UZBEKISTAN: "Don't report interrogation on the Internet," ex-KGB tells Protestant
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.
The Asia church was founded in Tashkent in 1994, as a result of work by American missionaries. The church has gradually become active in Tashkent region, Karakalpakstan in north-western Uzbekistan, the Fergana Valley in the east of the country, and in the Surkhandarya region of southern Uzbekistan. Today, the church has 27 affiliates, which together make up the Association of Independent Churches, with around 1,500 members.
"This is far from the first time that members of our church have been summoned by NSS officers," the Association's co-ordinator, Vladimir Zhikhar, told Forum 18 on 10 July. He believes the main reason for the NSS interest in the church's activity is the fact that it operates without registration. "We are not fundamentally opposed to registration, but so far at least we have not managed to register our church anywhere," Zhikhar told Forum 18.
The Asia church tried to register in Tashkent in 2001, but was unable to gain the agreement of the mahalla committee (a mahalla is a district of a city), which is required for registration. The church tried twice in 2001 and 2002 to register in the town of Almalyk, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Tashkent, but was refused on the grounds that its pastor had not received specialist religious education, as required by Article 8 of Uzbekistan's religion law.
"I don't presume to say that the authorities are deliberately refusing us registration, but this problem will have to be resolved in the end," Zhikhar told Forum 18. He said that in the near future all 27 pastors of the Association of Independent Churches plan to visit the Uzbek government's Committee for Religious Affairs in Tashkent to ask the leaders of the committee for help in registering their churches.
However, the chairman of the committee for religious affairs, Shoazim Minovarov, said he had never heard of the Association. "Having 27 unregistered churches functioning illegally is too many," he told Forum 18 in Tashkent on 14 July. He contrasted this number with the 50 or so Protestant churches that have registration in Uzbekistan. "Let them come to us and we'll discuss their situation," he declared.
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".