 500 people used to worship - have come to nothing. The day after a visit by OSCE officials in February, local officials warned the Muslims that "they could only meet with foreigners in the presence of the authorities". Local officials denied to Forum 18 that they knew anything about the repeated registration applications.
7 April 2003
Six Muslims in the village of Katarzan in the Uzbek section of the Fergana valley, including the local imam, were fined after holding prayers at their closed mosque in February to mark the Muslim festival of Uraza Bairam (Feast of Sacrifice or Id al-Adha). Local Muslims, who preferred not to be named, told Forum 18 News Service that some 300 believers had gathered for prayers on 12 February at the Aman-Buak mosque – closed by the authorities five years ago - because they had not managed to get to the nearest registered mosque five kilometres (three miles) away. The judge told Forum 18 that he could not remember if he had fined the six. "I have a lot of things to do and I simply cannot remember everything."
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."
26 March 2003
A group of police officers and officers of the secret police, the National Security Service, raided an apartment on 28 February in the town of Khojali. A Baptist who asked not to be named told Forum 18 News Service that ten Baptist women of the local ethnicities, Kazakh and Karakalpak, had gathered in the apartment for a Christian meeting. They were insulted and held for 27 hours, although a local police officer denied this to Forum 18. "Nobody insulted them and there were no violations of the law by the police," he declared. This is the latest in a series of raids on Protestant Christians in Uzbekistan's western autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan.
19 March 2003
Five Muslim men in their twenties and thirties have been sentenced in Tashkent to long periods of imprisonment on charges relating to what the authorities allege was their membership of the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which aims to establish an Islamic state in Central Asia. The men maintained they were simply ordinary Muslims seeking to study their faith. "The accused did indeed know members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but they themselves were not engaged in political activity," Ismail Adylov of the Independent Human Rights Organisation of Uzbekistan told Forum 18 News Service. "They were simply trying to gain a more profound knowledge of Islam." Thousands of Muslims are serving sentences in Uzbekistan on charges of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir or distributing its leaflets.
17 March 2003
Pentecostals in Muinak in Uzbekistan's western region of Karakalpakstan fear that two church members, Kuralbai Asanbayev and Rashid Keulimjayev, may again face punishment under the administrative code for meeting together as Christians, less than three months after the two were beaten and imprisoned for five days. Local officials denied to Forum 18 News Service that the two were beaten in December. The leader of the local Pentecostal community, Salavat Serikbayev, has told Forum 18 that Protestants in the town have virtually no way of meeting together and live like the first catacomb Christians under the Roman Empire.
14 March 2003
Bakhtier Tuichiev, pastor of the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in the city of Andijan in the Uzbek part of the Fergana valley, was summoned to the regional internal affairs administration on 10 January and warned that if the church did not halt its activity in the absence of registration, then "serious trouble" was in store for him. On 11 January the deputy head of the city department of internal affairs, Major Sumanov, came to a church service and asked why the church was operating without registration. The church has been trying to register for more than a year – so far in vain. "Of course, I have submitted the registration documents, but I am sure we will be refused," Tuichiev told Forum 18 News Service back in January. As of mid-March, the church had not been registered. Tuichiev reports that he is under National Security Service surveillance.
13 March 2003
Charges against a pastor of a registered Baptist church for holding a small-scale service last December in a private home owned by a church member have now been withdrawn, yet Dmitri Pitirimov, spokesman for the Uzbek Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, said the church remains pessimistic. "Although the administrative charges against Pastor Nikolai Obyedkov have happily now been dropped," he told Forum 18 News Service on 9 March, "persecution of Baptists is continuing in a whole series of districts of Uzbekistan." Pitirimov pointed to several other raids on Baptist meetings in recent months, one in the run-up to Christmas which for the families present, he complained, "spoiled the occasion in advance".
12 March 2003
"We have now lost all hope of registering our church. The authorities deliberately keep coming up with new excuses to refuse us registration," Khym-Mun Kim – a leader of the Peace Presbyterian church in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan in north west Uzbekistan - told Forum 18 News Service. "The authorities say we have no right to hold meetings without registration. And in fact the police could descend on any of our services." Kim believes that the Karakalpakstan authorities are deliberately creating "intolerable" conditions for religious minorities. Only one non-Muslim religious community has managed to gain registration in the autonomous republic.