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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
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UZBEKISTAN: Prisoners of conscience still held for their faith

Nine followers of the Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, who are awaiting criminal trial in Uzbekistan after being detained in December 2008 for their faith, have still not had a trial date set, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The detentions are part of a nationwide crackdown on Muslims who follow Nursi's approach to Islam. In separate cases, verdicts are imminent at the trial of three other Nursi followers who have been under arrest since mid to late 2008. Also, a court has rejected appeals by five Muslim prisoners of conscience, contributors to the Irmoq Islamic-inspired journal, against their long prison sentences. Among the other prisoners of conscience jailed for their faith is Pentecostal Pastor Dmitry Shestakov, who marks his 40th birthday on Thursday 9 April. There are also four Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience. No officials have been prepared to discuss with Forum 18 why these prisoners of conscience are being held for peacefully practising their faith.

UZBEKISTAN: "We just need to make sure what they teach in their homes"

Uzbekistan continues to penalise people who distribute religious literature, Forum 18 News Service has found. In two separate cases, Baptists from registered and unregistered churches are facing prosecution, fines and literature confiscations for distributing and possessing religious literature. In the case involving members of a registered church, a local official told Forum 18 that "we just need to make sure what they teach in their homes, and they need to get special permission to have religious activity in a private home." In another case in the north-west of the country, Kurbangul Aveniyazova has been tried in her absence for the "illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious materials" and fined 20 times the minimum monthly salary. An Uzbek-language Bible and other material was also ordered to be destroyed. Asked why she ordered the Bible to be destroyed, the Judge told Forum 18 that she had received religious expert opinion that it was not authorised. The Chair of the regional state Religious Affairs Committee abruptly terminated the phone call before Forum 18 could ask why they had given an expert opinion that the Bible in Uzbek was unauthorised.

UZBEKISTAN: Cleric takes part in police raid on religious community

Police in Uzbekistan "decided to invite" a Russian Orthodox priest to take part in a raid on a group of Baptists, a police officer has told Forum 18 News Service. Father Igor Skorik of Almalyk's Assumption of the Mother of God Church pressured Baptists not to attend unregistered worship and to come to his church instead, church members told Forum 18. The use of a cleric of one religious community to pressure members of another in cooperation with the authorities is a disturbing new development. The raid on a private home was led by Major Urazali Kholbekov, from the Tashkent Regional Criminal Investigation and Counter-Terrorism Department, who apparently arranged for Fr Skorik to take part in the raid. Fr Igor claimed he did not violate the law by taking part. "I was not there to check up on the Baptists but to just advise them," he insisted. Local Baptists point out that the raid and Fr Skorik's participation violates both Uzbek law and international human rights law. Church members were arrested, and police claimed Baptists were "at risk of danger in the case of a terrorist act which could be carried out by people in their home".

UZBEKISTAN: Four Protestants jailed, three more detained in homelessness centre

As well as imposing long prison sentences on Muslims accused of following the theologian Said Nursi, Uzbekistan has since the beginning of March imposed short jail terms on four Protestants, as well as detaining three more in a centre for the homeless, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Three Protestants were each jailed for 15 days, after police raided a meal in a private home where the three were present, and three more were held in a homelessness centre for between four and eleven days. Asked why individuals must ask for permission to gather for a religious purpose, the judge told Forum 18 that "I am not a law-maker, and I don't want to discuss the law." In a separate case, a Baptist was jailed for 10 days after some 20 officials from various state agencies – including the Presidential Administration – raided a prayer meeting in a registered church. Officials told church members that they need special permission for any services apart from those on Sundays, though Forum 18 can find no requirement for this in published laws or regulations.

UZBEKISTAN: "Your dead will not be buried"

Uzbekistan's NSS secret police, the head of a local mahalla (town district) and a local imam in the north-west of the country have obstructed the burial of a Muslim, Zhumabai Smetullaev, because his widow and son are Christians, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Elsewhere in Karakalpakstan, Forum 18 has been told that the authorities do not allow burials of Christians to involve the local community as would be normal in Central Asian culture. Non-participation of the community indicates exclusion of the deceased person's family from the community. Mahalla officials admitted to Forum 18 that Smetullaev's burial had been obstructed, but denied that the initiative came from them. Pressure on the family continues, officials warning people that whoever accepts Christianity will be punished. They were reported as telling people: "Your dead will not be buried." Local residents are in shock, sources told Forum 18. All non-state-controlled Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox religious activity in Karakalpakstan is a criminal offence.

UZBEKISTAN: Can authorities "separate the simple study of one's religion from extremist activity"?

University lecturer Ikrom Merajov is among nine men from Bukhara being held in the National Security Service (NSS) secret police isolation cells in the city under criminal investigation for membership in a "religious extremist" organisation and spreading "religious extremism". The Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18 News Service the secret police is leading the investigation, but the NSS refused to discuss the case. The nine were seized last December when police and secret police raided the Merajov family home without a warrant and found them studying the writings of Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, local Muslims told Forum 18. Merajov's brother Ilhom says Ikrom Merajov has been caught up on extremism charges which are not properly defined in law and he urges the Uzbek government to "separate the simple study of one's religion from extremist activity". The authorities have arrested dozens of followers of Said Nursi across Uzbekistan since summer 2008 and a number have been imprisoned. Merajov was shown in a hostile television programme attacking the Nurcular movement in February.

UZBEKISTAN: How many religious believers barred from travelling?

