UZBEKISTAN: "It's our secret"
In Uzbekistan, police in the central Syrdarya Region have raided and are preparing to prosecute members of an unregistered Baptist Church, Forum 18 News Service has learned. They also confiscated religious literature for "expert analysis", even though it had been bought from the registered Bible Society. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has spoken of the difficulties his church faces in Uzbekistan, noting in particular a ban on missionary activity and opening Orthodox schools, and inability to get state permission for new parishes. The state Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss this with Forum 18. Elsewhere, two short-term Baptist prisoners of conscience have been released. Judge Bobojonov as he initially introduced himself, of the court which convicted the Baptists, changed his mind about what his name was after Forum 18 asked him why the Baptists were jailed. Police Major Asliddin Mirzayev - who stopped the two Baptists - refused to explain why he did this. "It's our secret", he retorted to Forum 18.
Police in Syrdarya, after raiding a meeting of local unregistered Baptists, are now preparing to prosecute church pastor Andrey Shevchenko and other church members, local Baptists who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 8 February. They are being prosecuted under the Code of Administrative Offences' articles 240 ("Violation of the law on religious organisations") and 184-2 ("Illegal storage, production, import, or distribution of religious materials").
Bakhrom Nurmatov of Syrdarya Police's Criminal Investigation Department, along with eleven other police officers, on 6 January broke into Shevchenko's flat. Around 25 people, mostly Baptists, were present that evening to celebrate the baptism of Christ, a local Baptist told Forum 18.
Police made some of the Baptists write statements, and confiscated 192 Christian books, and 10 DVD and CD discs. Among the confiscated books were five Bibles, 90 copies of the Gospel of St. John, eight Christian song books, and five copies of the New Testaments in Uzbek.
Pastor Shevchenko showed police an official invoice that the confiscated material was bought from the officially registered Bible Society of Uzbekistan. However, police told him that the literature will be sent to the State Religious Affairs Committee in the capital Tashkent, for "expert analysis". Such alleged "expert analyses" are routinely used as an excuse to confiscate any book the authorities decide to confiscate (see eg. F18News 20 May 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1298). A very strict censorship regime is applied against religious literature and other material of all faiths (see F18News 1 July 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1153).
Police officer Nurmatov refused to comment on the raid. "I will only talk to you about the case if you come to our office," he told Forum 18 on 8 February. Nurmatov refused to state on what authority or basis he and his colleagues broke into a private flat.
Orthodox face bans and problems gaining permission for parishes
Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church – which has state permission to exist in Uzbekistan - has spoken of problems it faces in Uzbekistan. Addressing the Bishop's Council in the Russian capital Moscow on 2 February, Kirill thanked Uzbekistan's authorities but also stated that "there is a ban on missionary activity, it is impossible to organize Orthodox secondary schools, and there are difficulties with registering new parishes" (see the Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1170). The Patriarch said that he hoped to "resolve these issues through constructive dialogue" with the authorities.
Dimitri Khabarov of the Russian Orthodox Church's Alexandr Nevski Parish in Tashkent told Forum 18 on 9 February that "I think we have two parishes which we have not been able to register, but I am not sure". He referred Forum 18 to the Tashkent Diocese, but no-one was available to discuss the situation on 9 February.
Officials of the state Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss the matter on 9 February. An official who answered Committee Chair Artyk Yusupov's telephone, who did not give his name, said that Yusupov was not available to talk. He referred Forum 18 to their specialist Begzod Kodyrov. However, neither Kodyrov's nor other telephones at the Committee were then answered.
Two short-term prisoners of conscience released
Two Baptists, Eduard Kim and Artur Alpayev, who on 31 January were given seven days in jail, were released on 6 February, Baptists told Forum 18 on 8 February. Kim and Alpayev were "treated normally" while in detention, the Baptists said. "We are not sure if we will make an appeal against the convictions," one Baptist, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 (see F18News 3 February 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1535).
During their initial detention in Denau [Dinau], 120 km [75 miles] from their homes in Fergana [Farghona], Alpayev and Kim "had to sleep on tables overnight" before their trial.
"Seven or eight Christian books and three or four CDs" were confiscated, Baptists complained. All material in Uzbek was confiscated, but Bibles in Russian were returned. The Baptists "only gave one Christian book in Russian to a Russian lady in the Denau city bazaar", their fellow believers told Forum 18. "She was helpful to them giving them directions to the place they wanted to go, and so that's how they thanked her in return." Later, police stopped the two and searched their car, finding the Christian literature.
"It's our secret"
Major Asliddin Mirzayev of the Surkhandarya Regional Criminal Police, who stopped the two Baptists in Denau, protested when asked by Forum 18 what was wrong with presenting a Christian book as a gift. "It was not only one book", he claimed on 8 February. Asked why he stopped the Baptists, he retorted: "It's our secret". He then refused to talk further to Forum 18.
The National Security Service (NSS) secret police tries to maintain a close and intensive surveillance over religious believers of all faiths. Religious believers have identified the NSS Department to Fight Terrorism as the main branch controlling religious activity within the secret police. The NSS has refused to tell Forum 18 why it spies on religious communities (see F18News 5 September 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1014).
Lieutenant-Colonel Nuriddin Tukhtashev, Chief of Denau Police, said on 8 February that the Baptists were stopped for distributing literature "without having documents allowing them to do so". Asked why the Baptists were kept for many hours in a police station and had to sleep on tables, Lt-Col. Tukhtashev laughed and said, "Believe me, nothing like that happened. We questioned them, and immediately sent to the court." He did not comment when told that the Baptists were detained on 30 January, and were taken to court next day on 31 January.
