UZBEKISTAN: Threats against lawyer's wife and young children
It is believed that the Uzbek authorities are behind anonymous night-time telephone calls and continuing threats being made against the wife and young children of Rustam Satdanov, a lawyer forced to flee Uzbekistan and seek political asylum in the USA for his work defending Jehovah's Witnesses. Satdanov received political asylum on 11 May. His wife, Asiya Satdanova, and their young children, who are still in Tashkent, told Forum 18 News Service that they are being anonymously threatened with "serious difficulties" if Satdanov does not return immediately to Uzbekistan. He himself told Forum 18 that if he returns the authorities would, using fabricated criminal charges, punish him for defending religious believers.
Satdanov had been summoned to the National Security Service (NSS) secret police, and interrogated in detail about his work defending Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 18 February 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=257 ). "When NSS officers found out I had reported this interview to journalists, they started openly threatening that they were going to deal with me," Satdanov added. "I understood that sooner or later they would think up some criminal case to bring against me, so rather than tempt fate, I left for the US and asked for political asylum."
Satdanov told Forum 18 he is convinced that those threatening his wife by phone are officers of either the NSS or the police. "I had no enemies in Tashkent and I refuse to believe that any of my acquaintances could make malicious telephone calls. I myself used to work for the law enforcement agencies and so I can easily understand their methods. They are doing this to try and force me to come back to Tashkent, where they will fabricate a criminal case against me."
Other events indirectly confirm Satdanov's suspicions. Asiya Satdanova told Forum 18 on 11 June that police officers came to her house in May on the pretext of checking identity documents and asked her in detail about her husband and his current whereabouts. After the visit neighbours told her the police had not visited other apartments in the block.
After Satdanov's departure for the US, odd rumours about him began to circulate in Tashkent. Several weeks ago a lawyer who preferred not to be named assured Forum 18 that Satdanov was in fact hiding elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, adding that he was "in a very bad way".
For more background, see Forum 18's latest religious freedom survey at
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at
11 June 2004
On 1 June a court in the western town of Navoi found Jehovah's Witness Tatyana Briguntsova guilty of membership of an unregistered religious organisation, solely because she put herself down as a founding member of the community in a failed registration application some years ago. She told Forum 18 News Service that police had never recorded her as attending an unregistered meeting. As unregistered religious activity is illegal in Uzbekistan, in defiance of international agreements, this precedent means that any believer who signs a religious community's registration application that is then rejected could lay themselves open to punishment.
10 June 2004
Islamic religious extremism in Uzbekistan – which threatens to spread in Central Asia and elsewhere - is largely the result of government repression and lack of democracy, Azerbaijani scholar and translator of the Koran Nariman Gasimoglu, head of the Center for Religion and Democracy http://addm.az.iatp.net/ana.html in Baku and a former Georgetown University (USA) visiting scholar, argues in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. Extremist Islamist groups, like the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir party, which do not yet enjoy widespread support, have been strengthened by repression while moderate Muslims, Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses have suffered. The best, if not the only way to counter religious extremism, Gasimoglu maintains, is to open up society to religious freedom for all, democracy, and free discussion – even including Islamist groups. This is the only way, he argues, of depriving Islamic extremism of support by revealing the reality of what extremism in power would mean.
9 June 2004
Although Tajikistan permits Muslim women to wear the hijab, or head and neck scarf, for international passport photos, it normally does not permit this for internal identity documents. Many Muslims think that it is unacceptable for a woman to be photographed without wearing a hijab, so many Muslim women, especially in very devout Muslim areas, do not have an internal identity document. Pulat Nurov, of the government's committee for religious affairs, has told Forum 18 News Service that this insistence on photographs without hijabs has caused problems, but claims that only a "very small percentage" of Muslim women regard this demand as "unacceptable". He also told Forum 18 that his committee has persuaded the police to make exceptions to the general rule in individual cases.