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The right to change one’s belief or religion
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UZBEKISTAN: Poor jail conditions, torture and large fines for Protestants

Latipzhon Mamazhanov, a Protestant who was arrested and jailed on 12 March for 15 days in Fergana in eastern Uzbekistan, was released from jail on 28 March. This is one day after he should have been released under the law, Forum 18 News Service has learned. on 31 March. Police illegally raided Mamazhanov's home and those of other Christians in Fergana on 12 March searching for religious literature. Mamazhanov was imprisoned in the Region's Kuva District Police Detention Centre where up to seven inmates were put in a cell designed for two people, no sanitary and hygiene rules are followed, and food is only given once a day. He and other prisoners who inststed they were innocent of crime were also tortured several times. "They can keep one Bible in their homes," Rustam Yegamberdiyev, Head of Fergana City Criminal Police, insisted to Forum 18. "But if they keep more than one then this means that they are intending to gather others in their homes for illegal prayers and meetings. It is exactly the same for Christians, Muslims and others."

UZBEKISTAN: "His only fault was to have some sermons on his mobile phone"

Three months after Uzbekistan's National Security Service (NSS) secret police arrested Kyrgyzstan-born Russian citizen Bakhtiyor Khudaiberdiyev at Tashkent Airport and opened a criminal case against him, relatives fear he might face long imprisonment if tried and convicted. Relatives adamantly denied to Forum 18 News Service that Khudaiberdiyev had any extremist materials on his phone. "Bakhtiyor had only some suras [verses] from the Holy Koran, some sermons of mullo Ulugbek Kary and some video clips of the Osh events he downloaded from the internet," relatives told Forum 18. Fears are that Khudaiberdiyev might face torture in secret police detention. The Consular Section of the Russian Embassy in Tashkent refused to tell Forum 18 what steps – if any - the Embassy or other Russian state bodies are taking to raise his case with the Uzbek authorities. Uzbekistan imposes rigid control over all religious materials, whether on paper or on electronic devices. At least two Muslims are serving five-year prison terms for the Koran and sermons in their mobile phones, while Customs authorities detained a Baptist for two days in mid-March for carrying religious materials on electronic devices and who now faces administrative charges.

UZBEKISTAN: "Aren't you exaggerating by saying he was detained?"

Tashkent Regional Customs Department held Kazakh citizen Boris Prokopenko for two days in mid-March after discovering religious materials on electronic devices as he entered Uzbekistan, fellow Baptists complained to Forum 18 News Service. Freed after an "expert analysis" found nothing "extremist", he still faces administrative prosecution. "Aren't you exaggerating by saying he was detained? He was only staying with us temporarily since we were waiting for the expert analysis from the Religious Affairs Committee," Chief Customs Inspector Tahir Nasirkhodjayev told Forum 18. He denied any violation of Prokopenko's rights, as "we only enforce the Law, which demands us to stop and clarify what kind of religious materials people carry with them". Six Muslims were fined after being stopped in December 2015 for carrying "illegal" religious materials on their mobile phones, customs officials told Forum 18. Such punishments are part of the rigid control of religious materials entering and being transported within the country on mobile phones, tablets, personal computers, memory sticks and other electronic devices and media. At least two Muslims are serving five-year prison terms for the Koran and sermons in their mobile phones.

UZBEKISTAN: "Isolate the population"

Uzbekistan continues to raid private homes and confiscate religious literature from their owners, including Arabic-language Korans, and Uzbek and Russian-language Bibles and New Testaments. In at least three cases known to Forum 18 News Service, and in line with frequent court practice, a court has ordered that Bibles and New Testaments be destroyed. These violations of freedom of religion or belief continue, an entire district of the capital Tashkent being searched in early March. During the search at least one Arabic-language Koran was confiscated and its owner detained. Local police told Forum 18 that "we have religious freedoms". And on 12 March a Christian in Fergana was jailed for 15 days after a police search for religious literature. Summarising the reason for such censorship and raids, a state news agency published an article stating that the government aimed to "isolate the population, especially young people, from the influence of various harmful movements".

