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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

UZBEKISTAN: Medical institute expels Protestant students

After pressure earlier in the year on Protestant students in Nukus in the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan [Qoraqalpoghiston], two students were expelled from the town's medical institute in early September for membership of an "illegal" Protestant church, the Church of Christ. Protestant sources told Forum 18 News Service that the two - Aliya Sherimbetova and Shirin Artykbayeva – were told that a further reason for their expulsion was that their cases had been reported on the internet, an apparent reference to Forum 18's coverage. Six other local Protestant students have been harassed in Nukus this year. It is almost impossible for Christian churches of any denomination to gain official registration in Karakalpakstan and therefore to meet legally for worship.


Ahead of the OSCE Conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination on 13-14 September 2004 in Brussels, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org surveys some of the more serious discriminatory actions against religious believers that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration. Forum 18 believes most of the serious problems affecting religious believers in the eastern half of the OSCE region come from government discrimination.

UZBEKISTAN: Is headscarf ban "enlightened" Islam?

Insisting that all women who wear a Muslim headscarf (the hijab) have links with terrorists, the authorities in Lagman, part of Karshi in southern Uzbekistan, have banned the public wearing of the hijab, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. City authorities have claimed to Forum 18 that "anyone in Uzbekistan can wear whatever they consider appropriate," even though Uzbekistan's religion law bans the public wearing of undefined "religious clothing", which attacks both Muslims and Hare Krishna devotees. Abdurakhman Erkayev, head of the city's secretariat for social and economic issues went on to tell Forum 18 that "We have asked the mahalla authorities to explain to people that the essence of Islam in Uzbekistan has never been distinguished by fanaticism and extremism. We feel that it is very important to promote this form of "enlightened" Islam."

UZBEKISTAN: Religious prisoner makes formal torture complaint

Laziz Saidov, a Muslim who is under arrest apparently just for being devout, has made a formal written complaint to the Uzbek Prosecutor General, Rashid Kadyrov, stating that the police used torture to obtain a confession of possessing leaflets from the banned Hizb-ut-Tahir party, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Saidov, who is still in jail, states that the police manacled his arms and legs, and beat him on the shins and head until he agreed to sign a confession. The head of the detention cells where Saidov is being held, Panzhi Nazarov, suggested to Forum 18 that "maybe he [Saidov] was beaten up in Guzar rather than here?" and said that he could not either confirm or refute information that some Muslims had been tortured.

UZBEKISTAN: Police break state and international law

Police have raided a Jehovah's Witness meeting in Samarkand [Samarqand], without any legal documentation, closely questioning participants in the meeting under great psychological pressure, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The police told participants that they would be fined under Article 241 "breaking the law on giving religious instruction" of Uzbekistan's administrative code, and the internal affairs administration told Forum 18 that "we were acting within the law". Both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Uzbekistan has freely signed, and Uzbekistan's own religion law contradict this claim.

UZBEKISTAN: No names, no questions, in latest trials of Muslims

In a trial of 12 Muslims in the Fergana [Farghona] Valley, apparently on trial for being devout, Judge Gozikhon Yakhyakhojayev has refused to release the names of the accused, telling Forum 18 News Service that "I myself have not yet got to grips with this case, and I feel it is simply too early to give any details to the press." In another trial, of 2 devout Muslims, his colleague Judge Ismailov has been accused by defence lawyers of joining the prosecution in trying to secure convictions, and of not allowing defence lawyers to question witnesses. In both cases, Forum 18 has been told that the ordinary police and NSS secret police have been accused of planting evidence on those accused.

UZBEKISTAN: Another Muslim jailed for being a Muslim?

Abdugafar Karimov is the latest Muslim apparently jailed for being a devout Muslim known to Forum 18 News Service, being sentenced to five years' imprisonment for "undermining the constitutional basis of the Republic of Uzbekistan". His wife, Oklima Karimova, says that evidence of about 10 Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets and a video was planted, and told Forum 18 that one prosecution witness refused to appear in court because of "a troubled conscience". Further similar trials are continuing.

UZBEKISTAN: Police knew search results before they searched

In the latest series of trials of Muslims, apparently simply because they are devout Muslims, ten men have been sentenced to jail terms of between 10 and 12 years, a local human rights activist has told Forum 18 News Service. All ten have denied the criminal charges made and claim that evidence was planted on them. Forum 18 has been told that the wife of one of those arrested, Mukudas Yusupova, was mistakenly given by police a document showing the results of the search before the search had been conducted. Neither lawyers for the accused, nor human rights activists, nor journalists, were allowed into the court to hear the sentence, and police officers beat up protestors calling for journalists, human rights activists and lawyers to be allowed into the court.

UZBEKISTAN: Being a devout Muslim a crime?

Two groups of Muslims, detained respectively just before and just after the March/April terrorist attacks, are now being tried in southern Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The authorities state that leaflets of the banned Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir party and drugs were found in the homes of the people being tried, but a local human rights activist insists to Forum 18 that this evidence was planted, and that their only "crime" was to be devout Muslims. Relatives claim that those accused were subjected to brutal treatment during questioning. Although the trials are officially open to the public, both journalists and human rights activists have been refused admittance.

UZBEKISTAN: No religious freedom deterioration after bombings

Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishna devotees, Muslims and independent human rights groups Forum 18 News Service has spoken to all agree that, in marked contrast to the situation after the March/April terrorist attacks, the authorities reactions after the most recent terrorist bombings have not caused a substantial deterioration in the religious freedom situation.

UZBEKISTAN: Baptist denied permission to live in own home

In what he describes as "a vicious circle", Baptist Vsevolod Kalinin has again been refused a residence permit to live in his own home in the capital Tashkent, Forum 18 News Service has been told. In an open court hearing, a representative of the commission of the Tashkent city administration responsible for residence permits said that Kalinin's religious convictions were the main reason for refusing him a residence permit. It is unusual for Uzbek authorities to take a close interest in residential addresses, but Kalinin has since 2002 been the target of close scrutiny by authorities in Tashkent. As well as visits from the police, a military recruitment office has told Kalinin that he could be detained while his place of residence was checked. All Kalinin's appeals, including to Uzbek president Karimov, are met with the reply that he should appeal again to the commission which denied him a residence permit.

UZBEKISTAN: Jail for leading home Koran study group?

Armed NSS secret police have raided the home of Normurod Zhumaev, a doctor in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, arrested him and confiscated Muslim religious literature and computer equipment, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. He is still under arrest and has been charged under an article of the criminal code which punishes "the creation or leadership of, or participation in, religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organisations". His wife says that he did lead studies of the Koran with a group of his friends, but insists to Forum 18 that the small group did not discuss politics. It is possible that Zhumaev may have attracted the NSS's attention because, like his family, he is a notably devout Muslim and a friend of an imam who was arrested in April.