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14 November 2005

UZBEKISTAN: When is postal censorship not postal censorship?

Uzbekistan's Post Office routinely opens parcels of religious books and magazines sent from abroad, sends examples to the state Religious Affairs Committee, then collects them with a Committee decision as to whether or not to ban the title, writes to the sender and the failed recipient to explain why titles have been rejected, and (sometimes) returns them at Uzbek Post Office expense, Forum 18 News Service has found. Kural Tulebaev, Director of the main Post Office which receives foreign parcels, as well as customs officials have both denied that this is censorship. "We're just following the law," Tulebaev told Forum 18. His Customs Service colleagues were just as adamant: "The law requires that all of it is checked by the Religion Committee," a senior inspector told Forum 18, "the law is the law." The Religious Affairs Committee has refused to explain how it makes censorship decisions, or why it censors religious literature in defiance of international human rights commitments.

11 November 2005

UZBEKISTAN: All Protestants "face persecution, whether registered or not"

"Harsh measures have been targeted at Christians," Forum 18 News Service has been told by a Protestant in Uzbekistan, with the authorities especially targeting ethnic Uzbek church members. "Unfortunately in Uzbekistan today there is no Protestant church that doesn't face persecution, whether registered or not,"Forum 18's source added. The latest cases known to Forum 18 are the Uzbek Supreme Court's confirmation of the banning of the Emmanuel Full Gospel Church in Nukus in the north-west, and the separate banning from meeting of the Fores Full Gospel Congregation in the capital Tashkent. All Protestant activity is illegal in north-west Uzbekistan, against international human rights standards. But the Emmanuel Church in the region intends to fight on for its right to meet legally. In Tashkent, a member of the Fores Church told Forum 18 that "Church members are tired and angry. They can't reconcile themselves to the illegal ban on practising their religious rights."

27 October 2005

UZBEKISTAN: "Believers are not even allowed to visit each other"

Members of the Full Gospel Church in Jizak, at an informal meal to celebrate the harvest festival last Tuesday (25 October), had their meal broken up the ordinary police, the National Security Service (NSS) secret police and officials from the Public Prosecutor's office, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "I think the actions of the law enforcement officers in Jizak were a gross infringement of the law," Iskander Najafov, the church's lawyer, told Forum 18. "It turns out that believers are not even allowed to visit each other." Najafov believes that an anti-Christian campaign is underway, with less violence than in the past but using other methods to pressure churches and individual believers. Religious minorities face continuing official pressure, including the Subbotniki – a Christian movement founded in the eighteenth century who follow many Jewish laws and customs, who were forbidden from holding a religious ritual for one of the community's members who had just died.

24 October 2005

TURKMENISTAN: More pressure against Islamic religious practise

Turkmenistan appears to be increasing pressure against Islam religious practise, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. A human rights activist has told Forum 18 of increased moves against practising male Muslims visiting mosques in northern Turkmenistan, including two arrests. The MSS secret police officers have made imams hang a list of mosque-goers above the doors to their mosques, and now only those whose names are on the list are allowed to visit that mosque. Turkmenistan's deputy mufti, Atash Zamedov, refused to answer Forum 18's questions about lists of names hung over mosque entrances. Also, after the reduction of student numbers and dismissal of foreign Turkish lecturers at the Muslim theological faculty in Ashgabad, Forum 18 has learnt that all local Turkmen teachers and technical staff as well have been dismissed and replaced with new appointees.

20 October 2005

KYRGYZSTAN: Uzbek claims and extremism law cause little change

Uzbekistan has made unproven allegations of a link between Kyrgyzstan and the Andijan uprising. Despite the Uzbek claims and the passage of a new Kyrgyz extremism law, Forum 18 News Service has found little change in Kyrgyz government policy towards Muslims. The head of a state school in Osh, which borders Uzbekistan, and the head of the regional Religious Affairs Committee have both told Forum 18 that the only change has been that schools have been asked to note the names of children from devout Muslim families. The Religious Affairs Committee head told Forum 18 that "it's just a preventative measure to ensure that children don't fall into the hands of extremist groups. We are not preventing schoolchildren from attending mosques or observing other religious rituals." A local human rights organisation, Luchi Solomona, told Forum 18 that "it's possible that the authorities simply haven't shaken things up yet."

