UZBEKISTAN: "People are being sentenced for their beliefs"
Judge Alisher Jalilov, who sentenced two Jehovah's Witnesses to several days' detention and fined a further nine under Article 240 of the Administrative Code, has rejected Forum 18 News Service's suggestions that imprisonment is a harsh punishment in these circumstances. Religious believers prosecuted under Article 240 are normally fined, not jailed. Judge Jalilov also claimed that the defendants "did not have any lawyer at all and so I had to choose a defence lawyer myself." Andrei Shirobokov of the Jehovah's Witnesses has categorically rejected Jalilov's claim, stating that the defendants had asked to be represented by a lawyer they had chosen, but Jalilov refused this. "I am not at all surprised that Jalilov has denied the actual facts," Shirobokov told Forum 18. "This is the norm for state officials. They tell you one thing, and tell us completely the opposite." Shirobokov also stated to Forum 18 that "the believers' only 'crime' was that they met to talk about religious matters."
Despite Judge Jalilov's insistence that his decision to sentence the Jehovah's Witnesses to detention was not unusual, religious believers prosecuted under Article 240 are generally fined, Forum 18 notes. Only exceptionally are they sentenced to administrative arrest. It remains unclear why Judge Jalilov handed down a sentence harsh even by Uzbek standards.
Judge Jalilov sentenced Bakhrom Pulatov to seven days' detention and Sagdulla Salaev to five days' detention on 12 December at Karshi town court, Andrei Shirobokov of the Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 from the capital Tashkent on 15 December. Pulatov has – along with other Jehovah's Witnesses - been previously given large fines under articles 240(1) and 240(2) of the Administrative Code (see F18News 14 July 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=606 and under article 26(2) of the Criminal Code (see F18News 16 September 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=653). The nine other Jehovah's Witnesses in this month's trial were each sentenced to fines of 13,000 Som (73 Norwegian Kroner, 9 Euros, or 11 US dollars) under article 240 of the Administrative Code. In Karshi, the average monthly salary has been estimated to be 24,000 Som (135 Norwegian Kroner, 17 Euros, or 20 US Dollars).
Shirobokov rejected the basis of the court's decision. "The believers' only 'crime' was that they met to talk about religious matters," he declared. The Jehovah's Witness community in Karshi is not registered and under Uzbek law – and in defiance of the country's international human rights obligations - unregistered religious activity is illegal. Shirobokov pointed out to Forum 18 that the Karshi community is too small to meet the government's requirements. Persistent attacks from the authorities has been encountered by small religious communities (see eg. F18News 1 April 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=536 and 16 September 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=653).
Under Uzbekistan's religion law a religious community must have at least 100 members to be able to apply for registration, but there are no more than 70 Jehovah's Witnesses in the town. "The effect is that people are being sentenced for their beliefs," Shirobokov told Forum 18. This has been an ongoing problem for the Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the country (see F18News 10 August 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=626).
Shirobokov is also concerned about what he says were "flagrant violations" of the law in the way the case was conducted. The defendants asked to be represented by a lawyer they had chosen. But Jalilov appointed a state defence lawyer for them who Shirobokov believes only provided a token defence.
But Jalilov denied that he had refused to approve the lawyer requested by the Jehovah's Witnesses. "These are ill-educated people," he claimed to Forum 18. "They did not have any lawyer at all and so I had to choose a defence lawyer myself." Shirobokov insists that the eleven Jehovah's Witnesses were refused the lawyer they had selected. "I am not at all surprised that Jalilov has denied the actual facts," he told Forum 18. "This is the norm for state officials. They tell you one thing, and tell us completely the opposite."
The chief specialist at the government's Religious Affairs Committee, Begzot Kadyrov, said he had heard about the case, but did not know the details. "Of course defendants can select their own lawyer," he told Forum 18 from Tashkent on 15 December. "But I cannot make any comment for the time being because I have not had a thorough look at this case." (END)
For a personal commentary by a Muslim scholar, advocating religious freedom for all faiths as the best antidote to Islamic religious extremism in Uzbekistan, see http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=338
For more background, see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=546
For an outline of what is known about Akramia and the Andijan uprising see F18News 16 June 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=586
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=uzbeki
1 December 2005
The latest instance known to Forum 18 News Service of a religious minority being barred from gaining state registration – thus rendering its activity illegal – is a Jehovah's Witness community in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. Following open hostility against the community from the head of the city's Yaksarai district, a subsequent meeting of local residents (the Mahalla committee), presided over by the local Mullah (Islamic clergyman), reversed a decision to allow a Jehovah's Witness congregation to apply for state registration. Under Uzbekistan's complex registration procedure, which institutionalises obstacles to religious minorities, the approval of both the Mahalla committee and the head of the district administration is necessary before a religious community can even apply for state registration from the Ministry of Justice. The Mahalla committees, theoretically independent but in practice under state control, are used to maintain controls over religious believers of all faiths.
21 November 2005
Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses inside Uzbekistan have told Forum 18 News Service of ongoing post-Andijan uprising repression. Mahmud Karabaev, pastor of a Full Gospel Pentecostal church, faces up to three years in prison for "participation in the activity of an illegal religious organisation," following a joint police, NSS secret police and Public Prosecutor's office raid on his home. Latif Jalov of the Public Prosecutor's office refused categorically to confirm or deny to Forum 18 the charges, stating that "there is such a thing as a secret investigation." The church's lawyer, Iskander Najafov, believes the situation for Christians in Uzbekistan has worsened. "Instead of catching terrorists the authorities are persecuting Christians," he complained to Forum 18. Najafov's view of a nationwide crackdown is echoed by Andrei Shirobokov of the Jehovah's Witnesses, who told Forum 18 that the "facts suggest that the state's religious policies have become more severe since the Andijan events."
17 November 2005
Turkmenistan has today [17 November] jailed a Hare Krishna devotee, Cheper Annaniyazova, for seven years on charges of illegally leaving the country, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Before being sentenced, she was compulsorily detained in a psychiatric hospital. "Cheper tried to get an exit visa to go to Kazakhstan to stay in the temple in Almaty, but was refused," a source close to the Hare Krishna community told Forum 18. "She went anyway, crossing the border to Uzbekistan." Despite a claimed abolition of exit visas, Turkmenistan is to Forum 18's knowledge preventing three religious believers - two Protestants and a Hare Krishna devotee – from leaving the country. Forum 18's source insists that the heavy sentence was imposed at the behest of the MSS secret police to intimidate the Hare Krishna community. Turkmenistan also has the religious prisoner of conscience with the longest jail sentence in the former Soviet Union, former chief mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah who is on a 22 year jail sentence.