1 June 2005
As participants prepare for the forthcoming OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance, Forum 18 News Service notes that religious believers face intolerance in the form of attacks on their internationally agreed rights to religious freedom – mainly from their governments – in many countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states religious communities are still being vilified, fined and imprisoned for peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are being broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied state registration and hence the domestic legal right to exist. Events in Uzbekistan offer one warning of what the persistent intolerance of religious freedom and other internationally agreed human rights can lead to.
23 May 2005
"Purges are already underway – religious organisations have immediately fallen under suspicion," Protestants in the capital Tashkent who preferred not to be named have told Forum 18 News Service, following the Uzbek government's bloody suppression of a popular uprising in the Fergana Valley. "Local authority and secret police officials are visiting and inspecting churches, and checking up on documentation," Forum 18 was told. Such visits have taken place throughout Uzbekistan, not just in the Fergana Valley. Jehovah's Witnesses say numerous cases against members caught up in coordinated raids in March are now in the courts. "Almost weekly there are new cases of fines or interrogations – this is merely business as usual," Forum 18 was told. The official reason given for the uprising – "Islamic radicalism" - is widely disbelieved, but as long as Islam and other faiths remain highly restricted, fundamentalist Islam is seen as a valid alternative to the current political structure. Some fear the Uzbek crackdown will complicate the stuation in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.
13 May 2005
"The ban on the activity of unregistered religious associations and the draconian amendments to the administrative code significantly limit believers' rights," Aleksandr Klyushev, of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan (AROK) told Forum 18 News Service after 12 May Majilis parliamentary approval of sweeping "national security" amendments to eleven laws. The parliamentary debate had been expected on 18 May, but was suddenly brought forward. Klyushev said to Forum 18 that "deputies discovered that the discussion of the draft would take place on 11 May only on the day of the session. I believe this was done deliberately to prevent deputies from preparing for the consideration of the draft and from submitting amendments." Communist party deputy Yerasyl Abylkasymov told Forum 18 that "in the time of Genghis Khan such ideological saboteurs were hung, drawn and quartered. Alas it is now unfortunately not possible to do this and so we have to defend ourselves by means of laws." Having been approved by the Majilis, the lower house of parliament, the amendments now go to the upper house, the Senate, for approval.
11 May 2005
When Christian convert Khaldibek Primbetov appealed to the prosecutor's office against fellow-villagers who had beaten him, told him to "return" to Islam or leave his home village in the north-western region of Karakalpakstan, an investigator showed no interest in his complaints, a Protestant source told Forum 18 News Service. The investigator instead told Primbetov he had "betrayed" the faith of his ancestors and threatened to imprison him after he refused to withdraw his complaint. Local prosecutor Rustam Atajanov confirmed to Forum 18 his investigator had visited, but claimed that "he did not threaten local Christians".
20 April 2005
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the government's wide-ranging defiance of its international religious freedom commitments. Unregistered religious activity is illegal and believers are routinely punished even for religious meetings in private homes. Missionary work is banned, while religious teaching is tightly controlled. Religious literature is censored by the government's religious affairs committee. Virtually all religious communities are subject to harsh government control, especially Islam. The government even controls the numbers of Muslims who can travel on the haj pilgrimage.
7 April 2005
Baptist Farkhod Khamedov was sentenced to jail for 10 days and his Bible ordered to be destroyed, for conducting a religious meeting in a private flat, by Judge Turman Tashmetov in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, Forum 18 News Service has found. Judge Tashmetov told Forum 18 that the Bible was being held "as material evidence" and had not yet been destroyed. "Khamedov has filed an appeal and his case will now be considered by another judge," he told Forum 18. "That judge will decide what to do with the Bible." Khamedov has appealed against the sentence. Begzot Kadyrov, chief specialist of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, claimed to Forum 18 that Judge Tashmetov had made a "mistake" and that "I'm sure that it will be returned to Khamedov once his case is reheard." Uzbek courts have in recent years burnt religious literature confiscated from the homes of Muslims, Protestant Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses.
