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13 August 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Forum 18 reporter officially deported

The Uzbek government has now (13 August) officially deported Forum 18 News Service's Central Asia Correspondent, Igor Rotar, after detaining him without justification at Tashkent Airport on 11 August. The detention was ordered, so Forum 18 was told, "for political reasons at the highest levels," on the instructions of the National Security Service secret police. Initially the Uzbek intention was to try and force Igor to buy his own ticket out and claim that he was not deported, but his principled strong objections to this tactic resulted in his official deportation. Igor Rotar's unjustified detention in Uzbekistan attracted strong expressions of support and concern from a wide range of individuals, human rights organisations, foreign ministries and news and other international organisations.
Forum 18 and Igor Rotar would like to say a very big THANK YOU to everyone who by their prayers and practical actions helped end this totally unjustified detention.
The case has shown how religious freedom is an excellent "litmus test" of the state of human rights, and that attention should remain on the extremely grave human rights situation still faced by Uzbekistan's people.

12 August 2005

UZBEKISTAN: International condemnation of Forum 18 reporter's detention grows

Igor Rotar, Forum 18 News Service's Central Asia correspondent, is still today (12 August) being held at Tashkent airport. Forum 18 has been told by reliable sources that the detention was "for political reasons at the highest levels," on the instructions of the National Security Service secret police. International condemnation of the detention is growing, as Igor Rotar is a respected religious freedom journalist. Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch stated that "this is an ugly situation, and it is in line with the repressive measures that this government has taken against the media and freedom of religion." Alex Lupis of the Committee to Protect Journalists said that "we are very concerned for Rotar's safety and call on the Uzbek authorities to release him and to end their campaign of harassment and intimidation against the independent media." Amnesty International told Forum 18 that it "is concerned for his safety and see his detention as part of a wave of intimidation and harassment of journalists and human rights defenders by the authorities of Uzbekistan." The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and diplomats from a number of countries continue to closely follow the detention.

11 August 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Forum 18 reporter detained at Tashkent airport

Igor Rotar, Forum 18 News Service's Central Asia Correspondent, was this morning (11 August) detained by the Uzbek authorities on arrival at Tashkent Airport. He is still being held by the Uzbek authorities, who are forcibly preventing him from communicating with anyone. Reliable sources indicate that the detention was ordered "for political reasons at the highest levels" and that the detention was carried out by the Immigration Service and Border Guards, on the instructions of the National Security Service secret police. The Uzbek authorities are refusing to comment on the case, but the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and other international diplomats are following Igor Rotar's continuing detention closely.

10 August 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Increasing use of criminal law against Jehovah's Witnesses

Three Jehovah's Witnesses are being prosecuted under the Criminal Code for missionary activity, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Religious minorities are normally prosecuted under the Administrative Code and the last known criminal prosecution – against a Jehovah's Witness and Pentecostal Christians – was in late 2004. All three Jehovah's Witnesses are from small congregations, which do not meet the legal membership threshold for gaining state registration. Questioned about how people from such small congregations can, under Uzbek law, meet for religious activity, Begzot Kadyrov, of the state Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18 that congregation members must travel to towns where registered congregations exist. The nearest registered congregations for the three on trial are over 500 km. (310 miles) east of their homes. In a separate development, the largest registered Jehovah's Witness congregation may be in danger of losing its registration.

4 August 2005

KAZAKHSTAN: New "national security" law contradicts itself

Kazakhstan's new "national security" requirement that all religious activity must be registered contradicts itself, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Both Professor Roman Podoprigora, a legal expert, and Aleksandr Klyushev, of the Association of Religious Organisations in Kazakhstan, note that Article 6-2 of the amended Religion Law, in Professor Podoprigora's words, "says that formal registration [or notification] is adequate, which directly contradicts Articles 4 and 9 of the same law, which says that juridical registration is compulsory!" Klyushev thinks that this is a legal loophole, and Professor Podoprigora believes that the contradiction arose because parliament did not notice it. Ninel Fokina, of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, argues strongly that the new Law is against the Kazakh Constitution. Religious minorities continue to voice deep anxiety. "It's as if they were playing chess with us," Valentina Volkova of the Hare Krishna community told Forum 18.

