UZBEKISTAN: Fined Nukus Adventists again in court
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.
The February raid on the unregistered Adventist congregation came during a series of raids on other Protestant churches in Karakalpakstan (see F18News 26 March 2003). Only one Protestant church has been able to gain registration in the autonomous republic.
On 8 February – a Saturday, the day Adventists mark their Sabbath - 12 officers of the National Security Service (the former KGB) burst into a private apartment in Nukus where 12 Adventists were meeting and began to search the premises without producing a search warrant. The officials confiscated several hundred leaflets setting out Adventist doctrines, as well as eight Bibles. The officials wrote down the names of all the Adventists present and told them they would shortly be summoned to the city procuracy.
On 15 March the Adventists were called in for questioning at the procuracy. At the same time, the procuracy sent the confiscated literature for "expert analysis" by Nurula Jamalov, religious specialist at Karakalpakstan's cabinet of ministers. According to Forum 18's sources, Jamalov replied to the procuracy that the literature confiscated from the Adventists should not be distributed in Uzbekistan, and that the Bible was also banned.
At the end of April, Nukus city court retrospectively fined each of the Adventists 22,660 sums (171 Norwegian kroner, 20 Euros or 23 US dollars) – four times the minimum monthly wage - under Article 240 of the code of administrative offences, which punishes violation of the law on religious organisations. Although the fines were handed down at the end of April, the court minutes were dated 9 April.
Forum 18's sources believe it is no coincidence that the sentence was drawn up retrospectively because, under Article 271 of the administrative code, any administrative case not considered within two months is automatically closed.
Jamalov, the expert on religious affairs for the Karakalpakstan government, categorically denied that the Bible had been included in the list of banned literature in the report he had compiled. "I did indeed write that the Kazakh-language brochures confiscated from the Adventists, which were published in Turkey, should not be distributed in Uzbekistan," he told Forum 18 from Nukus on 9 July, "but I did not write that the Adventists may not use the Bible. I can show you the expert report." He said he had returned to the police all the literature that had been sent for expert analysis. "I do not know what happened to it then." However, Forum 18 has established that the Bibles have still not been returned to the Adventists.
That Jamalov wrote in the conclusion to his report that Christian literature in the Kazakh language should not be distributed in Uzbekistan is hardly a coincidence. Kazakhs make up around 30 per cent of the population of Karakalpakstan, making them as numerous as the Uzbeks and Karakalpaks. In Uzbekistan there is an unwritten directive: "If you are Uzbek, you must be Muslim; if you are Russian, you must be Orthodox." The authorities are conducting a particularly harsh campaign against religious minorities which they regard as trying to convert Muslims to their faith.
In the Adventist community raided by the law enforcement agencies in Nukus, the overwhelming majority of the congregation are of indigenous ethnicities, who are of Muslim background.
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.