UZBEKISTAN: Church piano, pulpit, carpet, refrigerator seized
Officials in Uzbekistan confiscated both personal and church-owned property in response to unpaid fines. Svetlana Andreychenko, hosted an unregistered house church in her home and was therefore fined. She refused to pay them because, ” she does not think she is guilty of a violation.” When asked why church belongings, including a carpet, refrigerator and pulpit, were confiscated for a personal fine, the police remained silent.
By Mushfig Bayram
9/18/2013 Uzbekistan (Forum 18)- After police seized church property and religious literature in April and June from a Baptist congregation’s meeting place in the city of Karshi [Qarshi] in Uzbekistan’s southern Kashkadarya Region, court bailiffs arrived in late July. They seized more church property – including its piano and benches – and private property to meet unpaid fines imposed on the home owner because the congregation chooses to meet without the compulsory state registration. Local Baptists, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, complained to Forum 18 News Service that all the confiscations cost them the equivalent of “several thousand US Dollars”.
The Karshi Church belongs to the Baptist Council of Churches, whose congregations refuse on principle to register with the state, fearing that it will lead to state interference in their religious affairs.
Uzbekistan’s religious communities – whether registered or not – and individuals have long faced insecurity of ownership over their property. Officials regularly seize religious literature, computers, musical instruments and other items (see Forum 18’s Uzbekistan religious freedom surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).
In Karshi, Court Bailiffs arrived on 30 July at the home of Svetlana Andreychenko, member of a local Baptist Church, to seize whatever property they could find, church members complained to Forum 18 from Karshi. Confiscated were the Church’s piano, pulpit, carpet, refrigerator and seventeen benches, which were in a hall of the house. Also confiscated was the Andreychenko family’s private property, including their refrigerator, electric oven, sewing machine and DVD player with speakers.
Other Church property, including money and religious literature, had earlier been confiscated from Andreychenko’s home during police raids in April and twice in June (see F18News 11 July 2013http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1857).
Why was Church property seized?
On 30 July, Karshi Court Bailiff Akhtam Yuldashev and another Bailiff came to Andreychenko’s home, where the community’s worship meetings are held. The bailiffs demanded that she pay the fine given to her in 2012, church members complained to Forum 18.
Andreychenko had been fined 377,520 Soms (then worth 1,168 Norwegian Kroner, 155 Euros, or 200 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate) by Karshi Criminal Court in February 2012. Nine other local Baptists were also fined. The Judge also ordered that 23 Christian magazines confiscated from the Baptists be destroyed (see F18News 9 May 2012 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1699). All 10 were convicted under Administrative Code Article 240 Part 1 and Article 241.
Article 240 (“Violation of the Religion Law”) Part 1 bans: “Carrying out of unauthorised religious activity, evasion by leaders of religious organisations of registration of the charter of the organisation, the organisation and conduct of worship by religious ministers and of special children’s and youth meetings, as well as vocational, literature and other study groups not relating to worship”. Punishments range from fines of 50 to 100 times the minimum monthly salary to administrative arrest for up to 15 days.
Article 241 bans: “Teaching religious beliefs without specialised religious education and without permission from the central organ of a [registered] religious organisation, as well as teaching religious beliefs privately”. Punishments range from fines of 5 to 10 times the minimum monthly salary, or administrative arrest for up to 15 days. Punishments for breaking Article 241 range from fines of 5 to 10 times the minimum monthly salary, or administrative arrest for up to 15 days.
When Andreychenko explained that “she had not and will not pay the fine since she does not think she is guilty of a violation,” the bailiffs made several calls to the local Police and Bailiffs administration. A local police officer and another bailiff soon arrived.
The officials then told Andreychenko that since she was refusing to pay the fine, “we must enter the home and make an inventory of the property subject to confiscation for the amount of the fine”. They then entered the hall in the house where worship meetings are held.
When the officials “poured out their questions on why the benches are here, what is taught here, and so on”. Andreychenko refused to answer. She told them this property is not her private property, church members told Forum 18. Disregarding the fact that the property in the hall was the Church’s, the officials took away the Church items, the Baptists complained.
“Take everything from the home”
Then Bailiff Yuldashev summoned five more officials to Andreychenko’s home, and after declaring that she had been given another fine in 2013, “commanded: take away everything from the home!”
On 29 May, Judge Otabek Mustafayev of Karshi Criminal Court had fined Andreychenko 50 times the minimum monthly salary, or 3,979,500 Soms (11,500 Norwegian Kroner, 1,500 Euros or 1,900 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate) for violating Article 240, Part 1 and 241 of the Code of Administrative Offences (see F18News 11 July 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1857).
When Andreychenko “refused to allow the officials in the other rooms, since they did not show any documents authorising the confiscation, they entered through the windows,” Baptists complained. They then took out the family’s property.
Baptists told Forum 18 that they will file complaints and “are expecting the return of all their property.” They also said that they are asking the authorities to “stop persecuting us Baptists and not interfere in our worship services.”