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Uzbekistan: Believers Harassed, threatened, homes raided

UZBEKISTAN: After four years' imprisonment, another 30 months

ICC Note:

Believers in Uzbekistan are being harassed by the police while their rights to religious freedom are being infringed upon.  Two homes of believers were raided by the police. The home owners were presented with court orders in languages they could not understand and police entered the homes by breaking windows and climbing through. They seized Christian literature and scared children.  When questioned at police head-quarters about “how many people attend services, who the leader is and who teaches the faith to those who join. [The believer] responded that he did not know exactly how many people attend, that the leader is Jesus Christ and that all church members testify to others about God.”

07/04/2012 Uzbekistan (Forum18)- One month before the end of his four-year sentence, Jehovah's Witness Abdubannob Ahmedov was given a new 30-month sentence on charges of violating prison rules. Two other Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience also had their prison terms extended, but have now been freed, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. Four Muslims are known to have been freed from prison under amnesty, with some being forced to speak publicly in favour of government policies. A Baptist from Fergana, Yelena Kim, faces up to three years' imprisonment on charges of "illegally teaching religion".

Prosecutors are seeking to punish a Baptist from Fergana for "illegally teaching religion", according to local Baptists and case documents seen by Forum 18. If brought to criminal trial and convicted, Yelena Kim faces a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment.

No official of the state Religious Affairs Committee in the capital Tashkent was prepared to comment to Forum 18 on 4 July as to why individuals are punished for practising their faith, why worship services are raided and why religious literature is confiscated. The man who answered the phone of Begzot Kadyrov, the Committee's Chief Specialist, said he was not present and immediately hung up.

The most recent trouble for Yelena Kim and her Baptist congregation in Fergana began on 29 April, when about a dozen police and other security officials raided the Sunday service. The Council of Churches Baptist congregation meets in part of her home. Two of the officers were from the Department for the Struggle with Terrorism, while others were from the National Security Service (NSS) secret police. "They tried to record the service on camera, but church members didn't let them," local Baptists told Forum 18

The officers arrived, looking for evidence to prosecute church members under Code of Administrative Offences Article 241 ("Teaching religious beliefs without specialised religious education and without permission from the central organ of a [registered] religious organisation, as well as teaching religious beliefs privately").

Officers drew up a record of an offence against Yelena Kim, the owner of the home where the church meets, even though she was visiting Tashkent when the service took place. They also drew up records against her husband, Eduard Kim, and church member Iosif Skaev.

Investigator Botir Zokirov summoned all three for questioning on 4 June. He told Yelena Kim that a criminal case had been opened against her under Article 229-2 (violation of the procedure for teaching religious doctrines), which carries a maximum three year prison term. Zokirov said her husband and Skaev would be witnesses in the case.

Zokirov asked Eduard Kim where he had got to know his wife, when they had married, how they had become Baptists, what they do at the services and why the congregation is not registered. Eduard Kim told Zokirov that the services are peaceful and that the Constitution's Article 61 guarantees the separation of religion from the state and bans state interference in the affairs of religious organisations.

Zokirov asked Skaev how many people attend services, who the leader is and who teaches the faith to those who join. Skaev responded that he did not know exactly how many people attend, that the leader is Jesus Christ and that all church members testify to others about God.

Early on 23 June, the local police officer came to the church and said that Eduard Kim and Skaev needed to take their documents confirming their place of residence and their personal reference from the mahalla (local district) committee to the police station so that the cases against them could be closed.

However, when they got there Investigators A. Ahmedov and Erkin Dehkonov told them they would face administrative cases and that they should go straight to court. Eduard Kim and Skaev refused to go to the court, explaining that they had not had the time to study the case documents and did not have a lawyer or translator (they are Russian speakers).

Early on 28 June, officers arrived at the church armed with a search warrant signed by F. Ismoilov, Fergana's Deputy Prosecutor. The warrant, seen by Forum 18, declared that criminal charges had been lodged against Yelena Kim as she had already been prosecuted on 26 July 2011 under Administrative Code Article 241. "Despite this, it was established that she continued with religious teaching, without having the appropriate education," the warrant declared.

According to the July 2011 verdict – seen by Forum 18 – Fergana City Criminal Court had fined Yelena Kim under Article 241 three months' minimum wage, 149,205 Soms (460 Norwegian Kroner, 60 Euros or 85 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate).

At the Kims' Fergana home on 28 June, officers ordered church members to leave while they searched the premises. "They took printed materials, musical collections, folders with notes, posters, discs, cassettes, Bibles and hymn books into the yard to sort them and note them down," church members said. "They also confiscated a photocopier." Officers then searched the part of the house where the Kim family lives, seizing "everything related to Christianity".

Church members, who were not allowed into the yard, gathered outside to pray and sing. "Officers threatened to bring charges against all of them and filmed them."

At about the same time Skaev's home was also searched. After he refused to let the police in without a translation of the warrant into Russian (he does not read Uzbek), officers gained entry through a window. "Officers frightened his nine children," church members complained. They seized Christian literature and discs, mobile phones and Skaev's passport. When Skaev refused to open the garage, officers broke a window to get in. They seized 150 copies of the Bible (in Uzbek).

The following day, 29 June, Skaev appealed to the police to return his passport, but they refused.

Forum 18 was unable to reach any of the officers involved in the raid, the criminal case against Yelena Kim or the administrative cases against Eduard Kim and Skaev. The duty officer at the Fergana Regional Police put the phone down on 4 July. Other numbers there and at the town police went unanswered each time Forum 18 called.

The official who answered the phone of Fergana City Prosecutor's Office on 4 July declined to put Forum 18 through to Deputy Prosecutor Ismoilov or anyone else to discuss the case against Yelena Kim. He put the phone down without giving any comment or his name. Subsequent calls went unanswered.

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