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12 September 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Religious books "only allowed to be read within registered religious communities' buildings"

In two separate cases on the same day in August in Samarkand and Kashkadarya, fines on 20 religious believers for "illegal religious literature" totalled the equivalent of nearly 68 years' official minimum wage, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. In the Samarkand case, the judge ordered the confiscated literature – including the New Testament and the Pentateuch – destroyed. Uzbekistan's courts routinely order destroyed Muslim and Christian literature. Begzod Kadyrov, Chief Specialist of the government's Religious Affairs Committee, insisted to Forum 18: "Those are court decisions and the courts are independent from us." Asked why such penalties are handed down, and why individuals cannot carry their religious books like the Koran or Bible with them, Kadyrov responded: "According to the Religion Law, religious books are only allowed to be read within registered religious communities' buildings."

9 August 2013

UZBEKISTAN: State tries to take one children's summer camp, raids another

Uzbekistan is attempting to deprive the registered Baptist Union of land it owns and uses to run summer camps for children and families, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The state is claiming – without any apparent legal foundation – that the land was "illegally" bought in 2000. Baptists have complained to the Prosecutor-General that "the future of Uzbekistan cannot be built on the plundering of religious organisations". Separately in Samarkand Region, an unrelated children's camp organised by local Protestants was raided. The raid on a camp of 31 adults and children involved 30 ordinary police, 20 riot police, and 30 officials from the regional tax authorities, Fire Brigade, Sanitary-Epidemiological Department, and the regional administration. Police "began brandishing their rubber batons, and collected statements from everyone – even from small children separated from their parents". After over six hours of questioning and raids on the alleged organisers' homes, it is expected that charges will be brought against six Protestants. Police have refused to discuss the raid with Forum 18.

8 August 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Religious freedom survey, August 2013

In Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service's religious freedom survey notes that freedom of religion or belief and related human rights such as the freedoms of expression and of assembly remain highly restricted. Among the issues documented are: state attempts to control all religious communities, with every activity without state permission being illegal and harsh restrictions on Muslims marking Ramadan and going on the haj; covert and open surveillance of all religious communities by the NSS secret police; a strict censorship regime imposing severe limitations on access to literature, including the reading of the Bible and Koran in private homes and arbitrary destruction of literature found in frequent raids; the "routine" use of torture, with women apparently being increasingly targeted; bans on the religious activity and education of children; a "legal" framework which is a symptom not a cause of human rights violations; a culture of impunity among officials; unfair trials lacking due legal process; many prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief; and denials of this freedom to all prisoners.

2 August 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Ramadan restrictions, violent police assault on Protestant

Police in Uzbekistan have violently physically assaulted Sardorbek Nurmetov, a local Protestant, and charged him with committing an offence after he insisted on making a formal complaint about police brutality. The hospital he went for treatment to colluded with his assailants, local Protestants complained. There are also strict restrictions on Ramadan, including bans on iftar meals and closer than normal state surveillance of everyone attending mosques to pray. Today (2 August) Yelena Urlayeva of the Human Rights Alliance witnessed police secretly filming men arriving for midday prayers at the 'Tura buva' mosque in the capital Tashkent. Two police officers also stood at the entrance to the mosque checking packages and bags. Police told Urlayeva that "mosques are control-accessed enterprises". Doniyor Abdujabbarov, the local policeman who coordinated the police at the mosque adamantly denied to Forum 18 that the police filmed Muslims arriving to pray. Asked again why the police filmed people wanting to pray, he replied, "You need to ask the higher organs about these questions, not me."

19 July 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Pensioners owning Koran and Bibles fined over two years pension

After simultaneous police raids on four homes in a village near Uzbekistan's capital, two pensioners and two other local Protestants had religious literature including the Koran and Bibles confiscated, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The four were also fined a combined total of 230 times Uzbekistan's minimum monthly wage. Many followers of a variety of beliefs are afraid to keep religious literature in their homes, a cross-section of people have told Forum 18. Noting officials ignoring published law in carrying out raids and other repression, a local Protestant told Forum 18 that "You won't find this in any law". The state's pressure is so strong that some believers think they have no choice but to destroy their own sacred texts. One Protestant – who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals – cited with distress cases where individuals have reluctantly destroyed their own Christian books, including Bibles. "I personally know of three such cases", they told Forum 18. "Many other Christians said to me they can't bring themselves to destroy their Bibles."

