UZBEKISTAN: Imminent verdict for Protestant pastor
Protestant pastor Dmitry Shestakov is due to be sentenced tomorrow (1 March), despite trial proceedings today (28 February) breaking Uzbekistan's own law, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Shestakov has been charged under three articles of the Criminal Code and faces a possible maximum sentence of up to 20 years in jail for his religious activity. Under Uzbek law, the trial proceedings should not have taken place today as Pastor Shestakov's own lawyer was ill. A lawyer appointed by the court reportedly did nothing to defend Shestakov. His friends have insisted to Forum 18 that an expert analysis of his sermons – recordings of which were confiscated during a search of his home – was illegal as it was conducted by a professor from Andijan University, not the state Religious Affairs Committee. There are also claims that the Prosecutor's Office forged documents to incriminate Shestakov.
Normally in cases with multiple charges, judges impose concurrent sentences, so those found guilty serve the longest of the prison terms handed down, although judges do have the right to order the prison terms to be served consecutively. This means that there is a possibility that Pastor Shestakov could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in jail.
Pastor Shestakov's trial began in Andijan on 19 February, but several subsequent hearings were delayed because his own lawyer was ill. Despite a medical certificate from Shestakov's lawyer that he was ill - which under Uzbek law should have led to the postponement of the hearing - a trial session was held today (28 February) with a state-appointed lawyer. This lawyer reportedly did nothing to defend Shestakov.
In the run up to the trial, Uzbek state-run media have been trying to smear Shestakov and his Full Gospel church claiming, for example, that "he abused alcohol and was dependent on drugs and now he presents himself as pastor David." Official harassment of him began in May 2006, apparently in reaction to the conversion to Christianity of some ethnic Uzbeks (see F18News 14 February 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=911).
Shestakov's friends insist that an expert analysis of his sermons – recordings of which were confiscated during a search of his home in June 2006 – was illegal as it was conducted by a professor from Andijan University. Only the government's Religious Affairs Committee is under Uzbek law authorised to conduct such analyses. There are also claims that the Prosecutor's Office forged documents to incriminate Shestakov.
Meanwhile, Protestant sources have told Forum 18 that police came today (28 February) to the homes of two Pentecostals on trial for their religious activity in Nukus, the capital of the Karakalpakstan [Qoraqalpoghiston] autonomous republic in north-western Uzbekistan. Police came to the home of Makset Djabbabergenov in Nukus and also to the home of Salavat Serikbayev in the town of Muynak north of Nukus near the Aral Sea, but neither was at home. Their trial began in Nukus on 26 February – as did the trial of three other local Protestants who face lesser charges under the Code of Administrative Offences – but none of the defendants attended. The trial is set to resume on 5 March (see F18News 22 February 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=918). (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=777.
A survey of the religious freedom decline in the eastern part of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) area is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=806, and of religious intolerance in Central Asia is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=815.
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=uzbeki
22 February 2007
Two Protestant Christians in the north-west of Uzbekistan – where all Protestant activity is illegal – are facing criminal charges for their religious activity, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The two - 26-year-old Makset Djabbarbergenov and 32-year-old Salavat Serikbayev – each face up to five years' imprisonment if convicted. The Prosecutor's Office have repeatedly evaded any discussion of the cases with Forum 18. Elsewhere in Uzbekistan, Protestant pastor Dmitry Shestakov – arrested by the NSS secret police on 21 January – also awaits trial, with no date yet set. He is being held in prison. However, visiting Kazakh Protestant pastor Rishat Garifulin has been freed without charge, after being held by the NSS secret police for eleven days. But police in the south-west who raided a private home have detained six Protestants, as well as confiscating a Bible, two audiocassettes and three Christian books in Kazakh. Such confiscated literature - including the Bible - has often been burnt.
16 February 2007
Increasingly concerned about the fate of the imprisoned former Chief Mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah is his extended family, who live in the northern region around Dashoguz [Dashhowuz], Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "We have never once been allowed a meeting, never once have they accepted parcels for him and we don't even know where he is being held," one relative complained. No verified information on the whereabouts or state of health of the 59-year-old Nasrullah has been received since he was sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment at a closed trial in Ashgabad in March 2004. Relatives say rumours he was freed at the time of last October's prisoner amnesty are not true. No officials have been prepared to discuss Nasrullah's case with Forum 18. Forum 18 knows of no other individuals currently imprisoned for their religious activity.
16 February 2007
Uzbekistan tries hard to camouflage its religious freedom violations and one way it does this is through statistics. Comparing February 2007 figures from the state Religious Affairs Committee with October 2002 figures, Forum 18 News Service notes that a net total of six Christian churches are indicated to have lost registration, along with one Jehovah's Witness, one Hare Krishna and one Baha'i community. The figures cannot be independently verified and conceal denominational differences, with an increase in Russian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic communities disguising loss of legal status of Protestant churches. Religious believers inside Uzbekistan indicate that the reality may be much worse. Some Protestant churches have recently calculated that 38 of their congregations were closed down by the state between 2000 and 2006. Over 100 religious communities of various faiths are thought to have tried unsuccessfully to gain registration. The Religious Affairs Committee asserts that "there there are no restrictions on or hindrances to registration." Without state registration, all religious activity is illegal and religious believers are subjected to harsh state action.