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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

UZBEKISTAN: Authorities trying to close Baptist church

An Uzbek official, who fined Baptist pastor Oleg Bader for running children's camps and a children's club attached to his church, has described the fine to Forum 18 News Service as "completely within the law". The church is being forced to change and re-register its statute by 27 January, even though children's work was included in the original statute. The pastor's lawyer has been denied access to the cases documents, and the justice department has refused to tell Forum 18 why this is so. It is feared that, like another church further north, re-registration may be denied and the church declared illegal. Sources have told Forum 18 that the authorities want to close the church because they do not want Christianity to spread in Khorezm region.

UZBEKISTAN: Death row prisoners denied clergy access

Uzbekistan is denying clergy access to death row prisoners, Tamara Chikunova, head of the Uzbek NGO Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture, has told Forum 18 News Service. This denial violates two articles of the Uzbek Criminal Code, which specifically allow those sentenced to death the right to meet a member of the clergy. Fr Nikolai Rybchinsky, of the Central Asian diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, told Forum 18 that in the case of two death row prisoners "so far at least, Orthodox priests have not been allowed access to these prisoners. We have made an official appeal on this matter to the state administration for carrying out punishments, but have received no reply from there." Fr Rybchinsky also said that "in general, priests face significant difficulties gaining access to prisons." Forum 18 has learned that death row prisoners are denied access to religious literature. When a Muslim death row prisoner asked a senior prison official to give him a Koran, the official reportedly replied: "Are you joking? After all, that is a political thing."

UZBEKISTAN: Illegal secret police raid is "legal"

Velorom Kasymova, an official who took part in a secret police raid on a Jehovah's Witness meeting, has claimed to Forum 18 News Service that stopping the meeting, interrogating the participants, and banning future meetings is legal, even though she cannot state any legal basis for this despite Forum 18's repeated requests. She claimed that members of a religious organisation can only meet at the address where the community is registered, yet the building is in fact registered to the Jehovah's Witnesses. The unrelated legal articles she quoted forbid: unlawful juridical activity; refusal to register a religious organisations statutes; running children's and young people's clubs; and running labour, literary and other clubs. Also banned is giving religious instruction without specialist religious training or the permission of the central administration office of the religious organisation, and giving religious instruction in a private capacity. Yet none of these activities took place.

TAJIKISTAN: Religious freedom survey, November 2003

In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Tajikistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the confusion that leads to officials wrongly insisting that registration of religious communities is compulsory. Unregistered religious communities do encounter difficulties with the authorities, but Forum 18 has been told that excesses "are not as a rule state policy, but simply the arbitrary actions of local officials." Compared to neighbouring Uzbekistan, Tajikistan generally follows a more lenient policy towards unregistered religious communities. This may be because Tajikistan, after a civil war, is not able to exert such harsh controls as Uzbekistan can. The Tajik authorities are most concerned with controlling Muslim life, because Muslims make up more than 90 per cent of the country's population, and because of the aftermath of the civil war. The possibility exists that government pressure on believers may intensify in the near future, under a proposed new law on religion.

TAJIKISTAN: Tajik secular not Shariah law prevails in mountainous east

Forum 18 News Service has found during a visit to Tajikistan's remote and mountainous eastern region that the parts which were governed by compulsory Shariah law during the mid-1990's civil war have now returned to secular Tajik law. Muslims now follow Shariah law only if they choose to do so and the days when local people were forced by armed Tajik opposition groups to pray in mosques are over. Until the year 2000 fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan lived in parts of the region, but they then under pressure crossed into Afghanistan. Forum 18 has also found that in the distinctly Ismaili part of the region there are no Ismaili prayer houses. However, local people do not perceive a need for prayer houses as they can pray at home.

CENTRAL ASIA: Hizb ut-Tahrir wants worldwide Sharia law

Hizb ut-Tahir, which is widespread in Central Asia, has told Forum 18 that it aims to introduce a worldwide Caliphate and ban all faiths apart from Islam, Judaism and Christianity, all religious practice being regulated by Sharia law. Buddhism, Hinduism, the Hare Krishna faith and what the party sees as sects within Islam would all be banned. Hizb ut-Tahir members also explained to Forum 18 that the party would give all non-Muslim states a choice between either joining the Caliphate under Sharia law, or paying a tax to the Caliphate. Failure to pay the tax would be punished by military attacks. The USA, the United Kingdom and Israel were described to Forum 18 as the work of the devil and "European democracy" as "a farce". Within the Caliphate, Christians and Jews would be allowed to drink alcohol, if that was required for religious rituals, and to regulate within their own communities marriage, divorce and the assignment of possessions.

