17 November 2004
An unusual surge of criminal prosecutions of religious minorities – Pentecostal Christians including one punished with a massive fine, and a Jehovah's Witness – and threats of criminal charges against a Baptist Pastor is, the head of the state committee for religious affairs has told Forum 18 News Service, "just a coincidence." The "crime" of the Jehovah's Witness, Dilshod Akhmedov, was to give a copy of The Watchtower to a passer-by on a Tashkent street. Literature, including an Uzbek Bible, confiscated from Pentecostal Bakhrom Nazarov was burnt by the authorities. Baptist Pastor Nikolai Shevchenko suggested to Forum 18 that, as this took place at the same time as an official US delegation was visiting, the government is trying to "demonstrate that it is not afraid of pressure from the international community and that it does not intend to observe international standards on the rights of believers." The last known criminal prosecution of a religious minority member was in 2002.
15 November 2004
Edgar Turulbekov, a Muslim human rights activist, has been jailed for organising a demonstration in front of a court in support of imam Rustam Klichev, sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment, and other Muslim prisoners. Another Muslim human rights activist, Tulkin Karayev, has told Forum 18 News Service that he too fears arrest. Local police chief Colonel Safar Sarmonov told Forum 18 that Turulbekov and Karayev are "blackmailers". "I do not believe these people are human rights activists," Sarmonov said, telling Forum 18 that "they are simply agents-provocateurs who push people into illegal activities instead of helping them." Members of Uzbekistan's minority faiths - such as Protestants or Jehovah's Witnesses - have generally not engaged in street demonstrations when their fellow-believers have been detained, beaten or imprisoned. However, lawyers who have defended their rights in court have faced harassment.
3 November 2004
The imam of a mosque in southern Uzbekistan, Rustam Klichev, has been sent to jail for 14 years, and 16 members of the same mosque have been given similar long jail sentences. Even though the accused were sentenced on terrorism charges, "the judge, Homid Babakulov, simply asked the accused how they observed religious rituals, and what precisely my son had told them about the teachings of Islam," Forum 18 News Service was told by the imam's mother. The imam's wife insisted to Forum 18 in May that, when he was arrested, the NSS secret police planted a leaflet claimed to have been issued by an alleged radical Islamic organisation. The imam has great authority amongst Muslims in the region, which is thought to be the reason for his trial. The head of the government's committee for religious affairs, Shoazim Minovarov, told Forum 18 that he knew nothing about the case and therefore could not make any comment.
1 November 2004
Uzbekistan's former chief mufti, Muhammad Yusuf, has called for restrictions on Islam in the country to be lifted. He is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative Muslim theologians of Central Asia, and has a freedom unique in Uzbekistan to publish his views in books, on a website, and via a private radio station. Such media outlets are tightly controlled in Uzbekistan, so such freedom is highly unusual, especially as Muhammad Yusuf is seen as being distant from the authorities. Speaking of the state of religious freedom, he told Forum 18 News Service that "Unfortunately, I can't say the situation is satisfactory." Muhumad Yusuf was in exile from 1993 to late in 2000, but told Forum 18 that "Uzbek theologians began to persuade Islam Karimov that, without my help, it would be hard for him to ensure stability in the republic." He is critical of the authorities' approach to radical Islamic movements, but did not discuss the tight restrictions imposed on the ethnic Iranian Shia Muslim minority, or the lack of religious freedom for non-Muslims.
28 October 2004
At the same time that Uzbekistan was being visited by a delegation from the official US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the police and NSS security police suddenly raided a worship service in a Baptist church which they have ignored for the past three years, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The Pastor, Nikolai Shevchenko, was fined and warned that, if he did not halt the activity of the church, criminal charges would be brought against him. The church's repeated attempts to gain state registration have been frustrated by the authorities, and Pastor Shevchenko suggested to Forum 18 that the raid "can scarcely be a coincidence. Tashkent is using this to try and demonstrate that it is not afraid of pressure from the international community and that it does not intend to observe international standards on the rights of believers."
