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6 August 2004

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.

4 August 2004

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.

30 July 2004

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.

29 July 2004

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.

22 July 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Hare Krishna devotees expelled and correspondent threatened

Urgench State University has, because of their beliefs, expelled three Hare Krishna devotees, under the pretext of low marks in exams, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. This follows NSS secret police closely monitoring the unregistered Hare Krishnas. In Uzbekistan, contrary to human rights agreements the country has signed, unregistered religious communities are forbidden. The university authorities have also attacked Hare Krishnas, the natural science faculty's dean, Ruzumbay Eschanov, making unsubstantiated allegations, including claiming that Hare Krishna devotees are planning a coup d'etat or putsch. Hare Krishna devotees Forum 18 has spoken to have been told by the NSS that Forum 18's correspondent will be expelled, but the NSS has refused to discuss this with Forum 18. Khorezm is one of Uzbekistan's most difficult regions for religious minorities, with only one open Christian church left and the NSS admitting that "we are the ones who closed down the Baptists' church".

16 July 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Why can't Jewish community re-establish rabbinate?

Begzot Kadyrov of the government's committee for religious affairs told Forum 18 News Service that while his committee supports the Jewish community's desire to re-establish the rabbinate abolished when the restrictive religion law was adopted in 1998, the justice ministry did not deem it "necessary". Without such a central organisation, the Jewish community cannot set up educational institutions. Asked by Forum 18 to comment on this continued denial of recognition of a rabbinate, chief rabbi Abe Dovid Gurevich explained that the community had to close down its yeshivas, the theological schools that train rabbis, while rabbis are in very short supply. "The closure of the yeshivas is a major issue for us." He believes the refusal to allow the reestablishment of the rabbinate harms Uzbekistan's international image.

15 July 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Authorities foment protests to close Baptist holiday camp

Using a letter from local Second World War veterans as a pretext, the authorities in Bostanlyk district near Tashkent have removed registration with the state land registry from a Baptist holiday camp, effectively closing it down. But Sobir Suleimenov, assistant to the council chief in Kizil-Su, the closest village to the camp, denied to Forum 18 News Service that the veterans wanted the camp closed. Villagers told Forum 18 that the authorities had encouraged protests against the camp. Rakhmatullo Ilyasov of Bostanlyk district administration, who ordered the registration cancellation, told Forum 18 that the law enforcement agencies had complained that "shady people" ran the camp and that its further functioning is therefore "inappropriate".

12 July 2004

UZBEKISTAN: No proof, but imam sentenced

Astonishment and uproar greeted the six-year prison sentence imposed on 6 July on Alokhon Ishankhojayev, imam of the central mosque in Novy Margelan, a satellite town near Fergana in the Uzbek section of the Fergana valley. Those present in court began to shout that the imam had been found guilty simply for being a law-abiding Muslim, local human rights activist Akhmajon Madmarov told Forum 18 News Service. The court could present no proof of the charges that Ishankhojayev undermined the constitutional basis, set up a criminal organisation or led a banned organisation. The imam rejected accusations that a gun "found" by police in a search had been his. In the first case in Central Asia known to Forum 18 where the official Muslim clergy have supported individuals accused of Islamic radicalism, the chief imam of Fergana region spoke in court in Ishankhojayev's defence.

9 July 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Students to be expelled for belonging to "banned Protestant sect"?

Following similar threats in April and May to other Protestant students in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan in north-western Uzbekistan, three students of Karakalpak University were threatened with expulsion in June. The dean of their faculty, Dina Mamyrbayeva, said the secret police had written to her identifying them as members of a "banned Protestant sect". She warned the three that if they do not stop meeting their fellow Protestants they will be expelled. University rector Kuanyshbai Niyazov refused to confirm or deny the threats, though he told Forum 18 News Service that no students have yet been expelled. On 5 June police and secret police raided the home of another Nukus Protestant, Miyrasa Uralbayeva, warning that if she did not stop preaching Christianity she would have drugs planted on her and be put in prison for years.

8 July 2004

UZBEKISTAN: Jehovah's Witnesses arrested for being Islamic fundamentalists

Six Jehovah's Witnesses have been arrested, having been denounced as "Wahhabis". They were interrogated by several policemen, the most senior of whom was apparently drunk. Of the six Jehovah's Witnesses, who included a 16 year old girl who should not have been held, the men were beaten up and the women and young girl had heavy psychological pressure applied against them, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Begzot Kadyrov, of the government's committee for religious affairs, has told Forum 18 that "The Jehovah's Witnesses are not registered in Bukhara region, and they remain active there despite all our warnings. As long as the Jehovah's Witnesses are not registered at the justice administration for Bukhara region, their conflicts with the police will continue." Jehovah's Witnesses have been denied registration in Uzbekistan. The state, in defiance of the human rights commitments it has freely entered into, routinely punishes unregistered religious activity.

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