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14 April 2015

UZBEKISTAN: "She fears police brutality during interrogation and short-term jailing"

Nearly three years after Uzbekistan fired her from her job as a teacher for insisting on wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf), Gulchohra Norbayeva still faces police summonses, a house search for religious literature, accusations she was teaching the Koran "illegally", and pressure to sign statements incriminating Muslim men she did not know. "At the moment they have left me alone. I don't know if the police opened a case," she told Forum 18 News Service. An Anti-Terrorism Police Officer who took part in a raid on her home insisted to Forum 18 that the search was for religious literature and that the case is closed. But police told Norbayeva that, whether or not she wears the hijab, she is on the Preventative Register. This allows police "preventative measures" such as someone being fired from their job. Also, police have renewed their hunt for Guljahon Kuzebayeva, a Protestant in the southern Kashkadarya Region who has been in hiding since July 2014, for allegedly talking to family members about her Christian faith. "She fears police brutality during interrogation and also possible short-term jailing," fellow Protestants told Forum 18. The use of informal physical violence and torture, or threats of this, by the authorities is widespread in Uzbekistan.

4 March 2015

UZBEKISTAN: "Pardoned only after repenting and asking the President for forgiveness"

Uzbekistan in February freed six known Muslim prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. The freed prisoners of conscience include sports journalist Hairulla Hamidov and five other Muslim prisoners of conscience who were jailed because they met to study the works of theologian Said Nursi. The five are: Rashid Sharipov, Akmal Abdullayev, Ahmad Rakhmonov, Ahmadjon Primkulov and Kudratullo (last name unknown). All six had served most of their long jail terms. Other prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief are known to be still in jail, including other Muslims who met to study Nursi's works and one Protestant. The five amnestied readers of Nursi's works were "pardoned only after repenting and asking the President [Islam Karimov] for forgiveness", a source from Uzbekistan who knows the men and who asked to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18.

11 February 2015

UZBEKISTAN: Detention, fine, literature confiscation was "hospitality we got for bringing mandarins"

Forced to remain under restrictions in Uzbekistan for more than two months at their own cost after two Muslim books and Islamic recordings were found on mobile phones as they entered the country, two Russian lorry drivers were eventually deported on 5 February, one of them told Forum 18 News Service. One was fined in Karakalpakstan 50 times the minimum monthly wage for "smuggling". The phones were ordered destroyed and the books confiscated. Two Muslims were fined in 2014 in Karakalpakstan for importing Islamic books from neighbouring Kazakhstan (one of them was subjected to an "anti-terror" raid on his home). Nurullo Zhamolov of Karakalpakstan's Religious Affairs Department claimed to Forum 18 that "no-one should be fined or punished" for importing a Koran, Bible or other "legally allowed" religious literature into Uzbekistan. He was unable to say why the two lorry drivers from Russia or the two local Muslims had been punished.

8 December 2014

UZBEKISTAN: State-sponsored media attacks continue

Uzbekistan's state-sponsored mass media continues attacking named people exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. The victims are not given a right of reply and media staff evade answering question on the attacks. The authors of attacks have included a Judge who subsequently fined people he attacked. Asked whether this made the Judge prejudiced against one party in a case, his assistant replied: "Who are you to question the Judge's rights and what he can and cannot do?" Recent allegations against named people include "making zombies out of children", improperly associating with young girls, drug dealing, and that "a sudden death awaits every member of the [named religious community] who owns any kind of property and lives alone". Various religious believers commented to Forum 18 on the contradiction between state-supported media making serious allegations of crime, and law enforcement agencies making no known investigations. Belief communities thought the purpose of media attacks was to publicly discredit them, and when full names and addresses are published to make people afraid of physical attack.

26 November 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Koran translation banned, New Testaments destroyed, planted evidence and witness, large fines

Uzbekistan has banned a poetic translation of the Koran into Uzbek by a poet, Jamol Kamol, who has translated William Shakespeare's works. Forum 18 News Service has learned. The country has also continued to fine people for meeting to exercise their freedom of religion or belief, recently fining 15 Protestants and a non-Christian flat owner who rented her flat to Christians. The fines imposed varied between 10 and 55 times the minimum monthly salary, and books and other religious material were ordered to be confiscated. In one case resulting in a fine of 55 times the minimum monthly salary it appears that police planted "evidence" and a witness. Judge Sherzod Yuldashev fell silent when asked by Forum 18 why he ordered the destruction of Christian holy scriptures. When Forum 18 repeated the question he replied "I cannot explain these things to you over the phone" and then put the phone down. He also fined Durdona Abdullayeva and Ulugbek Kenzhayev, whose personal New Testaments they were, 30 times the minimum monthly salary.

