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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.

11 April 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Continuing freedom of movement bans

Uzbekistan continues to impose bans on entry and exit from the country on people exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. The authorities also use the border crossing points for confiscating religious literature. Referring to bans on people taking part in the haj and umra pilgrimages, human rights defender Shaira Sadygbekova described the authorities, especially the Religious Affairs Committee, as "creating artificial barriers for ordinary Uzbeks". Khaitboy Yakubov of the Najot human rights organisation stating that such barriers are widespread. Among other violations are bans on exit visas for Muslims who have passed the stringent state approval procedures for going on state-organised pilgrimages, bans on Muslims joining waiting lists for these pilgrimages, bans on individual Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses leaving the country, and bans on Hare Krishna devotees and Christians entering the country. Officials have refused to discuss these human rights violations with Forum 18.

19 March 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Religious literature only for "internal use by registered religious organisations"

On 5 February police and NSS secret police officers raided an unregistered mainly ethnic Korean Baptist Church's Sunday worship service near Tashkent. On 7 February the state Religious Affairs Committee ruled that Christian literature confiscated during the raid was allowed only for "internal use" by registered religious organisations. On 13 February the Church's Pastor, Vyacheslav Kim (a 65-year-old pensioner), was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage in his absence. The books and musical instruments seized were ordered handed to the state, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18 News Service. Judge Muhammadali Nazarov defended the fine and confiscations, insisting to Forum 18 that his decision is "in line with the Law". Officials of the Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss their ruling that the literature was not allowed to unregistered communities or outside registered communities. After a raid on a private home in Samarkand, Protestant Khursheda Telyayeva was fined 20 times the minimum monthly wage. Her confiscated Christian books were ordered handed to Samarkand Regional Muslim Board.

16 March 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Islamic and Christian literature ordered destroyed

In two separate cases in February, in different regions of Uzbekistan, courts have ordered religious literature confiscated from four Muslim women and a Protestant destroyed, Forum 18 News Service has learned. All five were also fined, Muslims Nasiba Ashirmatova, Mahsuma Rahimkhujayeva, Iroda Mirzukurova and Mohinur Kholmatova being fined five times the minimum monthly wage and Baptist Odiljon Solijanov being fined 20 times the minimum monthly wage. The four Muslim women work together in a kindergarten, and would sometimes during lunch breaks discuss religious subjects such as how to pray. This led to NSS secret police and ordinary police harassment, leading to a raid, literature confiscations and a fine. The police prevented the women attending the original court hearing, an appeal was rejected, and it is likely that all four women will be closely watched by the authorities. Ashirmatova has already been sacked from the kindergarten. Solijanov was asked by the judge in his court hearing: "Is it true you were distributing literature harmful to our state?" He answered: "The Word of God is not harmful to anyone, and we are called in the Gospel to spread the good news", Baptists told Forum 18.

13 February 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "We treat everybody equally"

The day after a "brutal" raid by Uzbekistan's ordinary police and NSS secret police on two homes of Jehovah's Witnesses in the capital Tashkent, three Jehovah's Witness men were each given 15-day prison terms and fined. Jehovah's Witnesses noted to Forum 18 News Service that this is the first time people have been both given short-term prison sentences and fined in the same case. Four women detained in the raids were each given heavy fines. Also, police and the NSS secret police raided the Sunday morning service of a Baptist congregation in Chirchik. Charges are being prepared against some Baptists. Mahalla Chair Nurmina Askarova, who took part in the raid, told Forum 18 that "we told them to attend another church in Chirchik, which is registered." She also claimed that "we treat everybody equally, both Christians and Muslims", stating that "we closed a mosque in our mahalla, for instance, and asked worshippers to attend a mosque which is both bigger and registered in the neighbouring district".

10 February 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Renounce your beliefs or you won't be released

Two Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience near the end of their jail sentences in  Uzbekistan, Olim Turaev and Sergei Ivanov, are due to face new criminal trials "possibly within days". If convicted, they could remain in prison for up to a further five years each, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. On 7 or 8 February prosecutors completed the cases against them on charges of disobeying orders while in Tashkent Region's Tavaksay Prison, which under the law gives a court 15 days to begin the trials. The two – jailed in 2008 for four and three and a half years respectively - began their sentences in open labour camps. But in 2009 they were both moved to "more punitive general regime prison" in Tavaksay after they asked the authorities to be amnestied. While serving their sentences, the two – along with another Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience - were in summer 2011 "visited by a prison official and told that they would not be released at the end of their terms unless they renounced their faith", Forum 18 was told. Officials have refused to discuss the cases with Forum 18.

24 January 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "I don't care about the law or your rights"

One of the police officers accused of beating local Protestant Shokir Rahmatullayev after a raid on his home in Jarkurgan in Surkhandarya Region has adamantly denied that any violence was used, but refused to discuss the case. Captain Ruzi Nazarov insisted to Forum 18 News Service that police did "not beat or threaten" Rahmatullayev. Police chief Bahrom Tursunov not only beat and threatened Rahmatullayev with a false murder charge, but threatened that his mother "could become Tursunov's concubine", sources told Forum 18. Tursunov told Rahmatullayev that he, with his Christian activity, is "helping Russians to take over Uzbekistan". Another officer involved in the beatings told him: "I don't care about the law or your rights". Administrative charges have been lodged against Rahmatullayev and two other church members. Other Protestants continue to be fined elsewhere in Uzbekistan. But in one case in Tashkent, the fine was reduced on appeal, though the judge upheld the decision to destroy confiscated Christian literature.

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