UZBEKISTAN: Lawyer disbarred for defending believers?
Tashkent-based lawyer Nail Gabdullin believes he has had his licence to practice stripped from him in retaliation for his work defending religious believers. "There is no other reason," he told Forum 18 News Service. Among those Gabdullin has defended are Pentecostals, Baptists and Adventists, and he is working to regain the registration stripped from the Urgench Baptist Church in February. But a specialist at the Tashkent city justice administration familiar with his case denied he has been punished for his work. "Defending believers has nothing to do with it," Svetlana Zhuraeva insisted to Forum 18, though she refused to give what she claims is the reason. Only a handful of Tashkent's 2,000 lawyers are disbarred each year.
Gabdullin said he lodged a complaint to the justice minister on 25 March. "I don't think it will be successful, but I have to try."
In a terse 19 March letter, which Gabdullin received on 24 March, Nazar Zakirov, the deputy head of the justice administration for the city of Tashkent, informed him that his licence had been annulled by the qualification commission "for violating Article 15 of the law on the advocacy profession". It gave no grounds for this decision. "The justice administration has the right to cancel my licence, but there must be a legal basis," Gabdullin told Forum 18.
Zhuraeva, who is chief specialist at the Tashkent justice administration, told Forum 18 she is familiar with the case, although she does not sit on the qualification commission. She said Gabdullin's licence was annulled in the wake of two complaints from individuals, but she refused to divulge the nature or origin of the complaints. She claimed Gabdullin had been given the full reasoning behind the decision, something Gabdullin denies. "All I got was the brief letter," he insisted to Forum 18.
Gabdullin identified one of the complainants as Gulnara Saidova, a former criminal who has lost one of two cases against a client he has defended. She complained that both Gabdullin and the client were Baptists.
Gabdullin said that a number of the cases he takes on have been to defend the rights of believers, including Pentecostal, Baptist and Adventist cases. "We have defended whoever has come to us." He said he had won some 95 per cent of the cases he had taken on, adding that his work had led to the disciplining of fourteen police officers (one of whom was sacked) for violating the law when drawing up documentation and of two education officials.
Among recent cases he has won was a complaint about the action of the police in 2002 that led to the sentencing under the code of administrative offences of Oleg Bader, the pastor of a Baptist church in Urgench in Karakalpakstan. This led to two police officers being punished. He is also helping the church to try to regain the registration it was stripped of on 27 February of this year (see F18News 4 March 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=267 ).
Zhuraeva told Forum 18 there are some 2,000 lawyers in Tashkent, and that only about three or four have their licences cancelled each year. "This is something exceptional." She said that without a licence, Gabdullin would no longer be able to practice as a lawyer.
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18 March 2004
The Protestant Greater Grace Church in Samarkand has repeatedly had attempts to get state registration, without which under Uzbek law it would be forbidden, turned down, its Pastor Artur Karimov has told Forum 18 News Service. Other Protestant churches in Samarkand have also had difficulties with the authorities. Officials of the regional justice department have told Forum 18 that are trying to ensure that the number of mosques "does not exceed reasonable levels," and to also limit the number of Christian churches under this policy. The officials also said that Muslims became very upset about the spread of Christianity in the region, and stressed their displeasure at the continued activity of Matti Sirvio, a Finnish missionary who founded the Greater Grace Church.
16 March 2004
In the first such case since 2002, a Jehovah's Witness from Samarkand, Vladimir Kushchevoy, has been sentenced under the criminal law for "failing to observe the prescribed manner of communicating religious doctrine" to three years "corrective labour" and 20 per cent of his wages are to be confiscated by the state, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. His Bible, New Testament, and other religious literature were ordered by the court to be destroyed. No proof was produced that Kushchevoy was actually giving religious instruction, Forum 18 was told. This sentence appears to be part of a growing trend to destroy religious literature, as well as to target both Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestant Christians. However, since 2002, the authorities had not been using the criminal law against these religious minorities, using other means of attacking them instead.
8 March 2004
Reliable sources in Turkmenistan have told Forum 18 News Service that they believe the country's former Sunni Muslim chief mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, was sentenced to a long jail term for his opposition to tight presidential control over the Muslim community. Government prosecutors claimed he was part of an assassination attempt against the president. Although previously known for his obedience, Ibadullah began to oppose the cult of personality around the president by reportedly obstructing the use in mosques of the president's moral code Ruhnama (Book of the Soul). Imams are forced to display this book prominently in mosques and quote approvingly from it in sermons, as are Russian Orthodox priests in their churches. Ibadullah is also believed to have been targeted as an ethnic Uzbek, Forum 18 having noted the government removing ethnic Uzbek imams to replace them with ethnic Turkmens.