Judge Bobojonov of Denau city Court, as he initially identified himself on 8 February, wrote down Forum 18's name but then refused to comment on the case. Changing his mind about what his name was, he claimed that "actually I am not Judge Bobojonov, but the Court's Secretary". His change of mind about what his name was happened after Forum 18 asked him why such heavy punishments were given to Alpayev and Kim. Asked if Forum 18 could talk to Bobojonov, the newly unnamed official said that Bobojonov was not available to talk.
Exit Visa regime still operating
Border guards at Tashkent International Airport stopped Murot Turdiyev, a Protestant from Tashkent, on 5 February at 4 am after he checked in for a Turkish Airlines flight from Tashkent to Istanbul, local Protestants told Forum 18 on 9 February. Turdiyev was then was handed over to the Transport Police, where Captain Sultonmurod Baykobulov opened an administrative case under the Administrative Code's Article 224-1 ("Violation of regime at checkpoints at the state borders") against Turdiyev.
"A Border Guard stopped me because I did not have an Exit Visa in my Passport", Turdiyev explained to Forum 18 on 9 February. He said that he was questioned at a police station and questioned. "I was kept for six hours at the police station, and later was told that I should expect a call from the authorities to appear before a court on 14 February".
Uzbekistan is the only former Soviet state to have a formal Exit Visa requirement, Turkmenistan having on paper abolished its Exit Visa – but maintaining an exit blacklist to achieve the same goal – in 2004. Human rights defenders, active religious believers, and others the authorities dislike have long been targets of Uzbekistan's Exit Visa regime (see F18News 6 March 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1264)
Turdiyev noted that he had previously had a standard two-year Exit Visa, which expired in January. He then asked the Tashkent Regional Visas Department on 7 January to extend his Exit Visa. The Department was "supposed within 15 days" to extend the Visa. "However, the Department took a long time with no explanation, although I called several times about it", he stated. "But yesterday, after I got into this problem the Visa Department called me saying that I could collect my Exit Visa".
Asked why he tried to leave Uzbekistan without an Exit Visa, Turdiyev said that he had heard recently that Turkey did not require an Entry Visa for Uzbek citizens, "so I thought maybe no Exit Visa was needed". Turkey does not require Uzbek citizens to have a Visa, so long as their stay in the country does not exceed 30 days.
Several members of Turdiyev's family have been punished for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, his niece Madina Turdiyeva, for example being fined in February 2010 (see F18News 15 March 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1421).
Tashkent Airport's border guards on 9 February declined to make any comments on the case, saying that it was being dealt with by the Transport Police. The Transport Police also declined to make any comment. (END)
For a personal commentary by a Muslim scholar, advocating religious freedom for all as the best antidote to Islamic religious extremism in Uzbekistan, see http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=338.
For more background, see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1170.
Full reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Uzbekistan can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=33.
A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1351.
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=uzbeki.
4 February 2011
Russia continues to raid meetings of readers of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi in 2011, Forum 18 News Service has found. Azerbaijani national Rashid Abdulov was arrested in Ulyanovsk on 20 January and is still in detention awaiting charge. Other Muslims gathered in the same flat were briefly detained in a raid in which police reportedly used physical violence was used against them, including against children present. Abdulov's lawyer Vladimir Zavilinich told Forum 18 that: "It is, in my opinion, religious persecution, and fits in with the trend of arrests in Novosibirsk and Krasnodar". Abdulov was found to be in possession of materials listed on titles which feature on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, and his lawyer expects him to come to trial in "a maximum of six to nine months, during which time Abdulov will remain in prison". Fellow Nursi reader Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov from Uzbekistan also remains in prison in Russia. This follows an extradition request from his home country and a request he filed to receive refugee status in Russia. Jehovah's Witnesses are also subject to such raids.
3 February 2011
Former prisoner of conscience Dmitry Shestakov, who was recently released from a four-year jail sentence continues to be placed by Uzbekistan under the severe restrictions of 'administrative supervision', Forum 18 News Service has learned. Among the restrictions Shestakov faces he has to for one year report to police in person almost every week, he may not be outside his home between 21.00 in the evening and 06.00 in the morning, he may not leave his home town without written police permission, and he cannot visit public places such as restaurants. The term of administrative supervision can be extended, and the punishments for breaking the supervision regime range up to imprisonment for four years. The authorities have refused to explain the reason for the restrictions to Forum 18. "He was released from prison but is not free," a local Protestant complained. Current known long and short-term prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief are Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestants. The latest two short-term prisoners of conscience are two Baptists jailed for distributing religious literature.
21 December 2010
At the end of a two month trial which was closed to human rights defenders, 18 Muslims were given prison terms of between three years three months and nine years accused of membership of a "religious extremist" group, Saidjakhon Zainabitdinov, a human rights defender from Andijan, told Forum 18 News Service. A further seven were given suspended sentences. All 25 were members of Shohidiya, an Islamic religious movement which follows the Koran but not the hadiths, the oral traditions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad's sayings. Court and Prosecutor's Office officials refused to discuss the cases with Forum 18. Meanwhile, Baptists are again asking the Supreme Court to re-examine the ten year sentence handed down on Tohar Haydarov. He is not being given letters sent to him at his labour camp "because they were full of religious words like God, and needed to go through censorship," camp officials told his fellow Baptists. Despite also not being given a Bible sent to him, one camp official told Forum 18: "We have religious freedom in our prison."