19 October 2005

KYRGYZSTAN: Wide-ranging extremism law not seen as threat

Kyrgyzstan has recently adopted an extremism law with a wide-ranging definition of extremism, which leaves open the possibility of it being applied to peaceful religious communities. However, most religious communities Forum 18 News Service spoke to – such as Catholics, Presbyterians and Jehovah's Witnesses - had mainly not read the law, and did not see it as a current threat. The former mufti of Kyrgyzstan commented to Forum 18 that "the very fact that the authorities are linking religion with extremism is worrying for educated Muslims. But most believers don't even know that a new law has been adopted. Theoretically the law could pose a danger to believers, but so far at least I have not seen any changes in state religious policy." Kanybek Malabayev, of the Kyrgyz government's Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18 that "we will apply this law only to the Hizb ut-Tahrir party, whose leaflets contain openly anti-Semitic sentiments."

18 October 2005

TURKMENISTAN: Religious freedom survey, October 2005

In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Turkmenistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the almost complete lack of freedom to practice any faith, including denials of the right of legally registered religious communities to worship. In a typical example of this approach - which other religious minorities have also experienced - police raided a legally registered Baptist church in northern Turkmenistan, claiming that "individuals can only believe alone on their own at home." Unregistered religious activity continues – in defiance of international human rights agreements – to be attacked. There has been an increase in attempts to impose a state religious personality cult of President Niyazov on all Turkmen citizens, with mosques being particularly targeted. Turkmenistan continues to fail to implement its international human rights commitments, and also continues to take direct governmental action to deny religious freedom to peaceful Turkmen citizens.

3 October 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Growing attempts to isolate religious groups from support

Andijan Protestant pastor Bakhtier Tuichiev has told Forum 18 News Service that, since the violent crushing of the Andijan uprising in May, he has – along with other local Protestants - been placed under NSS secret police surveillance, and has regularly been threatened with arrest if he does not shut down his unregistered Pentecostal church. Since the Andijan crackdown, Uzbekistan has increased attempts to isolate religious believers from the support of local and foreign journalists and human rights activists. For example, Tuichiev was told by police that "We are not going to let foreign human rights activists into Uzbekistan any more. It's payback time – we've already dealt with Igor Rotar and now we've come for you." Rotar, Forum 18's Central Asia correspondent, was deported from Uzbekistan, apparently as part of a wide crackdown on independent media and human rights activists. Repression and attempts to isolate religious communities – including the unconcealed censorship of international post - are continuing.

16 September 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Massive fines, ban upheld and TV vilification for unregistered communities

On 8 September, the Emmanuel Full Gospel Church in Nukus – the last legal Protestant church in the north-western Karakalpakstan region – failed to overturn the justice ministry's ban on its activity, a church lawyer told Forum 18 News Service. In early September a local TV station in nearby Khorezm region broadcast a programme "virtually depicting Protestants as criminals", local Full Gospel pastor Ruzmet Voisov told Forum 18, and the following day unidentified women burst into his home and beat his wife, calling her a traitor to her faith. In Karshi, two Jehovah's Witnesses were sentenced to fines totalling more than 1,100 US dollars, while local wages are about 20 US dollars per month. "These are the largest fines we have ever faced," Andrei Shirobokov of the Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Uzbekistan bans all unregistered religious activity in defiance of its international human rights commitments.

6 September 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Court orders Christian literature destroyed

Nearly 600 Uzbek-language Christian leaflets for children were ordered destroyed by a court in Tashkent region on 12 August, the third time Baptists have had confiscated literature destroyed on court orders. Other books, including New Testaments, seized from a group of Baptists in July were ordered to be handed over to the government's Religious Affairs Committee. The four Baptists found guilty of "illegally" bringing in the books were each fined some 35 US dollars, members of Tashkent Baptist church told Forum 18 News Service. Senior religious affairs official Begzot Kadyrov claimed to Forum 18 that religious literature banned from distribution in Uzbekistan is not destroyed, but returned to the country from which it was brought, though he admitted religious literature has been destroyed. The Uzbek government censors all religious literature and other Protestants, independent Muslims, Hare Krishna devotees and Jehovah's Witnesses have also faced literature seizures and, on occasion, destruction in recent years.

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