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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

UZBEKISTAN: Baptists forced to pay massive fines, "taxes" and removed from posts

Uzbekistan continues to attack the country's registered Baptist Union, local Baptists have told Forum 18 News Service. One Baptist, Valery Konovalov, has been forced to pay a fine imposed in his absence, after he was forced to appear as a witness in the trial of three leaders of the Baptist Union. The three have themselves been forced to pay what the same court claimed was unpaid tax and two were removed from their posts. Uzbek state TV has broadcast a programme focussing on the Baptist trial. After the programme, parents whose children attended Protestant churches were summoned to schools and warned. "The children were made to write statements promising that they would stop attending churches," a Protestant who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. "People are afraid to talk to us when they find out we are Christians." This is part of frequent state-sponsored media attacks on religious believers of all faiths and freedom of religion and belief.

UZBEKISTAN: Sports journalist arrested for religious activity

A Muslim journalist who was a sports commentator has been arrested by Uzbekistan for his religious activity, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Hairulla Hamidov is under detention and faces charges under the Criminal Code's article 216 ("Illegal establishment of Public Associations or Religious Organisations"). He had in the past founded a popular weekly religious radio programme and a popular Islamic-inspired periodical, Odamlar Orasida (Among People), which was banned in 2007. Dilnoza Hamidova, his wife, told Forum 18 that police searched their home for religious literature but "found nothing illegal." The NSS secret police declined to comment: "No comments on that case," an NSS officer who did not give his name told Forum 18. Hamidova told Forum 18 that she has seen her husband only once since his 21 January arrest, for a short moment at the beginning of February when they were not allowed to talk. She said that no one else from Hamidov's family has seen him since his arrest. It is unknown when he may be brought to trial, and his website has been closed down by the state.

UZBEKISTAN: Two more foreigners deported for religious activity

A Baha'i and a Protestant, both living legally in Uzbekistan, were deported in late 2009 to punish them for their religious activity. Russian Protestant Andrei Tsepurkin told Forum 18 News Service that the NSS secret police was behind his expulsion. Deported Baha'i Sepehr Taheri, a British citizen who had lived in the capital Tashkent since 1990, is married to an Uzbek citizen and their children were all born there. A local news website accused him of "propagandising Baha'i religious teaching" and organising "illegal meetings" in private homes. The website's chief editor, Pyotr Yakovlev, defended the media attack and denied to Forum 18 that his publication is a mouthpiece for the state's anti-religious campaign. Daniyor Juraev, director of Gorizont - another news website which has attacked Baha'is, Baptists and other Protestants, and Jehovah's Witnesses – refused to tell Forum 18 why he does not seek and publish responses from religious communities attacked in articles to the often serious allegations against them.

UZBEKISTAN: Drugs planted and worshippers beaten up?

Uzbekistan continues to punish people for unregistered religious worship, Forum 18 News Service notes. Tohar Haydarov, a Baptist, has been arrested and faces criminal charges of producing or storing drugs, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. Haydarov's fellow believers insist to Forum 18 that the case has been fabricated, one stating that "police planted a matchbox with drugs." They also state that Haydarov "was beaten and forced by the police to sign different papers. His face looked exhausted and swollen, and he could hardly walk. He did not even remember what was written in those papers." The authorities claim these are "lies". In another case police raided a peaceful meeting of local Baptists, who sustained injuries during detention which have been verified by a medical examination. Told that Forum 18 had seen the medical record, a police officer appeared at a loss for words. "I don't know what to say, the police were there only to assist other state agencies with the detentions," he said. In both cases the authorities are also thought to be preparing criminal cases against some of the Baptists.

UZBEKISTAN: Crackdown on devout Muslims continues

Uzbekistan continues to arrest religious believers, primarily Muslims, throughout the country, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Around 57 Muslims are being held in the central Syrdarya region on unknown charges. It appears that a common factor linking some was that they were devout Muslims who went to gether to mosques to pray. In the south-western Kashkadarya region the son-in-law of Mekhrinisso Hamdamova, a Muslim woman arrested for holding religious meetings in her home, was himself arrested on 16 January 2010. It is thought that his arrest is linked to the authorities' anger at the flight from them of women threatened with rape if they did not testify against Hamdamova. Also, the fate of several men put on trial in 2009 for following the approach to Islam of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi still remains unknown, despite requests by Forum 18 to the relevant courts for information. These cases appear to be part of an ongoing crackdown on peaceful devout Muslims and followers of other faiths exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief independent of state control.

UZBEKISTAN: Illegal Christmas as unregistered religious activity punished

Uzbekistan continues in 2010 to punish unregistered religious activity, in defiance of international human rights standards, Forum 18 News Service has learned. On 3 January, eight police officers raided a Christmas gathering organised by an officially registered church. Asked why celebrating Christmas was illegal, police told Forum 18 that the Full Gospel Holiness Church is "not registered" in Umid village. Three leaders of the Church face administrative charges as a result. Also, following unregistered religious activity in the southern Surkhandarya Region, Pastor Bakhrom Nazarov has been fined over 83 times the minimum monthly wage. 25 people are known to have suffered short-term jail sentences between February and November 2009. However, there were no known short-term jailings of people for exercising their freedom of religion or belief from late November 2009. Asked why, a Judge told Forum 18 that "it may be because of the liberalisation of Uzbekistan's Judiciary, which is underway at the moment."

