9 July 2003
Before the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Religion or Belief on 17-18 July 2003, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org/ surveys some of the more serious abuses of religious freedom 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.
26 June 2003
Around 50 wives demonstrated in Namangan on 17 June calling for their husbands to be freed from prison. They claim the men are "prisoners of conscience", punished simply for being "faithful Muslims". "My husband was not a terrorist, he simply said prayers five times a day and attended the mosque regularly," one of the demonstrators Misor Ubaidulaeva told Forum 18 News Service. She says he has almost lost his hearing as a result of beatings in prison in Karshi, where inmates are not allowed to pray. The local police officer admitted to Forum 18 that he had pressured Ubaidulaeva and her mother-in-law to sign pledges undertaking not to take part in further "unlawful meetings".
19 June 2003
Access to two more foreign-based websites that carry news on religious developments in Uzbekistan has been barred by the authorities, Forum 18 News Service has discovered while using the Internet in Uzbekistan. One of those now barred is the US-based Islamic radical site, www.muslimuzbekistan.com, which aims to inform "about the true situation of Muslims of this region, on the many thousands of tortures which they undergo for their steadfast faithfulness to their religion". One Internet cafe owner in Tashkent told Forum 18 that he is obliged to check that his customers do not look at "forbidden" information, in accordance with instructions from the National Security Service (the former KGB). He said any customer looking at "forbidden" websites he reports to the NSS would be arrested and fined about 46 US dollars.
9 June 2003
The judge who ordered the destruction of 211 copies of a Russian Baptist magazine confiscated from local Baptist Aleksei Yermolayev on his return to the country has strongly defended his ruling. "Yermolayev tried to bring the magazines into Uzbekistan illegally," Marat Alimukhamedov told Forum 18 in Tashkent. He says the magazines would have been sent back had Yermolayev declared them at the customs post on the border. "If the literature was brought into Uzbekistan illegally, then we have the right to destroy it," he insisted. Local Baptists have protested against the court-ordered destruction of the magazine and the fine of 23 US dollars handed down. They also complained that Yermolayev was not even informed that the hearing was taking place.
2 June 2003
Jehovah's Witnesses are considering whether to demand a criminal case against the police officers who beat four of their members in Kagan, one of whom lost consciousness. The four – who were arrested on 1 May for preaching on the street – are being threatened with legal cases. "For the time being we are holding back the reports of the beatings," lawyer Rustam Satdanov told Forum 18 News Service. "But if the case goes to trial despite this, we will call for a criminal case to be brought against the police officers for beating believers." A police officer has denied that any of the Jehovah's Witnesses were beaten. "They had not committed a serious enough offence to deserve a beating!" the deputy head of Kagan's investigation isolation unit told Forum 18.
30 May 2003
Pentecostal pastor Bakhtier Tuichiev's registration application for his church in Andijan – lodged four months ago - has stalled. "Officially, no-one has refused me," he told Forum 18. "It is simply that every day I am told to come back tomorrow. I am sure the authorities are quite deliberately dragging their feet." However, an official of the city administration denied there was any deliberate obstruction. "We have been holding a sports competition, and have not had the time to devote to this issue," Izatullo Khojayev told Forum 18. "I have already told Tuichiev that we will deal with his application very soon." Police have warned the pastor that if the church continues to operate without registration, he will be brought to court.
29 May 2003
Ten days after his home in the village of Yubileiny was raided by police, who confiscated religious literature, Jehovah's Witness Shukhrat Ashurov and his colleague Alisher Argeliyev appeared on 28 May at Gazalkent town court. "According to my sources, at the next hearing Ashurov and Argeliyev will be charged with preaching to children," their lawyer Rustam Satdanov told Forum 18 News Service. "The leaflets were brought to Uzbekistan legally," Ashurov insisted to Forum 18. "As far as I know, there is no ban on the Bible, New Testament and Koran in Uzbekistan." Villagers have demanded that the two abandon the Jehovah's Witness faith and return to Islam, otherwise they will be expelled.
20 May 2003
After a major investigation, Forum 18 News Service established that the Muslim clergy is almost completely under the control of the Uzbek authorities, while the leadership of the muftiate's spiritual administration is virtually an agency of state authority. Imams do not have the right to compose the Friday addresses themselves, but are obliged to read out texts approved by the muftiate. During the US-led war in Iraq, imams felt obliged to speak in support of the campaign, despite their own and popular opposition to it. In defiance of the law, the state appoints and removes imams. Students in Islamic colleges are closely monitored for their political reliability. Many mosques have been denied registration and Forum 18 has seen some being used, as in the Soviet period, as clubs, libraries or museums. Ironically, Islam is the faith in Uzbekistan that is most thoroughly controlled by the authorities.
9 May 2003
Muslims from the suburb of Rafik Mumin in the Fergana valley city of Namangan have complained to Forum 18 News Service that the authorities have repeatedly refused registration for the Donobad mosque which was closed down in 1998. Rejecting their latest application, the deputy leader of the city administration wrote to the Muslims at the end of March that it is "pointless" to register the mosque, because several mosques nearby are already functioning. "The authorities routinely give unofficial instructions to mahalla committee leaders to refuse registration to mosques," Gulyam Halmatov, chairman of the Namangan branch of the Independent Human Rights Organisation of Uzbekistan, told Forum 18.
2 May 2003
In an open letter to Interior Minister Zakir Almatov passed to Forum 18 News Service by the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, 22 Muslim women prisoners complain of maltreatment. "We are defenceless women who are barred from being amnestied and viciously insulted for practising our religion." They complain they are punished if they pray, have copies of the Koran confiscated if they are caught reading it, are not allowed to wear the Islamic veil, are cut off from their children and are singled out for punishment. "We call all of you, who're lucky enough to be free, to heed the situation of Muslim prisoners; to listen to the cry of the women imprisoned for their belief in Allah." Officials deny the women's accusations. "I know about the letter, we have investigated it and have concluded that the circumstances cited in it bear no relation to reality," Aziz Ernazarov of the interior ministry press office told Forum 18.
24 April 2003
In apparent testimony to the power of international protests, public prosecutor Shurali Ashurov, who questioned Baptist pastor Vladimir Khanyukov for up to five hours at a time and threatened his congregation for its refusal to register with the authorities, has called for an end to the flood of appeals that have reached his office. "I constantly receive protest letters from Baptists from various parts of the world," he told Forum 18 News Service from the western Uzbek town of Mubarek. "I am fed up with reading them." He revealed that in the wake of the petitions, a commission came from the capital Tashkent to investigate the Baptists' complaints. He insisted to Forum 18 that he is not preventing the church from meeting.
22 April 2003
Despite authoritarian rule, high levels of censorship of the local media and periodic barring of access to foreign-based political opposition websites, Central Asia's governments have so far only enacted limited censorship over access to religious websites based outside the region, a Forum 18 News Service investigation has found. Uzbekistan permanently bars access to the London-based website of Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, though not to its Pakistan-related site. In several Uzbek Internet cafes, Forum 18 even came across the notice: "Viewing of religious and pornographic sites is forbidden". But with low Internet use in Central Asia and a population too poor to be able to afford access, Central Asia's governments – which to a greater or lesser extent try to control all religious activity - may believe they do not need to impose religious censorship on the Internet.