UZBEKISTAN: Guilty of the unregistered teaching of a faith - even when charge is disproved
Even though it has been proved that a Jehovah's Witness was not teaching his faith without registration, and so not breaking the law, an Uzbek criminal court has found him guilty of this, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Uzbekistan bans all religious teaching by unregistered religious organisations or private individuals. The persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, along with all other religious groups, continues in Uzbekistan and is compounded by the authorities lack of knowledge of faiths. For example, a deputy public prosecutor has told a Jehovah's Witness that reading their literature causes people either to become a "Wahhabi" (a term widely and loosely used in Central Asia for Islamic extremists), or to become a terrorist. The same prosecutor also claimed that Jehovah's Witnesses hypnotise people.
Moscow-based lawyer Arli Chimirov, who represented Kushchevoy in court, told Forum 18 News Service he had "mixed feelings" about the result of the appeal, pleased that the punishment has now been suspended but continuing to reject the basis of the original verdict. "The final verdict disappointed me, because even though the witness Raisa Chernova demonstrated that Kushchevoy was not giving her religious instruction, the court maintained the guilty verdict," he told Forum 18 in the capital Tashkent on 8 April. Chimirov also pointed out that Kushchevoy still has a criminal conviction.
Article 9 of Uzbekistan's religion law bans all religious teaching by unregistered religious organisations or by private individuals.
On 17 January, the criminal court of Samarkand's Temiryul district found Kushchevoy guilty under Article 229, part 2 of the criminal code (failing to observe the prescribed manner of communicating religious doctrine). He was sentenced to three years of "corrective labour" – where the convicted individual lives at home but is assigned to a certain job - with 20 per cent of his wages to be deducted and transferred to the state budget. The court also ruled that all the religious literature confiscated from him - including the Bible and the New Testament – should be burnt (see F18News 16 March 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=277 ).
Kushchevoy's sentence was the first known use of the criminal case against a Jehovah's Witness since Marat Mudarisov was sentenced in Tashkent in November 2002 on charges of "inciting religious hatred". After international attention to his case, Mudarisov was finally cleared of the charges by the presidium of the Tashkent city court for criminal cases on 8 October 2003.
Kushchevoy's lawyer, Arli Chimirov, said that the investigative process was conducted very competently and that a hearing was even held out of the courtroom at the alleged site of the crime, which, he maintains, is "virtually unprecedented". Yet Chimirov also pointed to the difficulties Kushchevoy faces, stressing that in Uzbekistan the rights of a person who is sentenced even conditionally under the code of administrative offences, and even more so under the criminal code, are severely restricted. To illustrate his point, he cited the fact that, since the recent bombs in Tashkent and elsewhere, many Jehovah's Witnesses with previous convictions under the criminal or administrative codes have been called in to police stations and been interrogated and had their fingerprints taken (see F18News 13 April 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=298 ).
Anyone found guilty under the criminal or administrative codes also faces difficulties obtaining an exit visa. For example, for the past two years the authorities have refused an exit visa to Erkin Khabibov, a Jehovah's Witness from the city of Bukhara [Bukhoro] in central Uzbekistan, after he was found guilty under the administrative code of preaching Jehovah's Witness beliefs (see F18News 28 January 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=237 ).
Along with all other religious groups, the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses continues in other parts of Uzbekistan. On 14 February, police at Kungrad [Q?nghirot] railway station in north western Uzbekistan (60 kilometres north west of the capital of Karakalpakstan [Qoraqalpoghiston] autonomous region Nukus) confiscated religious literature from Nukus resident Tursunai Piyashevaya, which she had brought from Kazakhstan. As a punishment for bringing in the literature, a case was brought against her under Article 240 of the administrative code (breaking the law on religious organisations).
On 28 March Kungrad's deputy public prosecutor Daulet Madenov went to Piyashevaya's home to warn her that if she did not stop reading Jehovah's Witness literature, she would become either a "Wahhabi" (a term widely and loosely used in Central Asia for Islamic extremists) or a terrorist. Madenov also accused Jehovah's Witnesses of hypnotising people.
Jehovah's Witnesses who asked not to be named told Forum 18 that Madenov had also beaten up Erlan Ayatov, a Jehovah's Witness from Nukus, who had tried to retrieve from the police the literature confiscated from Piyashevaya.
Madenov admitted to Forum 18 on 9 April that an administrative case had been brought against Piyashevaya, based on the fact that "the Jehovah's Witnesses are not registered in Karakalpakstan and therefore their activity is illegal". However, he categorically denied beating up Ayatov. "I simply asked him where the Jehovah's Witnesses meet," Madenov claimed. "He refused to answer and I persuaded him that he was obliged to answer my questions."
For background information, see Forum 18's report of the current post-terrorist bombing crackdown against all faiths at
and latest religious freedom survey at
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at
13 April 2004
After March and April's terrorist bombings that left nearly 50 people dead – blamed by the government on Islamic extremists and linked by some without evidence to Al-Qa'ida - a crackdown on religious believers of all faiths is taking place, Forum 18 News Service has observed. The crackdown's targets include Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Protestants and Hare Krishna devotees. A Jehovah's Witness has told Forum 18 that he was interrogated in a police station, told he was a potential terrorist, and threatened by police that "If you do not renounce your ridiculous beliefs, then I will simply plant drugs on you and put you away for a long time!" Most of those summoned for interrogation are devout Muslims and amongst those detained is a leading imam, Rustam Kilichev, who has tried to persuade imprisoned Muslims to renounce the views of the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. The NSS secret police have refused to say why he is being held. Police are engineering arrests of religious believers by planting leaflets by Hizb ut-Tahrir, drugs, and weapons on people. Also, police are searching believers' private homes, enquiring about their religious views, confiscating religious literature, and in one case detained 25 Muslim women for 24 hours because they were wearing headscarves.
7 April 2004
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Turkmenistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the almost complete lack of freedom to practice any faith, apart from very limited freedom for Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity with a small number of registered places of worship and constant interference and control by the state. This is despite recent legal changes that in theory allow minority communities to register. All other communities - Baptist, Pentecostal, Adventist, Lutheran and other Protestants, as well as Shia Muslim, Armenian Apostolic, Jewish, Baha'i, Jehovah's Witness and Hare Krishna – are currently banned and their activity punishable under the administrative or criminal law. Religious meetings have been broken up, with raids in March on Jehovah's Witnesses and a Baha'i even as the government was proclaiming a new religious policy. Believers have been threatened, detained, beaten, fined and sacked from their jobs, while homes used for worship and religious literature have been confiscated. Although some minority communities have sought information on how to register under the new procedures, none has so far applied to register. It remains very doubtful that Turkmenistan will in practice allow religious faiths to be practiced freely.
26 March 2004
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.