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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

TURKMENISTAN: Continued isolation of religious believers

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.

UZBEKISTAN: Preacher to face criminal charges, and JW to be fired?

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.

UZBEKISTAN: Headscarf ban continuing

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.

UZBEKISTAN: Police raiders claim there's "no need" for Christians

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.

UZBEKISTAN: Medical institute expels Protestant students

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.

UZBEKISTAN: Is headscarf ban "enlightened" Islam?

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."

UZBEKISTAN: Religious prisoner makes formal torture complaint

Laziz Saidov, a Muslim who is under arrest apparently just for being devout, has made a formal written complaint to the Uzbek Prosecutor General, Rashid Kadyrov, stating that the police used torture to obtain a confession of possessing leaflets from the banned Hizb-ut-Tahir party, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Saidov, who is still in jail, states that the police manacled his arms and legs, and beat him on the shins and head until he agreed to sign a confession. The head of the detention cells where Saidov is being held, Panzhi Nazarov, suggested to Forum 18 that "maybe he [Saidov] was beaten up in Guzar rather than here?" and said that he could not either confirm or refute information that some Muslims had been tortured.

UZBEKISTAN: Police break state and international law

Police have raided a Jehovah's Witness meeting in Samarkand [Samarqand], without any legal documentation, closely questioning participants in the meeting under great psychological pressure, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The police told participants that they would be fined under Article 241 "breaking the law on giving religious instruction" of Uzbekistan's administrative code, and the internal affairs administration told Forum 18 that "we were acting within the law". Both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Uzbekistan has freely signed, and Uzbekistan's own religion law contradict this claim.

UZBEKISTAN: No names, no questions, in latest trials of Muslims

In a trial of 12 Muslims in the Fergana [Farghona] Valley, apparently on trial for being devout, Judge Gozikhon Yakhyakhojayev has refused to release the names of the accused, telling Forum 18 News Service that "I myself have not yet got to grips with this case, and I feel it is simply too early to give any details to the press." In another trial, of 2 devout Muslims, his colleague Judge Ismailov has been accused by defence lawyers of joining the prosecution in trying to secure convictions, and of not allowing defence lawyers to question witnesses. In both cases, Forum 18 has been told that the ordinary police and NSS secret police have been accused of planting evidence on those accused.

UZBEKISTAN: Another Muslim jailed for being a Muslim?

Abdugafar Karimov is the latest Muslim apparently jailed for being a devout Muslim known to Forum 18 News Service, being sentenced to five years' imprisonment for "undermining the constitutional basis of the Republic of Uzbekistan". His wife, Oklima Karimova, says that evidence of about 10 Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets and a video was planted, and told Forum 18 that one prosecution witness refused to appear in court because of "a troubled conscience". Further similar trials are continuing.

UZBEKISTAN: Police knew search results before they searched

In the latest series of trials of Muslims, apparently simply because they are devout Muslims, ten men have been sentenced to jail terms of between 10 and 12 years, a local human rights activist has told Forum 18 News Service. All ten have denied the criminal charges made and claim that evidence was planted on them. Forum 18 has been told that the wife of one of those arrested, Mukudas Yusupova, was mistakenly given by police a document showing the results of the search before the search had been conducted. Neither lawyers for the accused, nor human rights activists, nor journalists, were allowed into the court to hear the sentence, and police officers beat up protestors calling for journalists, human rights activists and lawyers to be allowed into the court.

UZBEKISTAN: Being a devout Muslim a crime?

Two groups of Muslims, detained respectively just before and just after the March/April terrorist attacks, are now being tried in southern Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The authorities state that leaflets of the banned Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir party and drugs were found in the homes of the people being tried, but a local human rights activist insists to Forum 18 that this evidence was planted, and that their only "crime" was to be devout Muslims. Relatives claim that those accused were subjected to brutal treatment during questioning. Although the trials are officially open to the public, both journalists and human rights activists have been refused admittance.