22 July 2005

TURKMENISTAN: "Virtual catastrophe" for Muslim Theological Faculty

President Niyazov has ordered "a virtual catastrophe" for Turkmenistan's only official institution for training Muslim imams, a local staff member has told Forum 18 News Service. All Turkish staff members must return to Turkey, 20 students are being expelled, and the Muslim Theological Faculty's status is to be downgraded. Forum 18 has been told that "many staff don't want to work with the new teachers and would rather leave the university." The move is possibly part of an overall government attempt to tighten the already harsh controls over the country's officially registered religious communities, as there have recently been attempts to increase Turkmen state control over the Russian Orthodox Church and isolate the church. Other officially registered religious communities, such as the Baptists, Seventh day Adventists, Pentecostals and Hare Krishna devotees, also face strong official pressure and restrictions, as do the unregistered - and de facto illegal - communities.

20 July 2005

KAZAKHSTAN: Methodist ordered to leave immediately "or there will be serious trouble"

An Uzbek pastor of a Kazakh church, Rashid Turebaev, has been told by police to leave the city of Karaganda "immediately or there would be serious trouble," Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Turebaev has in the past been told by officials that he does not need to re-register his place of residence, but in a sudden reversal has now been fined for not re-registering. He is pastor of the registered Living Vine Methodist Church, and the National Security Service secret police has pressured him to pass on information about foreign citizens – especially Americans - who belong to his congregation. The police have accused Turebaev, without any evidence, of doing unregistered missionary work and struggled to reply to Forum 18's questions as to how Turebaev's work could under the law be seen as missionary activity, and why their has been a sudden change in the official attitude.

19 July 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Charity worker faces secret police death threats

After a secret police raid on her home, interrogations, death threats and a large fine in June, and a 15 day prison sentence for her father, Tashkent-based Protestant Marina Kalinkina told Forum 18 News Service that secret police pressure has not let up. On 11 July, secret police officers again interrogated her about what they claim was illegal religious activity as part of her work for Bridge of Friendship, a registered charity she leads. One officer told her that if she dared to complain about her treatment to international organisations it would only make things worse for her. Begzot Kadyrov of the government's religious affairs committee defended the secret police actions, claiming that Kalinkina is using her charitable work as an opportunity to preach. "In other words, she is doing the work of an unregistered religious organisation, and that is forbidden under Uzbek law," he told Forum 18.

15 July 2005

KAZAKHSTAN: Unregistered religious activity declared illegal, missionary activity restricted

New "national security" amendments signed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 8 July have brought in tight new restrictions on religious activity that violate Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments. All unregistered religious activity is declared illegal and those leading or taking part in unregistered religious meetings can be fined. Missionary activity by local people and foreigners is illegal unless missionaries are from a registered religious organisation and have individual registration from the authorities of the local area where they operate. Literature for use by missionaries requires prior censorship from local authorities. The OSCE had urged that the ban on unregistered religious activity should be excluded from the law. "Unfortunately this was not done," an official of the OSCE mission in Almaty told Forum 18 News Service. The OSCE is preparing a detailed critique of the "overly restrictive" new law.

14 July 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Tortured Pentecostal still in jail

Pentecostal Kural Bekjanov is still being held at a police station in the capital Tashkent with no progress on the investigation into whether he was connected to the murder of a US citizen in the city. "We are convinced of his innocence, and our suspicion is that his religious beliefs are the reason for his ordeal," Iskander Najafov, a lawyer for the Full Gospel Church, told Forum 18 News Service. But Shukhrat Ismailov of the government's religious affairs committee denied this, telling Forum 18 church members' claims were "pure speculation". Since his arrest on 14 June, Bekjanov has been tortured by police and cell mates trying to force him to abandon his Christian faith. Meanwhile two Jehovah's Witnesses in Karshi who have already been fined for "illegal" religious activity now face criminal charges with penalties of up to three years' imprisonment.

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