By Guest Nicole
Urgench Police Officer Ravshan Sobirov who tortured Jehovah's Witness Anvar Tajiyev and issued death threats in October 2017 denied this to Forum 18. Tajiyev lost hearing in one ear and still suffers headaches. His many complaints to the President, national and local Prosecutor's Offices have led to no prosecutions.
In a test of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's newly-professed intent to ban torture and punish the perpetrators, Jehovah's Witness Anvar Tajiyev has been seeking redress since October 2017 for torture inflicted on him by police in Urgench in Khorezm Region.
More than six months after the police torture, Tajiyev still suffers headaches and has lost hearing in one ear.
But his complaints to many state agencies – including to the President – have ended back with Urgench City Prosecutor's Office, which wrote on 3 March: "We found that the Police Officers' actions were not unlawful."
"The authorities refuse to punish Urgench City Police and Officer Ravshan Sobirov responsible for the torture," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 on 27 April.
Officer Sobirov denied to Forum 18 that he was involved in Tajiyev's case. "I do not know that person," he claimed (see below).
Officials of the national, regional and city Prosecutor's Offices, the Presidential Administration, and the state-sponsored National Human Rights Centre all refused to tell Forum 18 why the officer who tortured Tajiyev has not been brought to justice and why he has been given no compensation. Uzbekistan has an international obligation to arrest and prosecute those suspected of torture (see below).
Urgench Police also threatened the lives of Tajiyev, his family and fellow believers when it questioned him on 10 October 2017 about his religious activity. They then forced him to sign a statement that they had not tortured him (see below).
Relatives were too afraid to take Tajiyev to a hospital in Urgench. In the capital Tashkent, one state hospital and a private clinic refused to treat him, apparently because police had caused the injuries. Only another state hospital was prepared to issue a diagnosis (see below).
Jehovah's Witnesses are considering filing an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, they told Forum 18.
Human rights defenders remain sceptical about government moves to ban and punish torture, one telling news agency centre1.com "many still keep silent about their torture because the law-enforcement agencies threaten them and their family members, telling them that their complaints will only worsen the situation" (see below).
Torture as punishment for registration application?
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the police tortured Tajiyev "because our local community in Urgench between January and March 2017 had unsuccessfully asked for state registration".
Back in 2006, after officials rejected the registration application of the Jehovah's Witness community in Kagan, police threatened ten members with death and a court later fined them (see F18News 9 January 2008 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1068).
Exercising freedom of religion or belief without local state registration is illegal and punishable (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).
Unauthorised police raid
Trouble for Tajiyev began on 3 October 2017, when Urgench City Police officers carried out an "unlawful search" in his flat in Urgench without showing a warrant, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. When the police raided his home, Tajiyev was away in Tashkent. Present during the raid were Rinat Sultanov, Tajiyev's fellow believer and tenant of the same flat, and Murat Ayliyev, another local Jehovah's Witness.
The raiding officers confiscated Tajiyev's tablet device and notebook with personal notes on it. Officers forced Sultanov to tell them the password to open the tablet device, Jehovah's Witnesses complained.
"Police later returned the tablet to Tajiyev, but did not inform him whether or not a case was opened against him," Jehovah's Witnesses added.
"The General Prosecutor's Office wrote to us that the police terminated the administrative case against Tajiyev since no illegal religious materials were found on his tablet device," Muradova of the National Centre for Human Rights, told Forum 18 on 25 April 2018.
Officer tortures Tajiyev, threatens his, his family's and fellow believers' lives
As soon as Tajiyev arrived back in Urgench from Tashkent on 10 October 2017, local Police Officer Senior Lieutenant Mamur Sobirov phoned him at 11.30 am, and summoned him to the Committee of his local mahalla (city district), Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.
Mahalla committees, theoretically independent but in practice under state control, are used to maintain controls over anyone trying to exercise freedom of religion and belief in their city district (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).
When Tajiyev arrived at the Mahalla Committee at 4.45 pm, four officers were present: Mamur Sobirov; Mukhammad Rakhimov and Shavkat Bekjanov from Urgench Police's Department for the Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism; and Officer Ravshan Sobirov.
"The officer gave his name as Ravshan Sobirov, but is possible that this is not his real name. He is the one who tortured Tajiyev," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "We believe he is an undercover secret police officer."
Officers of the then National Security Service secret police (renamed the State Security Service in March 2018) have often been involved in punishing individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).
While questioning him "Sobirov made powerful blows to Tajiyev's head and face during the whole process, which went on for nearly four hours until 10.30 pm," Jehovah's Witnesses complained. Sobirov "humiliated Tajiyev, his wife, and his female fellow-believers with swear words, and also issued threats, saying that we will destroy all of you."
