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16 February 2016

UZBEKISTAN: "This is absurd – he wouldn't have fought with anyone, still less on his last day"

Sunni Muslim prisoner of conscience Kamol Odilov was given an extra prison term in late January, just days before he completed his six-year prison term handed down to punish him for exercising his freedom of religion or belief. He and his fellow Muslims had met to discuss the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi. Prison authorities claim he got into a fight. "This is absurd – he wouldn't have fought with anyone, still less on his last day," a Muslim familiar with the case told Forum 18 News Service. In 2015 a three-year extra prison term was handed to another Sunni Muslim prisoner of conscience from Bukhara, Botir Tukhtamurodov, after he too had completed a six-year prison term. Officials told Tukhtamurodov and his relatives that he will not be freed until the authorities get back his brother Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov from Russia, where he sought refuge in 2010. The Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry's Chief Directorate for the Enforcement of Punishments – which has responsibility for Uzbekistan's prisons – refused to discuss the situation of these prisoners of conscience with Forum 18.

7 December 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Police and Imam "forced family to bury deceased in cemetery where officers took them"

Fearing problems, a Jehovah's Witness family sought approval from the Religious Affairs Department to bury a deceased family member in a local cemetery in July. Yet police and the local Imam blocked the burial. Asked why he told them not to bury the deceased in the cemetery, Captain Ruslan Allanazarov told Forum 18 News Service: "Because it is Muslim." Police chose a cemetery for the burial 20 kms (12 miles) away and accompanied community members with cars. Officers and the Imam stood outside the family home to prevent people visiting to offer condolences. At a meeting of non-Muslim religious leaders in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, officials proposed or ordered that ethnic Uzbek adherents of non-Muslim faiths should write a will before they die setting out their burial wishes (not required of people of non-Uzbek ethnicities, Muslims or atheists). A state religious affairs official complained about publicity over burial difficulties. "Relatives made so much noise about the cases that the state leaders, who strive for peace in the country, were disturbed," he told the meeting. One Protestant complained to Forum 18 of "pressure on Churches when they complain about burial problems publicly". After one complaint, the authorities "immediately demanded the central organ of the religious community that they make the local believers shut up".

26 November 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Police raid, torture, steal and plant drugs

Police in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent raided a Protestant worship meeting on 8 November, detaining and torturing members of the group and their nursing children, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Police also stole money and confiscated a large amount of Christian literature, as well as personal property including computers and other electronic devices. Jehovah's Witnesses in the central Samarkand Region have also been raided and fined, some also being put on 2 years' probation on fabricated drugs charges, for meeting together for worship. Police also confiscated religious literature and the private property, including computers and mobile phones, of some present. Female Witnesses were threatened with rape and tortured. Contrary to Uzbekistan's international human rights obligations, the police torturers were apparently neither arrested nor prosecuted for their actions. Instead, the police's victims were convicted of exercising freedom of religion or belief and fined. The human rights Ombudsperson's Office has said it cannot investigate these human rights violations.

18 November 2015

UZBEKISTAN: New fines, Bible destructions follow UN concern over religious censorship

In late September a Judge in Karshi fined ten members of a Baptist church up to 50 times the minimum monthly wage each for meeting for worship without state permission. In a regular practice for Uzbekistan, the Judge ordered that confiscated personal Bibles and song books be destroyed. Officers asked the community in August why it was still meeting after being warned in an April raid that it was "illegal". Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service of more than 75 fines of up to 20 times the minimum monthly wage between January and September 2015 after raids and literature seizures. Seven were twice stopped after making a 1,000-kilometre (620 mile) round trip from Karshi to the one registered Jehovah's Witness community in Chirchik. The United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern in July over religious censorship, as well as torture, prison sentences, detentions and fines to punish individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. It called on Uzbekistan to change its laws and practices.

18 September 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Over 160 year wait to go on haj pilgrimage?

Uzbekistan continues severely restricting the Muslims who can on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca, Forum 18 News Service notes. The state imposes severe restrictions on the numbers of pilgrims and refuses to explain why it does this. People can only get onto the extremely long pilgrimage waiting lists after extensive scrutiny by state agencies including the NSS secret police. Shaira Sadygbekova of Ezgulik human rights organisation has calculated that she will need to live to be 205 years old to reach the top of the waiting list. The head of her mahalla (city district) – one of the agencies which decides who gets onto waiting lists – told Forum 18 that she "will be able to go in 20 or 30 years". Even if people reach the top of the waiting list they may be arbitrarily denied an exit visa to go on pilgrimage. State-run banks often refuse to distribute enough hard currency to pilgrims, according to human rights defenders including Surat Ikramov. A wide variety of state officials have refused to discuss the problems with Forum 18.