26 October 2004
Turkmenistan has, as part of an apparent policy of keeping religious believers isolated, denied permission for a group of Seventh Day Adventists to visit the country, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, despite the fact that their invitation came from Turkmenistan's registered Adventist church. Other religious communities facing obstacles in visiting co-religionists include Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishna devotees, ethnic Uzbek Muslims, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. The head of Uzbekistan's Bible Society has also been denied entry, as was the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. The only religious community to have unimpeded travel to Turkmenistan is the Russian Orthodox Church.
20 October 2004
Dilshod Akhmedov, a Jehovah's Witness in Tashkent who was imprisoned for 15 days in May, and who refuses to give up public preaching, is now being investigated under the criminal code by police. Conviction carries a penalty of a fine of between 50 and 100 times the minimum wage, or up to three years in prison. Also, officials in the city of Samarkand [Samarqand], have threatened a female Jehovah's Witness, Lolya Nurmanova, with being fired for her beliefs. The authorities have also compelled a woman sympathetic to the Jehovah's Witnesses to report to the authorities everything that goes on in the religious community. Pressure continues on Jehovah's Witnesses throughout Uzbekistan, with some being convicted and fined without being given a chance to defend themselves in court.
8 October 2004
A devout Muslim, Nigora Jalilova, is the latest woman to be pressurised by local authorities in Karshi (Qarshi) to stop wearing the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, in public, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The mahalla committee's secretary for women's affairs, Mukarram Kurbanova, questioned Jalilova closely about her religious beliefs and when she became a Muslim, but claims that "I didn't order her, I simply recommended her to dress in a more modern style." This claim is disputed, and pressure on women who wear the hijab continues in Karshi and elsewhere.
30 September 2004
In the latest of several attacks on Protestants, Police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police have raided a prayer meeting of the Greater Grace church in Samarkand [Samarqand]. An official claimed to Forum 18 News Service that religious meetings in private homes are illegal. All unregistered religious activity is banned, and those involved face heavy penalties. Begzot Kadyrov, an official of the government's religious affairs committee, denied to Forum 18 that this violates the right to meet freely for worship with fellow believers, as guaranteed under international human rights agreements that Uzbekistan has signed. Several police officers in the raid identified themselves as Muslims, and told the Christians that there is "no need" for any Christians or members of other faiths in Uzbekistan. A Hungarian present, Jozsef Marian, who is married to an Uzbek, was pressured to write a statement, and threats were made that he would be forced to leave Samarkand. 2004 has seen an increase in raids and fines on those involved in unregistered religious activity, especially on Protestants.
16 September 2004
After pressure earlier in the year on Protestant students in Nukus in the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan [Qoraqalpoghiston], two students were expelled from the town's medical institute in early September for membership of an "illegal" Protestant church, the Church of Christ. Protestant sources told Forum 18 News Service that the two - Aliya Sherimbetova and Shirin Artykbayeva – were told that a further reason for their expulsion was that their cases had been reported on the internet, an apparent reference to Forum 18's coverage. Six other local Protestant students have been harassed in Nukus this year. It is almost impossible for Christian churches of any denomination to gain official registration in Karakalpakstan and therefore to meet legally for worship.
9 September 2004
Ahead of the OSCE Conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination on 13-14 September 2004 in Brussels, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org surveys some of the more serious discriminatory actions against religious believers that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration. Forum 18 believes most of the serious problems affecting religious believers in the eastern half of the OSCE region come from government discrimination.
30 August 2004
Insisting that all women who wear a Muslim headscarf (the hijab) have links with terrorists, the authorities in Lagman, part of Karshi in southern Uzbekistan, have banned the public wearing of the hijab, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. City authorities have claimed to Forum 18 that "anyone in Uzbekistan can wear whatever they consider appropriate," even though Uzbekistan's religion law bans the public wearing of undefined "religious clothing", which attacks both Muslims and Hare Krishna devotees. Abdurakhman Erkayev, head of the city's secretariat for social and economic issues went on to tell Forum 18 that "We have asked the mahalla authorities to explain to people that the essence of Islam in Uzbekistan has never been distinguished by fanaticism and extremism. We feel that it is very important to promote this form of "enlightened" Islam."