KYRGYZSTAN: Is mullah latest Uzbek KGB kidnapping victim?

When he was kidnapped in the town of Uzgen in southern Kyrgyzstan on 7 September, local mullah Sadykjan Rahmanov became at least the sixth devout Muslim seized in the area, apparently by Uzbek secret police agents from across the border. "The investigation's main line of inquiry is that Sadykjan Rahmanov has been kidnapped by the Uzbek special services," the deputy head of Uzgen district Mamatali Turgunbayev told Forum 18 News Service. "The Uzbek special services act in Kyrgyzstan as if they are at home." He speculates that the Uzbek authorities believe the mullah was connected to the violent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The mullah's brother Salimjon Rahmanov claims he is innocent. "He is simply a believer who has never been involved in politics," he told Forum 18.

UZBEKISTAN: Perpetual raids on village Baptist church

Almost two months after eight church members were sentenced for their activity with the church, Forum 18 has been unable to find out from officials why they are still preventing a local Baptist church from meeting for worship in the village of Khalkabad in Namangan region. "We are doing this at the request of the Baptists' parents, who are unhappy that their children have changed their faith," local police officer Bahtier (who refused to give his full name) claimed to Forum 18 News Service. "Police officers come to virtually every meeting we hold," Aleksandr Tyan – one of five church members imprisoned for ten days in August - told Forum 18.

UZBEKISTAN: Baptist "mob" banned from worshipping

Anti-terrorist police officer Alisher Kurbanov, who banned an unregistered Baptist church in Navoi from meeting for worship, has dismissed Baptist complaints about the move. "This is not a church at all, just a religious mob," he told Forum 18 News Service. "Under Uzbek laws a church is not allowed to operate without registration, but the Baptists refuse to register." The ban came after Kurbanov confiscated books from a mobile Baptist street library on 27 September and threatened library organiser Nikolai Nikulin with criminal prosecution. Nikulin has already served a ten-day prison sentence for his work with the church. The ban on the Navoi Baptist church is the latest move to forbid the activity of unregistered Protestant churches in Uzbekistan.

UZBEKISTAN: No peace for Peace Church

For the fourth time since the Peace Protestant church in Nukus in Karakalpakstan had its registration stripped from it in August 2000, the church was raided by the police during Sunday worship on 24 August and two if its leaders subsequently fined five times the minimum monthly wage. "This is not the first time that I have fined the Peace church's leaders," judge Oibek Tureyev told Forum 18 News Service. "I can only repeat to you once again that under Uzbek laws registration is compulsory." One of the two leaders fined, Khym-Mun Kim, told Forum 18 the church has repeatedly tried to regain its registration. "We are law-abiding citizens and we want to be registered but the authorities are forcing us to operate illegally."

UZBEKISTAN: Fines to follow Protestant church closure

The deputy head of the Upper Chirchik district administration, Shukhrat Tursunbayev, has insisted he did nothing wrong in closing down an unregistered Protestant church in the village of Ahmad Yassavy on the outskirts of Tashkent. "We were acting within the law," he told Forum 18 News Service. "According to the Uzbek law on religion the activity of an unregistered religious community is forbidden." Police officers and local officials burst into the Sunday service of the Friendship Church on 7 September, took down the names of all those present, sealed the church and warned the Protestants they will be prosecuted under the Code of Administrative Offences.

UZBEKISTAN: "Protestants cannot work as teachers," ideology official declares

An ideology official in the town administration of Muinak in the autonomous Karakalpakstan republic who helped have a Protestant sacked as a sports teacher in a local school last July after he refused to renounce his faith has explained why. "I am convinced that a Protestant may not work as a school teacher in Uzbekistan," Jalgas Saidmuratov told Forum 18 News Service. "Our state is moving towards Islam." The sacking of Lepesbai Omarov violates Uzbekistan's constitution and religion law, which proclaim Uzbekistan a secular state and outlaw discrimination on religious grounds. Karakalpakstan is a religious freedom black spot, with only one non-Islamic religious community that has been able to gain registration.