UZBEKISTAN: Prisoner of conscience "saying his last goodbye to his sisters"

When the sisters of Muslim prisoner of conscience Khayrullo Tursunov visited him in labour camp in late 2015 "he sounded like he was saying his last goodbye to his sisters because he thought the end of his life is coming", relatives outside Uzbekistan told Forum 18 News Service. "Khayrullo was either tortured in prison or is in deep depression, his sisters did not know the exact reasons." Other prisoners of conscience punished for exercising their freedom of religion or belief – including the Muslims Zoirjon Mirzayev and Tajik citizen Zuboyd Mirzorakhimov – have given up hope of amnesty and seem set to serve out their terms, their relatives told Forum 18. Prison officials told Baptist prisoner of conscience Tohar Haydarov he will not be freed on parole this year as he had hoped. "Tohar's personal Bible was taken away from him about a year ago and he is trying to recite Bible verses from memory," a fellow Baptist told Forum 18. The Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry's Chief Directorate for the Enforcement of Punishments – which has responsibility for Uzbekistan's prisons – refused to discuss the situation of these prisoners of conscience with Forum 18.

UZBEKISTAN: "This is absurd – he wouldn't have fought with anyone, still less on his last day"

Sunni Muslim prisoner of conscience Kamol Odilov was given an extra prison term in late January, just days before he completed his six-year prison term handed down to punish him for exercising his freedom of religion or belief. He and his fellow Muslims had met to discuss the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi. Prison authorities claim he got into a fight. "This is absurd – he wouldn't have fought with anyone, still less on his last day," a Muslim familiar with the case told Forum 18 News Service. In 2015 a three-year extra prison term was handed to another Sunni Muslim prisoner of conscience from Bukhara, Botir Tukhtamurodov, after he too had completed a six-year prison term. Officials told Tukhtamurodov and his relatives that he will not be freed until the authorities get back his brother Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov from Russia, where he sought refuge in 2010. The Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry's Chief Directorate for the Enforcement of Punishments – which has responsibility for Uzbekistan's prisons – refused to discuss the situation of these prisoners of conscience with Forum 18.

UZBEKISTAN: Police and Imam "forced family to bury deceased in cemetery where officers took them"

Fearing problems, a Jehovah's Witness family sought approval from the Religious Affairs Department to bury a deceased family member in a local cemetery in July. Yet police and the local Imam blocked the burial. Asked why he told them not to bury the deceased in the cemetery, Captain Ruslan Allanazarov told Forum 18 News Service: "Because it is Muslim." Police chose a cemetery for the burial 20 kms (12 miles) away and accompanied community members with cars. Officers and the Imam stood outside the family home to prevent people visiting to offer condolences. At a meeting of non-Muslim religious leaders in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, officials proposed or ordered that ethnic Uzbek adherents of non-Muslim faiths should write a will before they die setting out their burial wishes (not required of people of non-Uzbek ethnicities, Muslims or atheists). A state religious affairs official complained about publicity over burial difficulties. "Relatives made so much noise about the cases that the state leaders, who strive for peace in the country, were disturbed," he told the meeting. One Protestant complained to Forum 18 of "pressure on Churches when they complain about burial problems publicly". After one complaint, the authorities "immediately demanded the central organ of the religious community that they make the local believers shut up".

UZBEKISTAN: Police raid, torture, steal and plant drugs

Police in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent raided a Protestant worship meeting on 8 November, detaining and torturing members of the group and their nursing children, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Police also stole money and confiscated a large amount of Christian literature, as well as personal property including computers and other electronic devices. Jehovah's Witnesses in the central Samarkand Region have also been raided and fined, some also being put on 2 years' probation on fabricated drugs charges, for meeting together for worship. Police also confiscated religious literature and the private property, including computers and mobile phones, of some present. Female Witnesses were threatened with rape and tortured. Contrary to Uzbekistan's international human rights obligations, the police torturers were apparently neither arrested nor prosecuted for their actions. Instead, the police's victims were convicted of exercising freedom of religion or belief and fined. The human rights Ombudsperson's Office has said it cannot investigate these human rights violations.

