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18 September 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "Leave only one spoon, one mug and one mattress for each"

Uzbekistan continues to raid private homes, confiscating religious literature and halting meetings for worship, Forum 18 News Service notes. Fines of up to 50 times the minimum wage have then been imposed on those subjected to raids. In one case court bailiffs illegally confiscated basic household goods such as a refrigerator, washing machine and dining table from a Baptist family, and have threatened to confiscate more household items as they will not pay an unjust fine they cannot afford. This has been taken place alongside state media attacks on the same people. State-controlled television has stated that people should buy and read only state-authorised religious books, warning of those who allegedly "misuse people's interest in reading books". It also claimed that only two publishers were allowed to publish religious books – but did not name the publishers or state which beliefs the publishers cover. A state Religious Affairs Committee official did not know the names of the two publishers.

17 September 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "Sacred primary source of one of world's major religions" destroyed

A Tashkent-based man, Vladimir Shinkin, has appealed to numerous state agencies right up to President Islam Karimov in his bid to have his son (an atheist) and daughter-in-law exonerated on charges of holding religious meetings he says they never held, for which they received fines totalling 110 times the minimum monthly wage. He is also seeking the return of confiscated Christian literature his daughter-in-law inherited from her late father which a judge ordered destroyed, family members told Forum 18 News Service. "This means that he is destroying Bibles which represent the sacred primary source of one of the world's major religions," Shinkin complained to parliamentarian Svetlana Artikova. But she denied to Forum 18 she had received the complaint, though she had earlier responded to Shinkin that it had been passed to the Supreme Court.

11 September 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Raid, beating, literature destruction – but fine annulled

Police raided the Tashkent home of a Russian Orthodox mother Valentina Pleshakova and her disabled daughter Natalya, seizing their religious literature and beating Natalya, Forum 18 News Service learnt. Officers at the police station pressured Natalya to adopt Islam. Freed in the early hours of the following morning, they were each heavily fined later in the day and confiscated literature was ordered destroyed. After the intervention of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Uzbekistan, Metropolitan Vikenty, the fine was changed into an official warning on appeal. No books were returned. A government-backed website attacked them and another Christian the Metropolitan had defended, Muhabbat Mamatkulova.

10 September 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: Fears over latest Uzbek extradition case

Makset Djabbarbergenov – a Protestant pastor wanted in his home country of Uzbekistan for "illegal" religious teaching and literature distribution – has been arrested by the authorities of Kazakhstan, where he sought refuge in 2007. He was detained after police held his sister-in-law for two weeks to find his whereabouts, family members told Forum 18 News Service. A court ordered on 7 September Djabbarbergenov be held in detention until Kazakhstan's General Prosecutor's Office decides whether to send him back. "As a person I can say this is not right," Daniyar Zharykbasov of Almaty's Bostandyk District Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18. "But we have to follow the rules." In June the United Nations Committee Against Torture condemned Kazakhstan for sending back 28 Uzbek Muslim refugees and asylum seekers in 2011. They were arrested on their return and at least some received long prison terms.

14 August 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Asphyxiation with a gas mask "amounts to torture"

Jehovah's Witness paediatrician Gulchehra Abdullayeva has complained to four Uzbek state agencies and the United Nations over torture she says police inflicted on her. Abdullayeva says officers made her stand facing a wall for four hours with no food or water in the summer heat. They then placed a gas mask over her head and blocked the air supply, according to her complaints seen by Forum 18 News Service. The police chief in Hazorasp in Khorezm Region refused absolutely to discuss her account of torture with Forum 18. Asphyxiation with a gas mask – known in police slang as the "little elephant" - is a common torture in Uzbekistan's police stations. "The detainee has the impression that the officers are going to kill him," a human rights defender told Forum 18 from Tashkent. "Even the strongest person can hold out for no more than 30 seconds." Forum 18 notes that the many victims (including children) of Uzbekistan's widespread use of torture normally choose not to complain or make their suffering public, for fear of state reprisals.

