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9 February 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Drugs planted and worshippers beaten up?

Uzbekistan continues to punish people for unregistered religious worship, Forum 18 News Service notes. Tohar Haydarov, a Baptist, has been arrested and faces criminal charges of producing or storing drugs, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. Haydarov's fellow believers insist to Forum 18 that the case has been fabricated, one stating that "police planted a matchbox with drugs." They also state that Haydarov "was beaten and forced by the police to sign different papers. His face looked exhausted and swollen, and he could hardly walk. He did not even remember what was written in those papers." The authorities claim these are "lies". In another case police raided a peaceful meeting of local Baptists, who sustained injuries during detention which have been verified by a medical examination. Told that Forum 18 had seen the medical record, a police officer appeared at a loss for words. "I don't know what to say, the police were there only to assist other state agencies with the detentions," he said. In both cases the authorities are also thought to be preparing criminal cases against some of the Baptists.

27 January 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Crackdown on devout Muslims continues

Uzbekistan continues to arrest religious believers, primarily Muslims, throughout the country, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Around 57 Muslims are being held in the central Syrdarya region on unknown charges. It appears that a common factor linking some was that they were devout Muslims who went to gether to mosques to pray. In the south-western Kashkadarya region the son-in-law of Mekhrinisso Hamdamova, a Muslim woman arrested for holding religious meetings in her home, was himself arrested on 16 January 2010. It is thought that his arrest is linked to the authorities' anger at the flight from them of women threatened with rape if they did not testify against Hamdamova. Also, the fate of several men put on trial in 2009 for following the approach to Islam of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi still remains unknown, despite requests by Forum 18 to the relevant courts for information. These cases appear to be part of an ongoing crackdown on peaceful devout Muslims and followers of other faiths exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief independent of state control.

14 January 2010

UZBEKISTAN: Illegal Christmas as unregistered religious activity punished

Uzbekistan continues in 2010 to punish unregistered religious activity, in defiance of international human rights standards, Forum 18 News Service has learned. On 3 January, eight police officers raided a Christmas gathering organised by an officially registered church. Asked why celebrating Christmas was illegal, police told Forum 18 that the Full Gospel Holiness Church is "not registered" in Umid village. Three leaders of the Church face administrative charges as a result. Also, following unregistered religious activity in the southern Surkhandarya Region, Pastor Bakhrom Nazarov has been fined over 83 times the minimum monthly wage. 25 people are known to have suffered short-term jail sentences between February and November 2009. However, there were no known short-term jailings of people for exercising their freedom of religion or belief from late November 2009. Asked why, a Judge told Forum 18 that "it may be because of the liberalisation of Uzbekistan's Judiciary, which is underway at the moment."

7 December 2009

UZBEKISTAN: State close to removing Baptist leadership

Baptists in Uzbekistan have told Forum 18 News Service that they fear the head of the Baptist Union, Pavel Peichev, and the Union's accountant Yelena Kurbatova will now be removed from their roles leading the registered Baptist Union. This follows a Criminal Court in the capital Tashkent upholding the criminal conviction of the two, as well as of a Baptist layman Dmitri Pitirimov. The Court also upheld a three-year ban on each holding responsible positions. However, the court overturned massive fines on each. The three continue to insist that the charges against them of evading taxes and involving children in religious activity without their or their parents' consent were fabricated. Peichev stated that an appeal to the Supreme Court will probably be made. "The conviction was unjust and we want it overturned," he told Forum 18. Baptists in Uzbekistan have repeatedly insisted to Forum 18 that the authorities' main aim was to remove the leadership of the Baptist Union, continuing a pattern of state interference in the leadership of religious communities such as the Muslim and Jewish communities. Also, the Justice Ministry has forced a church website to close.

18 November 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Repression of Muslim and Christian religious activity continues

Mekhrinisso Hamdamova, a Muslim holding a state appointment, has been arrested for holding unauthorised religious meetings in her home, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Over 30 of her family and others have been arrested, human rights defender Surat Ikramov told Forum 18. The official overseeing religious issues in Hamdamova's city told Forum 18 "probably she did something unlawful so she was arrested." 11 Protestants have been fined because they were together for a meal in a friend's house, the fines ranging between 50 and 10 times the minimum monthly wage. Similarly 17 Protestants have been fined for possessing "illegal" religious literature. The judge in the latter case, asked why he ordered a copy of the New Testament in Uzbek and other literature to be destroyed, angrily told Forum 18 that "it was all kept illegally." Finally an appeal following the conviction of Baptists for running a children's holiday camp is due on 4 December. A mysterious "burglary" of a relative of one of the Baptists has also taken place.

