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3 February 2011

UZBEKISTAN: Prisoner of conscience "released but not free"

Former prisoner of conscience Dmitry Shestakov, who was recently released from a four-year jail sentence continues to be placed by Uzbekistan under the severe restrictions of 'administrative supervision', Forum 18 News Service has learned. Among the restrictions Shestakov faces he has to for one year report to police in person almost every week, he may not be outside his home between 21.00 in the evening and 06.00 in the morning, he may not leave his home town without written police permission, and he cannot visit public places such as restaurants. The term of administrative supervision can be extended, and the punishments for breaking the supervision regime range up to imprisonment for four years. The authorities have refused to explain the reason for the restrictions to Forum 18. "He was released from prison but is not free," a local Protestant complained. Current known long and short-term prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief are Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestants. The latest two short-term prisoners of conscience are two Baptists jailed for distributing religious literature.

21 December 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Heavy sentences at further mass trial of Muslims

At the end of a two month trial which was closed to human rights defenders, 18 Muslims were given prison terms of between three years three months and nine years accused of membership of a "religious extremist" group, Saidjakhon Zainabitdinov, a human rights defender from Andijan, told Forum 18 News Service. A further seven were given suspended sentences. All 25 were members of Shohidiya, an Islamic religious movement which follows the Koran but not the hadiths, the oral traditions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad's sayings. Court and Prosecutor's Office officials refused to discuss the cases with Forum 18. Meanwhile, Baptists are again asking the Supreme Court to re-examine the ten year sentence handed down on Tohar Haydarov. He is not being given letters sent to him at his labour camp "because they were full of religious words like God, and needed to go through censorship," camp officials told his fellow Baptists. Despite also not being given a Bible sent to him, one camp official told Forum 18: "We have religious freedom in our prison."

26 November 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Scepticism that any new Administrative Code will end punishments for religious activity

After a mass police raid on a Protestant church in Chirchik near the capital Tashkent, assistant pastor Vladimir Kim was fined 80 times the minimum monthly wage, while the church's pastor received a fine of 40 times, church members complained to Forum 18 News Service. They were fined under the Code of Administrative Offences for "violation of the procedure for holding religious meetings" as they had not informed the authorities that they would be meeting for worship in their registered church building. Some 20 police officers had caught them during a raid, eleven days after the Harvest Festival at another registered Protestant church in the town was broken up and the pastor fined. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov told parliament that a new Code of Administrative Offences will be prepared, but religious believers told Forum 18 they are sceptical that any new Code will end punishments for religious activity. As well as regular fines, Forum 18 knows of 22 religious believers to have received prison terms of 3 to 15 days under the Code in 2010.

25 November 2010

UZBEKISTAN: "It's not confiscation, it's temporary removal"

Uzbekistan has confiscated Christian books from a youth group returning from Kazakhstan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. An Uzbek customs official claimed to Forum 18 that the confiscations were "not confiscation. It's temporary removal". Customs officials claimed that a court would decide what would happen to the literature. Baptists complained that a customs official swore at them, saying: "We are the bosses here and we will do what we like. If we need to, we'll lock you away." Officials refused to provide copies of Confiscation Certificates and the group was released after being held for nine hours. Also, the head of Ukraine's Baptist Union has been denied entry to Uzbekistan and a Protestant has been denied permission to leave, no reasons for either action being given. And two more foreign religious websites have had access from within Uzbekistan blocked. These actions appear to be part of a policy of isolating religious believers from their fellow-believers in other countries.

26 October 2010

UZBEKISTAN: "Anti-terror" raid on Protestant worship, beatings, and fines

Five Baptists in Uzbekistan have failed to have fines for taking part in an unregistered worship service overturned on appeal, local Baptists have told Forum 18 News Service. The fines, as well as beatings given to two Baptists by police, followed an "anti-terror" raid - as police described it - on the congregation as they met for worship. During the raid by 20 police officers, officers swore at church members and seized hymnbooks, personal Bibles and even handwritten notebooks from church members "using physical force, even tearing books from the hands of children". The duty officer at Samarkand police, who would not give his name, insisted to Forum 18 that "we do not beat believers". The state Religious Affairs Committee ruled that the confiscated literature including Bibles and hymns were illegal. The convicted Baptists told both courts they consider the fines unfounded, and a violation of their religious freedom. They have continued to lodge official protests, are pressing for confiscated religious literature to be returned – and for action to be taken against a police officer who beat two of them.

