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Forum18 – Andijan Protestant pastor Bakhtier Tuichiev has told Forum 18 News Service that, since the violent crushing of the Andijan uprising in May, he has regularly been called in by the local police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police and threatened with arrest if he refuses to shut down his unregistered Pentecostal church, he stated from Andijan on 29 September. Pastor Tuichiev has been trying to register his church for several years without success. Under Uzbek law, a religious community cannot operate without state registration. Since the Andijan crackdown, the authorities have increased attempts to try and isolate religious believers from the support of local and foreign journalists and human rights activists.

However, the chief specialist at the Uzbek government’s religious affairs committee Begzot Kadyrov denied absolutely that the government’s religious policy had been tightened since the crackdown. “We have actually started to treat believers more leniently,” he claimed to Forum 18 from Tashkent on 29 September. However, he was unable to cite any evidence for this view.

Tuichiev has been frequently summoned by the police and secret police in recent years, while in September 2002 he was visited by a group of people from Tashkent he believes were NSS secret police officers masquerading as BBC and CNN journalists (see F18News 14 March 2003

Tuichiev maintains that since the crushing of the uprising the NSS has placed him under surveillance, along with other active members of the Protestant community. Tuichiev claims that NSS officers are trying to stir up residents of his local mahalla (city district) against him. He says he was told openly at the police station: “We are not going to let foreign human rights activists into Uzbekistan any more. It’s payback time – we’ve already dealt with Igor Rotar and now we’ve come for you.”

Rotar, Forum 18’s Central Asia correspondent, was deported from Uzbekistan on 13 August (see F18News 16 August 2005 Soon after the events in Andijan, the authorities arrested Nosir Zakir, a Radio Liberty correspondent from Namangan , a city in Uzbekistan ‘s section of the Fergana valley, and forcibly detained Tashkent-based human rights activist Elena Uralayeva in a psychiatric hospital. The courts ordered the closure of the local offices of Internews, a US organisation which assists the development of journalism in developing countries, while the activity of the US organisation IREX has been at a standstill for six months. IREX organises student exchanges in Uzbekistan and promotes the use of the Internet in schools.

During the court case against followers of the Akramiya movement the state prosecutor, Uzbekistan ‘s deputy general public prosecutor Anvar Nabiev, described the group of journalists covering the Andijan events, almost all of whom were from western publications, as “jackals feeding from carrion”. The director of the Uzbekistan office of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting Galima Bukharbaeva, a correspondent for the news agency Aleksei Volosevich, Radio Liberty reporter Andrei Babitsky and BBC correspondent Matlyuba Azamatova have all been accused of being among Uzbekistan ‘s sworn enemies. Because of their fear of repression by the authorities, Bukharbaeva has had to remain in New York (where she had gone to attend a conference), while Azamatova has left for the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. Many such journalists have reported on violations of the rights of religious believers.

“Since the events in Andijan it has been completely impossible for journalists and human rights activists to work in Uzbekistan ,” Tulkin Karaev, a human rights activist and journalist from Karshi in southern Uzbekistan , told Forum 18 on 29 September in Bishkek. “Almost all of them have either already left Uzbekistan or are getting ready to leave the country.”

Meanwhile, the repression of believers in Uzbekistan continues. Local Council of Churches Baptists – who refuse on principle to register with the state authorities in post-Soviet countries – told Forum 18 on 23 September that the previous day a group of 16 Baptists from Tashkent , Karshi [Qarshi] and Mubarek decided to hold an evangelistic meeting in the town of Kagan near the western town of Bukhara [Bukhoro]. “After prayers, they had just sung a few hymns when divisional police inspector R. Sobirov and an officer M. Alanazarov arrived and banned them from continuing the meeting,” the Baptists reported. They put all the Baptists in cars and took them to the town police station. There Alanazarov and an official from the criminal investigation department A. Babaev took the passports from those detained and interrogated them “without following any of the proper procedures”. The Baptists complain they also behaved very rudely…[Go To Full Story]