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24 July 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Another jailing, large fines for meeting upheld, more confiscations

Igor Kulyada, a Baptist from Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, was jailed for three days from 3 to 6 July, Forum 18 News Service has learned. His offence was to put up in public leaflets with verses from the Bible. Some of his property was ordered to be destroyed and a fine was also imposed on him. Asked why she had done this, Judge Nilufar Dadabayeva told Forum 18 that "I need to ask my superiors before I can give you information". In Syrdarya Region four Baptists have been fined 50 times the minimum monthly salary, four Baptists 20 times the minimum monthly salary and one Baptist has been fined 10 times the minimum monthly salary. The "offence" of all nine was to meet together to worship and share a meal on Palm Sunday. Protestants in the central city of Karshi have complained of an Illegal raid and house search against one of their co-believers and intrusive questioning of relatives about her. Local police officer Olim Gulomov put his phone down as soon as he heard Forum 18's name. And state confiscations of the property of Baptists in Samarkand continue to be carried out.

8 July 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Almost incommunicado in Investigation Prison

Relatives of Tajik citizen Zuboyd Mirzorakhimov have told Forum 18 News Service that he remains almost incommunicado in an isolation cell in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. A meeting with his wife in January – which would have been the first since his September 2013 arrest – was blocked, the day after his 38th birthday. Although she had travelled from Tajikistan, prison officials refused to explain why she could not meet him. Hopes Mirzorakhimov would be amnestied from a five-year jail sentence appear to have been dashed. His "crime" was to have had Muslim sermons in his mobile phone. Another prisoner given the same term on similar grounds - Zoirjon Mirzayev – has been allowed a visit from relatives in prison in Karshi. And another person accused of entering Uzbekistan with "illegal" religious material in his phone, Uzbek citizen Ikhtiyor Yagmurov, has been punished instead under the Administrative Code with a fine. Serious concerns remain over both the torture of Muslim prisoners of conscience and health of Muslim and Christian prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief.

4 July 2014

UZBEKISTAN: "Legally" preventing human rights

Uzbekistan is formalising harsher restriction than those which formally already exist, Forum 18 News Service notes. A new Prevention Law, which enters into legal force on 15 August, automatically places people convicted by the courts on a Preventive Register, subjecting them to a variety of police "preventative measures" for one year or more. Many agencies are able to initiate placing individuals on the Preventive Register, from health care to nature protection agencies, allowing many possibilities for officials to arbitrarily arrange for people to stay on the Register for many years. The Law also gives mahalla committees wide powers to among other things with police "take measures to prevent the activity of unregistered religious organisations". It also "legalises unofficial informers" a legal expert from Tashkent noted to Forum 18. Heavy punishments continue to be imposed on people exercising freedom of religion or belief, a police officer in a recent raid insisting to Forum 18 that people "are allowed to gather and talk about their religion only in their communities' legally-registered addresses, but not outside those buildings or in private homes".

13 May 2014

UZBEKISTAN: "To prevent illegal religious materials"

A court in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent has fined both Grigory Kasparov and his wife Yelena for "illegally storing" Kasparov's Christian books in their private home. This was despite Yelena Kasparova refusing to sign a "confession" police attempted to force from her for this "offence". The verdict in Kasparov's case states that the books were destroyed even before the Court had found Kasparov "guilty" and decided what to do with the books. A court official admitted to Forum 18 News Service that bailiffs destroyed the books, but refused to state whether bailiffs are allowed to do this before a verdict. In another case, the NSS secret police and ordinary police have ignored a court order stating that they must return confiscated books and other material. In the Kasparov case the court verdict states the fine followed "investigation and search operations with the purpose to prevent illegal religious materials". In a very similar recent case, the verdict states that the NSS secret police conducted "an operation .. to identify persons who illegally store religious materials".

9 May 2014

UZBEKISTAN: "Let him pay the fine and we'll return the car"

Court bailiffs in Uzbekistan's central Samarkand Region admit they confiscated a car, a vacuum cleaner and other household items from two families beyond the legally-defined deadline. "We and our colleagues can't keep up with the volume of work, so we were a bit late with these confiscations," bailiff Sadriddin Salahuddinov admitted to Forum 18 News Service. The seizures came after the two Baptists refused to pay fines imposed in 2012 to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. "Let him pay the fine and we'll return the car to him," the bailiff added about Veniamin Nemirov. Meanwhile, 15 police and other officials raided a church's Sunday meeting for worship in a home in Syrdarya. "When the officials broke in they were preparing a dinner, and getting ready to celebrate the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem," Baptists lamented to Forum 18. Police officer Oybek Turdikulov, who took part in the raid, told Forum 18 that they "received an instruction from above to go to check up on the gathering."

