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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.

5 November 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Prisoner of conscience exposed to TB

Two months after his appeal against a 16-year jail sentence was rejected, Muslim prisoner of conscience Khayrullo Tursunov's relatives have still not received a copy of the decision. Without copies of the decision, no further appeals can legally be made. Relatives living abroad, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 News Service that the original verdict was similarly delayed by the authorities, limiting the appeal options and causing relatives to think the sentence was 12 years. Tursunov, who was jailed for exercising his freedom of religion or belief, has been moved to a prison for tuberculosis (TB) sufferers. This is a potentially fatal disease, and foreign-based relatives think "the Uzbek authorities intend to get him infected with TB". Neither relatives nor human rights defender Mutabar Tadjibayeva of the Fiery Hearts Club, who had close contact with him before he was jailed, think he suffered from TB or any other serious illness before his extradition from Kazakhstan. The authorities have denied all wrongdoing to Forum 18.

24 October 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Baptist camp ordered seized, Protestant pressured to inform

A court in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent has ordered expropriated a Baptist summer camp it bought legally 13 years ago, according to court documents seen by Forum 18 News Service. Baptists have made an appeal against confiscation of the camp for children and families to the General Prosecutor's Office. The judge and the government department which brought the expropriation case refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. Religious communities have long faced insecurity of ownership over their property. Meanwhile in Andijan, an NSS secret police officer tried to pressure Protestant Murot Turdiyev to inform on his community, Protestants told Forum 18. The officer put the phone down when Forum 18 called him. Turdiyev is also facing possible punishment because he had a Christian book in his car when stopped by traffic police.

18 September 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Church piano, pulpit, carpet, refrigerator seized

After a Baptist congregation in Uzbekistan's southern city of Karshi had religious literature and church property confiscated in three police raids this year, court bailiffs arrived in late July. This time they seized the Church's piano, pulpit, carpet, refrigerator and seventeen benches, as well as privately-owned property, to meet unpaid fines imposed on the home owner because the congregation chooses to meet without the compulsory state registration. Svetlana Andreychenko told the bailiffs "she had not and will not pay the fine since she does not think she is guilty of a violation," church members told Forum 18 News Service. Asked by Forum 18 why he and his colleagues took away church-owned property which did not belong to Andreychenko, one of the bailiffs was unable to answer. Meanwhile a Tashkent court suit to strip the Baptist Union of its summer camp is due to resume on 20 September. The head of the Regional Department which brought the suit refused to explain to Forum 18 why it did so.

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.

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