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17 December 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Singing and reading Bibles on holiday prosecuted

Police in Uzbekistan on 1 December raided a group of about 80 Protestants on holiday together, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Charges under six different articles of the Code of Administrative Offences have been brought against four of the group, who were meeting together discussing their faith and singing Christian songs. Police confiscated three Bibles and 100 Christian songbooks, insulted the group, and took their fingerprints of all present. People must worship "only in registered places specifically set up for religious purposes", police insisted to Forum 18. In November three Protestants were fined sums of between 100 and 20 times the minimum monthly wage for meeting together, reading their Bibles, singing Christian songs, praying, and possessing religious books – all without state permission. The books, including Bibles, were ordered to be destroyed. And a Jehovah's Witness has been fined 10 times the minimum monthly wage for possessing religious books.

29 November 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Fined for discussing their faith and praying together

Uzbekistan continues to fine and raid people meeting to discuss their faith and pray together. In Tashkent Region a Protestant was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage for allegedly illegally distributing religious literature, and books including Bibles and New Testaments were been ordered to be destroyed, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Legal procedures were violated, the official who produced "expert analyses" allegedly managing to within one working day read 1,300 books, 2,100 brochures, 450 leaflets, 50 magazines, watch 200 videos, and listen to 350 audio cassettes. "This beats the Guinness Book of Records", a local Protestant observed to Forum 18. In the central Samarkand Region, three Baptists were given one fine of 50 times the minimum monthly wage and two fines of 10 times the minimum monthly wage for allegedly distributing religious literature. They deny this, telling Forum 18 that "we had some of our neighbours, friends, and relatives with us. About 10 people met to read the Bible and pray together." Legal procedures were also violated in this case.

23 November 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Jailed for discussing their faith and learning to pray

Nine Muslim men from Uzbekistan's Tashkent Region, who met to discuss their faith and to learn how to pray, have been sentenced after a criminal trial, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Gayrat Khusanov and Shuhrat Yunusov were each given seven year jail terms on 22 November, and the other seven defendants received three year suspended prison terms. Relatives of the men told Forum 18 that they simply met sometimes to read the Koran and pray together. They also shared meals together and occasionally helped each other repair their homes. "Only Gayrat [Khusanov] and Shuhrat [Yunusov] wished to give a closing statement," Sherzod Khusanov, a brother of Gayrat, told Forum 18. "They told Judge Mirzayev that Allah knows that we are not guilty of any crime, and that the Judge and those who prosecute them will answer before their conscience and Allah one day." Also, court officials have refused to accept an appeal by three relatives against fines imposed on them for a peaceful protest against the trial in front of President Islam Karimov's residence.

15 November 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "They simply prayed together"

Although Uzbekistan's criminal trial of nine Muslims from Tashkent Region for meeting to read the Koran and pray together appears to have been completed, the verdicts have repeatedly been postponed. "The Prosecutor is asking for seven years' imprisonment for my brother [Gayrat Khusanov] and Shukhrat [Yunusov], and suspended prison terms for the rest," Sherzod Khusanov complained to Forum 18 News Service. Human rights defender Shukhrat Rustamov told Forum 18 that he thinks the "authorities know that the local and international human rights organisations give great attention to the case, and they want to drag it out to bury it." Court officials refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. Three relatives of some of the defendants have been fined for a 9 November protest outside President Islam Karimov's residence against the criminal trial of the nine. A court official told Forum 18 that the three had received "adequate punishment". He did not reply when Forum 18 asked how else the defendants could bring their demands for a fair trial for their relatives to public attention.

29 October 2012

KAZAKHSTAN: 15 years' jail for UNHCR-recognised refugee if deportation to Uzbekistan proceeds?

Uzbekistan is now seeking to extradite detained UNHCR-recognised refugee Makset Djabbarbergenov from Kazakhstan on charges which carry a maximum 15 year jail term. The Protestant who fled to Kazakhstan is being sought by Uzbekistan for exercising freedom of religion or belief in his home town of Nukus. A Kazakh 15 October Almaty court decision, authorised further detention until 5 November. The Kazakh court also claimed that the Uzbek charges – which seek to prosecute exercising freedom of religion or belief – can be equated to terrorism-related charges in Kazakh law. Djabbarbergenov's wife has been stopped by Kazakh authorities from visiting him, she told Forum 18 News Service, as has a human rights defender who found he is being held in "quarantine". The Supreme Court claims it cannot find an appeal he lodged in August. Also, Kazakhstan has yet to reply to a finding of the UN Committee Against Torture that it violated human rights obligations by extraditing to Uzbekistan a group of Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. Kazakhstan's current bid to join the UN Human Rights Council claims it would, if elected, "enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Human Rights Council".

