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26 August 2011

UZBEKISTAN: More fines, physical abuse and religious literature destruction

Police who raided a Protestant family's private home in Fergana assaulted the husband and confiscated religious literature, local Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. The religious books are being checked and officials are preparing an administrative case against the husband and wife and a family friend. Asked by Forum 18 what literature found in their home was banned, the Police Inspector who led the raid identified the Bible and the New Testament. Courts in the capital Tashkent and eastern Syrdarya Region have handed down fines of up to one hundred times the minimum monthly wage to ten Protestants to punish them for unregistered activity. In both cases the courts ordered that confiscated Christian literature - including Bibles and New Testaments – be destroyed. Officials of the state Religious Affairs Committee refused to explain why peaceful religious activity continues to be punished and why courts order the destruction of religious literature. "I am no expert in those matters, and you called the wrong department," Zulhaydar Sultanov, Head of its International Relations Department, told Forum 18.

2 August 2011

UZBEKISTAN: "Spiritually rich and for freedom of conscience and religion" ?

An indictment has been filed against a Baptist in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Konstantin Malchikovsky is accused of not paying in monies from church offerings and book sales. Baptists strongly dispute the charges, describing them as "absurd", and noting that they "violate the Religion Law". They also note that courts have ignored what they describe as "exhaustive proofs of falsification and forgery of documents by the tax authorities". The charges have, as in previous cases, been accompanied by a hostile campaign in the state-run media accusing Baptists among other things of running an "illegal training centre". After attacking work with children, an article claims that Uzbekistan has "created an environment where all conditions exist for children to grow spiritually rich and for freedom of conscience and religion". In other cases, a computer hard disk belonging to another Protestant has been ordered to be destroyed, and a prisoner of conscience on a ten year jail sentence for exercising freedom of religion or belief, Tohar Haydarov, has had his sentence confirmed by the Supreme Court.

15 June 2011

UZBEKISTAN: Police beating, axe threat, beating threat

Police officers assaulted a woman at her home while her parents were being interrogated over their religious activity at the local police station, sources who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 News Service. Officers "kicked the woman and hit her on the head, giving her severe concussion". Police refused to discuss the incident with Forum 18. A Tashkent police officer threatened local Protestant Anvar Rajapov if he continued to challenge a fine of 80 times the minimum monthly wage handed down to punish him for his religious activity. "I have prepared an axe for you, which will be flying after you, observing you, and if need be get you," sources quoted Major Zufar Rashidov as telling him. Police refused to discuss the threats with Forum 18. Tashkent Investigator Aleksandr Ten threatened the son of a Baptist church member that he would "beat him up and put him in prison for three months" if he did not sign statements against the church's pastor and bookkeeper who Ten is seeking to prosecute.

12 May 2011

UZBEKISTAN: April was the cruellest month

After a 5 April raid on his home by up to 10 police and secret police officers, Tashkent Protestant Anvar Rajapov was fined 80 times the minimum monthly wage for alleged proselytism, illegal religious meetings and illegal literature, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Judge Kholmurod Berdyklichev did not "even investigate the case but just signed the hastily and carelessly prepared decision", Protestants complained to Forum 18. The judge ordered that the religious books confiscated in the raid be destroyed, "except for those that can be allowed for internal use of religious communities". A member of Tashkent's registered Baptist church, Konstantin Malchikovsky, faces up to two years' imprisonment if a criminal case now with prosecutors goes ahead. He is accused of failing to use a cash register to record sales and donations to the church. In late April the congregation itself was given a massive fine for this. Church property was raided twice in April.

19 April 2011

UZBEKISTAN: Raids and confiscations as state wants "religious organisations which will stay quiet" ?

Uzbekistan's NSS secret police with other officials have carried out two raids on an officially registered Baptist church in the capital Tashkent, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Over 50,000 Christian books, a large quantity of printing and office equipment, and a sum of money personally belonging to one person were confiscated. In contrast to the confiscated literature and equipment, no official record was made of the confiscation of the money belonging to a church member was made. Later, three church leaders and the caretaker were given fines ranging between 50 and 100 times the minimum monthly salary. Officials have refused to give reasons for their actions, but there has recently been a harshening of official actions against the possession and supply of religious literature. One Tashkent Baptist, asked by Forum 18 what might be behind the raids and confiscations, commented: "The authorities are interested in having small pocket-size churches and religious organisations, which will stay quiet and not have much religious activity."

