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The right to change one’s belief or religion
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UZBEKISTAN: Muslims jailed long-term, short-term Christian jailings re-start

Uzbekistan continues to jail Muslims and Christians for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Labour camp terms of between six and a half and seven years have been given to three Muslim women for leading and taking part in unauthorised religious meetings, and a Baptist's appeal against a 10-year prison sentence – on apparently fabricated drugs charges – has been rejected. Relatives of the three jailed Muslim women have been pressured not to appeal against the convictions. The state has also re-started its policy of short-term jailings of religious minorities, with two Protestants and one Jehovah's Witness being each jailed for between 10 and 15 days. Criminal cases are still pending against a Muslim journalist, along with 38 other Muslims, as well as against 40 readers of the approach to Islam of Said Nursi. Officials have mostly refused to comment on the cases. The UN Human Rights Committee has expressed its concern over Uzbekistan's "limitations and restrictions on freedom of religion and belief".

UZBEKISTAN: Raids, fines, more raids, more fines

Protestant Christians in Karakalpakstan in north-west Uzbekistan continue to face raids, threats, fines, literature confiscations and court-ordered destruction of religious literature, Forum 18 News Service has been told. In two recent cases in the region, police demanded that Protestants sign statements that they will not associate with other Christians or have any Christian books in their homes. Students in the region and elsewhere have also been put under pressure to be vigilant against "alien for us religious and extremist influences and the impact of inferior 'mass culture' " The unclearly defined phrase occurs in a government programme for 2010, designated "The Year for the Harmonious Development of the Generation". Religious activity by school and higher-education students has long attracted official hostility. Courts in the region continue to order religious literature to be destroyed, including Bibles and New Testaments, and to find those found in possession of these books. Religious literature seizures continue throughout Uzbekistan.

UZBEKISTAN: Feeding homeless people is "not according to charter"

Protestants in Uzbekistan continue to be targeted, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Police raided a Protestant youth conference, claiming to check identity documents. Many of the about 70 young people were playing football and basketball, and 43 were taken to a police station where they were fingerprinted and photographed. Two leaders are under investigation for "violation of the procedure for holding mass events" and "violation of the law on religious organisations". Two days after that raid, police, tax inspectors and local officials raided Eternal Life Protestant Church in the capital Tashkent. At the time of the raid, church members were feeding homeless people. Officials complained this was "not according to their [registered] charter" and police detained several church members. Police admitted to Forum 18 that the NSS secret police had led the raid. Following an alleged "Anti-terror" raid on a birthday party, ten Pentecostals – eight of them pensioners - were fined 100 times the minimum monthly salary.

UZBEKISTAN: Internet censorship continues

Uzbekistan continues to impose widespread and swift internet censorship on Russian-language websites, Forum 18 News Service notes. This was demonstrated on 9 March, when internet users in the country were blocked from viewing a Russian-language news article on Lenta.ru (reposted from Uznews.net) about the difficulties a bearded Muslim in Samarkand encountered in getting a passport. The Russian news website Ferghana.ru – which reported the blocking – is one of a number of Russian-based news websites which Forum 18 notes are blocked within Uzbekistan. Forum 18 has found that three Russian religion news sites are also blocked. Blocking is carried out by the NSS secret police. Elbek Dalimov of Uzbekistan's State Agency of Communications and Information told Forum 18 that his agency does not block websites. However Dalimov stated that access to some sites was banned in licensing agreements with internet providers. Also, Uzbek-based websites - such as those of the Full Gospel Protestant Union and detained Muslim journalist Hairulla Hamidov - have been forced by the authorities to close.

UZBEKISTAN: Baptists fined 100 times minimum monthly salary

Uzbekistan has fined 13 members of an unregistered Baptist church 100 times the minimum monthly salary, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The church has protested against the fines, claiming that over 60 violations of Uzbek law were committed in the course of the arrests, detentions and interrogations which led up to the court proceedings. Among the Criminal Code articles said to be violated were those forbidding the use of violence by officials. There have been several other recent raids and fines on Protestants. In one incident after fining three Protestants, Judge Makset Berdimuratov in the north-western region of Karakalpakstan ordered the destruction of confiscated Christian books including the Bible. Asked by Forum 18 why Christians believers cannot keep copies of Bibles in their homes, the Judge – in a very calm voice – stated that Bibles "must also be registered with the State Committee, and if they are not they will be destroyed once found."

UZBEKISTAN: Ten year sentence for "honest Christian"

Uzbekistan has sentenced a Baptist to 10 years in jail on drugs charges, which his fellow Baptists insist are fabricated, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Seven weeks after his arrest, Tohar Haydarov was sentenced in Guliston on 9 March for "illegal sale of narcotic or psychotropic substances in large quantities". Fellow Baptists insist that this is to punish him for his religious activity. It is unclear why Haydarov has been given such a harsh sentence. The only known current Christian prisoner of conscience, Pentecostal Pastor Dmitry Shestakov, is serving a four year sentence. Baptists insist that police planted drugs on Haydarov at the time of his arrest, and according to church members he is "a man with a pure conscience and an honest Christian". Forum 18 has spoken to several Baptists in Syrdarya and Tashkent who strongly support Haydarov. The judge and police officers involved have refused to discuss the case with Forum 18, and Haydarov has appealed against his sentence.

UZBEKISTAN: Muslims and Jehovah's Witness tried, praying prisoner "committed suicide"

Around 40 associates of a group of readers of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi in Uzbekistan were arrested by police in January, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "These were not necessarily participants in reading Nursi's works, but were witnesses in the earlier case, neighbours and friends," one source stated. Among other recent arrests are those of 25 alleged Nursi readers serving in the army, with 12 due to face a military tribunal, a human rights defender told Forum 18. However, a Jehovah's Witness convicted but not imprisoned for teaching religion illegally was amnestied. No Muslim, Jehovah's Witness or Christian prisoner of conscience is known to have been amnestied. Also, Uzbekistan has categorically denied to the UN that prisoners are punished for praying. The denial came after three UN Special Rapporteurs wrote about reports of two brothers being tortured. One, Nigmat Zufarov, began a hunger strike demanding to be allowed to pray. The government claimed that he then "committed suicide".

UZBEKISTAN: Threats, raids and violence against religious believers

Three members of the unregistered Greater Grace Protestant Church have been given heavy fines in Samarkand in central Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The fines followed a police raid on a private home, after which children and teenagers were illegally interrogated without their parents being present. A church member was also threatened with jail unless he confessed that he taught the Bible, which would have rendered him liable to prosecution for teaching religious doctrines without the permission of the state and a registered religious organisation. The church has been unsuccessfully seeking state registration since 2000. Church members also complained that the NSS secret police has been closely watching them recently. A Muslim refugee has also complained to the BBC of NSS attempts to recruit him as an informer. In a separate case, two Protestant women in eastern Uzbekistan are facing charges after a raid, and one of the women was beaten up when she refused to confess to missionary activity, a criminal offence in Uzbekistan.

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.