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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".

7 May 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Continuing denials of prisoners' freedom of religion or belief

Uzbekistan continues to limit the freedom of religion or belief of all prisoners, Forum 18 News Service has learned. For example relatives of imprisoned Muslim prisoners of conscience, jailed for exercising their religious freedom, told Forum 18 that prisoners "cannot openly pray, or read any Muslim literature - even the Koran". The state-controlled Islamic religious leadership, or Muslim Board, denied this to Forum 18. Mukhammadakmal Shakirov of the Muslim Board also claimed to Forum 18 that the Board's clergy have recently visited Muslims in prison. But when asked which was the last prison they visited and when this was, Shakirov refused to say. An official of an officially-recognised religious community, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 that their clergy are not allowed by the authorities to visit or conduct religious ceremonies in prisons. Christian prisoners of conscience are also known to have suffered from bans on openly praying and reading religious literature, including the Bible.

1 May 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Devout Muslim "may receive up to 15 years" in jail

Uzbekistan is prosecuting Muslim prisoner of conscience Khayrullo Tursunov for exercising his freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He was extradited from Kazakhstan – in violation of that country's international human rights obligations – and immediately arrested by Uzbekistan's NSS secret police, the Interior Ministry, the ordinary police, and the Prosecutor General's Office. His trial was due to begin on 15 April, but has not yet happened. Tursunov "may receive up to 15 years" in jail, police Colonel Isameddin Irisov told Forum 18. "Tursunov is a devout follower of Islam, and in Uzbekistan he peacefully practiced his faith outside state-controlled Islam", exiled human rights defender Mutabar Tadjibayeva of the Fiery Hearts Club told Forum 18. Some relatives suspect that the authorities may have sought Tursunov in revenge for his wife's escape from Uzbekistan. Nodira Buriyeva fled Uzbekistan after being interrogated and threatened with rape before a relative was jailed for being a devout Muslim. Tursunov had fled to Kazakhstan to practice his faith and join his wife and their children, but now faces being tortured in Uzbekistan.

12 April 2013

UZBEKISTAN: "All believers are backward-looking fanatics who drag society down"

A small Baptist church in Mubarek in south-eastern Uzbekistan which has endured more than a decade of official harassment was again raided during Sunday morning worship on 24 March, church members complained to Forum 18 News Service. The secret police officer who led the raid told the Baptists that "all believers are backward-looking fanatics who drag society down". Officers filmed those praying, took their names and without a warrant searched the house where the church meets. They seized personal notes and family photos, as well as all the money from the church's cash-box. "I don't know which agencies participated, but it definitely was not from our division," Major Rajab Shavkatov, Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division of Mubarek Police, told Forum 18. The raid came two months after bailiffs seized a washing machine and other household items to cover unpaid fines handed down on church members in 2012.

11 April 2013

UZBEKISTAN: "Unbelievable" fines after no trial and raid with no warrant

Protestant married couple Ashraf and Nargisa Ashurov were each fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage by a court in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent without a hearing, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Also fined was their babysitter. The fines followed a raid on the home where they are staying, conducted without a warrant, and seizure of Christian literature belonging not to them but to the home owner. "For a couple, who barely earn any living, this total fine of nearly 16 million Soms is an unbelievable punishment," a Protestant who knows the couple complained to Forum 18. An officer of the Police Criminal Investigation Division told Forum 18 that the Anti-Terrorism Police had conducted the operation.

11 March 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Extradition overturned, but new charges and transfer to prison close to Uzbekistan

The appeal in Kyrgyzstan by Uzbek former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov against his extradition back to Uzbekistan has been upheld, Forum 18 News Service notes. The successful appeal followed his being recognised as a refugee by the Bishkek office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – but he was immediately afterwards detained again and sent by the NSC secret police to a prison in Osh, very close to the border with Uzbekistan. "We had to tell the lawyer – no one had told him of the transfer," Sulaimanov's wife Albina Karankina told Forum 18. She complained that no one would tell the family why he was transferred to Osh, where he is being held and what the new accusations against him are. His lawyer Toktogul Abdyev understands that the new charges relate to an alleged illegal border crossing in 2012, but the UNHCR is "waiting for an official confirmation concerning his transfer and charges brought against him". The NSC secret police would not tell Forum 18 what new charges Sulaimanov faces. But officials confirmed that he is in the Osh Region NSC Investigation Prison.

26 February 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Will international law protect Uzbek imam from extradition?

The wife of Uzbek former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov has spoken of her concern for her husband, detained since October 2012 by Kyrgyzstan's NSC secret police. "I'm very worried that they could extradite him back to Uzbekistan," Albina Karankina told Forum 18 News Service. "We want him freed. It is very hard for the children to live without their father." She observed that "they [Kyrgyz authorities] keep delaying the case" in court. Sulaimanov's next appeal hearing against his deportation is due at Bishkek City Court on 1 March. Karankina has been denied access to her husband in detention, and called for the "fight for justice" for him to continue. "We're grateful to all who have shown concern for us," she told Forum 18. Sulaimanov's only "crime" in Uzbekistan was to lead religious communities. The Bishkek office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Forum 18 that Sulaimanov is protected under international human rights law against refoulement, or being sent back to his home country.

6 February 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Imam still faces extradition to Uzbek torture

The legal appeal by former imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov against his extradition from Kyrgyzstan back to Uzbekistan resumes on 12 February, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Officials failed to produce Sulaimanov for the first hearing yesterday (5 February). His lawyer argued in court that if Sulaimanov is returned to Uzbekistan, he is likely to face torture. However, Kyrgyzstan's General Prosecutor's Office, which wants to send him back, insisted to Forum 18 – against overwhelming documented evidence - that "the risk or basis to believe that torture would be used against Sulaimanov does not exist". Sulaimanov's wife, Albina Karankina, calls for the proposed extradition of her husband to Uzbekistan to be halted. "We also want him to be freed from the Investigation Prison", she told Forum 18. Human rights defenders continue to condemn the possible extradition, but the General Prosecutor's Office denied to Forum 18 that it had received an appeal letter on the case from Human Rights Watch. The letter in English and in Russian was submitted to the General Prosecutor's Office in hard copy on 1 February, and signed confirmation of receipt was given. Apart from one five minute visit, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has not been allowed access to Sulaimanov, and family members have been refused visits.

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