6 August 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "It is prohibited to keep such books at home"

In what some in Uzbekistan think may be a change in the authorities' repression policy, there has been an apparent increase in confiscations of privately-owned religious books from homes during raids. Associated with this have been violations of due legal process, Forum 18 News Service has learned. These include denials of legal representation, misrepresentation of whether a defendant has pleaded guilty, verdicts not being provided within the time laid down in law, and so-called "expert analyses" that have confused Protestant books with Jehovah's Witness books. As police confiscated one Bible in Uzbek, one Bible in Russian, and a book by John Bunyan from one Protestant they said: "Don't you know that it is prohibited to keep such books at home?". Police also stated that the books would be sent for "expert analysis" by the Religious Affairs Committee, and that their owner will be fined.

25 July 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Two women deported for exercising religious freedom

Two long-term residents of Uzbekistan born in the country – both Jehovah's Witnesses - have been deported to punish them for discussing their faith with others, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Russian citizen Yelena Tsyngalova was deported on an Uzbek Airlines evening flight from Tashkent to Moscow today (25 July), after being detained since 2 July. Accompanying her were her two teenage children, one a Russian citizen, the other an Uzbek citizen. Her mother Galina Poligenko-Aleshkina – an Uzbek citizen who is a pensioner with disabilities and who shared the family flat – is now left to fend for herself. Kazakh citizen Oksana Shcherbeneva was deported on 16 June immediately after completing a 15-day prison term. Other Jehovah's Witnesses detained and tried with her were jailed and fined.

4 July 2012

UZBEKISTAN: After four years' imprisonment, another 30 months

One month before the end of his four-year sentence, Jehovah's Witness Abdubannob Ahmedov was given a new 30-month sentence on charges of violating prison rules. Two other Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience also had their prison terms extended, but have now been freed, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. Four Muslims are known to have been freed from prison under amnesty, with some being forced to speak publicly in favour of government policies. A Baptist from Fergana, Yelena Kim, faces up to three years' imprisonment on charges of "illegally teaching religion".

11 June 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Imminent expulsion for exercising religious freedom?

Despite being born, brought up and living in Uzbekistan, Jehovah's Witness Yelena Tsyngalova and her two teenage sons are facing imminent expulsion to Russia, in apparent punishment for exercising her freedom of religion or belief. As in similar previous cases, Uzbekistan is seeking to expel the family without formally deporting them. "Yelena knows no-one in Russia and has nowhere to go, plus she has a disabled mother here in Tashkent who would be left all alone," her fellow Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 News Service. "She wants to stay here." Uzbek officials refused to discuss the family's expulsion with Forum 18. When Tsyngalova attempted to find out the reasons for her deportation with the head of the Sergeli District Visa Department, Utkir Buzakov, he threatened her with 15 days' imprisonment. When she told officials she had two teenage children and a mother who is an invalid, officials said she would have to take the two children with her. Although tickets for a Tuesday 12 June expulsion have been withdrawn, officials subsequently stated she will still be deported and this will not be delayed. Also, Tereza Rusanova, a Baptist from Uzbekistan who has lived in Kyrgyzstan since 2009, is facing criminal prosecution after she returned to Uzbekistan to renew her passport.

9 May 2012

UZBEKISTAN: An "unsanctioned meeting in a private home" - with a bomb?

Uzbekistan continues punishing people exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service notes. In one incident, police and the NSS secret police raided Protestants meeting in the home of Natalya Kim in Yukori-Chirchik, claiming at the time, local Protestants said, that a bomb was in the home. While searching for the alleged bomb, police confiscated Christian books and a laptop. Subsequently, 14 members of the unregistered Protestant Church were fined for an "unsanctioned meeting in a private home". The verdict was supplied after the legally required time, thus preventing an appeal being lodged. Natalya Kim herself was given the biggest fine, of 60 times the minimum monthly salary. Investigator Farhod Raimkulov told Forum 18 that "when many people gather in a certain place, it is the local police officer's duty to inspect and see what is happening". When Forum 18 asked whether the police can or should raid Inspector Raimkulov's home when he holds a party or some other event, he claimed that he was not part of the raid on Kim's home.

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