5 November 2009

KAZAKHSTAN: "They can meet and pray to God, but the Law says they have to register"

Two brothers from Kazakhstan, both Baptists, have been prosecuted for religious worship without state registration, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Both were prosecuted under articles of the Administrative Code which violate international human rights commitments, and which the government is set to retain almost intact in a revision of the Code. An Internal Policy Department official defended the fine, telling Forum 18 that "they can meet and pray to God, but the Law says they have to register." In a case from another region, a member of New Life Church also convicted under one of the Administrative Code articles set to be retained, has lost her appeal against deportation and a fine, and has been deported to Uzbekistan. Her "offence" was giving a 12-year-old girl a Christian children's magazine. The deportation cuts her off from her four grown-up children.

29 October 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Fined 260 times monthly minimum wage each – and banned from leading religious communities?

Uzbekistan has fined three Baptists a total equivalent to 260 times the monthly minimum wage each, allegedly for tax evasion and teaching children religion illegally, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The three have consistently insisted that the charges are fabricated, and one suggested to Forum 18 that the real reason for the charges was to remove the Baptist Union's leadership. This is supported by the three having also been banned from all administrative and financial activity for three years – which may stop them playing any organisational role in any religious community. It is unclear what practically this ban means, as the authorities refuse to explain it to either the Baptists or Forum 18. The verdicts come as Uzbekistan continue encouraging intolerance of people exercising freedom of religion or belief, for example in a Justice Ministry seminar on "overcoming human trafficking, religious extremism and missionary activity." Sharing beliefs is a criminal offence in Uzbekistan, and the state-run media are suggesting that this is also so in "many other" unnamed countries. Also, it appears that Muslim, Christian and Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience, imprisoned for their faith, are being excluded from a prisoner amnesty.

15 October 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Did investigator fabricate evidence against Baptists?

Several parents – named as victims in the indictment against three Baptist Union leaders now on trial in Tashkent – have told the court that statements that their children were taught the Baptist faith against their wishes were fabricated or dictated by Investigator Anatoli Tadjibayev, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The head of Uzbekistan's Baptist Union Pavel Peichev and two colleagues went on trial on 24 September accused of teaching religion illegally to children at church-run summer camps and evading tax on profits from the camp. They deny all the charges – which carry punishment of up to three years' imprisonment - and insist the camps made no profit and were supported financially by the Union. Asked whether Investigator Tadjibayev will be punished if the court establishes that he abused his powers, Zulfiya Ahmedova, who represents the prosecution in the case, told Forum 18: "The Prosecutor will have to decide that."

24 September 2009

UZBEKISTAN: "They can drink tea – that's not forbidden"

Following 15-day jail terms handed down to two Baha'is in Tashkent, one of the two, Timur Chekparbayev, who was subsequently expelled from Uzbekistan, told Forum 18 News Service that he harbours no ill feelings. "I don't want to complain – I don't blame anyone." The authorities accused the two of missionary activity and proselytism, following a police raid on a meeting for teenage Baha'is. Chekparbayev stated that these claims are unfounded, and pointed out that the meeting was a regular activity which took place with the permission of both the authorities and the parents of the young people involved. Asked whether religious communities have to inform the authorities when they hold any religious event or drink a cup of tea together, Akram Nematov of the Justice Ministry told Forum 18 that "They can drink tea – that's not forbidden, but they must inform the Department when they hold religious education with young people." The Baha'i community is shocked and mystified by the raid and the detentions.

17 September 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Muslim and Christian worship attacked

Uzbekistan continues to take action against peaceful meetings for worship, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Children in Namangan Region are banned from attending night prayers in mosques during Ramadan, the Deputy Hokim telling Forum 18 that "children of school age should not attend religious meetings at all." In Bukhara region, an imam confirmed to Forum 18 that women are banned from attending Friday prayers in mosques, claiming that "women are not to attend mosques according to Hanafi teachings". Raids continue on Protestant worship, with prosecutions of some congregation members and church leaders. After one such raid, police claimed that they had confiscated Muslim and Jehovah's Witness literature, but the Protestants maintain to Forum 18 that police invented this claim. Senior Lieutenant Farrukh Abduganiyev, Inspector of Crime Prevention in Almalyk, and Major Shavkat Aminov, Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, were among 18 officers who took part in this raid. Six of the Church's members are due to be tried for unregistered religious activity tomorrow (18 September).

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