UZBEKISTAN: Judge defends burning of Baptist magazine
The judge who ordered the destruction of 211 copies of a Russian Baptist magazine confiscated from local Baptist Aleksei Yermolayev on his return to the country has strongly defended his ruling. "Yermolayev tried to bring the magazines into Uzbekistan illegally," Marat Alimukhamedov told Forum 18 in Tashkent. He says the magazines would have been sent back had Yermolayev declared them at the customs post on the border. "If the literature was brought into Uzbekistan illegally, then we have the right to destroy it," he insisted. Local Baptists have protested against the court-ordered destruction of the magazine and the fine of 23 US dollars handed down. They also complained that Yermolayev was not even informed that the hearing was taking place.
Yermolayev was detained on 2 April at customs control point no. 7 in Tashkent after an inspection, local Baptists reported in a 23 May statement reaching Forum 18. A total of 211 copies of the Russian-language Baptist magazine Vestnik Istiny (Herald of Truth) were confiscated from him.
On 15 April the Tashkent city court found Yermolayev guilty of breaking Article 225 (violation of the customs law) of the Code of Administrative Offences for trying to bring the magazines into the country. Judge Alimukhamedov fined him 22,675 sums (163 Norwegian kroner, 20 Euros or 23 US dollars), five times the minimum monthly wage, and ordered the material evidence – the copies of the magazine – to be destroyed. Local Baptists reported that Document 1470 of 24 April confirmed that the magazines had been burnt that day.
"The court case took place in Yermolayev's absence," the Baptists complained. "He received no summons to appear in court, although in the court's verdict it was indicated that Yermolayev had several times failed to respond to summonses without good reason."
Begzot Kadyrov, chief specialist at the government's committee for religious affairs, defended the confiscation of the magazines but not their destruction. "Vestnik Istiny is a magazine issued by the International Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists. That organisation is not registered on our country and therefore may not distribute its literature in Uzbekistan," he told Forum 18 on 6 June in Tashkent. Kadyrov stressed that no-one would obstruct the import of religious literature from an unregistered organisation if it was for personal use. "If Yermolayev had brought in one or two magazines, then he would not have had a problem. But you will agree that if someone brings in 211 magazines then clearly he intends to distribute them."
On the other hand, Kadyrov maintained that confiscated literature should not be destroyed but sent back to the country from which the attempt was made to import it. "We are not in favour of destroying books, even if they promote the ideas of dubious sects," Kadyrov told Forum 18. He also asked Forum 18 for the address of the court where Yermolayev's case had been heard "in order to establish what happened".
2 June 2003
Jehovah's Witnesses are considering whether to demand a criminal case against the police officers who beat four of their members in Kagan, one of whom lost consciousness. The four – who were arrested on 1 May for preaching on the street – are being threatened with legal cases. "For the time being we are holding back the reports of the beatings," lawyer Rustam Satdanov told Forum 18 News Service. "But if the case goes to trial despite this, we will call for a criminal case to be brought against the police officers for beating believers." A police officer has denied that any of the Jehovah's Witnesses were beaten. "They had not committed a serious enough offence to deserve a beating!" the deputy head of Kagan's investigation isolation unit told Forum 18.
30 May 2003
Pentecostal pastor Bakhtier Tuichiev's registration application for his church in Andijan – lodged four months ago - has stalled. "Officially, no-one has refused me," he told Forum 18. "It is simply that every day I am told to come back tomorrow. I am sure the authorities are quite deliberately dragging their feet." However, an official of the city administration denied there was any deliberate obstruction. "We have been holding a sports competition, and have not had the time to devote to this issue," Izatullo Khojayev told Forum 18. "I have already told Tuichiev that we will deal with his application very soon." Police have warned the pastor that if the church continues to operate without registration, he will be brought to court.
29 May 2003
Ten days after his home in the village of Yubileiny was raided by police, who confiscated religious literature, Jehovah's Witness Shukhrat Ashurov and his colleague Alisher Argeliyev appeared on 28 May at Gazalkent town court. "According to my sources, at the next hearing Ashurov and Argeliyev will be charged with preaching to children," their lawyer Rustam Satdanov told Forum 18 News Service. "The leaflets were brought to Uzbekistan legally," Ashurov insisted to Forum 18. "As far as I know, there is no ban on the Bible, New Testament and Koran in Uzbekistan." Villagers have demanded that the two abandon the Jehovah's Witness faith and return to Islam, otherwise they will be expelled.