UZBEKISTAN: Preacher to face criminal charges, and JW to be fired?
Dilshod Akhmedov, a Jehovah's Witness in Tashkent who was imprisoned for 15 days in May, and who refuses to give up public preaching, is now being investigated under the criminal code by police. Conviction carries a penalty of a fine of between 50 and 100 times the minimum wage, or up to three years in prison. Also, officials in the city of Samarkand [Samarqand], have threatened a female Jehovah's Witness, Lolya Nurmanova, with being fired for her beliefs. The authorities have also compelled a woman sympathetic to the Jehovah's Witnesses to report to the authorities everything that goes on in the religious community. Pressure continues on Jehovah's Witnesses throughout Uzbekistan, with some being convicted and fined without being given a chance to defend themselves in court.
Akhmedov's administrative code conviction for preaching in public places lays him open to possible criminal charges. "The Yaksarai district police department is currently gathering documents to bring a criminal case against Akhmedov under Article 216 (2) (breaking the law on religious organisations)," Andrei Shirobokov, a Jehovah's Witness in Uzbekistan, told Forum 18 in Tashkent on 18 October.
Missionary activity is illegal in Uzbekistan, contrary to international human rights agreements, and Article 216 (2) of the Uzbek criminal code states that: "The conversion of believers from one faith to another (proselytism) and other missionary activity will, after the application of penalties under administrative law for similar activities, be punished by a fine of between 50 and 100 times the minimum wage or up to six months' detention or up to three years in prison."
In a separate case, regional officials in the city of Samarkand [Samarqand], have threatened a female Jehovah's Witness with being sacked from her work for her faith. Shukhrat Nazarov, who works at the department for relations with religious organisations at the regional administration, threatened local Jehovah's Witness Lolya Nurmanova with losing her job, Shirobokov told Forum 18. He said Nazarov telephoned Nurmanova on 15 October and told her to attend an interview at the regional administration. When Nurmanova said she would only come to the office if she received a summons, Nazarov said he would announce at her workplace that she was a Jehovah's Witness, and then she would have "big problems".
Nazarov has also, according to Shirobokov, compelled a woman who is sympathetic to the Jehovah's Witnesses to report to the authorities everything that goes on in the religious community.
Reached at his office at the regional administration in Samarkand on 18 October, the assistant head of the department for relations with religious organisations, Asror Khakimov, insisted to Forum 18 that he knew nothing about what had happened to Nurmanova. Khakimov questioned Forum 18's correspondent closely, took his telephone numbers and told him to telephone again in 15 minutes' time, when the head of department, Firdouz Khalimov, would be at the office. Forum 18 made five telephone calls over three hours, but each time Khakimov replied that Khalimov had not yet arrived. On 19 October, despite Forum 18's ten attempts to reach officials in the office over the course of the day, the telephone went unanswered.
The authorities in Samarkand have in the past broken their own country's and international law in their attacks on Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 23 August 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=399).
Jehovah's Witnesses continue to face fines for preaching their faith publicly. In Tashkent on 15 October Jehovah's Witnesses Zinaida Kim and Yaira Khojayeva were each fined 6,300 soms (40 Norwegian Kroner, 5 Euros, or 6 US dollars). On 17 October a court in the town of Karshi in southern Uzbekistan sentenced five local Jehovah's Witnesses to a fine of 27,200 soms each (172 Norwegian Kroner, 21 Euros, or 26 US dollars) under Article 240 of the code of administrative offences, which punishes "breaking the law on religious organisations". This fine is equivalent to slightly less than the average monthly salary.
Shirobokov described it as "extraordinary" that the accused were not even summoned to court, and the sentence was given in their absence. This is not the first time that Uzbek courts have breached normal legal procedure in order to convict religious believers (see for example F18News 20 August 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=397).
For more background information see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=105
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at
8 October 2004
A devout Muslim, Nigora Jalilova, is the latest woman to be pressurised by local authorities in Karshi (Qarshi) to stop wearing the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, in public, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The mahalla committee's secretary for women's affairs, Mukarram Kurbanova, questioned Jalilova closely about her religious beliefs and when she became a Muslim, but claims that "I didn't order her, I simply recommended her to dress in a more modern style." This claim is disputed, and pressure on women who wear the hijab continues in Karshi and elsewhere.
30 September 2004
In the latest of several attacks on Protestants, Police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police have raided a prayer meeting of the Greater Grace church in Samarkand [Samarqand]. An official claimed to Forum 18 News Service that religious meetings in private homes are illegal. All unregistered religious activity is banned, and those involved face heavy penalties. Begzot Kadyrov, an official of the government's religious affairs committee, denied to Forum 18 that this violates the right to meet freely for worship with fellow believers, as guaranteed under international human rights agreements that Uzbekistan has signed. Several police officers in the raid identified themselves as Muslims, and told the Christians that there is "no need" for any Christians or members of other faiths in Uzbekistan. A Hungarian present, Jozsef Marian, who is married to an Uzbek, was pressured to write a statement, and threats were made that he would be forced to leave Samarkand. 2004 has seen an increase in raids and fines on those involved in unregistered religious activity, especially on Protestants.
16 September 2004
After pressure earlier in the year on Protestant students in Nukus in the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan [Qoraqalpoghiston], two students were expelled from the town's medical institute in early September for membership of an "illegal" Protestant church, the Church of Christ. Protestant sources told Forum 18 News Service that the two - Aliya Sherimbetova and Shirin Artykbayeva – were told that a further reason for their expulsion was that their cases had been reported on the internet, an apparent reference to Forum 18's coverage. Six other local Protestant students have been harassed in Nukus this year. It is almost impossible for Christian churches of any denomination to gain official registration in Karakalpakstan and therefore to meet legally for worship.