11 July 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Teaching Islam to children a crime, raids and large fines continue

Uzbekistan is currently prosecuting a Muslim father and son who taught the Koran to school-age children in Tashkent Region, the court confirmed to Forum 18 News Service. Both men - Mirmuhiddin Mirbayzaiyev and his son Sirojiddin - face the possibility of up to three years in jail. Parents who brought their children to the Islamic religious lessons have been fined. Elsewhere, in Karshi, a member of a Baptist church, Svetlana Andreychenko, has like the Mirbayzaiyevs been prosecuted for exercising her right to freedom of religion or belief in her own home. She has been fined 50 times the minimum monthly salary. Her Church has been repeatedly raided during Sunday worship, with worshippers being taken to a police station for questioning. A state "expert analysis" of books confiscated in Andreychenko's home stated that reading them "might give rise in the individual to feelings of interest towards this religion". Other raids on meetings, prosecutions, and fines for exercising freedom of religion or belief continue.

25 June 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Extradited and given 12 years' imprisonment

Extradited back to his native Uzbekistan from Kazakhstan in March, against the express wishes of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, 38-year-old Muslim Khayrullo Tursunov was sentenced in early June to a long prison term - thought to be 12 years - for alleged "extremist" religious activity. Relatives outside Uzbekistan complained to Forum 18 News Service that the case had been "fabricated" to punish him for exercising his freedom of religion or belief. In a separate case, Dilbar Turabayeva and other parents of 13 young Muslim men from Namangan in eastern Uzbekistan given long prison terms in 2010 for learning how to read the Koran and to pray the namaz in a private home have lamented their failure to have their sons freed or the case re-examined. They note that the Investigator – who they claim threatened witnesses and dictated statements - and the Judge have both been removed on corruption charges. "The fact that Turabayeva wrote complaints does not mean that she will receive a positive response," Senator Svetlana Artikova – one of the many recipients of their complaints - told Forum 18.

30 May 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Officials "acted like bandits"

Uzbekistan has fined a 76 year-old woman 10 times the monthly minimum wage and ordered the destruction of her books, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Naziya Ziyatdinova was subjected to what the authorities describe as an "Anti-terror-Tozalash" ("Anti-terror-Cleaning") raid through a window of her flat, even though she has great difficulty walking as she has Parkinson's Disease. She was removed from her bed and the contents of her home turned "upside down" by four officials acting illegally without a search warrant. Local Protestants described officials as having "acted like bandits". Forum 18 was told that the fine was "unaffordable" for Ziyatdinova, as her pension is very small and cannot even cover the medicines she needs. Each time she was taken to court she "felt very sick fearing harsher punishment". After one hearing an ambulance was called for her. However, Ziyatdinova did not sign a confession she was being pressured to sign. The Judge in the case, Khusniddin Dusnazarov, adamantly denied to Forum 18 that there had been any wrongdoing by officials.

21 May 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Criminal conviction, fines for meeting at home and carrying Bible

Sharofat Allamova, a Protestant from Urgench in north-western Uzbekistan, has been given one and half years of corrective labour, after being convicted under criminal charges brought for the "illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious literature". The judge in the case, Makhmud Makhmudov, refused to talk to Forum 18 News Service. Allamova will be placed in a low-paid state job, her salary being further reduced by having to pay 20 per cent of it to the state during her sentence. She will only be permitted to travel within Uzbekistan with written state permission, and is banned from leaving the country. It has been stated that the NSS secret police compelled witnesses to make false statements against Allamova. Separately, fines have been imposed on people in the capital Tashkent for meeting in a private home and having Christian literature, and for carrying a personal Bible and New Testament. Baptists have noted that the latter conviction is illegal in Uzbek law.

8 May 2013

KAZAKHSTAN: Why was Muslim prisoner of conscience extradited to Uzbekistan?

Kenes Zhusupov, Kazakh lawyer for Uzbek Muslim prisoner of conscience Khayrullo Tursunov, has told Forum 18 News Service that "I am outraged - Kazakhstan should have refused to extradite him". He commented that "the Uzbeks wanted him back as part of their campaign against Muslims who read the Koran and pray". The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law appealed for the extradition not to happen, as did on 28 February the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT). Yet on 13 March Tursunov was extradited to Uzbekistan. Forum 18 has been unable to get any official to explain why Kazakhstan defied the UN's request and broke both its international obligations and domestic law. The CAT is also investigating the fate of 29 Muslims extradited by Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan. "As the representative of the victims, I urge the Committee against Torture to be firm regarding Kazakhstan and request strong measures", Christine Laroque of Action des Chrétiens pour l'Abolition de la Torture (ACAT) told Forum 18. She suggested that the Committee "set up a mission with members of the CAT or independent experts to visit the complainants still detained and who are alleged to have been tortured in Uzbek jails".

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