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
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
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 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).
10 September 2009
Pavel Peichev, the head of Uzbekistan's Baptist Union, and two colleagues face up to three years in prison each when they go on trial under criminal charges of tax evasion and teaching children Christianity against their and their parents' will at a Baptist-run summer camp. The three have rejected the accusations against them, according to the indictment seen by Forum 18 News Service. One of the accused, Dmitri Pitirimov, told Forum 18 that as a religious organisation the Union is exempt from tax. As the leader of the Joy children's camp, he insists that two parents cited in the indictment testifying against them knew "perfectly well" that they were sending their children to a Baptist camp, where the children would be taught the Bible, and signed documents to confirm their children's attendance. He said one boy cited in the indictment had decided not to come this year as the Prosecutor's Office had warned him it was an "illegal" camp. Begzod Kodyrov of the state Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss the case with Forum 18, as did officials at Tashkent City Prosecutor's Office. The trial date has not been announced.
31 August 2009
UZBEKISTAN: Sentenced "only for practising religion outside the framework" of state-controlled Islam
Two mass trials which ended in July have brought to 47 the number of followers of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi known by Forum 18 News Service to have been sentenced to long prison terms under various articles of the Criminal Code in Uzbekistan in 2009. A total of 21 men – all in their twenties and thirties - received sentences of between eleven and five years' imprisonment at separate trials in Samarkand and Khorezm. Human rights activist Surat Ikramov told Forum 18 the men in Samarkand were brutally beaten by the secret police in pre-trial detention. Officials refused to discuss with Forum 18 why they were sentenced. "An analysis of the indictments and the verdicts on these cases shows that the guilt of the accused is not proven and that they are sentenced for religious extremism only for practising religion outside the framework of the traditional stream of Islam propagated and controlled by the state," two human rights groups noted.
26 August 2009
Some twenty Anti-Terror Police officers raided the regular Sunday afternoon worship service of the registered Donam Protestant church in the capital Tashkent on 23 August, claiming it was "unauthorised". Seven church members were arrested and Christian literature was confiscated, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Three men were soon freed but four – including the church's pastor, Vladimir Tyo – were sentenced to 15-day prison terms for "violation of the procedure for organising and conducting meetings", even though the regular service was included in the required quarterly report to the city Justice Department. The court verdict also records that the judge ordered the confiscated literature destroyed without giving any reason. Raids on both registered and unregistered religious communities, fines, imprisonment and confiscation of religious literature are frequent in Uzbekistan.
4 August 2009
One of the most widespread human rights violations committed by Uzbekistan - highlighted by the recent UN Universal Periodic Review - is its ban on and punishments for religious activity without state permission. Forum 18 News Service has found that this is a serious problem for Muslims, Protestant and Catholic Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and people of other faiths, and that even those who want state registration face systematic obstruction. The Deputy Head of the state-controlled Muslim Board implied to Forum 18 that controlling religious communities is a motivation for this. Discussing small unregistered mosques, he said that "we cannot control what is going on inside those mosques. Forum 18 has asked officials why Uzbekistan creates registration difficulties, and why unregistered religious activity is punished. The state Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss this with Forum 18. "I don't know," was the answer of a judge who has presided at a trial of Baptists for unregistered religious activity. An official responsible for registration in the capital Tashkent replied that "these are our internal issues, and you have no competence to interfere."
31 July 2009
Uzbekistan continues to target unregistered religious activity by Baptists, as well as followers of the approach to Islam of Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The head of the Sports and Culture Division of Namangan local authority, Shokir Koraboyev, has reportedly been arrested by the NSS secret police for Nursi involvement and is apparently being tried with three others. Forum 18 was told that Koraboyev left his post for "health reasons". Also, members of an unregistered Baptist Church in Mubarek have been fined, and threatened by a Public Prosecutor with criminal prosecution if their church does not register within a year. Against international human rights standards, unregistered religious activity is a criminal offence in the country. In another case, after a police raid on a Baptist's home his library has been confiscated and sent for "religious expert analysis", local police told Forum 18. Amongst the books are works by Sir Walter Scott and Ivan Turgenev, a sign language book, a Koran translated into Russian, and a Russian Orthodox prayer book. The books' owner, Pyotr Zvonov, faces charges of "illegally producing, storing, importing and distributing of materials of a religious nature."
28 July 2009
Uzbekistan's Baptist Union is facing criminal charges for allegedly unlawfully teaching children religion, and for supposedly misusing their property as a summer camp, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. As a result, Baptist Union Chair Pavel Peichev faces huge fines, the confiscation of the property, imprisonment, or some combination of these penalties. Baptists have vehemently denied the allegations. The authorities have also instituted checks on the tax and other obligatory payments by the Baptist Union. The first sign of trouble for the Baptists were two articles published by a government-sponsored news agency. Independent human rights defender sources think that the agency is sponsored by the NSS secret police, and that the author may be an NSS officer. The authorities have refused to discuss the details of the case, although the main prosecutor claimed to Forum 18 that "we have nothing against the [Baptist] denomination". Repeated attempts to contact the author of the articles and the news agency have been unsuccessful.
17 July 2009
Prisoners in Uzbekistan continue to be denied their right to freedom of religion or belief – for example to pray visibly, to have religious literature, or to receive visits from religious clergy, Forum 18 News Service has found. These denials of religious freedom affect not only prisoners of conscience of all faiths, jailed or imprisoned in a labour camp for their religious activity, but also prisoners jailed for other reasons. Prison and labour camp conditions are harsh, and even the communities regarded as the main "traditional" faiths – the state-controlled Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church – appear to have only limited access to prisoners. Other faiths told Forum 18 they have almost no access. Prisoners are often punished for religious activity in jails or labour camps, religious believers and human rights defenders have told Forum 18, however officials insist to Forum 18 that prisoners' religious freedom is respected. These claims, along with other inaccurate information, are also in Uzbekistan's report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which is due to be considered in Geneva on 27 July.
7 July 2009
Gafur Yusupov, who lives in a home for people with disabilities in eastern Uzbekistan, has been banned from attending his Baptist Church, Forum 18 News Service has learned. All his Christian books and audio tapes have also been taken from him, and he has been banned him from having any contact with his fellow believers. When Baptists complained, the home told them to talk to the NSS secret police. Asked by what authority the home did this, its director Tahir Gaziev replied: "We have asked the Baptists to show us an official document that says they are allowed to invite people to their meetings. Only after they show us such a document will we allow him [Yusupov] to attend." When Forum 18 asked why Yusupov is not allowed to decide this himself, Gaziev put the phone down. In a separate case, the family of Protestants punished for "illegal" religious activity have been threatened with administrative or criminal charges and 15-days detention if they carry on protesting about the punishment. Asked why the family were threatened, District Police Chief Izzat Yusupov replied: "You are Forum 18 and I am Barack Obama", before he hung up the phone.