11 September 2015

UZBEKISTAN: "Threatened we will be put in prison if we don't stop visiting each other for prayers"

A wide group of Muslims in Tashkent Region near Uzbekistan's capital have faced repeated harassment since the summer, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Two Muslim families were initially targeted, with four of them imprisoned by police for between one and two months and about 18 of them fined for "violation of the procedure for holding religious meetings". Another group were then targeted, with ten women detained and fined for the same "offence", while one woman was threatened with being imprisoned with men who might rape her. On 10 August, Anti-Terrorism Police raided the homes of eight male relatives of the women who met occasionally to pray together, discuss their faith and share meals. Anti-Terrorism Officer Mirvolid Mirboboyev "warned and threatened us that we will be put in prison if we don't stop visiting each other for prayers", one of the victims Tashkentboy Ergashev told Forum 18. Officer Mirboboyev refused to discuss his or his colleagues' actions with Forum 18. Another Tashkent Muslim, Olmosbek Erkaboyev, was held by police for two months as they sought information about his father-in-law. Officers beat him to try to get him to sign a document incriminating himself on charges of religious extremism.

6 August 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Large fine follows police bullying of children

Pastor Sergei Rychagov of Grace Presbyterian Church near Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent was heavily fined for violating the Religion Law, missionary activity, "illegal" religious teaching and violating the procedure for holding religious meetings. However, he learned of the fine only in June, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Police bullied children from a local orphanage who had been attending the church into writing statements against him, they added. The officer who brought the case insisted to Forum 18 that Rychagov had violated the law, while the judge who fined him refused to explain why he had done so. In Urgench, Anti-Terrorism Police accused a local Baptist of "teaching religion illegally". Police have already seized religious literature and the man's car. Asked by Forum 18 why other Baptists are being questioned to incriminate him, Anti-Terrorism Police Major Shavkat Bekjanov responded: "Who are you and why should I discuss the case with you over the phone?"

4 June 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Tortured till he lost consciousness

Officers at Karmana District Police Station, among them Feruz Ruziyev, tortured Murot Turdiyev until he lost consciousness, while another fellow-Protestant was threatened with rape, Protestants complained to Forum 18 News Service. The two were among four Protestant men stopped at a traffic checkpoint. "The Police knows his car, and the licence plate, and seemingly they were informed about their arrival in town, and were waiting for them there," one Protestant told Forum 18. When Forum 18 asked why he had beaten Turdiyev, Officer Ruziyev immediately put the phone down. Gofur Namozov, Chief of Karmana Criminal Police, adamantly denied to Forum 18 that any of the four had been beaten and tortured. "We only questioned them about the many visas and foreign stamps in their passports," he claimed. Administrative cases against the four appear to have been handed to court. Meanwhile police and other officials went almost daily in May to the Karshi home of Guljahon Kuzebayeva, banging on the gates of the yard "like hooligans" and trying to climb over the wall. She has been in hiding since July 2014 to evade arrest for her religious activity.

24 April 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Short-term jailings, fines and harassment

Doniyor Akhmedov – a Baptist – was one of three Protestants in Uzbekistan known to have been imprisoned for between seven and 15 days in March and April. He was held after offering a religious leaflet to a passer-by on the street. For the last part of his 15-day imprisonment, Akhmedov "was held in a small cell with more than 10 people, where they were squeezed in and there was barely space to sleep on the floor", fellow Baptists complained to Forum 18 News Service. After he was freed he was summoned to court and fined more than three years' official minimum wage. Laziz Kurbonov, Deputy Chief of Ahangaran Police, refused to discuss Akhmedov's case with Forum 18. "I have hundreds of cases, I don't want to talk about this over the phone." Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses are frequently fined and occasionally given short-term prison sentences, but Muslims who exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief often face much harsher penalties, including long prison terms.

14 April 2015

UZBEKISTAN: "She fears police brutality during interrogation and short-term jailing"

Nearly three years after Uzbekistan fired her from her job as a teacher for insisting on wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf), Gulchohra Norbayeva still faces police summonses, a house search for religious literature, accusations she was teaching the Koran "illegally", and pressure to sign statements incriminating Muslim men she did not know. "At the moment they have left me alone. I don't know if the police opened a case," she told Forum 18 News Service. An Anti-Terrorism Police Officer who took part in a raid on her home insisted to Forum 18 that the search was for religious literature and that the case is closed. But police told Norbayeva that, whether or not she wears the hijab, she is on the Preventative Register. This allows police "preventative measures" such as someone being fired from their job. Also, police have renewed their hunt for Guljahon Kuzebayeva, a Protestant in the southern Kashkadarya Region who has been in hiding since July 2014, for allegedly talking to family members about her Christian faith. "She fears police brutality during interrogation and also possible short-term jailing," fellow Protestants told Forum 18. The use of informal physical violence and torture, or threats of this, by the authorities is widespread in Uzbekistan.

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