UZBEKISTAN: State close to removing Baptist leadership

Baptists in Uzbekistan have told Forum 18 News Service that they fear the head of the Baptist Union, Pavel Peichev, and the Union's accountant Yelena Kurbatova will now be removed from their roles leading the registered Baptist Union. This follows a Criminal Court in the capital Tashkent upholding the criminal conviction of the two, as well as of a Baptist layman Dmitri Pitirimov. The Court also upheld a three-year ban on each holding responsible positions. However, the court overturned massive fines on each. The three continue to insist that the charges against them of evading taxes and involving children in religious activity without their or their parents' consent were fabricated. Peichev stated that an appeal to the Supreme Court will probably be made. "The conviction was unjust and we want it overturned," he told Forum 18. Baptists in Uzbekistan have repeatedly insisted to Forum 18 that the authorities' main aim was to remove the leadership of the Baptist Union, continuing a pattern of state interference in the leadership of religious communities such as the Muslim and Jewish communities. Also, the Justice Ministry has forced a church website to close.

UZBEKISTAN: Repression of Muslim and Christian religious activity continues

Mekhrinisso Hamdamova, a Muslim holding a state appointment, has been arrested for holding unauthorised religious meetings in her home, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Over 30 of her family and others have been arrested, human rights defender Surat Ikramov told Forum 18. The official overseeing religious issues in Hamdamova's city told Forum 18 "probably she did something unlawful so she was arrested." 11 Protestants have been fined because they were together for a meal in a friend's house, the fines ranging between 50 and 10 times the minimum monthly wage. Similarly 17 Protestants have been fined for possessing "illegal" religious literature. The judge in the latter case, asked why he ordered a copy of the New Testament in Uzbek and other literature to be destroyed, angrily told Forum 18 that "it was all kept illegally." Finally an appeal following the conviction of Baptists for running a children's holiday camp is due on 4 December. A mysterious "burglary" of a relative of one of the Baptists has also taken place.

KAZAKHSTAN: "They can meet and pray to God, but the Law says they have to register"

Two brothers from Kazakhstan, both Baptists, have been prosecuted for religious worship without state registration, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Both were prosecuted under articles of the Administrative Code which violate international human rights commitments, and which the government is set to retain almost intact in a revision of the Code. An Internal Policy Department official defended the fine, telling Forum 18 that "they can meet and pray to God, but the Law says they have to register." In a case from another region, a member of New Life Church also convicted under one of the Administrative Code articles set to be retained, has lost her appeal against deportation and a fine, and has been deported to Uzbekistan. Her "offence" was giving a 12-year-old girl a Christian children's magazine. The deportation cuts her off from her four grown-up children.

UZBEKISTAN: Fined 260 times monthly minimum wage each – and banned from leading religious communities?

Uzbekistan has fined three Baptists a total equivalent to 260 times the monthly minimum wage each, allegedly for tax evasion and teaching children religion illegally, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The three have consistently insisted that the charges are fabricated, and one suggested to Forum 18 that the real reason for the charges was to remove the Baptist Union's leadership. This is supported by the three having also been banned from all administrative and financial activity for three years – which may stop them playing any organisational role in any religious community. It is unclear what practically this ban means, as the authorities refuse to explain it to either the Baptists or Forum 18. The verdicts come as Uzbekistan continue encouraging intolerance of people exercising freedom of religion or belief, for example in a Justice Ministry seminar on "overcoming human trafficking, religious extremism and missionary activity." Sharing beliefs is a criminal offence in Uzbekistan, and the state-run media are suggesting that this is also so in "many other" unnamed countries. Also, it appears that Muslim, Christian and Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience, imprisoned for their faith, are being excluded from a prisoner amnesty.

UZBEKISTAN: Did investigator fabricate evidence against Baptists?

Several parents – named as victims in the indictment against three Baptist Union leaders now on trial in Tashkent – have told the court that statements that their children were taught the Baptist faith against their wishes were fabricated or dictated by Investigator Anatoli Tadjibayev, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The head of Uzbekistan's Baptist Union Pavel Peichev and two colleagues went on trial on 24 September accused of teaching religion illegally to children at church-run summer camps and evading tax on profits from the camp. They deny all the charges – which carry punishment of up to three years' imprisonment - and insist the camps made no profit and were supported financially by the Union. Asked whether Investigator Tadjibayev will be punished if the court establishes that he abused his powers, Zulfiya Ahmedova, who represents the prosecution in the case, told Forum 18: "The Prosecutor will have to decide that."

UZBEKISTAN: "They can drink tea – that's not forbidden"

Following 15-day jail terms handed down to two Baha'is in Tashkent, one of the two, Timur Chekparbayev, who was subsequently expelled from Uzbekistan, told Forum 18 News Service that he harbours no ill feelings. "I don't want to complain – I don't blame anyone." The authorities accused the two of missionary activity and proselytism, following a police raid on a meeting for teenage Baha'is. Chekparbayev stated that these claims are unfounded, and pointed out that the meeting was a regular activity which took place with the permission of both the authorities and the parents of the young people involved. Asked whether religious communities have to inform the authorities when they hold any religious event or drink a cup of tea together, Akram Nematov of the Justice Ministry told Forum 18 that "They can drink tea – that's not forbidden, but they must inform the Department when they hold religious education with young people." The Baha'i community is shocked and mystified by the raid and the detentions.