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UZBEKISTAN: No "need" for Bibles?

On 8 July Uzbekistan's Bible Society finally learnt that the government's Religious Affairs Committee – which implements the system of compulsory prior censorship of all religious literature – had refused permission for a Bible shipment to clear through Customs, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "This represents a ban on the import of Bibles into Uzbekistan," the Bible Society told Forum 18. The shipment of 11,000 Bibles and Bible-related books in Uzbek, Karakalpak and Russian has been held in Customs in the capital Tashkent since 19 May. The Bible Society says it will continue to press for the shipment to be allowed in. The Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss with Forum 18 why the shipment has been blocked. Asked by Forum 18 whether people in Uzbekistan can read the books they like, an official of the government's National Human Rights Centre responded: "I haven't the right to answer this question." Meanwhile, Justice Ministry officials conducted an extra check-up on the Bible Society's activity from 4 to 10 July.

UZBEKISTAN: "People have a right to know"

The import and production of religious literature in Uzbekistan remains under tight state control, even for texts such as the Koran and the Bible, Forum 18 News Service has found. Defending the practice of not importing Islamic texts, a student at the state-controlled Islamic University told Forum 18 that "I don't think scholars from other countries are better than ours. We have no need to import from abroad." Imam Obidkhon Nazarov, the exiled former imam of Tashkent's Tukhtaboi mosque, told Forum 18 that even books by renowned Muslim scholars were no longer published. Nazarov emphasized that "people have a right to know. If there are good books on Islam and the Koran published abroad, why should people be deprived of opportunities to read them," he asked. Religious minorities have also fallen foul of the state's tight web of censorship laws and regulations. Christians are concerned about a shipment of Bibles and related books held by customs since May. Jehovah's Witnesses are concerned about a shipment held since August 2006. In both cases, there is the possibility of extremely expensive official charges for storage being imposed on religious minorities.

UZBEKISTAN: Protestant in detention facing criminal charges, Baptists jailed for 10 days

A Protestant from north-west Uzbekistan, Aimurat Khayburahmanov, was arrested on 14 June and is still in detention before facing criminal trial on terrorism charges, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Uzbek police have also recently falsely accused a Protestant refugee in Kazakhstan of terrorism charges. Among other recent violations of freedom of thought, conscience and belief, four Baptists in Tashkent Region - Natalya Ogai, Filipp Kim, Dmitri Kim and Nurlan Tolebaev – have been fined and sentenced to ten days' imprisonment, because of their peaceful religious activity. Fines continue to be imposed on other Protestants. However, in a highly unusual move, a court in the capital Tashkent found that charges against a Protestant had been fabricated and ordered police to be punished for this. But members of Tashkent's Hare Krishna community have been banned from taking part in a music and environment festival.

UZBEKISTAN: Protestants reject government's religious hatred encouragement

Leaders of 26 Protestant congregations across Uzbekistan have published an open letter rejecting state-controlled TV stations' repeated broadcasts of a film encouraging intolerance and hatred of religious minorities, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Protestant leaders also condemn "garbled facts, aggressive attacks, lies and slander" against named individuals and churches by the state TV broadcasts, and accuse the state and those who took part in the film of violating Uzbek criminal law through the broadcast. The leaders also complain that the state-controlled leaderships of schools and colleges strongly encouraged students to watch the film and so encouraged religious hatred and intolerance among young people. State-run newspapers and websites carried linked articles attacking religious minorities and their sharing of their beliefs, one such article stating that religious minorities "have one aim: to infringe on human freedom with all the consequences that flow from it." Officials Forum 18 has spoken to now either say they know nothing of the protest, or refuse to discuss the film. But one participant defended it.

UZBEKISTAN: "The government is trying to stir up Muslims against Christians"

Uzbekistan's state-run TV has for a second time shown a film inciting religious hatred, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Entitled "In the clutches of ignorance", the film was shown before live coverage of the Euro 2008 football championship, to attract the largest possible audience. The first broadcast of the film made some members of religious minorities then "afraid to go out on the street where they live for fear of being persecuted." A member of a religious organisation not attacked in the film stressed to Forum 18 that members of their community are disturbed "that members of religious minorities are cast in such a negative perspective." A Protestant attacked in the film told Forum 18 after the second showing that "the government is trying to stir up Muslims against Christians." Following the first showing, a Baptist congregation which has been attacked elsewhere in the state-run mass media was raided and banned from meeting. One Baptist complained to Forum 18 that "broadcasting such a film amounts to incitement of religious hatred in our country."

UZBEKISTAN: "Even in Kazakhstan the Uzbek authorities will not let him live in peace"

The Criminal Police in the Uzbek town of Nukus have again tried to have Protestant Christian, Makset Djabbarbergenov, brought back home for trial, where he could face up to three years' imprisonment for his peaceful religious activity. Despite being recognised by the UNHCR as a refugee in neighbouring Kazakhstan, he was seized by the Kazakh KNB secret police on 29 May after a detention request from Uzbekistan claimed he is an Islamic fundamentalist and terrorist, a Protestant told Forum 18 News Service. Djabbarbergenov was freed two days later after the UNHCR office in Almaty intervened, the office confirmed to Forum 18. Nukus Criminal Police refused to tell Forum 18 why they gave false information to the Kazakh authorities to try to get Djabbarbergenov returned. The Uzbek Interior Ministry also refused to discuss his case. "Makset is not afraid for himself but is more concerned for his family's security," the Protestant noted.

