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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.

18 February 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Concern over health of prisoners of conscience

Relatives and friends of three Muslim prisoners of conscience in Uzbekistan, jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, have expressed concern to Forum 18 News Service about their state of health. Khayrullo Tursunov and his relatives Mehrinisso and Zulhumor Hamdamova (who are sisters) are all apparently in need of medical treatment. Relatives of the Hamdamova sisters told Forum 18 that "they both feel ill but Mehrinisso's health is worse". Relatives do not know when or even whether the prison authorities will arrange an operation for Mehrinisso. A related case is that of Khayrullo Tursunov, who has been exposed to the potentially fatal disease of tuberculosis (TB). The authorities have claimed to Forum 18 that he is cured – but if so Forum 18 notes this has taken an unusually short length of time. A relative wondered what the authorities' reasons were. "If he did not have TB why was he moved to the TB prison – and if he did why was he moved back to his original prison in such a short time?", the relative asked.

12 February 2014

UZBEKISTAN: New Decree gives "legal" basis to existing censorship

Books and other materials encouraging individuals to change their beliefs or which, in the state's opinion, "distort" beliefs are now specifically banned under a sweeping new censorship Decree, Forum 18 News Service notes. The Decree, which came into force on 27 January, gives a "legal" basis for the severe state restrictions on production, sale, distribution and import of religious materials. The Decree contains numerous violations of the conventions the country has under international human rights law promised to implement. Returning pilgrims – such as from Mecca – will have their literature seized for checking. Further punishments for breaking the censorship regime may be introduced. Officials of the state Religious Affairs Committee – which implements the compulsory prior state censorship – and the office of Deputy Prime Minister Adkham Ikramov – who is supervising the Decree's implementation – refused to discuss its provisions with Forum 18.

6 February 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Massive fine for Muslim prayer mat, Christian book raid ordered by NSS secret police

A hotel employee in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent has been fined 150 times the minimum monthly salary after a Muslim prayer mat was found at the hotel during an early January search by the authorities. A hotel employee, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, confirmed the fine to Forum 18 News Service on 5 February. Also, on 20 January the NSS secret police with the police Anti-Terrorism Department raided a private home in Tashkent. As well as hundreds of Christian books and other materials being confiscated from Natalya Gaiyer and ordered destroyed, she was fined three times the minimum monthly salary. The officer who led the raid told Forum 18 that the raid and confiscations "were ordered by Tashkent police Anti-Terrorism Department and the NSS secret police". Judge Davron Narbayev claimed to Forum 18 that he was not authorised to comment on his own decision. He also would not say why he fined someone for possessing legally purchased books, which he ordered to be destroyed.

29 January 2014

UZBEKISTAN: Art lessons, talking constitute "illegal" religious activity?

Rozalina Abyazova from Tashkent Region is trying to challenge in Uzbekistan's Supreme Court a fine handed down for allegedly involving her 12-year-old son in "illegal" religious education. Her petition, seen by Forum 18 News Service, points out that her son was only taking art lessons with two women who happen to be members of a Protestant congregation. The women and five other parents were also fined. Supreme Court officials refused to discuss the case or tell Forum 18 when the complaint will be heard. Elsewhere, three Protestant women in Fergana Region of eastern Uzbekistan are similarly preparing to challenge fines given to them by a local court merely for discussing their faith with each other. The NSS secret police referred the case to court alleging that the three women "illegally taught the Christian religion to each other". And a Protestant from Tashkent Region has been denied an exit visa.

18 December 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Ten fines in Tashkent Region, more elsewhere

In September and October, at least 10 people around Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent were given heavy fines for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Eight people were fined after a police raid on a private home where two Presbyterian women, Rovza and Marina Sultanova, were teaching children. The two women were each fined 90 times the minimum monthly wage, with the other six given lower fines. Police also confiscated Christian materials. Two weeks later a Jehovah's Witness husband and wife, Anatoli and Olga Fedotkin, were each fined 80 times the minimum monthly wage after a raid on their home. The wife's fine was later reduced on appeal. Police illegally forced their way into the couple's home without a search warrant and confiscated religious books. A court decided that the books were not permitted in the town. And Zuboyd Mirzorakhimov, a Tajik Muslim officials claimed has been amnestied, has still not been freed.

16 December 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Amnesty for jailed Koran verses and sermon "smuggler"?

Zuboyd Mirzorakhimov, a Tajik citizen, may have been amnestied after serving 87 days of a five year jail term for "smuggling" Koran verses and a sermon into Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service. His "offence" was to have the verses and Uzbek-language sermon on his mobile phone without declaring this to Uzbek customs officials. Mirzorakhimov was on a business visit to South Korea via Uzbekistan when he was arrested. Despite an official claim to Forum 18 that he has been amnestied, his father-in-law told Forum 18 today (16 December) that "we hope that he was amnestied but still do not know whether or not he was". Uzbekistan is preparing regulations to formally implement censorship of imported religious literature, but they appear to have dropped behind schedule. Censorship of all religious literature routinely happens despite violations of published law. In another case, Ravshan Gulomov was given a five year jail term in November for propagating Shia Islam with imported Iranian literature.

26 November 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Muslims sentenced for discussing Islam and praying

Uzbekistan in July jailed prisoner of conscience Ravshan Rahmatullayev, a devout Muslim, for six years. Five other Muslims were given two to three year suspended jail sentences, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The six allegedly met in a local teahouse to listen to sermon recordings and discuss religion. In what the indictment appears to see as an aggravating "offence", Rahmatullayev is stated to have prayed. Police were unable to name to Forum 18 anything the six Muslims had done, apart from exercising the internationally-recognised right to freedom of religion or belief, which constituted a crime. One of the lawyers told Forum 18 that "I cannot guarantee my own safety if I talk", and human rights defender Surat Ikramov states that the six were tortured. Many Muslims are jailed in Uzbekistan, but it is normally unclear why. The mother of a recently jailed Muslim, Bahodyr Akhmedov, with many family members in jail, told Forum 18 that "I don't know why they are arresting them". A police officer who arrested him told Forum 18 that "I was only obeying orders", and did not know the reasons for the arrest.

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