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20 May 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Bible and Mel Gibson film banned in Karakalpakstan

Nurulla Zhamolov, the senior religious affairs official in Karakalpakstan Region in north-western Uzbekistan has banned the Bible, the Mel Gibson film "The Passion of the Christ", and other religious literature, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The bans state that the material – which also include a hymn book, a Bible Encyclopaedia, a Bible dictionary, and a children's Bible - is "banned for import, distribution or use in teaching." The material was confiscated during police and NSS secret police raids and it remains unclear what further activity the authorities may undertake following the bans, or how widely they will be used. No officials in the region or the capital Tashkent were willing to discuss the raids and the country's harsh censorship of religious literature, which applies to religious literature of all faiths. The latest known prisoners of conscience studied the works of Said Nursi, a Turkish Muslim theologian whose works are banned.

29 April 2009

UZBEKISTAN: More severe jail sentences for Muslim prisoners of conscience

Uzbekistan has today (29 April) imposed severe jail sentences on nine followers of the Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. In the fourth such trial this year, university lecturer Ikrom Merajov was given nine years' imprisonment. Of the other eight prisoners of conscience, Muzaffar Allayorov, Botir Tukhtamurodov, Shuhrat Karimov, Salohiddin Kosimov and Yadgar Juraev were each given six year jail terms. Three - Bobomurod Sanoev, Jamshid Ramazonov and Alisher Jumaev - each received sentences of five and a half years in jail. "The Uzbek government shouldn't fear Muslims who pray regularly, read the Koran regularly and meet in homes regularly," Merajov's brother Ilhom Merajov told Forum 18. Officials have refused to discuss the harsh sentences with Forum 18. The sentences imposed today bring to 25 the number of Nursi-related prisoners of conscience known to have been convicted this year, with sentences totalling nearly 200 years' imprisonment. Further convictions are likely as cases against others continue.

24 April 2009

UZBEKISTAN: New trial, long prison terms, heavy fines and deportation

Nine Muslim men in Bukhara - eight of whom have been held since December 2008 - went on trial on 22 April, accused of belonging to an "extremist" organisation. Family members have told Forum 18 News Service the nine are peaceful followers of the Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi. The brother of one of the defendants, Ikrom Merajov, told Forum 18 he "only read Said Nursi's books, which were published and sold openly in Uzbekistan". Three other followers of Said Nursi received prison sentences at a Tashkent trial of between twelve and eight years in prison, while a further trial is underway. After a Protestant's Tashkent home was raided by the police and secret police on 10 April, three of those present were each fined more than eight years' minimum wages. Bibles and recordings of Christian songs were among material confiscated. One of those present, a Kazakh citizen legally resident in Uzbekistan, was taken by officials and dumped over the border in Kazakhstan, Protestants told Forum 18. Officials have refused to comment to Forum 18 on why all these individuals are being punished for their peaceful religious activity.

15 April 2009

UZBEKISTAN: 15-day jail term for teaching Baptist beliefs

A court in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent has given a 15-day prison term to Pavel Nenno, a deacon of a registered Baptist Church, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Nenno was prosecuted after a raid involving the NSS secret police on his home, where he was "feeding neglected children from poor families" Protestants told Forum 18. In a separate case, 17 people associated with a registered Bukhara Full Gospel church were each fined 100 times the minimum monthly salary, following a raid on a birthday party for a church member. The church had previously been warned for religious activity away from its legal address. In both cases, children's religious activity was identified by the authorities as a factor in their harsh sentences. Asked by Forum 18 why she was opposed to children attending church, one Bukhara headteacher replied that "I want our children to develop." Pavel Peichev, General Secretary of the Uzbek Baptist Union, has published an open letter condemning "increased persecution of believers in all regions" and "a wave of arrests and searches".

8 April 2009

UZBEKISTAN: "Religious movements are trying to destabilise Uzbekistan"

Uzbekistan continues to harass and fine Christians, Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses exercising their freedom of thought, conscience or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. In one recent case 13 Baptists have been fined the extremely large sum of 50 times the minimum monthly salary, for meeting for worship. The verdict, which has been seen by Forum 18, claims that it follows police "anti-terror" operations. The judge who imposed the fine has refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. And in a continuation of the current official actions against people with religious literature, two Baptists carrying religious literature have been arrested on the capital Tashkent's Metro, questioned at a police station by the most senior police officer responsible for Metro security, and will be charged for carrying the literature. Attempting to justify the police action, a local official in the capital told Forum 18 that "religious movements are trying to destabilise Uzbekistan." However, he did not explain how violating fundamental human rights stabilises Uzbekistan.

