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UZBEKISTAN: Another jailing, large fines for meeting upheld, more confiscations

Religious freedoms in Uzbekistan are routinely violated, and even state-registered religious groups are not free from government harassment. A Baptist of a registered church was recently fined and jailed for three days for putting up posters with Bible verses on them, and his posters and several of his biblical materials confiscated. Also earlier this month, nine Baptists received substantial fines merely for meeting for a meal on Palm Sunday. A local newspaper even listed the Baptists by name, condemning their “illegal missionary activity” and praising the “vigilance” of the mahalla, local committees whose informing allows the Uzbek government to harass Christians and other religious minorities.

By Mushfig Bayram

7/24/2014 Uzbekistan (Forum 18) – Uzbekistan continues to impose penalties on people whose only “offence” is to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief, using short-term jail terms, fines, confiscation and destruction of religious literature and other material, raids on and searches of private homes, intrusive state questioning and surveillance of people, and confiscations of private property.

Igor Kulyada, a member of an officially registered Baptist Church in the capital Tashkent, was jailed for three days from 3 to 6 July, Baptists who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 News Service on 22 July. He was stopped… while putting up posters with verses from the Bible. On 3 July Judge Nilufar Dadabayeva of Uchtepe District Court imposed three days detention [on] him…

In the verdict, which Forum 18 has seen, she also ordered that Kulyada be fined 43,245 Soms (about… 19 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate) and that one memory stick, one CD disk with Christian materials, and 24 leaflets with Bible verses confiscated from Kulyada be destroyed.

On 1 July Judge B. Boboyev In the eastern Syrdarya Region’s regional Criminal Court upheld large fines imposed on local Baptists, a person who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 22 July. The fines had followed a raid on meeting for worship and a meal of a local Baptist Church on the evening of 13 April, Palm Sunday. The congregation is one of many that does not have state registration but which belongs to the state-registered Baptist Union…

The appeal verdict, a copy of which Forum 18 has seen, upheld the fines imposed… [on] nine Baptists for the “offence” of meeting together:

– Andrey Shevchenko, Konstantin Malchikovski, Sergei Kozin and Sergei Yermakov were each fined 50 times the minimum monthly salary or 4,805,250 Soms (about… 2,100 US Dollars)…

– Oleg Buzakov, Viktor Krylov, Stanislav Shegai, and Aleksandr Kolomeytsev were each fined 20 times the minimum monthly salary or 1,922,100 Soms each (about… 840 US Dollars)…

– and Nadezhda Matrosova was fined 10 times the minimum monthly wage, or 961,050 Soms (about… 400 US Dollars)…

The appeal verdict notes that the April raid was carried out by Syrdarya Police’s Criminal Investigation and Struggle against Organised Crime Divisions who found that Shevchenko, Malchikovski, Kozin and Yermakov “illegally taught religion” to “15 adults and between 10 and 15 children.” Shevchenko told the Court that “no one was teaching religion” but they “only gathered to eat pilaf together and celebrate Jesus Christ.” Police had [earlier] told Forum 18 that they were acting on an “instruction from above…”

The nine Baptists and Shevchenko in particular were also attacked by the local newspaper “Syrdarya.” An author under the name R. Islomov wrote an article published on 12 July with the title “Mahalla community vigilance.” The names of all nine [Baptists] were given, and Shevchenko’s alleged “illegal missionary activity” was attacked. The author claimed that the raid followed “written complaints by a group of active members of the mahalla” and ended with the injunction “Citizens, be watchful!”

Mahalla committees [local residential administrations] are a key part of the state’s apparatus of repression… Powers recently formally given to mahalla committees “legalises unofficial informers” a legal expert from Tashkent has noted to Forum 18…

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