UZBEKISTAN: Baptists forced to pay for own imprisonment
Judge Bahtierjon Batyrov, who sentenced five Baptist men to ten days' imprisonment on 16 August for attending a service in a private home in a village near Namangan, has defended his decision. "It is true that the courts generally hand down more lenient sentences to such offenders," he told Forum 18 News Service. "But in our Pap district the number of such cases has increased lately and for this reason I decided to sentence the offenders to a harsher punishment." He also fined three Baptist women. He ordered the men to pay for their own imprisonment.
The five men, together with three Baptist women, were arrested on 15 August during a service in a home in the village of Khalkabad in the Pap district of Namangan region, in Uzbekistan's section of the Fergana valley. The 16 August hearing, chaired by the head of the Pap district criminal court Bahtierjon Batyrov, was held in Uzbek, even though of those accused only Solijonov understands the language. All five men were sentenced to 10 days' imprisonment, with each being ordered to pay 816 sums for each day of detention in temporary cells in Namangan (63 Norwegian kroner, 8 Euros or 8 US dollars for 10 days). The women Baptists, Irina Boiko, N. Stanislavskaya and the owner of the apartment A. Osnovina, were each handed down a fine under Article 240 of 6,440 sums (51 Norwegian kroner, 6 Euros or 7 US dollars).
The Khalkabad congregation belongs to the Council of Churches (or unregistered Baptists), which split from the All-Union Council of Baptists in 1961, when further state-sponsored controls were introduced by the then Baptist leadership. It has refused state registration ever since, believing that such registration leads to unwarranted state interference. According to one of its pastors in Moscow, it has 3,705 congregations throughout the former Soviet Union.
Judge Batyrov insisted his decision to fine and imprison the Baptists was correct. "I have acted strictly in accordance with the law," he told Forum 18 from Pap on 21 August. "The law on religion in Uzbekistan forbids the activity of unregistered religious organisations. The punishment for this law-breaking is set out both in the administrative code and the criminal code."
When Forum 18 commented that Uzbek courts customarily only hand down fines in such cases without resorting to detention, Batyrov responded: "It is true that the courts generally hand down more lenient sentences to such offenders. But in our Pap district the number of such cases has increased lately and for this reason I decided to sentence the offenders to a harsher punishment."
11 August 2003
A Pentecostal pastor intends to seek political asylum outside Uzbekistan, he has told Forum News Service, due to "intolerable conditions". Officials have told him they will not register his church because they were "not interested in the spread of Christianity". Pastor Bakhtier Tuichiev has been repeatedly warned that he would be subject to administrative and even criminal punishment if he continues his work.
8 August 2003
Uzbek authorities in the east of the country, in Ferghana, are preventing Hare Krishna followers from privately meeting together to exercise their faith, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, amongst other ways by imposing a fines of seven times the minimum monthly wage. One official commented that "even 4-5 people do not have the right to conduct religious meetings without informing the authorities" and that "Having lunch together is not forbidden in Uzbekistan, but we need to clarify whether the Krishna devotees' lunch in Fergana was really just that".
25 July 2003
In Uzbekistan's campaign against religious minorities regarded as trying to convert Muslims, Uzbek-language Hare Krishna leaflets have been confiscated, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. This is even though the leaflets are not illegal under Uzbek law and this action violates Uzbekistan's international commitments. Other victims of this campaign have been Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestant Christians. Uzbek officials privately justify their actions to Forum 18 by claiming that in the difficult economic situation, the conversion of Muslims to Christianity or other faiths could provoke riots