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Forum18 – Mahmud Karabaev, pastor of the Full Gospel Pentecostal church in the town of Jizak [Jizzakh], 200 kilometres (125 miles) south-west of the capital Tashkent , faces up to three years in prison if convicted of “participation in the activity of an illegal religious organisation”. Latif Jalov, a senior official of Jizak prosecutors’ office, informed the pastor that a criminal case has been launched against him on the basis of article 216 (part 1) of the Criminal Code, the church’s lawyer Iskander Najafov told Forum 18 from Tashkent on 14 November. It remains unclear if and when Karabaev will face trial.

However, reached by Forum 18 on 17 November, Jalov refused categorically to confirm or deny that a case has been launched against Karabaev. “There is such a thing as a secret investigation,” he told Forum 18. “Questions regarding this can be submitted in written form.”

After the authorities brutally crushed an uprising in Andijan [Andijon] in the eastern Fergana [Farghona] Valley, killing hundreds of protestors, the state began a nationwide crackdown on all independent political, social and religious activity (see F18News 23 May and 15 June 2005 Six months after the uprising, Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses have insisted to Forum 18 that conditions for their communities are worsening.

The prosecution has been brought against Karabaev because of an informal meal he had with church members in his house on 25 October, which was raided by about 10 officers of the National Security Service (NSS) secret police, police and the prosecutors’ office. They sealed the premises and instructed those present to make written statements explaining why they were there (see F18News 27 October 2005

Uzbek laws forbid the activity of religious communities not registered by the Ministry of Justice (in defiance of the country’s international human rights commitments), and the Jizak community does not have registration. However Najafov told Forum 18 that the community had merely gathered to drink tea together. “The gathering in Jizak was not a religious meeting. It appears that believers are no longer permitted to visit each others’ houses,” he told Forum 18.

Najafov believes the situation for Christians in Uzbekistan has worsened since the Andijan events. “Instead of catching terrorists the authorities are persecuting Christians,” he complained to Forum 18. He remains convinced that an anti-Christian campaign is being conducted (see F18News 27 October 2005

The authorities have also stopped the last internal formal legal possibility of appealing against the banning of all Protestant activity in the north-west of Uzbekistan, and have barred the Full Gospel congregation in Tashkent’s Mirobad district from meeting (see 11 November 2005…[Go To Full Story]