2 May 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Another 5 year prison term for sermons in mobile

Nine years after he moved to Russia to find work, Zoirjon Mirzayev was arrested at a Tashkent Region train station on his return to his native Uzbekistan after customs officials found 29 recordings of Muslim sermons in his mobile phone. The Religious Affairs Committee said the recordings were "extremist" and on 8 April Mirzayev received a five-year prison term, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18 News Service. Assistant Prosecutor B. Kamilov, who led the case in court, told Forum 18 "it's the minimum punishment that we could ask the court for". He was unable to say who had banned the sermons as "extremist" and when. "The sentence is not just and Mirzayev's relatives are preparing to file an appeal," human rights defender Surat Ikramov told Forum 18. Uzbek citizen Ikhtiyor Yagmurov was arrested on similar grounds at Tashkent airport and is awaiting trial, but officials refused to tell Forum 18 what charges he faces.

25 April 2014

UZBEKISTAN: "Those who accepted other religions may not be buried in same cemetery with Muslims"

In three known cases so far in 2014, local officials have backed local imams who refused to allow non-Muslims to be buried in state-owned cemeteries where their families wished to bury them, Forum 18 News Service has learned. When Protestant Christian Gayrat Buriyev died on 9 April in a village near Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, relatives sought the assistance of the local Administration chief. But late in the evening he and the Regional Imam supported the local imam, who blocked the burial and "cursed the relatives", Protestants complained to Forum 18. In two cases in Karakalpakstan, officials forced relatives to bury the deceased in a Russian Orthodox cemetery rather than the main cemetery. Kudaybergen Uteniyazov, Head of Muynak District Administration, insisted to Forum 18: "Those who accepted other religions may not be buried in the same cemetery with Muslims." An official of Uzbekistan's Ombudsperson's Office told Forum 18 that cemeteries "belong to the state", but refused to say if the Office will help seek an end to such burial denials.

25 March 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Detained for religious materials in electronic devices

Three Tajik transit passengers detained without charge by Uzbek border guards at the same railway station in southern Uzbekistan were freed on 4 February. The border guard who took Tojiddin Latipov off the train told him that an Islamic sermon he had on his mobile phone was in violation of Uzbekistan's Law, Latipov told Forum 18 News Service. Officials questioned him over how long he has been praying and whether he observes fasts. He was freed three days later. A mother and son were held for a month and had their computer seized after officials found a sermon on it. Makhmud (who refused to give his last name), Chief duty customs official at Boldyr station, refused to comment to Forum 18 on why Latipov and the mother and son had been held in custody for having religious materials in electronic devices. Another Tajik citizen is serving a five year sentence for a similar "offence", though his family hopes he will soon be freed under amnesty.

24 March 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Seven Muslims amnestied, but ailing Muslim prisoner waits for operation

Relatives of imprisoned Muslim prisoner of conscience Mehrinisso Hamdamova are to ask the authorities to allow her to have an urgent operation on an apparent myoma outside the women's prison where she is being held. Her "stomach is swollen, and she loses consciousness often", they told Forum 18 News Service. Officials refused to discuss her case with Forum 18. Meanwhile, seven of Uzbekistan's many imprisoned Muslims who read the works of the late Turkish theologian Said Nursi were freed under amnesty in February and March. The seven were among three groups of Muslims given long prison sentences in Bukhara in 2009-10.

18 March 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Anti-Terrorism Police seize religious literature, tear down religious posters

In two separate raids in early March, Anti-Terrorism Police and other officials seized religious literature from private homes, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In one raid in Uzbekistan's central city of Samarkand, Anti-Terrorism officer Makhmud Nodyrov "tore posters with Scripture texts from the walls, and kept threatening [home owner Veniamin] Nemirov that his home could be taken away from him, and that his children could be expelled from school," Baptists complained to Forum 18. Personal details of the 25 adults and the family's 12 children present after the Baptist congregation's Sunday service were taken. Four church members face administrative punishments. Asked why he tore down posters in Nemirov's home, and why he threatened that Nemirov's children would be expelled from school, officer Nodyrov referred Forum 18 to the Foreign Ministry, and put the phone down.

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