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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.

5 August 2010

UZBEKISTAN: "We are bandits"

Uzbekistan continues short-term jailings of prisoners of conscience and large fines against Christians meeting together, Forum 18 News Service has learned. 10 Protestant short-term prisoners of conscience have been jailed for between three and five days, and three were fined 80 times the minimum monthly wage. The raid which preceded the punishments – in which 23 people including small children were detained – was carried out with great brutality. Police under Major Ilyos Mustafayev broke into the house, confiscating two personal Bibles, four songbooks and one textbook of violin lessons. They then began "pushing the believers forcefully" into cars outside, Baptists complained. "Some believers were kicked and hit while they were dragged out of the house." Major Mustafayev, when asked by the Baptists why the Police acted like bandits, replied: "Yes, we are bandits". Questioned by Forum 18, Mustafayev denied his identity. Elsewhere a court has ordered that officially permitted Christian books and leaflets found in a raid should be confiscated and destroyed, despite Uzbek legal procedure being violated.

14 July 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Two further short-term jailings, while raids and fines continue

The ten-day prison terms handed down to Lepes Omarov and another Protestant in Karakalpakstan on 8 July brought to ten the number of people known to Forum 18 News Service to have been given short-term prison terms in 2010 to punish them for their religious activity. All religious activity in Karakalpakstan outside state-approved mosques and one Russian Orthodox church is banned. Elsewhere in Uzbekistan, a Protestant in Tashkent Region was given a written warning that "as the leader of an illegally functioning cell of Protestant tendency" he was breaking the law by holding religious services and sharing his faith and risks prosecution. An "Anti-Terror" operation in Fergana targeted two Baptists offering Christian books – they were fined, while the verdict records that the court "considers it necessary" that the four books confiscated from them be destroyed. No official would discuss these cases with Forum 18.

8 July 2010

UZBEKISTAN: More Muslims jailed, what chance of appeals by Muslim and Christian prisoners of conscience?

In a mass trial, Bukhara Regional Court handed down sentences on 25 June of between eight and six years on a group of nine men, sources who asked not to be identified told Forum 18 News Service. The nine were readers of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi or acquaintances of them. A trial in the same court of a further ten men – arrested at the same time in early 2010 – began on 22 June and is still continuing. Court officials refused to discuss the cases with Forum 18. Meanwhile, 27-year-old Tohar Haydarov – sentenced to ten years' imprisonment on drugs charges which his fellow-Baptists insist were fabricated – is planning to appeal to Uzbekistan's Supreme Court. "He is hoping that justice will happen and he will be released," fellow Baptists told Forum 18. They said his health in labour camp near Karshi is "normal". Jailed Muslim journalist Hairulla Hamidov told his mother during a meeting in a Tashkent prison in June there was no hope for an appeal to be successful and that he had therefore decided against it.

15 June 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Samarkand – city of closed Protestant churches

The seventh in a series of Protestant churches stripped of state registration in the central Uzbek city of Samarkand in the past four years is still battling to regain it. Without registration, all religious activity is illegal. "For more than a year our church has been trying to establish the illegality of the stripping of registration," a member of Samarkand's Central Protestant Church told Forum 18 News Service. "All the courts either say it is not within their competence or remain silent." Asked if there was any hope that the church would be able to regain its registration, an official of Samarkand Regional Justice Department told Forum 18: "I don't know what decision we will take. I am not a doctor." At least one further local Protestant church has applied in vain for registration for the past decade. "Now all of us have been deprived of the fundamental right to pray together and worship God," one local church leader complained. Local Muslims, Hare Krishna devotees and Jehovah's Witnesses have also faced harassment.

4 June 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Muslims jailed, lawyers, church and Christian former prisoners of conscience threatened

Following a closed trial, Uzbekistan has imposed prison sentences of up to six years and fines on 19 Muslims, Forum 18 News Service has learned. "The case was fabricated," human rights defender Surat Ikramov complained, stating that the trial was conducted in "flagrant violation" of the Criminal Procedure Code. In a separate trial 10 other prisoners of conscience, who read works by the Muslim theologian Said Nursi, were jailed for between eight years and five years and two months. Lawyers defending three former prisoners of conscience from Tashkent's Protestant Church of Christ have been threatened by the authorities that "they could be stripped of their licences if they continue to defend these cases." Similarly, the Religious Affairs Committee has threatened to strip the registered church of legal status if church members continue to complain about the jailings and other human rights violations. Two Protestant former prisoners of conscience in the south have also been threatened by police, and have had to leave their homes. "In one instance one of them was told by a police officer that they will always breathe down their necks, as long as they continue their Christian activity," Forum 18 was told.

18 May 2010

UZBEKISTAN: 15-day jail terms, large fines, literature destruction follow raid

Uzbekistan has continued short-term jailings of religious minorities, with three Protestant Christians from a registered church today (18 May) being given 15 day jail terms, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Three other Protestants – arrested after a raid on the Tashkent church - were each fined 80 times the minimum monthly wage, and two other Protestants were fined five times the minimum monthly wage. Six computers seized during the raid were ordered to be given to the state, and seized Christian literature ordered destroyed. "Everyone was shocked at the verdict because the defendants proved in court that they were innocent and there were so many violations of legal procedure," one Protestant told Forum 18. Unusually the court sat into the evening and the sentences were given at about 10.30 pm local time. Among other recent punishments for "illegal" religious literature, one Baptist has been fined 20 times the monthly minimum wage and his religious literature – including the New Testament - was ordered to be destroyed.

17 May 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Large raid and almost immediate trial starts against registered church

Uzbekistan's police, NSS secret police, Tax Inspectorate, Fire Brigade, and Sanitary-Epidemiological Service raided a Protestant church in the capital Tashkent during its Sunday morning worship service yesterday (16 May), Protestants who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals have told Forum 18 News Service. Eight members of the Church of Christ, a Russian-language registered church, were arrested including Assistant Pastor Artur Avanesyan. The trial of all eight has begun and is due to continue tomorrow (18 May). Church members and relatives were denied access to the initial hearing. During the raid, officials confiscated Christian books, offertory money and computers. Early today (17 May) the police denied that officers had raided the Church of Christ, and that the eight church members were being held. The NSS secret police have also refused to discuss the raid, as well as other recent raids on Protestant churches, such as a Methodist church. Protestants expressed concern to Forum 18 that the authorities might be seeking to close the church.

10 May 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Roadblocks around trial, more Nursi readers arrested

Uzbekistan has begun the trial of Hairulla Hamidov, a journalist arrested for Muslim religious activity, and 18 others, human rights defender Surat Ikramov has told Forum 18 News Service. The trial is being conducted in a building 30 km [19 miles] from the capital Tashkent, which is surrounded by roadblocks to bar access to close relatives, journalists and human rights defenders. Only a few of the defendants have lawyers appointed by their families. The rest have state-appointed lawyers, who will "do nothing to defend them" Ikramov insisted. The defendants face criminal charges with penalties ranging from a fine of 50 times the monthly minimum salary to 15 years in jail. Elsewhere, arrests of readers of the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi continue, and some previously arrested Nursi readers are still awaiting trial. As part of its harsh punishments for those who conduct peaceful religious activity the government does not control, Uzbekistan routinely imposes prison terms. Known prisoners of conscience jailed for religious activity are Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestant Christians.

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