5 October 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "Illegal extremists" or peaceful Muslims?

Nine Muslim men from Tashkent Region are facing criminal trial for meeting to learn how to pray the namaz and to discuss their faith, according to case documents seen by Forum 18 News Service. Some face up to eight years in prison if convicted, the rest up to five years. Uzbekistan's National Security Service (NSS) secret police arrested the men between May and July. Although seven have been bailed, two remain in a Tashkent prison awaiting trial. "These are innocent and peaceful people - their only guilt is to be practicing Muslims," human rights defender Yelena Urlayeva told Forum 18. Three officials leading the case - Prosecutor Muzaffar Egamberdiyev of Tashkent Region, Lt.-Col. Shukhratullo Khusanov of Parkent District Police, and Police Investigator Nodyr Saidov – all refused to discuss it with Forum 18.

24 September 2012

UZBEKISTAN: 74-year-old woman among latest police raid victims

A 74-year-old disabled Protestant from Tashkent Region, Nina Chashina, may face administrative prosecution after police raided her home, seized religious literature and beat her neighbour. Police refused to allow doctors to take the neighbour to hospital after she suffered an epileptic fit, Protestants complained to Forum 18 News Service. Others across Uzbekistan have faced fines for religious activity, including the father of a family punished for singing Christian songs in his own home with his wife, children and a friend. In another recent case, the same judge in Khorezm Region who punished a Jehovah's Witness fined two Protestants five days later. He also ordered a Bible and New Testament destroyed after an "expert analysis" by an official of the local Muslim Board, even though the government's Religious Affairs Committee is the only body authorised to conduct such analyses.

18 September 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "Leave only one spoon, one mug and one mattress for each"

Uzbekistan continues to raid private homes, confiscating religious literature and halting meetings for worship, Forum 18 News Service notes. Fines of up to 50 times the minimum wage have then been imposed on those subjected to raids. In one case court bailiffs illegally confiscated basic household goods such as a refrigerator, washing machine and dining table from a Baptist family, and have threatened to confiscate more household items as they will not pay an unjust fine they cannot afford. This has been taken place alongside state media attacks on the same people. State-controlled television has stated that people should buy and read only state-authorised religious books, warning of those who allegedly "misuse people's interest in reading books". It also claimed that only two publishers were allowed to publish religious books – but did not name the publishers or state which beliefs the publishers cover. A state Religious Affairs Committee official did not know the names of the two publishers.

17 September 2012

UZBEKISTAN: "Sacred primary source of one of world's major religions" destroyed

A Tashkent-based man, Vladimir Shinkin, has appealed to numerous state agencies right up to President Islam Karimov in his bid to have his son (an atheist) and daughter-in-law exonerated on charges of holding religious meetings he says they never held, for which they received fines totalling 110 times the minimum monthly wage. He is also seeking the return of confiscated Christian literature his daughter-in-law inherited from her late father which a judge ordered destroyed, family members told Forum 18 News Service. "This means that he is destroying Bibles which represent the sacred primary source of one of the world's major religions," Shinkin complained to parliamentarian Svetlana Artikova. But she denied to Forum 18 she had received the complaint, though she had earlier responded to Shinkin that it had been passed to the Supreme Court.

11 September 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Raid, beating, literature destruction – but fine annulled

Police raided the Tashkent home of a Russian Orthodox mother Valentina Pleshakova and her disabled daughter Natalya, seizing their religious literature and beating Natalya, Forum 18 News Service learnt. Officers at the police station pressured Natalya to adopt Islam. Freed in the early hours of the following morning, they were each heavily fined later in the day and confiscated literature was ordered destroyed. After the intervention of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Uzbekistan, Metropolitan Vikenty, the fine was changed into an official warning on appeal. No books were returned. A government-backed website attacked them and another Christian the Metropolitan had defended, Muhabbat Mamatkulova.

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