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28 June 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Protestant tortured by police trying to force abandonment of Christianity

A Pentecostal Christian in the capital, Tashkent, has been tortured by police since being arrested on 14 June, and other church members have been summoned and threatened, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. 19-year-old Kural Bekjanov was tortured by both police officers and prisoners to try to force him to abandon Christianity. His mother, Gulya, saw him on 26 June, when he had lost weight, had difficulty walking and his fingers and legs were covered in blood. "His mother heard the cries of her own son and begged them to stop beating him," Forum 18 was told. "They told her it wasn't her son's cries, but she said she knew the sound of her own son's voice. Yesterday police threatened to put him on a chair wired up to the electricity – believe me, all this is happening," a church member told Forum 18. Protestants in Karakalpakstan, in north-west-Uzbekistan, the targets of a long running anti-Christian campaign by the authorities, have told Forum 18 of renewed difficulties in meeting. Elsewhere, the trial of six members of the Bethany Church in Tashkent has been fixed for 7 July, after police raided the church whilst a service was taking place.

17 June 2005

UZBEKISTAN: One imprisoned, one fined, six more to follow

Nail Kalinkin of the embattled Bethany Protestant Church in the capital Tashkent was sentenced to 15 days in prison on 10 June for "illegally" teaching his faith, while his daughter Marina was fined 68 US dollars, Protestant sources have told Forum 18 News Service. After the church's Sunday service was raided by police on 12 June six more – including the pastor Nikolai Shevchenko – face administrative charges of breaking the country's religion law by leading an unregistered religious community. The church – located in a city district where mosques are also banned - has repeatedly tried but failed to register. Its latest challenge through the courts was again postponed on 17 June. Leaders of another Protestant church in Tashkent have been interrogated and threatened since mid-May, with 18 armed riot police raiding the home of one church leader. In Angren near Tashkent, the leader of a registered Pentecostal church was fined 39 US dollars.

16 June 2005

KYRGYZSTAN: Official claims government control of Islam

The Kyrgyz government "controls" 300 students currently studying in Islamic colleges in Egypt and Iran through the muftiate (the official Islamic spiritual leadership), an official has told Forum 18 News Service. Samsabek Zakirov, head of the religious affairs committee for Osh region, also told Forum 18 that "in southern Kyrgyzstan practically all the mosques are registered and are therefore under government control." Zakirov is not satisfied at this level of control and also intends to ensure that travelling Muslim missionaries "only preach with permission from the muftiate," or official Islamic leadership. Kyrgyz law does not require this permission. Local people have told Forum 18 they fear that last month's uprising in Uzbekistan could destabilise the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan and believe the government may tighten its religious policy. But so far there have been "no noticeable significant changes," Sadykjan Kamaluddin, former mufti of Kyrgyzstan, told Forum 18.

16 June 2005

UZBEKISTAN: What is known about Akramia and the uprising?

Akramia was at the centre of May's uprising, but it is still unclear if it is a bona fide peaceful religious group, or if it is violent. Their origins date from the founder, Akram Yuldashev, writing an Islamic theological pamphlet in Uzbek, Yimonga Yul (Path to faith), which he states did not touch on political issues, but rather on general moral themes. Those close to group members have insisted on this point to Forum 18 News Service, as does the Russian-language translation. The only indirect evidence that Akramia was pressing for violence prior to the uprising is a so-called supplement to Yimonga Yul; it is unknown both who wrote the supplement and whose ideas it contains. The main source of Akamia support in the uprising's centre, Andijan, seems to have been their "Islamic socialist" employment practices. Much is unclear about both Akramia and the events leading to the Andijan massacre, but calls for a credible thorough independent investigation have been rejected by the Uzbek government.

15 June 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Worsening repression in uprising's aftermath

Devout peaceful Muslims across Uzbekistan, not just in the area where May's uprising took place, are being forced by the authorities to make written declarations that they will not participate in "illegal religious organisations" or join "extremist organisations," Forum 18 News Service has learnt. As all unregistered religious activity is illegal, "illegal religious organisations" range from bona fide peaceful religious communities to violent Islamist groups. Human rights activists, from the uprising's centre in the Fergana Valley, have told Forum 18 that they believe that harsh government repression will worsen the situation for all faiths. This view has been supported by Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees. One Protestant pastor told Forum 18 that "the situation in the city remains very tense … you hear people saying that Uzbeks need to seize state buildings, and that the police and army won't act against the demonstrators next time."

2 June 2005

UZBEKISTAN: Protestants in north-west "illegal"

The last legal Protestant church in north-west Uzbekistan has been closed by the Karakalpakstan region's Justice Ministry, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. As all unregistered religious activity in Uzbekistan is illegal, the church cannot now legally operate. Klara Alasheva, first deputy Justice Minister, denied that her ministry's closure of the church was persecution of the Protestant minority. "We warned the church last year not to conduct missionary activity but they carried on regardless," she told Forum 18. Alasheva also denied that Uzbekistan's ban on missionary activity violated its international human rights commitments. "That's what you're claiming, but we're legal specialists," she told Forum 18. The authorities in north-west Uzbekistan have long conducted an anti-Christian campaign, but Protestants in the region are known to still be active. Catholic sources have denied a claim by Alasheva that there is a registered Catholic parish in Nukus.

1 June 2005

OSCE COMMITMENTS: CENTRAL ASIA: OSCE Conference on Intolerance regional survey

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

UZBEKISTAN: Religious crackdown follows Andijan crackdown

"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

KAZAKHSTAN: "Draconian amendments" approved by Majilis

"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

UZBEKISTAN: Officials "condone" kangaroo court punishments

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".

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