22 October 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Prison death result of accident, illness, torture, neglect?

Nearly three years into a ten-year prison term, Nilufar Rahimjanova died on about 13 September aged 37 in the women's labour camp near Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. Relatives say the mother of four was imprisoned to punish her Iran-based husband and her Tajikistan-based father, both Muslim theologians the Uzbek authorities do not like. Rahimjanova's body was handed not to her husband or father, but to her brother in Tashkent. He was told to bury it quickly in Uzbekistan without conducting a post-mortem examination. Erkin Bobokulov, Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry's Chief Directorate for the Enforcement of Punishments, declined to talk about Rahimjanova's death in labour camp over the phone. "I don't know the details exactly," he told Forum 18 News Service. Asked whether the prison authorities took steps to save Rahimjanova's life, Bobokulov did not respond.

1 October 2014

UZBEKISTAN: No imam? No prayers

Members of the Toshkuprik Mosque in Samarkand Region's Pakhtachi District were effectively banned from holding Friday prayers from 8 August onwards, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. They were told they could not choose one of their number to lead prayers in the absence of their Muslim Board-appointed Imam and one community member lamented to Radio Free Europe's Uzbek Service that the authorities ban prayers in private homes. Uzbekistan's Deputy Chief Mufti, Abdulaziz Mansurov, insisted to Forum 18: "Please, do not exaggerate - this is not a big problem." In defiance of Uzbekistan's Constitution and published laws, the state enforces a Muslim Board monopoly on all Muslim activity. Mansurov admitted that the Board appoints all Chief Imams of the regions with the consent of the government's Religious Affairs Committee. Meanwhile, secret police and Anti-Terrorism Police officers raided a Baptist community in Andijan as they held a meeting for Sunday worship. They threatened to seize the three children of a widow who lives in the private house where the church was meeting, as well as the house.

26 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Rehabilitation Centre suspended, leaders under criminal investigation

About 20 residents of a Protestant-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent were driven out during a 31 May Police, secret police and Tax Office raid. Officials confiscated religious literature, office equipment and money before sealing Shelter Rehabilitation Centre. An employee who taught metal-working to residents, Pyotr Tikhomirov, was fined for "illegally" storing religious literature "posing a threat to the peace and security of the population". Criminal cases were opened against him and the Centre's founder, Vladislav Sekan, for allegedly not paying taxes on wages, not having a cash-register and exploiting residents by not paying them for clearing up after themselves. "For twelve years of its work, large numbers of drug and alcohol addicts were freed from their harmful habits and restored to normal life in the Rehabilitation Centre," Sekan told Forum 18 News Service. Anti-Terrorism Police Officer Jabbor Rizkulov, who led the May raid, refused to explain to Forum 18 why the Centre had been raided or exactly what charges were brought against Tikhomirov and Sekan. Prosecutor's Office Investigator Sarvar Akhmedov refused to give Forum 18 details of the investigation or say when it will be completed.

18 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: "We will continue fining you unless you stop storing religious literature in your home"

The police officer who led the raid on the home of a Seventh-day Adventist couple in Samarkand told Forum 18 News Service that it is illegal for them to have religious literature since the Adventist community does not have registration in the city. Protestants believe the raid was a reprisal for lodging a new registration application as the community seeks to regain the registration stripped from it in 2007. Among books seized were a Koran and Bibles in Braille. Police seized religious literature from individuals' homes elsewhere in Uzbekistan. "We will continue fining you unless you stop storing religious literature in your home," Judge Oltinbek Mansurov warned Artur Alpayev in Navoi in early September after fining him six months' average local wages for having religious literature at home. Forum 18 can find no published law which broadly bans individuals from owning religious books or other materials, though materials intended to encourage people to change their beliefs or works which, in the state's interpretation, "distort religious canons" have been banned since January.

5 September 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Why can't school-age children attend worship meetings?

On the instruction of the authorities in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, teachers and doctors were forced to help the police identify school-age boys attending worship in mosques in late August "and to prevent them from participating in prayers, especially Friday prayers," human rights defender Abdurakhmon Eshanov told Forum 18 News Service. Officials refused to discuss the ban with Forum 18. Deputy Chief Mufti Abdulaziz Mansurov claimed to Forum 18 that both Sharia law and the Religion Law ban children from attending prayers. He then added: "I wish the Law would allow it." After Anti-Terrorism Police raids in Namangan Region on Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses, state-sponsored media attacks noted that "even under-age children" had been present at both meetings. Although the Religion Law does not ban children from attending meetings for worship, officials frequently pressure parents and religious communities not to allow them to attend.

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