6 April 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Prisoners of conscience still held for their faith

Nine followers of the Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, who are awaiting criminal trial in Uzbekistan after being detained in December 2008 for their faith, have still not had a trial date set, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The detentions are part of a nationwide crackdown on Muslims who follow Nursi's approach to Islam. In separate cases, verdicts are imminent at the trial of three other Nursi followers who have been under arrest since mid to late 2008. Also, a court has rejected appeals by five Muslim prisoners of conscience, contributors to the Irmoq Islamic-inspired journal, against their long prison sentences. Amongst the other prisoners of conscience jailed for their faith is Pentecostal Pastor Dmitry Shestakov, who marks his 40th birthday on Thursday 9 April. There are also four Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience. No officials have been prepared to discuss with Forum 18 why these prisoners of conscience are being held for peacefully practising their faith.

2 April 2009

UZBEKISTAN: "We just need to make sure what they teach in their homes"

Uzbekistan continues to penalise people who distribute religious literature, Forum 18 News Service has found. In two separate cases, Baptists from registered and unregistered churches are facing prosecution, fines and literature confiscations for distributing and possessing religious literature. In the case involving members of a registered church, a local official told Forum 18 that "we just need to make sure what they teach in their homes, and they need to get special permission to have religious activity in a private home." In another case in the north-west of the country, Kurbangul Aveniyazova has been tried in her absence for the "illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious materials" and fined 20 times the minimum monthly salary. An Uzbek-language Bible and other material was also ordered to be destroyed. Asked why she ordered the Bible to be destroyed, the Judge told Forum 18 that she had received religious expert opinion that it was not authorised. The Chair of the regional state Religious Affairs Committee abruptly terminated the phone call before Forum 18 could ask why they had given an expert opinion that the Bible in Uzbek was unauthorised.

31 March 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Cleric takes part in police raid on religious community

Police in Uzbekistan "decided to invite" a Russian Orthodox priest to take part in a raid on a group of Baptists, a police officer has told Forum 18 News Service. Father Igor Skorik of Almalyk's Assumption of the Mother of God Church pressured Baptists not to attend unregistered worship and to come to his church instead, church members told Forum 18. The use of a cleric of one religious community to pressure members of another in cooperation with the authorities is a disturbing new development. The raid on a private home was led by Major Urazali Kholbekov, from the Tashkent Regional Criminal Investigation and Counter-Terrorism Department, who apparently arranged for Fr Skorik to take part in the raid. Fr Igor claimed he did not violate the law by taking part. "I was not there to check up on the Baptists but to just advise them," he insisted. Local Baptists point out that the raid and Fr Skorik's participation violates both Uzbek law and international human rights law. Church members were arrested, and police claimed Baptists were "at risk of danger in the case of a terrorist act which could be carried out by people in their home".

18 March 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Four Protestants jailed, three more detained in homelessness centre

As well as imposing long prison sentences on Muslims accused of following the theologian Said Nursi, Uzbekistan has since the beginning of March imposed short jail terms on four Protestants, as well as detaining three more in a centre for the homeless, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Three Protestants were each jailed for 15 days, after police raided a meal in a private home where the three were present, and three more were held in a homelessness centre for between four and eleven days. Asked why individuals must ask for permission to gather for a religious purpose, the judge told Forum 18 that "I am not a law-maker, and I don't want to discuss the law." In a separate case, a Baptist was jailed for 10 days after some 20 officials from various state agencies – including the Presidential Administration – raided a prayer meeting in a registered church. Officials told church members that they need special permission for any services apart from those on Sundays, though Forum 18 can find no requirement for this in published laws or regulations.

16 March 2009

UZBEKISTAN: "Your dead will not be buried"

Uzbekistan's NSS secret police, the head of a local mahalla (town district) and a local imam in the north-west of the country have obstructed the burial of a Muslim, Zhumabai Smetullaev, because his widow and son are Christians, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Elsewhere in Karakalpakstan, Forum 18 has been told that the authorities do not allow burials of Christians to involve the local community as would be normal in Central Asian culture. Non-participation of the community indicates exclusion of the deceased person's family from the community. Mahalla officials admitted to Forum 18 that Smetullaev's burial had been obstructed, but denied that the initiative came from them. Pressure on the family continues, officials warning people that whoever accepts Christianity will be punished. They were reported as telling people: "Your dead will not be buried." Local residents are in shock, sources told Forum 18. All non-state-controlled Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox religious activity in Karakalpakstan is a criminal offence.

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