UZBEKISTAN: Religious books "only allowed to be read within registered religious communities' buildings"
Twenty religious believers, eleven of which were Protestant Christians, were charged a fine “the equivalent of nearly 68 years’ official minimum wage.” What was their crime? Owning, keeping and reading religious literature (Bibles) outside of their church buildings.
By Mushfig Bayram
9/12/2013 Uzbekistan (Forum18)-In two separate cases on the same day in August in Samarkand and Kashkadarya, fines on 20 religious believers for "illegal religious literature" totalled the equivalent of nearly 68 years' official minimum wage, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. In the Samarkand case, the judge ordered the confiscated literature – including the New Testament and the Pentateuch – destroyed. Uzbekistan's courts routinely order destroyed Muslim and Christian literature. Begzod Kadyrov, Chief Specialist of the government's Religious Affairs Committee, insisted to Forum 18: "Those are court decisions and the courts are independent from us." Asked why such penalties are handed down, and why individuals cannot carry their religious books like the Koran or Bible with them, Kadyrov responded: "According to the Religion Law, religious books are only allowed to be read within registered religious communities' buildings."
Begzod Kadyrov, Chief Specialist of the Uzbekistan government's Religious Affairs Committee in the capital Tashkent, has defended the widespread fines handed down to individuals after religious literature is confiscated from them. Asked by Forum 18 News Service on 10 September why such penalties are handed down, and why individuals cannot carry their religious books like the Koran or Bible with them, he responded: "According to the Religion Law, religious books are only allowed to be read within registered religious communities' buildings."
In two separate cases in August known to Forum 18, administrative fines on 20 religious believers in Samarkand [Samarqand] and Kashkadarya for "illegal religious literature" totalled the equivalent of nearly 68 years' official minimum wage.
Told about the vast number of fines and penalties in Uzbekistan for "illegal religious literature" – including these two cases - Kadyrov declined to comment. "Those are court decisions and the courts are independent from us."
Asked whether the purpose of the Religious Affairs Committee is not to help religious communities and individual believers, and why the Committee will not initiate positive changes to the harsh Religion Law, Kadyrov claimed to Forum 18: "No one from the communities has complained to us [about the Law or the penalties]. We cannot just act on the basis of articles published on the internet."
Kadyrov would not discuss his Committee's "expert analyses" of religious literature, on the basis of which numerous religious works – including Muslim and Christian literature – are ordered destroyed by the courts.
The Uzbek government has imposed tight compulsory prior censorship of all religious literature, including works printed in the country, imported into the country, and already published and in the possession of individuals and religious communities (see Forum 18 Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).
In July, the government ordered the Religious Affairs Committee and other state bodies to prepare new procedures for enacting the state censorship of all religious literature imported into Uzbekistan. In addition to existing censorship of all printed religious literature, the government also blocks access to religious websites (see forthcoming F18News article).
In recent years, Muslims and Christians have repeatedly told Forum 18 that they know of many cases where their fellow-believers have removed religious literature from their homes for fear of punishment.
"Illegal literature" fines in Samarkand
On 23 August Judge Bobyr Abduvahidov of Samarkand District Criminal Court, with a decision seen by Forum 18, fined 11 Protestants – 6 women and 5 men – under Administrative Code Article 184-2 for illegal storage and distribution of religious literature.
Article 184-2 bans: "Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan with a purpose to distribute or distribution of religious materials by physical persons". Punishments are a fine of between 50 and 150 times the minimum monthly wage, "with confiscation of the religious materials and the relevant means of their production and distribution".
Each of the women – Aziza Kamalova, Shahnoza Ibrahimova, Farida Hojiyeva, Zilola Hojayeva, Obida Nazarova, Zilola Fattoyeva – was fined 20 times the minimum monthly wage or 1,591,800 Soms. Each of the men – Gulshan Kamolov, Zokirzhon Rizoyev, Damir Hojayev, Eldor Muzapparov as well as Aleksandr Tarasyuk – was fined 25 times the minimum monthly wage or 1,989,750 Soms.
Tarasyuk, a Ukrainian citizen, may also be deported, a Protestant from Samarkand, who for fear of state reprisals wished to remain unnamed, told Forum 18.
Ilhom (he refused to give his last name), Assistant to Judge Abduvahidov told Forum 18 from the court on 10 September that the Judge "cannot speak to Forum 18 directly and needs me to interpret for him." Defending the fines Judge Abduvahidov through Ilhom told Forum 18 that the police found in the defendants' possession books "banned in the territory of Uzbekistan". Asked specifically which books are banned, he did not say.
Asked why individuals cannot take their religious books with them to where they have recreation, and why the authorities must follow them where they go, Judge Abduvahidov responded: "They had many children with them." Asked what is wrong with resting together with children, he claimed: "They had children there who were not their own, and taught them religion illegally."