UZBEKISTAN: Latest student expulsion in anti-Christian campaign
In a continuing campaign in north-western Uzbekistan against Christians, a Protestant medical student, Ilkas Aldungarov, has been expelled from the Nukus branch of the Tashkent Paediatric Medical Institute, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The expulsion was allegedly because of poor academic performance, but in reality seems to have been because of Aldungarov's Christian faith. The dean of the Medical Institute, Bekbasyn Absametov, categorically denied to Forum 18 that religious persecution happened, but was unable to explain the persecution of Christian students by his colleagues. Expulsions of Protestant students have also taken place at another local higher education institute, the Berdah Karakalpak State University. "Each time, students are expelled for their supposed failing performance. My daughter used to be a good student, but since the campaign against Protestant students began, she has suddenly become a failing student," a local Christian told Forum 18. It is thought that the student expulsions from both institutions may have been organised by the NSS secret police.
Iklas Aldungarov and other Protestants have been targeted before by the authorities. In April 2004, Nukus city prosecutor M. Arzymbetov tried to have him expelled as he belonged to what Arzymbetov called "an illegal religious sect." The Prosecutors Office also summoned 11 members of the same church for questioning, where they were pressured to renounce their faith and convert to Islam, and threatened with being shot (see F18News 21 April 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=303).
Speaking to Forum 18 on 9 December in Nukus, the dean of the Paediatric Medical Institute, Bekbasyn Absametov, categorically denied that students were persecuted for their religious beliefs. Absametov showed Forum 18 a record of Ilkas Aldungarov's academic achievements between 2000 and 2004, which purported to show very low academic achievement. "We consider only students' knowledge, and not their religious beliefs. For example, as soon as Sherimbetova and Artykbayeva had passed the subjects in which they had unsatisfactory marks, we immediately reinstated them," Absametov told Forum 18. During the same interview with Forum 18, Absametov admitted that the lecturers did take an interest in the students' religious views, but found it hard to explain their curiosity. He also did not explain the other expulsions, or the literature search conducted by his colleague Alima Urazova.
Alima Urazova, a lecturer at the Paediatric Medical Institute, in April 2004 searched an apartment rented by Protestant students, seized religious literature, forced them to leave the flat and tried to stop them reading Protestant literature, saying that "it would be better for you to work as prostitutes than to read those dreadful books" (see F18News 27 May 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=329 ).
Two of the students - Aliya Sherimbetova and Shirin Artykbayeva - were expelled in September for being Christians and were told that they were also expelled because their case had been published "on the internet", possibly a reference to Forum 18's coverage (see F18News 16 September 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=412). However, in November 2004 these two students were reinstated at the institute.
Protestant students have also been persecuted in other Nukus-based higher education institutions. In June, the dean of the Philology Faculty (Roman-German philology) at Berdah Karakalpak State University, Dina Mamyrbayeva, summoned three Protestant students and threatened them with expulsion if they do not stop visiting "sect members" (see F18News 9 July 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=359). One of the students, Elena Kim, a student of Roman-German philology, told Forum 18 on 8 December in Nukus that Dina Mamyrbayeva had accused her of "belonging to a banned sect, whose activity was of interest to the NSS." The National Security Service (NSS) is the Uzbek secret police.
Just as with the cases in the Paediatric Medical Institute, allegedly poor performance is also given as a reason for the Berdah Karakalpak State University expulsions. "It's impossible to prove anything; each time, students are expelled for their supposed failing performance. My daughter used to be a good student, but since the campaign against Protestant students began, she has suddenly become a failing student," said a member of the unregistered Protestant "Mir" (Peace) Church, Vladimir Kim, speaking to Forum 18 on 9 December in Nukus. It is thought that the expulsions of students from both institutions may have been organised by the NSS secret police.
Persecution specifically directed against Protestant students in Uzbekistan has so far only happened in Karakalpakstan, where it is almost impossible for Christian churches to gain official registration and therefore to meet legally for worship. Only one Christian church in the region has been legally registered - the Pentecostal Emmanuel Church – and unregistered religious activity is, against international law, banned in Uzbekistan. (END)
For background information, see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom
survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=105 .
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at
8 December 2004
Following earlier state pressure to force mosques to join the central Spiritual Administration of Muslims, a government official has denied to Forum 18 News Service that there is any state involvement in the Spiritual Administration's campaign of compulsory re-attestation of imams in South Kazakhstan region. But it has been claimed to Forum 18 that the re-attestation is taking place at the prompting of the state, following the discovery of terrorist training camps in the southern region, which borders Uzbekistan. It is not clear by what authority the re-attestation campaign is taking place, especially as the Spiritual Administration is reportedly using the campaign to try to control whether imams from mosques not in its organisation stay in their posts.
3 December 2004
Six month jail sentences imposed on Muslim Tabligh members were less then the five year jail terms imposed on group members earlier in the year by the same judge, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. This is possibly, a local human rights activist suggested to Forum 18, as a result of the court being visited the previous day by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Tabligh Jama'at movement has been, outside of Uzbekistan, linked with radical Islamists and with Al-Qaeda. But local Uzbek Tabligh members told Forum 18 that the Tabligh emphatically distances itself from politics and is entirely focused on religious missionary work, insisting that they had heard nothing about military training in some foreign affiliates. The Uzbek authorities are highly suspicious of Islamic religious movements and frequently seek to obstruct their activity. However, Tabligh members told Forum 18 that they can freely operate in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. A Kyrgyz government official agreed with this, but told Forum 18 that "so far at least, its activity in the country is minimal."
23 November 2004
The availability of religious education for Uzbek religious believers varies greatly from faith to faith, Forum 18 news Service has found. For Sunni Islam, the majority faith, religious education is available, but on a very small and highly regulated scale, compared to the numbers of adherents in the country. Shia Islamic education is restricted by the authorities' unwillingness to formally recognise the training of imams outside the country – and no education for Shia imams is available inside the country. Non-Muslim religious communities generally have more opportunities to acquire religious education in their own faith. Orthodox Christians, Baptists, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Hare Krishna devotees have all told Forum 18 that the authorities do not prevent them from setting up courses on religious subjects, and Catholics and Lutherans do not yet want to set up such courses. But the authorities have not allowed the Jewish community to set up a rabbinnate, and hence a yeshiva to train rabbis.