A Christian couple in Uzbekistan had their house raided while they were out and the children were home with a babysitter. Their Christian literature was confiscated. Four days after the raid the couple and their babysitter, who they claim is not even a believer, were summoned to court. The Judge handed them “unbelievably high fines” 100 times the minimum salary, without a hearing.
By Mushfig Bayram
4/11/2013 Uzbekistan (Forum18)- Homes of Protestant Christians from various Churches across Uzbekistan were raided in February and March, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In at least two cases, courts subsequently handed down huge fines. After a late March raid and fine on a Protestant couple in the capital Tashkent, a Protestant who knows them complained that the raiding authorities produced no warrants, no trial was held and that the fines given were “unbelievably high”. “The authorities know where believers live and know that they have Christian literature in their homes,” the Protestant – who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals – told Forum 18. “By raiding their homes the authorities harass believers and are trying to wear them down by the fines.”
Religious believers’ homes are also known to have been raided in Samarkand in central Uzbekistan and in Nukus, capital of the north-western autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan. Courts in both cities fined the believers and confiscated their Christian literature and other materials.
On 18 March, authorities in the capital Tashkent raided the temporary residence of Ashraf and Nargisa Ashurov, a local Protestant husband and wife. The couple were out, but their children and a babysitter were present in their rented flat. Major Zahid Mukimov, local Police officer, accompanied by seven other officials in plain-clothes, searched their home and confiscated Christian materials. The flat and confiscated materials belong to a foreign Christian, who is away from Uzbekistan at the moment, the Protestant who knows the couple told Forum 18 on 2 April. The Ashurovs “temporarily lived in that flat.”
Asked on 9 April why the Police conducted a search in the Ashurovs’ residence, Major Mukimov insisted to Forum 18: “We found banned religious books in their home.” Asked which of theChristian books or other materials found in the residence were banned, he could not say.
Asked whether they had a search warrant or what the grounds for the search were, Mukimov referred Forum 18 to the Criminal Investigation Division of the Police. “It was their operation,” he insisted. “I needed to be there as the local Police officer.” Asked why the Criminal Police conducted an operation targeting the couple, he did not answer. Then he put the phone down.
Aziz Isakhanov, Deputy Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division, referred Forum 18 on 10 April to Adyl (he did not give a last name), Chief of the Anti-Terrorism Division. “It was their officers who conducted the operation,” he declared.
Reached the same day, Officer Adyl took down Forum 18’s name. But when asked the reasons of the raid and confiscations, he said that he could not hear well, though Forum 18’s end of the line was clear. He then put the phone down. Subsequent calls to him went unanswered.
Four days after the raid, on 22 March, the couple and their babysitter were summoned to Judge Ahad Ulmasov of Tashkent’s Uchteppa District Criminal Court. Without a hearing, he handed each of the three a fine of 100 minimum salaries or 7,959,000 Soms (22,200 Norwegian Kroner, 3,000 Euros or 3,900 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate).
He had found them guilty under Administrative Code Articles 201, Part 1 (violation of the procedure for conducting meetings), Article 240 (violation of the Religion Law) and Article 184-2 (illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious materials), according to Judge Ulmasov’s decision, a copy of which Forum 18 has seen.
The babysitter merely happened to be in their residence during the raid, the Tashkent Protestant who knows the couple complained to Forum 18. “The babysitter was there only to take care of the children while the parents were gone, and she is not even a believer.”
However, in a rare action for Uzbekistan’s courts, without explanation in his decision, Judge Ulmasov ordered the return to the Ashurovs of 85 Christian books, 141 DVD discs, a computer hard disk and other materials, which were confiscated by the authorities during the 18 March raid.