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Religious Freedom Continues to be Violated in Uzbekistan

UZBEKISTAN. CHRISTIANS RAIDED FOR READING BIBLES AND SINGING WITHOUT STATE PERMISSION.

ICC Note:

In a continuation of the discussion of religious freedom in Uzbekistan, this article points out numerous instances including Christians songbooks confiscated, punishing people for reading their Bibles and more.

12/20/2012 Uzbekistan (RescueChristians.org)- Uzbekistan continues to raid people exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Police on 1 December raided a group of about 80 Protestants on holiday together in the Simurg (Phoenix) resort, in Bostanlyk District in Tashkent Region around the capital. Charges under six different articles of the Code of Administrative Offences have been brought against four of the group, who were meeting together discussing their faith and singing Christian songs. Police also confiscated three Bibles and 100 Christian songbooks, insulted the group, and took their fingerprints of all present.

Asked why the authorities punish people whose only “offence” was to read their Bibles and sing Christian songs on holiday, police officer Kamil reiterated that people “must do it only in registered places specifically set up for religious purposes”. He declined to comment further to Forum 18 on why police violate the right to freedom of religion or belief. “I am not authorized to give more comments”, he stated.

Officer Kamil also refused to give more specific details of the case, including when a court hearing might be held.

Also in Tashkent Region, on 18 November Urtachirchik District Police raided an unregistered Full Gospel Protestant Church in Tuiteppa. Police broke into the private home of Timur and Irina Kholmatov when the couple together with four friends were reading their Bibles, singing Christian songs and praying. “Police arrived at 10.45 am, 15 minutes after they had begun their worship”, local Protestants who did not wish to be named for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 14 December.

Police entered the couple’s home despite the objections of Kholmatov, and searched all the rooms and confiscated: 159 Christian books (35 in English, 34 in Korean, 5 in Uzbek, 85 in Russian), 20 booklets, 31 notebooks with personal notes, 55 slides, 500 leaflets, 315 audio-cassette tapes, and 54 video-cassette tapes. The books included three Children’s Bibles. Police also confiscated a Toshiba laptop computer, four memory sticks, four guitars, an acoustic speaker, two sound boosters, and an over-head projector.

Asked about the case, Urtachirchik Police on 14 December referred Forum 18 to Bakhtiyor Azimov, Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department. Azimov told Forum 18 that his Department has “nothing to do with the case”. Deputy Police Chief Aziz (who refused to give his last name) claimed to Forum 18 that “our officials did not search the home”. When told that a Court decision specifically indicates that Urtachirchik Police made the search, he replied: “Maybe, Tashkent Region police Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism Department did it.”

The telephone of Saidkarim Nishonboyev, Chief, and Akmal Jalilov, Deputy Chief, of the regional Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism Department went unanswered on 14 December. The person who answered Jalilov’s mobile phone told Forum 18 that it is a “wrong number.”

On 21 November Judge Tolibzhon Haidarov of Tashkent Region’s Urtachirchik District Criminal Court fined three of those in Kholmatov’s home during the raid. Timur Kholmatov was fined 7,235,500 Soms (about 21,500 Norwegian Kroner, 3,000 Euros, or 4,000 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate), 100 times the minimum monthly wage.

He was fined under the same six Administrative Code articles that the four Protestants charged after the raid on the Simurg (Phoenix) resort are being charged with breaking.

A similar large fine of 100 times the minimum monthly salary imposed on 9 November on Vadim Shim, for possessing Christian books, was upheld on 10 December by Judge Bakhtiyor Miraliyev of Tashkent Regional Cassation Court (see F18News 29 November 2012 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1773). Forum 18 has seen a copy of the court decision.

Timur Kholmatov’s wife Irina was fined 20 times the minimum monthly wage, 1,447,100 Soms (about 4,270 Norwegian Kroner, 580 Euros or 740 US Dollars) under three of the Administrative Code Articles her husband was fined under – 184-2; 201, Part 2; and 202. Marina Khvan was fined 2,170,650 Soms (about 6,450 Norwegian Kroner, 900 Euros, or 1,200 US Dollars), or 30 times the minimum monthly wage, under two of the six Administrative Code Articles used in the case – 201, Part 2; and 240, Part 1.

Judge Haidarov also ordered the destruction of all the confiscated books, including the Bibles. Courts have frequently order that confiscated religious literature – including Bibles and Islamic texts – be destroyed (see eg. F18News 16 March 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1679). He also ordered that the state should take over all the computer equipment, guitars, and other technical items.

Uzbekistan frequently punishes people for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission. For example, In November nine Muslim men who met to discuss their faith and to learn how to pray were sentenced, two being prisoners of conscience. Gayrat Khusanov and Shuhrat Yunusov were each given seven year jail terms (see F18News 23 November 2012 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1770). Also, a Protestant was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage for distributing religious literature, including Bibles a court ordered to be destroyed. Fines were also confirmed against three Baptists who “had some of our neighbours, friends, and relatives with us. About 10 people met to read the Bible and pray together” (see F18News 29 November 2012 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1773.

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