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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.

29 April 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Three short-term jail sentences for prisoners of conscience

Two Protestant Christians in southern Uzbekistan have been given 15 and 10 day jail terms respectively, local sources have told Forum 18 News Service. Azamat Rajapov and Abdusattor Kurbonov were apparently sentenced for unregistered religious activity and began their jail terms on 23 April. No notice was given of the trial and the first the prisoners' families and friends knew was a brief telephone call from one informing them the two were in jail. The following day a Jehovah's Witness in Tashkent received a 15-day term. The cases mark a resumption of the policy of using 5 to 15-day jail sentences against selected Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. In a separate case the head of the police in Almalyk, near the capital Tashkent, has continued sending letters threatening religious believes with criminal charges. In incidents unrelated to these two cases Forum 18 continues to be made aware of cases of torture, and of women (and sometimes men) detained for their religious activity being targeted by male officials with overt or implied threats of sexual violence. Forum 18 notes that it is highly unusual for victims to want to document their experiences publicly.

26 April 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Muslims jailed long-term, short-term Christian jailings re-start

Uzbekistan continues to jail Muslims and Christians for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Labour camp terms of between six and a half and seven years have been given to three Muslim women for leading and taking part in unauthorised religious meetings, and a Baptist's appeal against a 10-year prison sentence – on apparently fabricated drugs charges – has been rejected. Relatives of the three jailed Muslim women have been pressured not to appeal against the convictions. The state has also re-started its policy of short-term jailings of religious minorities, with two Protestants and one Jehovah's Witness being each jailed for between 10 and 15 days. Criminal cases are still pending against a Muslim journalist, along with 38 other Muslims, as well as against 40 readers of the approach to Islam of Said Nursi. Officials have mostly refused to comment on the cases. The UN Human Rights Committee has expressed its concern over Uzbekistan's "limitations and restrictions on freedom of religion and belief".

23 April 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Raids, fines, more raids, more fines

Protestant Christians in Karakalpakstan in north-west Uzbekistan continue to face raids, threats, fines, literature confiscations and court-ordered destruction of religious literature, Forum 18 News Service has been told. In two recent cases in the region, police demanded that Protestants sign statements that they will not associate with other Christians or have any Christian books in their homes. Students in the region and elsewhere have also been put under pressure to be vigilant against "alien for us religious and extremist influences and the impact of inferior 'mass culture' " The unclearly defined phrase occurs in a government programme for 2010, designated "The Year for the Harmonious Development of the Generation". Religious activity by school and higher-education students has long attracted official hostility. Courts in the region continue to order religious literature to be destroyed, including Bibles and New Testaments, and to find those found in possession of these books. Religious literature seizures continue throughout Uzbekistan.

21 April 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Feeding homeless people is "not according to charter"

Protestants in Uzbekistan continue to be targeted, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Police raided a Protestant youth conference, claiming to check identity documents. Many of the about 70 young people were playing football and basketball, and 43 were taken to a police station where they were fingerprinted and photographed. Two leaders are under investigation for "violation of the procedure for holding mass events" and "violation of the law on religious organisations". Two days after that raid, police, tax inspectors and local officials raided Eternal Life Protestant Church in the capital Tashkent. At the time of the raid, church members were feeding homeless people. Officials complained this was "not according to their [registered] charter" and police detained several church members. Police admitted to Forum 18 that the NSS secret police had led the raid. Following an alleged "Anti-terror" raid on a birthday party, ten Pentecostals – eight of them pensioners - were fined 100 times the minimum monthly salary.

16 March 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Internet censorship continues

Uzbekistan continues to impose widespread and swift internet censorship on Russian-language websites, Forum 18 News Service notes. This was demonstrated on 9 March, when internet users in the country were blocked from viewing a Russian-language news article on Lenta.ru (reposted from Uznews.net) about the difficulties a bearded Muslim in Samarkand encountered in getting a passport. The Russian news website Ferghana.ru – which reported the blocking – is one of a number of Russian-based news websites which Forum 18 notes are blocked within Uzbekistan. Forum 18 has found that three Russian religion news sites are also blocked. Blocking is carried out by the NSS secret police. Elbek Dalimov of Uzbekistan's State Agency of Communications and Information told Forum 18 that his agency does not block websites. However Dalimov stated that access to some sites was banned in licensing agreements with internet providers. Also, Uzbek-based websites - such as those of the Full Gospel Protestant Union and detained Muslim journalist Hairulla Hamidov - have been forced by the authorities to close.

15 March 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Baptists fined 100 times minimum monthly salary

Uzbekistan has fined 13 members of an unregistered Baptist church 100 times the minimum monthly salary, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The church has protested against the fines, claiming that over 60 violations of Uzbek law were committed in the course of the arrests, detentions and interrogations which led up to the court proceedings. Amongst the Criminal Code articles said to be violated were those forbidding the use of violence by officials. There have been several other recent raids and fines on Protestants. In one incident after fining three Protestants, Judge Makset Berdimuratov in the north-western region of Karakalpakstan ordered the destruction of confiscated Christian books including the Bible. Asked by Forum 18 why Christians believers cannot keep copies of Bibles in their homes, the Judge – in a very calm voice – stated that Bibles "must also be registered with the State Committee, and if they are not they will be destroyed once found."

11 March 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Ten year sentence for "honest Christian"

Uzbekistan has sentenced a Baptist to 10 years in jail on drugs charges, which his fellow Baptists insist are fabricated, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Seven weeks after his arrest, Tohar Haydarov was sentenced in Guliston on 9 March for "illegal sale of narcotic or psychotropic substances in large quantities". Fellow Baptists insist that this is to punish him for his religious activity. It is unclear why Haydarov has been given such a harsh sentence. The only known current Christian prisoner of conscience, Pentecostal Pastor Dmitry Shestakov, is serving a four year sentence. Baptists insist that police planted drugs on Haydarov at the time of his arrest, and according to church members he is "a man with a pure conscience and an honest Christian". Forum 18 has spoken to several Baptists in Syrdarya and Tashkent who strongly support Haydarov. The judge and police officers involved have refused to discuss the case with Forum 18, and Haydarov has appealed against his sentence.

9 March 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Muslims and Jehovah's Witness tried, praying prisoner "committed suicide"

Around 40 associates of a group of readers of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi in Uzbekistan were arrested by police in January, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "These were not necessarily participants in reading Nursi's works, but were witnesses in the earlier case, neighbours and friends," one source stated. Among other recent arrests are those of 25 alleged Nursi readers serving in the army, with 12 due to face a military tribunal, a human rights defender told Forum 18. However, a Jehovah's Witness convicted but not imprisoned for teaching religion illegally was amnestied. No Muslim, Jehovah's Witness or Christian prisoner of conscience is known to have been amnestied. Also, Uzbekistan has categorically denied to the UN that prisoners are punished for praying. The denial came after three UN Special Rapporteurs wrote about reports of two brothers being tortured. One, Nigmat Zufarov, began a hunger strike demanding to be allowed to pray. The government claimed that he then "committed suicide".

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