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31 January 2013

UZBEKISTAN: Raids, criminal charges and Christmas Bible destruction

After two raids on her home in Urgench in north-west Uzbekistan this January and being detained for 11 hours, Protestant Christian Sharofat Allamova is facing criminal prosecution for "illegally" storing religious literature, the police officer who led the raids told Forum 18 News Service. The criminal charges carry a fine up to 200 times the minimum monthly wage, or a prison term of up to three years. Also, Protestants in Tashkent Region have told Forum 18 that they are upset and outraged over a judge's order to destroy Bibles. They are particularly upset as the decision was handed down on 24 December 2012, as church members were beginning their Christmas celebrations. Judge Ikrom Obidov – who fined four local Protestants in the same case – has already punished many people locally for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. In an appeal against an earlier fine of 100 times the monthly minimum wage imposed by Obidov, also for "illegally" distributing religious literature, the appeal judge ignored evidence that the original case against Protestant Vadim Shim had been fabricated.

28 January 2013

KYRGYZSTAN: Extradition "would violate our international human rights obligations"

Khabibullo Sulaimanov – who led a mosque in the Uzbek capital Tashkent and is seeking asylum in Kyrgyzstan - is fighting extradition back to Uzbekistan. "If the former imam is handed back to Uzbekistan, he faces torture and conviction on fabricated charges of 'extremism'", insists Vitaly Ponomarev of Memorial, who is among human rights defenders following the case. Sulaimanov was detained by Kyrgyzstan's NSC secret police in October 2012. "I can only see him at court hearings, and we can talk together for no more than five or ten minutes," his wife Albina Karankina told Forum 18 News Service. Tursunbek Akun, Kyrgyzstan's human rights Ombudsperson told Forum 18 that "extraditing Sulaimanov back to Uzbekistan would violate our international human rights obligations. (..) I will use all my authority and influence to prevent Sulaimanov's extradition." In sharp contrast, Kanabek Uzakbayev of Kyrgyzstan's General Prosecutor's Office, asked by Forum 18 about breaking international law by sending an individual back to Uzbekistan where they might face torture, responded: "Let them [the Uzbek authorities] do it. It doesn't bother me at all." The next appeal hearing is due on 5 February in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek.

20 December 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Muslim prisoners of consciences' appeals rejected, Christians warned against sharing beliefs and international contacts

A court in Uzbekistan today (20 December) rejected appeals by two Muslim prisoners of conscience - Gayrat Khusanov and Shuhrat Yunusov – against seven year jail terms for meeting with seven others to read the Koran and pray together, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The other seven Muslims' appeals against three year suspended jail terms were also rejected. Also, some officially-permitted Protestant churches in Tashkent Region have been told to remove statute provisions that their aims include sharing their beliefs. A Justice Ministry official denied this to Forum 18, despite this activity being banned in the Criminal and Administrative Codes. But another official thought there may have been "instructions from above". A local Protestant, who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 "that this may be being done to stop Christian South Koreans from visiting or helping these churches" due to South Korean investments in Uzbekistan. A Protestant from Karakalpakstan Region – which bans all non-Russian Orthodox and non-state-controlled Muslim communities - told Forum 18 that ethnic Koreans have been told that they must not have contacts with other countries. The authorities have also stated that "Uzbek or other ethnicities from a Muslim background should not come to churches".

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.

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