UZBEKISTAN: Hare Krishnas the latest target of anti-religious minorities campaign
In Uzbekistan's campaign against religious minorities regarded as trying to convert Muslims, Uzbek-language Hare Krishna leaflets have been confiscated, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. This is even though the leaflets are not illegal under Uzbek law and this action violates Uzbekistan's international commitments. Other victims of this campaign have been Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestant Christians. Uzbek officials privately justify their actions to Forum 18 by claiming that in the difficult economic situation, the conversion of Muslims to Christianity or other faiths could provoke riots
On 24 July, Khabiyev confirmed these events to Forum 18. "We sent off the literature confiscated from Kurbanov for expert analysis at Uzbekistan's Committee for Religious Affairs, and the response from there was that Hare Krishnas are only allowed to distribute literature in the Russian language, not in Uzbek. Kurbanov will shortly be punished under the administrative code, and will be given a fine for his unlawful activities."
Nowhere in Uzbek law is there a ban on religious minorities preaching in the Uzbek language. However, according to Article 5 of Uzbekistan's law on religion, "actions that aim to convert believers from one confession to another (proselytism), and also any other missionary activity, are forbidden". This article contradicts the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified by Uzbekistan in 1999.
However, the authorities are conducting a particularly harsh campaign against religious minorities that they regard as trying to convert Muslims to their own faith. There is an unspoken directive: "If you are an Uzbek, then you must be Muslims, if you are Russian, you must be Orthodox." The most striking example is the case of a Jehovah's Witness, Marat Mudarisov. A Tatar by birth and a Tashkent resident, he actively preached Jehovah's Witness doctrines. In July 2002 he was arrested by the National Security Service (formerly the KGB), and shortly afterwards a criminal case was brought against him under Article 156 of the criminal code (incitement of national, racial or religious hatred).
Mudarisov's case is disturbing primarily because he was sentenced under the criminal code. However, there have been dozens of cases where pressure has been applied to members of religious minorities simply because they are Muslims by birth. In January 2003 the police burst into a private home in the town of Muinak in Karakalpakstan where two ethnic Kazakhs were reading the Bible. These Protestants were taken to the police station where they were tortured using gas masks, which were put on their heads and their air supply cut off. Officers demanded that they write a confession that they had been preaching the Gospel to each other.
In private conversations with Forum 18, Uzbek officials justify the harsh campaign against proselytism by claiming that, given the difficult economic situation, the conversion of Muslims to Christianity or other faiths could provoke riots (see F18News 16 July 2003, F18News: Uzbekistan - Religious freedom survey).
18 July 2003
High Turkmen visa fees make it prohibitively expensive for many Uzbek Muslims living close to the western border with Turkmenistan from crossing over to visit family graveyards and places of pilgrimage, Forum 18 News Service has learnt in the Khorezm region of western Uzbekistan. "We can see our forebears' graves through the barbed wire, but if we want to reach them and perform religious rituals, we have to pay money to the Turkmens," the imam of Manak village, Nodyr Formanov, told Forum 18. "The visa regime between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan clearly encroaches on believers' rights," complained Vladimir Artemyev, director of the Uzbek branch of a UNESCO project for the preservation of ancient monuments.
16 July 2003
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the government's wide-ranging defiance of its international religious freedom commitments. Unregistered religious activity is illegal and believers are routinely punished even for religious meetings in private homes. Missionary work is banned. Religious literature is censored, while foreign Islamic websites are blocked. Virtually all religious communities are subject to harsh government control, especially Islam. The leadership of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims is virtually an agency of state authority. The government tries to prevent the spread of Protestant, Jehovah's Witness, Hare Krishna and other religions regarded as non-traditional.
15 July 2003
Interrogated for four hours by an officer of the National Security Service (the former KGB), a member of the Asia Protestant church in Tashkent, Nelya Denisova, was told not to report the interrogation. "Just don't publish an article about our conversation on the Internet," NSS officer Vadim Negreyev told Denisova at the end of the interrogation. "No-one here tortured or raped you! We just had a friendly chat." Vladimir Zhikhar, coordinator of the 27-strong Association of Independent Churches, to which the Asia Church belongs, told Forum 18 News Service members of his church are often called in by the secret police.