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ICC Note: A pastor is being charged falsely of treason in order to put him in prison for teaching about Christ.

Threat of Protestant Pastor’s Arrest

6/21/2006 Uzbekistan (Forum 18) A Protestant pastor from Andijan [Andijon] in eastern Uzbekistan, Dmitry Shestakov, faces between ten and twenty years in prison if found guilty of treason charges apparently lodged against him by the Andijan regional prosecutor’s office. Shestakov – who has gone into hiding for fear of arrest – said that prosecutors have not given him the charge-sheet in writing. “So it’s unclear exactly which article I’m to be prosecuted under,” he said from his place of hiding on 20 June. “I learned that they launched a case against me under Article 157 for treason, but I’ve just found out today that a new decision was taken today to charge me under Article 156.” This article punishes “inciting ethnic, racial or religious hatred” with imprisonment of up to five years. “The one thing I can say with certainty is that the threat of arrest is very real.”

Shestakov, who is 37 years old and is known as David, is pastor of the registered Full Gospel church in Andijan. His supporters insist he has committed no crime. His only guilt is that was engaged in preaching Christianity.

Protestants said that at first the prosecutor’s office intended to launch a case against Shestakov under Article 216-2 of the Criminal Code, which punishes “violation of the law on religious organizations” with imprisonment of up to three years, but then was ordered by the National Security Service secret police to charge Shestakov with the far more serious offence of treason. After investigator Kamolitdin Zulfiev lodged a case against him under Article 157 of the Criminal Code, Shestakov was forced to go into hiding to evade arrest.

Shestakov has already faced police and secret police raids on his church. During one search, 11 videotapes, two audiotapes, seven CDs and a Christian book in Uzbek which recounts how ten Muslims adopted Christianity were seized. “The secret police was particularly angered that Shestakov was preaching among ethnic Uzbeks,” one Protestant said. “It seems they are preparing to make Shestakov’s trial a warning to others.”

Shestakov’s case is unique in the persecution of religious minorities in Uzbekistan ‘s recent history. When the authorities wish to punish religious believers for their activity they generally prosecute them under two articles of the Code of Administrative Offences: Article 240, which punishes “violation of the law on religious organizations”, or Article 241, which punishes “violation of the procedure for teaching religion”. The maximum penalty under these articles is 15 days’ imprisonment, though usually religious believers are fined instead of being sent to prison. Those already punished under either of these articles can be punished for a repeat offence under Article 216-2 of the Criminal Code, which punishes “violating the law on religious organizations” with imprisonment of up to three years, though courts have so far not handed down the full punishment to members of religious minorities, generally confining punishments to a fine or imprisonment of up to 15 days.

For Full Story Forum 18