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Forum18 – The embattled Emmanuel Full Gospel Protestant Church in Nukus, capital of the north-western autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan [Qoraqalpoghiston], has failed to overturn the court-imposed ban on its activity, Protestant sources have told Forum 18 News Service from Tashkent . On 9 November, Uzbekistan ‘s Supreme Court ruled to leave unchanged the ban imposed by the Karakalpakstan Justice Ministry and previous court decisions. Against international human rights standards, Uzbekistan bans all unregistered religious activity.

“The court took no account of the church’s views and the verdict means only one thing: it thinks the Church doesn’t exist.” one Protestant involved in the case told Forum 18 from Tashkent on 9 November. “This means the judicial system has again – on the usual basis – committed the crudest violation, disregarding the arguments of the church’s lawyer.”

The Emmanuel Church was the last legal Protestant Church in north-west Uzbekistan , and has faced an intense campaign by the authorities to close it down (see eg. F18News 11 July http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=602 and 16 September 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=653). The authorities have long been conducting an anti-Christian campaign (see F18News 2 June 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=575).

However, the church is continuing its battle to be allowed to function legally, and intends to present its case to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Uzbek government’s human rights centre, the general prosecutor’s office and even the National Security Service secret police.

Begzot Kadyrov, chief specialist at the government’s Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18 he had not seen the court documents so was unable to comment on the case. “I don’t know why the church is unable to exist,” he told Forum 18 from Tashkent on 10 November. “It was decided in Karakalpakstan – it’s not our decision.” He said that if the church gives him the documents he will study them. “Only then might I be able to do something.”

While admitting that difficulties exist for believers of all faiths in Uzbekistan , he claimed such problems are being resolved, though he gave no evidence for this. “There are no problems that can’t be resolved,” he told Forum 18, “it’s just a question of time.” Asked why official obstructions to free religious practice have gone on for many years he responded: “They can’t be solved in a day.”

Emmanuel Church members complain that the court reached its decision despite the fact that the church presented once again evidence refuting all the allegations that led to its enforced liquidation.

Meanwhile, the Fores Full Gospel Congregation in the Bakhor mahalla (local district) of Tashkent ‘s Mirobad district – which used to meet in premises provided by a church member – has been banned from meeting since the end of October. The ban reportedly came from the Mirobad district head of administration, Aves Turaev. “Every day at some time or other the local policeman visits the church building,” one church member told Forum 18 on 9 November. “Church members are tired and angry. They can’t reconcile themselves to the illegal ban on practising their religious rights.”

On 23 October the deputy head of the local police department for fighting terrorism and two local police officers arrived during the Sunday service and warned that the church should no longer meet. They warned of “unpleasantness to come” if the church failed to stop holding services. Church members say that during the raid, the two local policemen looked at the ground in embarrassment while the other warned the church of serious consequences if it continued to meet, informing the church that the administration chief had issued the orders. “While all this was going on, the congregation was extremely calm, people were praying and even the children were quiet.”…[Go To Full Story]