15 April 2011

UZBEKISTAN: Police assault Baptist, Imams fired, gift to Children's Home a "violation"

Uzbekistan has levied a large fine on a Baptist in the capital Tashkent – who was physically assaulted by police – for giving a children's Bible to a work colleague, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The policeman who assaulted Galina Shemetova denied to Forum 18 that he had done anything wrong. Possibly fuelled by the authorities concerns about the impact of the Arab Spring uprisings for freedom, three Tashkent Muslim clerics who studied in Arab countries have been dismissed from their posts. No reasons have been given for the dismissals, and officials refused to answer when asked by Forum 18 whether the dismissals had anything to do with where the clergymen studied. And the officially registered Zarafshan Baptist Church has been raided and given an official warning for making a financial gift to a local children's home. The raid followed the Church's required filing of its financial statements with the regional Justice Department, who then ordered the raid. Among a list of – disputed – violations found by officials is that a tap did not have a notice with the personal data of the person responsible for the Church's use of water. No officials would tell Forum 18 what will happen to the funds the Church gave the Happiness Children's Home.

22 March 2011

UZBEKISTAN: "Anti-terror" raid on old people's home

Six Baptists who led Sunday worship in an old people's home near Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent face criminal and administrative charges after an "anti-terror operation" against their service, Baptists told Forum 18 News Service. Asked why the authorities halted the service and harassed participants, deputy police chief Major Sofar Fayziyev – who took part in the raid – told Forum 18: "They could not produce any proof that they had authorisation for their activity." Elsewhere, three Baptists were fined after police raided a Sunday morning church service. As happens frequently, the court verdict ordered the destruction of Bibles and other confiscated Christian literature. And Judge Abdumumin Rahimov who handed a massive fine to a young resident of Navoi for transporting Jehovah's Witness literature insists that "the main purpose of the punishment is not revenge against the offender, but teaching him to respect the law".

28 February 2011

UZBEKISTAN: "All talk about the Constitution and democracy is hypocrisy"

Uzbekistan continues to harass the officially registered Bible Society, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Officials have forced its General Assembly to take place in the open air, after warning churches not to host the meeting. New Bible Society Director Aleksey Voskresensky has left his teaching position at the Tashkent Protestant Seminary under pressure from the state Religious Affairs Committee. State officials have also told Bible Society officials that "it is not necessary to import Bibles into Uzbekistan since there is an electronic version of the Bible on the Internet and this is enough". Bible Society members have complained to Forum 18 that the authorities "are determined to stop import of Bibles in the national languages, and to stop distribution of the Bible in the country. We can see that all talk about the Constitution and democracy in Uzbekistan is hypocrisy". Officials have refused to discuss the issue with Forum 18.

23 February 2011

UZBEKISTAN: More short-term prisoners of conscience

The same Tashkent judge who sentenced three Protestants to 15-day prison terms in a late-night hearing in May 2010 again stayed up late on 12 February 2011 to hand down 15-day prison terms on a further three Protestants. Fined fifty times the minimum monthly wage at the same time were ten other Full Gospel Church members, Protestants who asked not to be identified told Forum 18 News Service. All were punished on charges of holding an "illegal" religious meeting after a police raid on a birthday party in a church member's home. The District Police Chief refused to tell Forum 18 why police under his command staged the raid. Short-term jail sentences of up to fifteen days are frequent punishments for those who conduct religious activity the government does not like. There are also many long-term Muslim, Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestant prisoners of conscience, sentenced for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.

18 February 2011

UZBEKISTAN: "No need to import Bibles"?

At a January hearing in her absence, Natalya Pitirimova, Accountant of the Bible Society of Uzbekistan, was fined for violating procedures over the import of two shipments of Bibles and Children's Bibles in 2008 and 2010. The state Religious Affairs Committee, which operates Uzbekistan's strict prior compulsory censorship of all religious literature, has refused to release the Bibles, despite successive appeals from Christian churches. Judge Dilshod Suleymanov also ordered that the Bible Society return the shipments - totalling nearly 15,000 copies - to Russia at its own cost. The judge claimed to Forum 18 News Service that the "Bible Society did not present requests on time to the Religious Affairs Committee from churches in Uzbekistan that they need the literature, and subsequently as time passed this violated customs procedures." Justice Ministry officials told the Bible Society "there is no need to import Bibles into Uzbekistan since there's an electronic version on the internet."

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