1 April 2005
At least twelve Jehovah's Witness congregations were targeted in coordinated police raids on the evening of Thursday 24 March to coincide with the most important Jehovah's Witness religious observance of the year, the memorial of Christ's death. Two Jehovah's Witnesses from Karshi are now serving ten day sentences in retaliation for their participation, while others were reportedly beaten by police. Begzot Kadyrov of the government's religious affairs committee admitted that "very many" Jehovah's Witnesses had been detained on one day but categorically denied that the raids heralded a new campaign against the group. "Police raids on the commemoration service of Christ's death happen here every year," he told Forum 18 News Service.
24 March 2005
Freed with a fellow Jehovah's Witness at the end of February after five days in prison on charges of "disruptive behaviour", Oleg Umarov was again summoned by police in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 4 March. Two secret police officers then pressured him to renounce his faith, Jehovah's Witness spokesman Andrei Shirobokov told Forum 18 News Service. They warned they would soon seize other Jehovah's Witnesses and pointed out to Umarov articles of the criminal and administrative codes under which they could be prosecuted. Police and secret police officers have a history of trying to pressure Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and believers of other minority faiths who come from a traditionally Muslim background to convert to their "historic" faith.
17 March 2005
For the third time in recent years, religious literature confiscated from Baptists returning to Uzbekistan has been confiscated. The literature was seized on 6 March from seven church members from Tashkent, together with the car they were travelling in. The seven – who were quizzed for six hours - now face an administrative court, though a customs official insisted to Forum 18 News Service they were being investigated not for importing religious literature but for crossing the border on an unmarked road. "For us as believers, Christian literature is a great treasure, and so we are highly concerned that this time too our literature will be burnt," local Baptists told Forum 18. Religious affairs official Begzot Kadyrov told Forum 18 that as members of an unregistered church, the seven have no right to import any religious literature, which is subject to vigorous official censorship in Uzbekistan.
16 March 2005
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's surprise announcement last month of the abolition of the State Committee for Religious Affairs is a powerful signal to the rest of the region that governments should end their meddling in religious life, argues former Soviet political prisoner Professor Myroslav Marynovych, who is now vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University http://www.ucu.edu.ua in Lviv, in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. He regards the feeling in Ukraine that the communist model of controlling religion is now dead as the greatest gain of the "Orange Revolution" in the sphere of religion. Yet Professor Marynovych warns that other countries will find it hard to learn from the proclaimed end of Ukrainian government interference in religious matters without wider respect for human rights and accountable government. Without democratic change – which should bring in its wake greater freedom for religious communities from state control and meddling - it is unlikely that religious communities will escape from government efforts to control them.
25 February 2005
There has recently been an increase in trials in which Muslim religious convictions form part of the case against devout Muslims, Forum 18 News Service has noted. Thus, unusually, Uzbekistan has this month jailed two followers (adepts) of Sufi Islam, a movement which was supported by the authorities but which they now view with great suspicion. Also jailed were eight Muslims whose only crime seems to have been forming a kind of "club" of like-minded people, who discussed religion and read the Koran, as well as Mannobjon Rahmatullaev, who was kidnapped from Russia and sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment. The trial of 23 Muslim businessmen, who are accused of belonging to an Islamic charitable organisation continues. Before now, devout Muslims put on trial by the authorities were usually only accused of terrorist activity without any convincing evidence. Protestant Christians, the relics of Russian Orthodox saints and martyrs, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses, have all also recently been targeted by the authorities.
21 February 2005
An Uzbek former teacher of Arabic in a Russian mosque, kidnapped in 2004 and illegally taken to Uzbekistan without the consent of the Russian authorities, has been given a lengthy prison sentence on a wide range of terrorist-related charges, which his lawyer told Forum 18 News Service are "absurd". Mannobjon Rahmatullaev was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment on 20 January, his lawyer telling Forum 18 that only one offence, under article 223 (illegal exit abroad or illegal entry), when he travelled on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1992. The imam-hatyb of the Saratov central mosque, Mukadas Bibarsov, where Rahmatullev worked, said he had been "shocked" by his colleague's abduction. "If Rahmatullaev had really been involved in politics then I would have been in favour of his deportation from Russia," Bibarsov told Forum 18 from Saratov on 17 February. "I knew this man well and I can testify that he was an honest faithful Muslim who never committed any crime."