Natalya Kadyrova is one of several Protestant Christians known to Forum 18 News Service to have been denied the Exit Visas Uzbek citizens need before they can leave their own country, apparently as punishment for their religious activity. The wife of a pastor of a Tashkent Protestant church, Kadyrova has already been fined for her involvement with her church. Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses have told Forum 18 that their adherents have faced Exit Visa denials in the recent past. Human rights defenders are among others who face similar problems. However, Saken Kojahmetov, head of the Department of Entry and Exit at the Interior Ministry's Department of Entry, Exit and Legalisation of Citizenship in Tashkent, denied this to Forum 18. "We don't obstruct Uzbek citizens from travelling freely," he claimed. Asked why a number of religious believers cannot get Exit Visas, he responded: "If some people are saying this, let them come to me and raise their case and we will resolve it."

UZBEKISTAN: "You call white black and black white"

Uzbekistan imposed harsh prison sentences yesterday (26 February) on five writers for the Islamic periodical Irmoq (Spring), Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The verdicts were: Bakhrom Ibrahimov and Davron Kabilov received 12 year sentences in general regime labour camps; Rovshanbek Vafoyev received a ten year general regime labour camp sentence; and Abdulaziz Dadakhonov and Botyrbek Eshkuziyev each received eight year general regime labour camp sentences. Uzbek officials have refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. All five were arrested in mid-2008 by the NSS secret police on "suspicion of being sponsored by a Turkish radical religious movement Nursi." The Ezgulik human rights society stated that the defendants insisting they had violated no laws. "We want children to know the truth, to be able to tell the difference between black and white," they told the court. "But you call white black and black white." The verdict in a similar case against contributors to the Yetti Iqlim (Seven Climates) Islamic periodical is awaited. As part of the continuing crackdown on religious literature, pressure also continues on Baptists distributing literature in the street.

UZBEKISTAN: Muslims and Christians latest victims of religious literature crackdown

Uzbekistan continues to attack the sharing of information and opinion in religious literature, Forum 18 News Service notes. In the most recent known cases, contributors to two Islamic religious periodicals – Irmoq (Spring) and Yetti Iqlim (Seven Climates) – are facing criminal charges, allegedly for distributing information on the Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi. Obiddin Makhmudov of Uzbekistan's state Agency of Press and Information told Forum 18 that "I just found out yesterday from the national TV channel that the magazine's [Irmoq's] staff are suspected of having ties with a banned religious organisation." Baptists are being punished for distributing religious literature free-of-charge, in one case being questioned for seven hours without food or water. A different Baptist has been fired from his job as an electrician, after the NSS secret police and ordinary police confiscated his religious literature from his mother-in-law's flat. Asked by Forum 18 why police raided the flat, Police Inspector Alisher Umarov claimed they were "allowed" to do passport control "anywhere and anytime."

UZBEKISTAN: Unregistered Hare Krishna devotees and Protestants raided

Uzbekistan is continuing to raid members of religious minorities who the authorities think are conducting unregistered religious activity, Forum 18 News Service has found. A Hare Krishna festival in Samarkand, and a birthday party for a Protestant in the north-western Karakalpakstan region have both been raided, Uzbek police confirmed to Forum 18. The people who police found during the raids may be prosecuted for religious activity without state permission. This is a criminal offence, in violation of Uzbekistan's international human rights commitments. Describing one raid, a Protestant told Forum 18 that police "secretly planted" two religious books, the names of which they could not identify. The officers then "seized" the books. Police confirmed that NSS secret police officers took part in this raid. Police Captain Zhasur Kamalov told Forum 18 that the raid took place to see whether church activity was being conducted. Also, it remains unclear whether imams arrested in the second half of 2008 have been tried for the offences officials accused them of.

UZBEKISTAN: Children and parents threatened for attending places of worship

Police in south-east Uzbekistan have begun a campaign against children attending places of worship, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The authorities' campaign, which also uses the state-controlled mass media, attacks schools and parents who allow children to attend religious "sects" and mosques. Baptist and Jehovah's Witness children were summoned and threatened by Police and Mahalla Committees. Measures against Muslim children are ostensibly taken to stop them from attending Friday prayers in school time, but Forum 18 has found that the measures are in practice aimed at preventing them from attending mosque at any time. Three school headteachers confirmed to Forum 18 separately that none of their children attend mosque even outside school hours, two of them declaring bluntly to Forum 18: "Children are not permitted to attend mosque." Asked why they cannot do so, one headteacher told Forum 18: "Because they are still children." The campaign takes place as Uzbekistan continues to use a film, "In the Clutches of Ignorance", to encourage intolerance of religious minorities, including Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians and Methodists.

UZBEKISTAN: State still stops Muslims making haj pilgrimage

Uzbekistan is continuing to restrict the numbers of haj pilgrims to 5,000 people, or one fifth of those who could potentially go, Forum 18 News Service has found. This seriously limits the number of Muslims who can perform this obligation of their faith. All pilgrims need approval from local authorities, the NSS secret police and other national authorities, and are strictly controlled – including isolation from foreigners – on pilgrimage. Forum 18 has been told of an unwritten state instruction that pilgrims must be aged over 45. The head of a regional state Religious Affairs Committee denied this, illustrating his denial by saying that his region had sent "a 32 year old man" on pilgrimage. However, he did not answer when Forum 18 asked why there were very few young people on the pilgrimage. The state also charges pilgrims many times the minimum monthly wage to make the haj. An Uzbek human rights defender, Surat Ikramov, pointed out to Forum 18 that this plus the bribes demanded "makes it impossible for the majority to go on haj."