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UZBEKISTAN: “Legally” preventing human rights

Uzbekistan has long denied religious liberty by prohibiting any religious activity outside of state permission. Earlier this year, police raided the private homes of several Christians, confiscating Bibles, legally-purchased Christian books, and even cell phones allegedly containing biblical text. The believers were charged for unregistered religious meetings and “illegal” storage of religious literature, and subjected to heavy fines. Such cases are already routine occurrences, but may become even more common when formalized by a new law in mid-August.

By Mushfig Bayram

7/4/2014 Uzbekistan (Forum 18) – Uzbekistan continues to punish people for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Such cases, which will from 15 August be formally… subject to the Prevention Law, are highly likely to continue.

In Samarkand [Samarqand] on 24 April at 1.30 pm, ten officials from the NSS secret police and the ordinary police – including from the police Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism Department – guided by a local police officer named Aziz (last name not known) broke into Galina Sirotina’s private home. She was meeting with fellow members of the city’s registered Presbyterian Church, local Christians who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 25 June.

The officials confiscated personal Bibles, New Testaments and mobiles phones from Sirotina, Ella Tsoy, as well as Fatima and Fiala Kim. They claimed that they were confiscating the phones as “the Bible’s text was recorded on the phones…”

The police who raided Sirotina’s home then went to the Kims’ home and confiscated their remaining six Russian-language Christian books and a song book, all of which were legally bought from the Bible Society in the capital Tashkent. Even such legally-[ purchased] books are routinely confiscated during police raids…

Fatima Kim and Galina Sirotina were each fined 50 times the minimum monthly salary or 4,805,250 Soms (about …2,100 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate)… Fiala Kim, Lyubov Fomina, Yelena Pavlenko and Tsoy were all fined 20 times the minimum monthly salary or 1,922,100 Soms each (about… 840 US Dollars) under Article 184-2.

Judge [Bahodyr] Alikulov also ordered that the confiscated Bibles, New Testaments, Christian books, and mobile phones be permanently confiscated. Courts routinely order that confiscated Muslim, Christian, Jehovah’s Witness or other religious materials be destroyed…

Police officer Aziz (he refused to give his last name) who guided the officials on the raid defended the fines and confiscations. “Religious believers are allowed to gather and talk about their religion only in their communities’ legally-registered addresses, but not outside those buildings or in private homes”, he told Forum 18 on 1 July.

“They were punished based on our law,” officer Aziz stated. Asked why police broke into a meeting and confiscated legal books and mobile phones, he claimed that “we as law-enforcement agencies have the right to check up on anyone and any activity, and the law says they can only have a religious meeting inside their registered building”.

Similarly, in Tashkent Region Almalyk City Criminal Court in June fined Dmitry Chaplin and one other member of the Almalyk Full Gospel Protestant Church 100 times the minimum monthly salary or 9,610,500 Soms (about… 4,200 US Dollars) and 80 times the minimum monthly salary or 7,688,400 Soms (about… 3,360 US Dollars) respectively. Both were fined for leading a meeting for worship without state permission in a private home, a local Christian who asked to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 26 June.

Officials during the raid and in court insisted that “no meetings can be held in private homes”, and that “each household can have only one Bible.”

Police and court officials refused to discuss this case with Forum 18.

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