Christians face fines and abuse in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan's authorities continue to punish peaceful religious believers with fines, physical abuse and court-ordered destruction of religious literature.
Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south. Prior to 1991, it was part of the Soviet Union.
According to a story by Forum 18's Mushfig Bayram, police in eastern Fergana Region raided the home of a Protestant couple in late July and are preparing an administrative case against them.
The police inspector who led the raid told Forum 18 that police found and confiscated "banned" religious literature. Asked what literature found in their home was banned, he identified the Bible and the New Testament.
Also in July, courts in the capital of Tashkent and eastern Syrdarya Region have handed down fines of up to one hundred times the minimum monthly wage to ten Protestants to punish them for unregistered activity.
In both cases, Forum 18 said, the courts ordered that confiscated Christian literature - including Bibles and New Testaments - be destroyed. Another court in central Samarkand Region fined a member of an officially registered Baptist Church for "illegal" religious teaching.
Court officials in Fergana and Syrdarya Regions declined to discuss the two cases with Forum 18, while in the Tashkent case the Assistant to the Judge tried to explain away their decision.
Unwilling to talk
Also unwilling to talk to Forum 18 were officials of the state Religious Affairs Committee in Tashkent, whose responsibility is to assist the country's religious communities to fulfil their religious needs and regulate relations between them and the State.
Forum 18 tried to find out from Committee officials why peaceful religious activity continues to be punished, whether the Bible and New Testament are banned or cannot be stored in private homes, and why Bibles and New Testaments - among other religious literature - are ordered to be destroyed.
The Assistant to Committee Chair Artyk Yusupov (who did not give his name) told Forum 18 that Yusupov was busy in a meeting. Zulhaydar Sultanov, Head of the Committee's International Relations Department, declined to comment, telling Forum 18, "I am no expert in those matters, and you called the wrong department."
The official who answered the phone for Sobitjon Sharipov, Head of the Expert Analysis Department, (who did not give his name) said that Sharipov was not available and he could not answer questions over the phone.
"Please, come to our office, and we will give you information," he said. When Forum 18 continued asking questions, he terminated the conversation.
Forum 18 said religious literature in Uzbekistan of all faiths remains under tight government censorship. Courts frequently order that religious material confiscated during raids - including Bibles - be destroyed
Assault during home raid
Police who raided a Protestant family home in Fergana physically abused the husband and confiscated Christian literature, a local Protestant speaking on condition of anonymity told Forum 18.
On the evening of July 23, 10 officers - three in police uniform and the rest in plain clothes -raided the home of a married couple, Muradiljon Umurzakov and Dilorom Mamasidikova, who were entertaining a friend, Ravshan Muminov.
Forum 18 said the raid was led by Fergana City's Police Inspector Dilshod Ataugliyev from the Crime Prevention Unit, but other officers are believed to have been from the local National Security Service (NSS) Secret Police.
When Umurzakov asked the officials on what basis they "intruded and violated their privacy, and asked them to show their identification documents,"the police officers "twisted his arms, and threatened that they could continue physically to assault him," the Protestant told Forum 18.
He continued, "The officers also threatened that they could open a criminal case against him."
As a result of the shock, Umurzakov developed high blood pressure and an ambulance was called.
Unlawful search and confiscation
The source also told Forum 18 that while the doctors were examining Umurzakov, the officers "without the hosts' permission" unlocked his son's room in the house. The son is currently working in Russia. The officials "without witnesses" confiscated from the son's room a Bible, an Uzbek New Testament, a Proverbs of Solomon in Uzbek and a Koran in Russian.
All of these have been "authorised" by the Religious Affairs Committee to be imported into and sold in Uzbekistan, the Protestant said.
"We found out later that - in order to cover up their unlawful acts - the Police took an official letter from Akhat Akhmedaliyev, the chair of the local mahalla (residential district), saying that Umurzakov and his family were involved in illegal missionary activity among local Muslims," the Protestant also told Forum 18.
Forum 18 said that Mahalla committees, the lowest level of administration in Uzbekistan, are used by the authorities as a key instrument in their attempts to control society, including by trying to prevent religious activity.
Police are preparing to open a case against the couple and Muminov under sections of the Administrative Code.
Forum 18 said police told Umurzakov that the confiscated books will be sent to the Religious Affairs Committee for "expert analysis," after which a case will be opened against the three.
Are the Bible and Injil banned?
Police Inspector Ataugliyev defended the raid which he had led.
"We knew he (Umurzakov)stored banned religious literature in his home," he told Forum 18. The inspector declined to tell Forum 18 how the police knew this.
Asked what literature found in Umurzakov's home the police considered banned, Forum 18 said Ataugliyev said, "The Bible, Injil (Uzbek New Testament), and other books."
Asked whether the Bible and New Testament are banned in Uzbekistan, Forum 18 reported he refused to say anything other than, "The case is under investigation at the moment."
Forum 18 said he refused to talk further, and when asked whether he and his colleagues physically abused Umurzakov, he terminated the conversation.
Fined for "illegal" teaching of religion
Forum 18 said a member of an officially registered Baptist Church has been fined in central Samarkand Region for an alleged violation of the procedure for teaching religious doctrines).
Forum 18 said on August 11, Judge Aziz Safarov of Nurabad District Criminal Court fined Shoira Allayarova, member of Nurabad Baptist Church, 57,200 Soms (or 33 US Dollars at the "inflated" official exchange rate), one month's minimum wage (the presidentially-decreed official minimum monthly wage rose to 57,200 Soms on Aug. 1).
The court decision - viewed by Forum 18 - says that Allayarova "illegally" taught religion to Zamira Yarkulova, a resident of the village of Jom in Nurabad District.
However, Forum 18 reported, local Baptists, who asked not to be named, told the news organization that they believe that the authorities specifically targeted Allayarova, who has hearing deficiency, and was born to parents who cannot hear or talk.
"The authorities punished her because she was also giving material help to Zamina," they told Forum 18.
Reached on Aug. 25, Judge Safarov took down Forum 18's name. But when asked why he fined Allayarova, and whether it is illegal in Uzbekistan for individuals to share their beliefs with others, he hung the phone up.