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(ANS) – The head of the state committee for religious affairs in Uzbekistan said that an unusual surge of criminal prosecutions of religious minorities is “just a coincidence,” ASSIST News Service (ANS) has learned. Forum 18 News Service reports that Pentecostal Christians, including one punished with a massive fine, and also a Jehovah’s Witness and a Baptist pastor, were threatened with criminal charges. The “crime” of the Jehovah’s Witness, Dilshod Akhmedov, was to give a copy of The Watchtower to a passer-by on a Tashkent street, Forum 18 said. Literature, including an Uzbek Bible, confiscated from Pentecostal Bakhrom Nazarov was burned by the authorities. Baptist Pastor Nikolai Shevchenko suggested to Forum 18 that, as this took place at the same time as an official US delegation was visiting, the government is trying to “demonstrate that it is not afraid of pressure from the international community and that it does not intend to observe international standards on the rights of believers.” The last known criminal prosecution of a religious minority member was in 2002. Despite two criminal cases against believers — one a Pentecostal Christian, the other a Jehovah’s Witness — and threats of a third against a Baptist pastor, the head of the government’s committee for religious affairs strongly denied suggestions that the government is stepping up its moves against religious communities.