UZBEKISTAN: New fines, Bible destructions follow UN concern over religious censorship

In late September a Judge in Karshi fined ten members of a Baptist church up to 50 times the minimum monthly wage each for meeting for worship without state permission. In a regular practice for Uzbekistan, the Judge ordered that confiscated personal Bibles and song books be destroyed. Officers asked the community in August why it was still meeting after being warned in an April raid that it was "illegal". Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service of more than 75 fines of up to 20 times the minimum monthly wage between January and September 2015 after raids and literature seizures. Seven were twice stopped after making a 1,000-kilometre (620 mile) round trip from Karshi to the one registered Jehovah's Witness community in Chirchik. The United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern in July over religious censorship, as well as torture, prison sentences, detentions and fines to punish individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. It called on Uzbekistan to change its laws and practices.

UZBEKISTAN: Over 160 year wait to go on haj pilgrimage?

Uzbekistan continues severely restricting the Muslims who can on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca, Forum 18 News Service notes. The state imposes severe restrictions on the numbers of pilgrims and refuses to explain why it does this. People can only get onto the extremely long pilgrimage waiting lists after extensive scrutiny by state agencies including the NSS secret police. Shaira Sadygbekova of Ezgulik human rights organisation has calculated that she will need to live to be 205 years old to reach the top of the waiting list. The head of her mahalla (city district) – one of the agencies which decides who gets onto waiting lists – told Forum 18 that she "will be able to go in 20 or 30 years". Even if people reach the top of the waiting list they may be arbitrarily denied an exit visa to go on pilgrimage. State-run banks often refuse to distribute enough hard currency to pilgrims, according to human rights defenders including Surat Ikramov. A wide variety of state officials have refused to discuss the problems with Forum 18.

UZBEKISTAN: "Threatened we will be put in prison if we don't stop visiting each other for prayers"

A wide group of Muslims in Tashkent Region near Uzbekistan's capital have faced repeated harassment since the summer, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Two Muslim families were initially targeted, with four of them imprisoned by police for between one and two months and about 18 of them fined for "violation of the procedure for holding religious meetings". Another group were then targeted, with ten women detained and fined for the same "offence", while one woman was threatened with being imprisoned with men who might rape her. On 10 August, Anti-Terrorism Police raided the homes of eight male relatives of the women who met occasionally to pray together, discuss their faith and share meals. Anti-Terrorism Officer Mirvolid Mirboboyev "warned and threatened us that we will be put in prison if we don't stop visiting each other for prayers", one of the victims Tashkentboy Ergashev told Forum 18. Officer Mirboboyev refused to discuss his or his colleagues' actions with Forum 18. Another Tashkent Muslim, Olmosbek Erkaboyev, was held by police for two months as they sought information about his father-in-law. Officers beat him to try to get him to sign a document incriminating himself on charges of religious extremism.

UZBEKISTAN: Large fine follows police bullying of children

Pastor Sergei Rychagov of Grace Presbyterian Church near Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent was heavily fined for violating the Religion Law, missionary activity, "illegal" religious teaching and violating the procedure for holding religious meetings. However, he learned of the fine only in June, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Police bullied children from a local orphanage who had been attending the church into writing statements against him, they added. The officer who brought the case insisted to Forum 18 that Rychagov had violated the law, while the judge who fined him refused to explain why he had done so. In Urgench, Anti-Terrorism Police accused a local Baptist of "teaching religion illegally". Police have already seized religious literature and the man's car. Asked by Forum 18 why other Baptists are being questioned to incriminate him, Anti-Terrorism Police Major Shavkat Bekjanov responded: "Who are you and why should I discuss the case with you over the phone?"