UZBEKISTAN: Fines to follow Protestant church closure
The deputy head of the Upper Chirchik district administration, Shukhrat Tursunbayev, has insisted he did nothing wrong in closing down an unregistered Protestant church in the village of Ahmad Yassavy on the outskirts of Tashkent. "We were acting within the law," he told Forum 18 News Service. "According to the Uzbek law on religion the activity of an unregistered religious community is forbidden." Police officers and local officials burst into the Sunday service of the Friendship Church on 7 September, took down the names of all those present, sealed the church and warned the Protestants they will be prosecuted under the Code of Administrative Offences.
Tursunbayev strongly defended his closure of the church. "We were acting within the law," he told Forum 18 on 29 September. "According to the Uzbek law on religion the activity of an unregistered religious community is forbidden." He said he had handed a report of his investigation into the church's activity to the divisional police officer and "the church leadership is going to be fined soon for operating without registration".
Article 8 of Uzbekistan's law on religion bans the activity of any unregistered religious organisation, in violation of the country's international human rights commitments. Uzbekistan is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which includes a commitment for religious believers to meet freely. Additionally, Article 2 of Uzbekistan's religion law states that "if different rules are set out in an international agreement signed by the Republic of Uzbekistan from those contained in the Republic of Uzbekistan's legislation about freedom of conscience and religious organisations, then the rules of the international agreement will take precedence".
30 September 2003
An ideology official in the town administration of Muinak in the autonomous Karakalpakstan republic who helped have a Protestant sacked as a sports teacher in a local school last July after he refused to renounce his faith has explained why. "I am convinced that a Protestant may not work as a school teacher in Uzbekistan," Jalgas Saidmuratov told Forum 18 News Service. "Our state is moving towards Islam." The sacking of Lepesbai Omarov violates Uzbekistan's constitution and religion law, which proclaim Uzbekistan a secular state and outlaw discrimination on religious grounds. Karakalpakstan is a religious freedom black spot, with only one non-Islamic religious community that has been able to gain registration.
25 August 2003
Judge Bahtierjon Batyrov, who sentenced five Baptist men to ten days' imprisonment on 16 August for attending a service in a private home in a village near Namangan, has defended his decision. "It is true that the courts generally hand down more lenient sentences to such offenders," he told Forum 18 News Service. "But in our Pap district the number of such cases has increased lately and for this reason I decided to sentence the offenders to a harsher punishment." He also fined three Baptist women. He ordered the men to pay for their own imprisonment.
11 August 2003
A Pentecostal pastor intends to seek political asylum outside Uzbekistan, he has told Forum News Service, due to "intolerable conditions". Officials have told him they will not register his church because they were "not interested in the spread of Christianity". Pastor Bakhtier Tuichiev has been repeatedly warned that he would be subject to administrative and even criminal punishment if he continues his work.