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UZBEKISTAN: More short-term prisoners of conscience

The same Tashkent judge who sentenced three Protestants to 15-day prison terms in a late-night hearing in May 2010 again stayed up late on 12 February 2011 to hand down 15-day prison terms on a further three Protestants. Fined fifty times the minimum monthly wage at the same time were ten other Full Gospel Church members, Protestants who asked not to be identified told Forum 18 News Service. All were punished on charges of holding an "illegal" religious meeting after a police raid on a birthday party in a church member's home. The District Police Chief refused to tell Forum 18 why police under his command staged the raid. Short-term jail sentences of up to fifteen days are frequent punishments for those who conduct religious activity the government does not like. There are also many long-term Muslim, Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestant prisoners of conscience, sentenced for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.

UZBEKISTAN: "No need to import Bibles"?

At a January hearing in her absence, Natalya Pitirimova, Accountant of the Bible Society of Uzbekistan, was fined for violating procedures over the import of two shipments of Bibles and Children's Bibles in 2008 and 2010. The state Religious Affairs Committee, which operates Uzbekistan's strict prior compulsory censorship of all religious literature, has refused to release the Bibles, despite successive appeals from Christian churches. Judge Dilshod Suleymanov also ordered that the Bible Society return the shipments - totalling nearly 15,000 copies - to Russia at its own cost. The judge claimed to Forum 18 News Service that the "Bible Society did not present requests on time to the Religious Affairs Committee from churches in Uzbekistan that they need the literature, and subsequently as time passed this violated customs procedures." Justice Ministry officials told the Bible Society "there is no need to import Bibles into Uzbekistan since there's an electronic version on the internet."

UZBEKISTAN: "It's our secret"

In Uzbekistan, police in the central Syrdarya Region have raided and are preparing to prosecute members of an unregistered Baptist Church, Forum 18 News Service has learned. They also confiscated religious literature for "expert analysis", even though it had been bought from the registered Bible Society. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has spoken of the difficulties his church faces in Uzbekistan, noting in particular a ban on missionary activity and opening Orthodox schools, and inability to get state permission for new parishes. The state Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss this with Forum 18. Elsewhere, two short-term Baptist prisoners of conscience have been released. Judge Bobojonov as he initially introduced himself, of the court which convicted the Baptists, changed his mind about what his name was after Forum 18 asked him why the Baptists were jailed. Police Major Asliddin Mirzayev - who stopped the two Baptists - refused to explain why he did this. "It's our secret", he retorted to Forum 18.

RUSSIA: "It is, in my opinion, religious persecution"

Russia continues to raid meetings of readers of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi in 2011, Forum 18 News Service has found. Azerbaijani national Rashid Abdulov was arrested in Ulyanovsk on 20 January and is still in detention awaiting charge. Other Muslims gathered in the same flat were briefly detained in a raid in which police reportedly used physical violence was used against them, including against children present. Abdulov's lawyer Vladimir Zavilinich told Forum 18 that: "It is, in my opinion, religious persecution, and fits in with the trend of arrests in Novosibirsk and Krasnodar". Abdulov was found to be in possession of materials listed on titles which feature on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, and his lawyer expects him to come to trial in "a maximum of six to nine months, during which time Abdulov will remain in prison". Fellow Nursi reader Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov from Uzbekistan also remains in prison in Russia. This follows an extradition request from his home country and a request he filed to receive refugee status in Russia. Jehovah's Witnesses are also subject to such raids.

UZBEKISTAN: Prisoner of conscience "released but not free"

Former prisoner of conscience Dmitry Shestakov, who was recently released from a four-year jail sentence continues to be placed by Uzbekistan under the severe restrictions of 'administrative supervision', Forum 18 News Service has learned. Among the restrictions Shestakov faces he has to for one year report to police in person almost every week, he may not be outside his home between 21.00 in the evening and 06.00 in the morning, he may not leave his home town without written police permission, and he cannot visit public places such as restaurants. The term of administrative supervision can be extended, and the punishments for breaking the supervision regime range up to imprisonment for four years. The authorities have refused to explain the reason for the restrictions to Forum 18. "He was released from prison but is not free," a local Protestant complained. Current known long and short-term prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief are Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestants. The latest two short-term prisoners of conscience are two Baptists jailed for distributing religious literature.

UZBEKISTAN: Heavy sentences at further mass trial of Muslims

At the end of a two month trial which was closed to human rights defenders, 18 Muslims were given prison terms of between three years three months and nine years accused of membership of a "religious extremist" group, Saidjakhon Zainabitdinov, a human rights defender from Andijan, told Forum 18 News Service. A further seven were given suspended sentences. All 25 were members of Shohidiya, an Islamic religious movement which follows the Koran but not the hadiths, the oral traditions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad's sayings. Court and Prosecutor's Office officials refused to discuss the cases with Forum 18. Meanwhile, Baptists are again asking the Supreme Court to re-examine the ten year sentence handed down on Tohar Haydarov. He is not being given letters sent to him at his labour camp "because they were full of religious words like God, and needed to go through censorship," camp officials told his fellow Baptists. Despite also not being given a Bible sent to him, one camp official told Forum 18: "We have religious freedom in our prison."

