UZBEKISTAN: Illegal secret police raid is "legal"
Velorom Kasymova, an official who took part in a secret police raid on a Jehovah's Witness meeting, has claimed to Forum 18 News Service that stopping the meeting, interrogating the participants, and banning future meetings is legal, even though she cannot state any legal basis for this despite Forum 18's repeated requests. She claimed that members of a religious organisation can only meet at the address where the community is registered, yet the building is in fact registered to the Jehovah's Witnesses. The unrelated legal articles she quoted forbid: unlawful juridical activity; refusal to register a religious organisations statutes; running children's and young people's clubs; and running labour, literary and other clubs. Also banned is giving religious instruction without specialist religious training or the permission of the central administration office of the religious organisation, and giving religious instruction in a private capacity. Yet none of these activities took place.
Some 40 Jehovah's Witnesses were present when representatives of the town administration, the police and the secret police raided the Jehovah's Witness prayer house on 18 September. Andrei Agafonov, secretary of the Jehovah's Witness community, told Forum 18 on 18 November that the officials, citing the fact that the house was not registered as a church, told the Jehovah's Witnesses that they had violated articles 240 and 241 of the code of administrative offences. They also ordered those present to provide written statements, but they refused to do so.
Article 240 specifies a fine for unlawful juridical activity, refusal on the part of the leaders of religious meetings to register their statute, the organisation and running by "cult members" of special children's and young people's clubs, as well as labour, literary and other clubs that do not bear any relation to the "performance of the cult". Article 241 specifies a fine for giving religious instruction without specialist religious training and without the permission of the central administration office of the religious organisation, as well as for giving religious instruction in a private capacity.
Neither of these articles – whose wording dates back to the Soviet period - is applicable to the Jehovah's Witnesses, given that their organisation is registered in Chirchik. Agafonov told Forum 18 that the house raided by officials is registered in the name not of a private individual, but of the organisation. "The problem is basically that our former prayer house is too small and we bought another one with the specific aim of holding religious gatherings," he explained. "The authorities were perfectly well aware of why we bought the house. Now we cannot be found guilty under articles 240 and 241 of the administrative code, but we are still being forbidden from meeting in the new building, because the house is situated in a residential area." Agafonov insisted that there is no law forbidding meetings in a private home.
Article 14 of Uzbekistan's law on religion states clearly that "services, religious rituals and ceremonies may be held in cult buildings and prayer houses at the place where religious organisations are situated and on land owned by them, at places of pilgrimage, at cemeteries and if the ritual demands, services may be held in the homes of citizens if that is their wish." Given that the house under dispute was bought not by a private individual but by the Jehovah's Witness organisation, it appears the community was acting within the law by meeting there.
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20 November 2003
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Tajikistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the confusion that leads to officials wrongly insisting that registration of religious communities is compulsory. Unregistered religious communities do encounter difficulties with the authorities, but Forum 18 has been told that excesses "are not as a rule state policy, but simply the arbitrary actions of local officials." Compared to neighbouring Uzbekistan, Tajikistan generally follows a more lenient policy towards unregistered religious communities. This may be because Tajikistan, after a civil war, is not able to exert such harsh controls as Uzbekistan can. The Tajik authorities are most concerned with controlling Muslim life, because Muslims make up more than 90 per cent of the country's population, and because of the aftermath of the civil war. The possibility exists that government pressure on believers may intensify in the near future, under a proposed new law on religion.
12 November 2003
Forum 18 News Service has found during a visit to Tajikistan's remote and mountainous eastern region that the parts which were governed by compulsory Shariah law during the mid-1990's civil war have now returned to secular Tajik law. Muslims now follow Shariah law only if they choose to do so and the days when local people were forced by armed Tajik opposition groups to pray in mosques are over. Until the year 2000 fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan lived in parts of the region, but they then under pressure crossed into Afghanistan. Forum 18 has also found that in the distinctly Ismaili part of the region there are no Ismaili prayer houses. However, local people do not perceive a need for prayer houses as they can pray at home.
29 October 2003
Hizb ut-Tahir, which is widespread in Central Asia, has told Forum 18 that it aims to introduce a worldwide Caliphate and ban all faiths apart from Islam, Judaism and Christianity, all religious practice being regulated by Sharia law. Buddhism, Hinduism, the Hare Krishna faith and what the party sees as sects within Islam would all be banned. Hizb ut-Tahir members also explained to Forum 18 that the party would give all non-Muslim states a choice between either joining the Caliphate under Sharia law, or paying a tax to the Caliphate. Failure to pay the tax would be punished by military attacks. The USA, the United Kingdom and Israel were described to Forum 18 as the work of the devil and "European democracy" as "a farce". Within the Caliphate, Christians and Jews would be allowed to drink alcohol, if that was required for religious rituals, and to regulate within their own communities marriage, divorce and the assignment of possessions.