UZBEKISTAN: Raids, fines, literature confiscations, and police bullying of children

Raids, fines and literature confiscations against religious minorities across Uzbekistan are continuing, Forum 18 News Service has found. One church raid was justified by a court as "anti-terrorist activity," although the police officer concerned was unable to specify to Forum 18 what threat the raid was supposed to stop. There are also reports of Protestant services in Uzbek – a state language – being barred and of a Protestant higher-education student being threatened with expulsion, unless he either renounces his faith or spies on his church for the NSS secret police. There has been no change in the status of Chief Rabbi Abe David Gurevich, who is faced with the possibility of deportation. Police and a schoolteacher have also directly threatened the children of Baptists at a school, telling them that if they attended churches they would be put into prison. The children were also interrogated about what their parents taught them, what books they read, what films they watched, what music they listened to and what songs they sang, and whether they liked this.

UZBEKISTAN: More state media incitement of intolerance

Uzbekistan continues to use state-run mass media to incite intolerance of religious minorities and freedom of thought, conscience and belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. In the latest national TV attack, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians and Methodists were all described as conducting unspecified "illegal missionary activities." This was described as "a global problem along with religious dogmatism, fundamentalism, terrorism and drug addiction." A Protestant shown in the film told Forum 18 that it used police film taken during raids on worship. "It was very unpleasant, I felt like I had no privacy," Forum 18 was told. "Believers from our church are angry at this." Police had claimed that the film "was necessary for further investigation." The film has encouraged intolerance, a member of a religious minority stating that some people are now "afraid to go out on the street where they live for fear of being persecuted." However, Forum 18 was told, "people who understand a little bit what's going on in the country sympathise with us." The state TV official responsible for the film could not explain to Forum 18 why he was involved in attacking human rights.

UZBEKISTAN: Last Passover in Tashkent for Chief Rabbi?

Nearly 90 members of Tashkent's Jewish community have signed a letter to the Justice Ministry calling for their Chief Rabbi Abe David Gurevich to be allowed to stay, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "We do not want him to stop ministering to us," they told the Ministry. The accreditation for Gurevich and his wife, who also works for the Hasidic World Lubavitch Movement, ran out on 1 April and has not been renewed. "Now we are hanging on the air with no status," Gurevich complained to Forum 18. "We remain here in Uzbekistan with expired visas and no accreditation." Forum 18 has been unable to reach Jalol Abdusattarov, the official at the Justice Ministry who refused to extend their accreditation. The Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss the case. Gurevich said many more people had come to the Passover celebration in Tashkent this April than usual. "It may be that they were afraid that they would not be able to see us again." In recent years Uzbekistan has expelled foreign citizens who have been working in religious communities.

UZBEKISTAN: Is a four-year sentence for religious activity too harsh?

Jehovah's Witness Olim Turaev has begun a four-year labour camp sentence imposed in Samarkand on 25 April to punish him for holding an unapproved religious meeting and teaching religion without state permission, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. His appeal is pending. The 34-year-old medical doctor, who is married with three children, is the third Jehovah's Witness currently serving a criminal sentence for his peaceful religious activity. Bakhrom Abdukhalilov, advisor to President Islam Karimov on ethnic minorities and religion, showed no concern for Turaev, insisting that Jehovah's Witnesses should not violate the law. He refused to say if he thought the four-year sentence was too harsh. Jehovah's Witnesses in Samarkand and elsewhere have been repeatedly denied the state registration the authorities insist is necessary before a religious community can conduct any religious activity. April also saw Full Gospel and Baptist church members fined in various cities, with one church leader handed a three-day administrative arrest.

UZBEKISTAN: Chief Rabbi faces expulsion

After days of allegations in the state-run media and a check-up by Justice Ministry and Religious Affairs Committee officials, the Justice Ministry wrote to Uzbekistan's Chief Rabbi Abe David Gurevich on 10 April refusing his and a colleague's application for renewal of accreditation. Neither Forum 18 News Service nor the Chief Rabbi have been able to reach the Justice Ministry official who signed the letter, Jalol Abdusattarov, to find out why the decision was taken. "Each time I call the Ministry someone picks up the phone and says he is not there," Gurevich told Forum 18. The community is now concerned that their Chief Rabbi might be forced to leave Uzbekistan. Gurevich pointed out to Forum 18 that the same thing happened to him in 1998, but the decision was later revoked and he received an apology. The Justice Ministry has also threatened to revoke the legal status of the local branch of the Jewish charity, the Joint Distribution Committee.

UZBEKISTAN: Asking about religious freedom violations is "stupid"

Seven days after charismatic Christian Bobur Aslamov was detained during a raid on a religious meeting in Samarkand, his whereabouts remain unknown, one Protestant told Forum 18 News Service on 10 April. Church members fear he could face criminal charges. Police beat some church members during the raid. Police, secret police and Justice Department officials raided a Full Gospel congregation in Tashkent on 9 April, just before the Justice Department was due to rule on the congregation's long-stalled registration application. Five church members face administrative penalties. Amid renewed media attacks on religious communities, Baptists objected to regional television coverage of a police raid in March. "This programme aimed to stir up society against church members," they told Forum 18. "And all this is being done in defiance of the law." Begzot Kadyrov of the government's Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss this and other recent harassment of religious communities. "Don't disturb us with stupid questions about religious liberties," he told Forum 18.