UZBEKISTAN: Scepticism that any new Administrative Code will end punishments for religious activity

After a mass police raid on a Protestant church in Chirchik near the capital Tashkent, assistant pastor Vladimir Kim was fined 80 times the minimum monthly wage, while the church's pastor received a fine of 40 times, church members complained to Forum 18 News Service. They were fined under the Code of Administrative Offences for "violation of the procedure for holding religious meetings" as they had not informed the authorities that they would be meeting for worship in their registered church building. Some 20 police officers had caught them during a raid, eleven days after the Harvest Festival at another registered Protestant church in the town was broken up and the pastor fined. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov told parliament that a new Code of Administrative Offences will be prepared, but religious believers told Forum 18 they are sceptical that any new Code will end punishments for religious activity. As well as regular fines, Forum 18 knows of 22 religious believers to have received prison terms of 3 to 15 days under the Code in 2010.

UZBEKISTAN: "It's not confiscation, it's temporary removal"

Uzbekistan has confiscated Christian books from a youth group returning from Kazakhstan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. An Uzbek customs official claimed to Forum 18 that the confiscations were "not confiscation. It's temporary removal". Customs officials claimed that a court would decide what would happen to the literature. Baptists complained that a customs official swore at them, saying: "We are the bosses here and we will do what we like. If we need to, we'll lock you away." Officials refused to provide copies of Confiscation Certificates and the group was released after being held for nine hours. Also, the head of Ukraine's Baptist Union has been denied entry to Uzbekistan and a Protestant has been denied permission to leave, no reasons for either action being given. And two more foreign religious websites have had access from within Uzbekistan blocked. These actions appear to be part of a policy of isolating religious believers from their fellow-believers in other countries.

UZBEKISTAN: "Anti-terror" raid on Protestant worship, beatings, and fines

Five Baptists in Uzbekistan have failed to have fines for taking part in an unregistered worship service overturned on appeal, local Baptists have told Forum 18 News Service. The fines, as well as beatings given to two Baptists by police, followed an "anti-terror" raid - as police described it - on the congregation as they met for worship. During the raid by 20 police officers, officers swore at church members and seized hymnbooks, personal Bibles and even handwritten notebooks from church members "using physical force, even tearing books from the hands of children". The duty officer at Samarkand police, who would not give his name, insisted to Forum 18 that "we do not beat believers". The state Religious Affairs Committee ruled that the confiscated literature including Bibles and hymns were illegal. The convicted Baptists told both courts they consider the fines unfounded, and a violation of their religious freedom. They have continued to lodge official protests, are pressing for confiscated religious literature to be returned – and for action to be taken against a police officer who beat two of them.

UZBEKISTAN: Massive fine for having a film of Jesus' life

Uzbekistan has imposed a massive fine on a Protestant for owning a Christian film, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Murat Jalalov was fined - apparently on the instructions of the NSS secret police – after police raided his home. The film and other confiscated materials for analysis by the state Religious Affairs Committee, which said that the film "could be used among local ethnicities for missionary purposes" and was therefore banned. All the confiscated material was ordered to be destroyed. An official of the Committee, asked by Forum 18 what happened to confiscated religious literature ordered to be sent to the Religious Affairs Committee, claimed that "I haven't seen any". Asked whether the Committee itself destroys such literature, as court verdicts often order it to be destroyed, he responded: "We don't destroy religious literature". Such confiscations and destructions – even of texts such as the Bible and Koran - and fines are common. Separately, a man – not a religious believer – has been fined for refusing to reveal his son's whereabouts. The son is being hunted by police for his religious activity. Also, Jehovah's Witnesses have told Forum 18 that more than 100 fines have been levied on their members in 2010.

UZBEKISTAN: Three years in labour camp "not a severe punishment"

Uzbekistan continues to imprison devout Muslims for long terms and devout Christians for short terms, Forum 18 News Service has found. Three-year labour camp terms have been imposed on seven Muslim men, with four others receiving suspended jail terms, for holding unauthorised private religion lessons. The judge in the case, Rahimzhon Aliyev, told Forum 18 that three years in a labour camp is "not a severe punishment". Conditions in labour camps can be particularly harsh, with unsanitary and dangerous living and working conditions, beatings by guards, and criminal gangs having a ruthless hold over other prisoners. Pressed on why courts, including his court, have given severe punishments for unregistered religious activity, Judge Aliyev said that it is "because of Uzbek law". In another case, two Protestants have been given five-day administrative detentions for unregistered religious activity, with two others being fined. The judge in this case, Gulsara Buranova, in 2009 had previously fined one of the defendants. Two South Koreans have also been deported, for alleged "unauthorised missionary activity".

RUSSIA: Will Russia extradite reader of Muslim theologian to Uzbekistan?

Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov, an Uzbek reader of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi, has been arrested in Russia after a request from Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He fled Uzbekistan after being warned his arrest was likely, after his brother, another reader of Nursi's works, was given a six year jail sentence. A prosecution official told Forum 18 that the extradition decision will be taken by the General Prosecutor's Office in Moscow. Yelena Ryabinina of the Moscow-based Human Rights Institute told Forum 18 that "people are being sought and prosecuted not because of any extremist actions, but because of what they read. The Uzbek authorities regard any religious or political dissidence or independent activity as a threat that must be crushed", she told Forum 18. "There is an international ban on extraditing individuals to countries where torture is practised – and Russia should abide by this. We are ready to take this case as far as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if we have to," she added.