UZBEKISTAN: Baptist women are latest secret police victims
A group of police officers and officers of the secret police, the National Security Service, raided an apartment on 28 February in the town of Khojali. A Baptist who asked not to be named told Forum 18 News Service that ten Baptist women of the local ethnicities, Kazakh and Karakalpak, had gathered in the apartment for a Christian meeting. They were insulted and held for 27 hours, although a local police officer denied this to Forum 18. "Nobody insulted them and there were no violations of the law by the police," he declared. This is the latest in a series of raids on Protestant Christians in Uzbekistan's western autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan.
The women were taken to the Khojali police station where they were insulted for being Christians. Illogically, the police also called the Baptist women "Wahhabis", a label widely applied in Central Asia to Islamic fundamentalists. The women were held at the police station for ten hours (although under Uzbek law the police may not hold anyone for more than three hours without pressing charges). Also the women were illegally held in a cell with male prisoners. After ten hours the women were sent to a special reception centre - an investigation prison where vagrants and the homeless are held while their identities are established - and were held there all night.
A senior local police officer denied that there had been anything improper in the way the Baptists had been treated. "The women were detained for identification, since none of them had any documents," the deputy police chief in Khojali, Janabai Ametov, told Forum 18 from Nukus on 24 March. "They were held for not more than ten minutes at the police station and then they were sent to the investigation prison. Nobody insulted them and there were no violations of the law by the police."
Karakalpakstan is a region of Uzbekistan where the rights of religious minorities are violated particularly frequently. Only one Christian church – the Emmanuel Full Gospel Church – has been able to gain registration in the autonomous republic. Christians of local ethnicities – Karakalpaks and Kazakhs (historically both Islamic peoples) – are the primary target of government harassment.
In one incident earlier this month in the town of Muinak in northern Karakalpakstan, the police burst into a private house for a second time where two ethnic Kazakh Protestants were talking. In a separate raid last December, the two men were taken to the police station where they were tortured (the police put gas masks on them and closed off the air supply) in an attempt to force them to sign a statement that they had been preaching to each other. Several days later the two men were sentenced to five days' imprisonment (see F18News 17 March 2003).
A recent interview about religious minorities in the Russian-language newspaper Vesti Karakalpakstana (News of Karakalpakstan) with a leading specialist from the hakimiat (administration) of Nukus city, Raftdin Turdymyranov, is indicative of official attitudes (see F18News 12 March 2003). The title of the interview is telling: "Unlawful activity continues. If we sell our faith, then what sort of people are we?" It is noteworthy that Turdymyranov calls the Protestant churches, along with the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Baha'i community, "sects" (in Russian this word has very negative connotations). The tone of Turdymyranov's discussion with the journalist, Khojamuratova, demonstrates that both consider religious minorities an evil that threatens the population of Karakalpakstan.
Accusing Protestants of "Wahhabism" is also typical for Karakalpakstan. In 1999 drugs were planted on three Protestants of local ethnicity, who were then sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. They were freed under international pressure after six months, though only after signing a petition for a pardon. During their trial Karakalpak television broadcast a report about them in which they were called "Wahhabis".
19 March 2003
Five Muslim men in their twenties and thirties have been sentenced in Tashkent to long periods of imprisonment on charges relating to what the authorities allege was their membership of the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which aims to establish an Islamic state in Central Asia. The men maintained they were simply ordinary Muslims seeking to study their faith. "The accused did indeed know members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but they themselves were not engaged in political activity," Ismail Adylov of the Independent Human Rights Organisation of Uzbekistan told Forum 18 News Service. "They were simply trying to gain a more profound knowledge of Islam." Thousands of Muslims are serving sentences in Uzbekistan on charges of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir or distributing its leaflets.
17 March 2003
Pentecostals in Muinak in Uzbekistan's western region of Karakalpakstan fear that two church members, Kuralbai Asanbayev and Rashid Keulimjayev, may again face punishment under the administrative code for meeting together as Christians, less than three months after the two were beaten and imprisoned for five days. Local officials denied to Forum 18 News Service that the two were beaten in December. The leader of the local Pentecostal community, Salavat Serikbayev, has told Forum 18 that Protestants in the town have virtually no way of meeting together and live like the first catacomb Christians under the Roman Empire.
14 March 2003
Bakhtier Tuichiev, pastor of the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in the city of Andijan in the Uzbek part of the Fergana valley, was summoned to the regional internal affairs administration on 10 January and warned that if the church did not halt its activity in the absence of registration, then "serious trouble" was in store for him. On 11 January the deputy head of the city department of internal affairs, Major Sumanov, came to a church service and asked why the church was operating without registration. The church has been trying to register for more than a year – so far in vain. "Of course, I have submitted the registration documents, but I am sure we will be refused," Tuichiev told Forum 18 News Service back in January. As of mid-March, the church had not been registered. Tuichiev reports that he is under National Security Service surveillance.