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ICC Note: Uzbekistan is trying harder to crack down on religious activity by proposing a jail sentence of 3 to 8 years for anyone who shares their beliefs with others.

Massive Fines and Jail Proposed For Sharing Beliefs

By Igor Rotar, Forum 18 News Service

Uzbekistan is proposing to impose massive fines and to imprison leaders of religious communities, if members of those communities share their beliefs with others. The proposals were made at a 4 August meeting of religious leaders, called by the state Religious Affairs Committee in the capital Tashkent . Those attending the meeting were representatives of state-registered religious organizations, including the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Uzbekistan , the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Central Asia, the Catholic Church in Tashkent , the Jewish community, the Baptist Union and the Full Gospel Church , a Pentecostal church. All unregistered religious activity is – against international human rights standards – illegal in Uzbekistan .

The state Religious Affairs Committee told the religious leaders that they and their clergy must stop their members and those who regularly attend places of worship from sharing their beliefs with anyone outside places of worship. If anyone does share their beliefs outside places of worship, it is proposed that they will be fined between 200 and 600 times the minimum monthly salary. One estimate from within Uzbekistan (detailed accurate economic information is closely guarded by the state) is that the minimum monthly salary is about 12 Uzbek Soms (62 Norwegian Kroner, 8 Euros, or 10 US Dollars).

If anyone shares their beliefs outside a place of worship again, after being fined, the Religious Affairs Committee proposes that they – and the leader of their religious community – will be jailed for between three and eight years.

Leaders of religious communities are fearful of openly opposing the proposals, because of the great danger of reprisals against their communities by the authorities. There is currently a crackdown on religious believers of many faiths taking place. Despite repeated attempts by Forum 18 to question the Religious Affairs Committee about the proposals, it has refused to discuss them. Shoazim Minovarov, who used to be Chairman of the Committee, has been given promotion and is now Religious Affairs Adviser to Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

The proposals to fine and jail people for the sharing of beliefs outside places of worship is in direct opposition to Article 18 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which Uzbekistan is committed to through its UN membership – and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 18 states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” It is further evidence of Tashkent ‘s commitment to breaking human rights commitments it has freely acceded to, including its commitments as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

In a further sign of an increased harshening of policy, yet another religious believer has been deported from Uzbekistan . A Baptist who is a Russian citizen, Ivan Bychkov, was deported. The deportation was carried out by officials from the Visa and Registration Department of the Interior Ministry in the Mirzo-Ulugbek district of Tashkent. Bychkov was born and brought up in Tashkent , where his family still lives. He led a youth group at the Bethany Baptist Church , which is part of the Council of Churches Baptists who refuses on principle to register with the authorities in post-Soviet countries.

“Bychkov has not been given a reason for his deportation, but his only “crime” was that of actively preaching the Gospel,” a Tashkent Protestant, who preferred not to be named. His passport was stamped with the words “Deported from Uzbekistan “.