UZBEKISTAN: "It is prohibited to keep such books at home"
While saying that they support religious freedom, Uzbek authorities go a long way to violate said freedom. This article covers numerous cases of religious material, such a Bible, being confiscated from people’s private collections while claiming the material had been stored “illegally.” Unfortunately, in all of this, the individuals whose religious freedoms have been violated are also suffering violations of legal procedure and “due process.”
By Mushfig Bayram
08/06/2012 Uzbekistan (Forum18)- In what some in Uzbekistan think may be a change in the authorities' repression policy, there has been an apparent increase in confiscations of privately-owned religious books from homes during raids. Targets have included Bibles in Uzbek and Russian, as well as other religious texts, Forum 18 News Service has been told by sources within the country. Among several recent cases where there have been violations of due legal process followed by fines for possessing religious literature is that of a Baptist, Roman Nizamutdinov. He was fined the equivalent of 40 times the minimum monthly salary, under the Code of Administrative Violations' Article 184-2, for "illegally" storing religious books in his private home.
Judge Oltynbek Mansurov of Navoi [Navoiy] Criminal Court in imposing the fine of 2,516,800 Soms (about 7,770 Norwegian Kroner, 1,050 Euros, or 1,300 US Dollars at the inflated official rate) on 5 June ignored the fact that three books stored were not – as the Court claimed – books from the Jehovah's Witnesses. They were – contrary to the state's "expert analysis" - Protestant books, such as Evidence That Demands a Verdict by the American author Josh McDowell.
Judge Mansurov's verdict, seen by Forum 18, states that the books "according to the opinion of the Expert of the [state] Religious Affairs Committee of Uzbekistan of 30 April is related to the Jehovah's Witnesses religious movement, which was imported into Uzbekistan for use only in the internal activity of a legally registered organisation."
The verdict goes on to state that: "Jehovah's Witnesses are registered in Uzbekistan only in Chirchik [Tashkent Region], and therefore the activity of the members of the said organisation in other territories of Uzbekistan, including Navoi Region is unlawful." It also states that the "use of the given literature outside Chirchik is illegal."
Similar violations of legal procedure took place in the trial of Sharofat Allamova for possessing religious literature on 18 May. Judge Akbar Aminov of Urganch [Urganch] Criminal Court in the north-west fined her 10 times the monthly minimum wage (equivalent to 629,000 Soms, or about 1,900 Norwegian Kroner, 260 Euros, or 325 US Dollars) for possessing Christian books and DVD disks. This "offence" broke the Administrative Code's Article 184-2. Judge Aminov ordered the permanent confiscation of the three Christian books and three DVDs the police had already taken from her home.
Judge Aminov on 3 August could not tell Forum 18 why possessing books was an "offence". Asked why the Court did not evaluate violations of legal procedure, the Judge asked Forum 18 to call back later and then put the phone down.
Allamova appealed against the verdict, noting among 272 violations that she had not – as the verdict stated – pleaded guilty and that she had been denied legal representation by both the police and Court. However, Judge Jahongir Botyrov of Khorasm Regional Criminal Court upheld the fine and confiscations.
Judge Botyrov told Forum 18 on 3 August that he had "no time or desire" to talk. When asked why the fine was imposed, he replied: "Let her complain through her lawyer". He then put the phone down.