25 October 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Massive fine for having a film of Jesus' life

Uzbekistan has imposed a massive fine on a Protestant for owning a Christian film, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Murat Jalalov was fined - apparently on the instructions of the NSS secret police – after police raided his home. The film and other confiscated materials for analysis by the state Religious Affairs Committee, which said that the film "could be used among local ethnicities for missionary purposes" and was therefore banned. All the confiscated material was ordered to be destroyed. An official of the Committee, asked by Forum 18 what happened to confiscated religious literature ordered to be sent to the Religious Affairs Committee, claimed that "I haven't seen any". Asked whether the Committee itself destroys such literature, as court verdicts often order it to be destroyed, he responded: "We don't destroy religious literature". Such confiscations and destructions – even of texts such as the Bible and Koran - and fines are common. Separately, a man – not a religious believer – has been fined for refusing to reveal his son's whereabouts. The son is being hunted by police for his religious activity. Also, Jehovah's Witnesses have told Forum 18 that more than 100 fines have been levied on their members in 2010.

23 September 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Three years in labour camp "not a severe punishment"

Uzbekistan continues to imprison devout Muslims for long terms and devout Christians for short terms, Forum 18 News Service has found. Three-year labour camp terms have been imposed on seven Muslim men, with four others receiving suspended jail terms, for holding unauthorised private religion lessons. The judge in the case, Rahimzhon Aliyev, told Forum 18 that three years in a labour camp is "not a severe punishment". Conditions in labour camps can be particularly harsh, with unsanitary and dangerous living and working conditions, beatings by guards, and criminal gangs having a ruthless hold over other prisoners. Pressed on why courts, including his court, have given severe punishments for unregistered religious activity, Judge Aliyev said that it is "because of Uzbek law". In another case, two Protestants have been given five-day administrative detentions for unregistered religious activity, with two others being fined. The judge in this case, Gulsara Buranova, in 2009 had previously fined one of the defendants. Two South Koreans have also been deported, for alleged "unauthorised missionary activity".

22 September 2010

RUSSIA: Will Russia extradite reader of Muslim theologian to Uzbekistan?

Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov, an Uzbek reader of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi, has been arrested in Russia after a request from Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He fled Uzbekistan after being warned his arrest was likely, after his brother, another reader of Nursi's works, was given a six year jail sentence. A prosecution official told Forum 18 that the extradition decision will be taken by the General Prosecutor's Office in Moscow. Yelena Ryabinina of the Moscow-based Human Rights Institute told Forum 18 that "people are being sought and prosecuted not because of any extremist actions, but because of what they read. The Uzbek authorities regard any religious or political dissidence or independent activity as a threat that must be crushed", she told Forum 18. "There is an international ban on extraditing individuals to countries where torture is practised – and Russia should abide by this. We are ready to take this case as far as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if we have to," she added.

16 September 2010

UZBEKISTAN: "I was only obeying orders"

Uzbekistan continues to punish unregistered religious activity, as well as imposing controls on notionally permitted Muslim religious activity, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Courts have fined one Baptist and warned a second Baptist, who was a Soviet-era prisoner of conscience, for religious activity. The judge in the case refused to talk about it to Forum 18, but the police officer who led the raid that led to the prosecution told Forum 18 that "I was only obeying orders" from his superiors. Long-term Baptist prisoner of conscience Tohar Haydarov has had an appeal registered at the Supreme Court, but officials will not say when – or if - a hearing will take place. Uzbekistan has also imposed greater restrictions on Muslim religious activity during the month of Ramadan (which this year ended on 9 September) by banning iftar meals in restaurants, greater surveillance of mosques, banning night prayers away from mosques, and cutting water and electricity at prayer times in different places across the country.

18 August 2010

UZBEKISTAN: "The Court decided so"

Uzbekistan continues punishing peaceful religious activity and imprisoning prisoners of conscience, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Three Muslims have been given five years in prison, with one Protestant being given 10 days in jail. Six Muslims have been fined 70 times the minimum monthly salary, and one Protestant has been fined almost 10 times the minimum monthly salary. Defending his decision to punish the nine Muslims, Judge Bakhtiyor Rustamov told Forum 18 that the defendants read the works of Said Nursi, which are banned in Uzbekistan. When asked why long prison terms were imposed, Rustamov stated that "I cannot tell you over the phone, it's a long case". Judge Bahadyr Shahanov would not say why he punished the Protestants, but said it was an administrative penalty. "The Court decided so," he said. When asked why the jailed Protestant, Rustam Kalbayev, was not given a copy of the verdict, Judge Shahanov claimed that "he has signed a paper that he received it." Kalbayev denies this claim, and his fellow-believers point out that the conduct of the trial breached Uzbek legal procedures.

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