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29 October 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: 15 years' jail for UNHCR-recognised refugee if deportation to Uzbekistan proceeds?

Uzbekistan is now seeking to extradite detained UNHCR-recognised refugee Makset Djabbarbergenov from Kazakhstan on charges which carry a maximum 15 year jail term. The Protestant who fled to Kazakhstan is being sought by Uzbekistan for exercising freedom of religion or belief in his home town of Nukus. A Kazakh 15 October Almaty court decision, authorised further detention until 5 November. The Kazakh court also claimed that the Uzbek charges – which seek to prosecute exercising freedom of religion or belief – can be equated to terrorism-related charges in Kazakh law. Djabbarbergenov's wife has been stopped by Kazakh authorities from visiting him, she told Forum 18 News Service, as has a human rights defender who found he is being held in "quarantine". The Supreme Court claims it cannot find an appeal he lodged in August. Also, Kazakhstan has yet to reply to a finding of the UN Committee Against Torture that it violated human rights obligations by extraditing to Uzbekistan a group of Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. Kazakhstan's current bid to join the UN Human Rights Council claims it would, if elected, "enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Human Rights Council".

5 October 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "Illegal extremists" or peaceful Muslims?

Nine Muslim men from Tashkent Region are facing criminal trial for meeting to learn how to pray the namaz and to discuss their faith, according to case documents seen by Forum 18 News Service. Some face up to eight years in prison if convicted, the rest up to five years. Uzbekistan's National Security Service (NSS) secret police arrested the men between May and July. Although seven have been bailed, two remain in a Tashkent prison awaiting trial. "These are innocent and peaceful people - their only guilt is to be practicing Muslims," human rights defender Yelena Urlayeva told Forum 18. Three officials leading the case - Prosecutor Muzaffar Egamberdiyev of Tashkent Region, Lt.-Col. Shukhratullo Khusanov of Parkent District Police, and Police Investigator Nodyr Saidov – all refused to discuss it with Forum 18.

24 September 2012

UZBEKISTAN: 74-year-old woman among latest police raid victims

A 74-year-old disabled Protestant from Tashkent Region, Nina Chashina, may face administrative prosecution after police raided her home, seized religious literature and beat her neighbour. Police refused to allow doctors to take the neighbour to hospital after she suffered an epileptic fit, Protestants complained to Forum 18 News Service. Others across Uzbekistan have faced fines for religious activity, including the father of a family punished for singing Christian songs in his own home with his wife, children and a friend. In another recent case, the same judge in Khorezm Region who punished a Jehovah's Witness fined two Protestants five days later. He also ordered a Bible and New Testament destroyed after an "expert analysis" by an official of the local Muslim Board, even though the government's Religious Affairs Committee is the only body authorised to conduct such analyses.

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.

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