During their interrogation, officers also named several female Jehovah's Witnesses, describing them to Tajiyev as "immoral women". In Central Asia, the authorities brand female members of religious organisations they do not like as "immoral women".
The authorities use threats to rape female members of religious communities they do not like to put psychological pressure on the leaders and members of such communities (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).
Asked about the case, duty officers at Urgench City Police (who did not give their names) referred Forum 18 on 23 April to Officer Ravshan Sobirov. He denied to Forum 18 that he was involved in Tajiyev's case. "I do not know that person," he claimed to Forum 18 on 23 April. "I did not question him."
Told that Jehovah's Witnesses complained about him to the authorities numerous times, and asked why he questioned and tortured Tajiyev, Sobirov repeated his previous answer. He did not wish to talk further to Forum 18.
"Officer Mukhammad Rakhimov along with other officers of our Department carried out their responsibility to investigate the case," Khamra Masimov, Chief of Urgench Police's Department for the Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism, told Forum 18 on 23 April. "But our officers did not violate the law."
Asked what role Officer Ravshan Sobirov played in the investigation, Masimov refused to answer. "I do not know you, and I cannot discuss the case with you over the phone." He then declined to talk further with Forum 18 and asked it to send questions in writing.
Rakhimov is the same officer, who in January harassed local Protestant Nargiza Khusainova on the street and tried to pressure her to become an informer for the police (see F18News 6 April 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2367).
Forced to sign police report denying torture
After four hours of interrogation and beating on 10 October 2017, officers "under threats of more severe injuries to his body", forced Tajiyev to sign the police report saying that he had no complaint against the Police, and that officers had not beaten or psychologically pressured him, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. Tajiyev "was afraid that the police officers could cause him physical or mental disabilities".
State emergency medical centre refuses medical examination
Tajiyev's relatives were afraid to take him to Urgench City Hospital because of the police. They instead took him to Tashkent the next day, 11 October 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. They brought him to the Republican (State) Centre of Emergency Medical Services in Tashkent. "When Ayliyev (Tajiyev's co-believer) told the medical workers that the injuries were made by the Police officers of Urgench City, they refused to examine Tajiyev."
Gulchohra Turayeva, medical worker on duty who answered the phone of the Republican Centre of Emergency Medical Services on 24 April, told Forum 18 that "by the Law we have to examine patients and only then inform the police if need be. We cannot refuse patients, particularly with serious injuries." Asked why then Tajiyev was refused medical examination in the Centre, she referred Forum 18 to the Centre's Administration.
Asylbek Khudayarov, General Director of the Emergency Centre, claimed to Forum 18 on 25 April that Tajiyev "wanted to be hospitalised, but we can only do diagnosis, which is why we refused services to him."
When Forum 18 asked why the Centre did not examine Tajiyev and whether the Police involvement in the case was the reason, Khudayarov did not answer. "Please, send your questions in writing," he said and declined to talk further to Forum 18.
Private clinic also refuses treatment
Relatives then contacted one of Tashkent's private clinics, Medical Diagnostics Services. But it too refused to examine Tajiyev.
Lola Kaharova, General Director of Medical Diagnostics Service, told Forum 18 on 24 April: "We as a private clinic do not usually refuse services to patients unless we do not have the exact specialists."
Asked why Tajiyev was refused diagnosis of his brain, Kaharova responded: "Maybe we did not have the specialists on that particular day." Asked whether this happened because of police involvement in Tajiyev's case and whether she could check their records for 11 October 2017, she told Forum 18 that Tajiyev "must write us a complaint".
Diagnosed with concussion of brain
Only after a search for available hospitals, the following day, 12 October 2017, Tashkent City Hospital No. 7 accepted Tajiyev. There he was diagnosed with closed cranium cerebral injury (concussion of the brain), Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.
Complaints and official responses
On 30 October 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses asked Urgench City Prosecutor's Office for a copy of the Prosecutor's approval of the police search of Tajiyev's home. On 10 November 2017, Prosecutor Umurbek Madrakhimov passed on the request to Urgench City Police. However, the Police did not reply.
On 15 November 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to President Mirziyoyev and the National Centre of Human Rights in Tashkent. The following day they filed a further online complaint through the presidential website.
On 25 November 2017, Urgench City Prosecutor's Office summoned Tajiyev, subjecting him to a four-hour interrogation. "During the questioning he was warned not to go on writing complaints but was promised that the authorities will punish Officer Sobirov."
On 28 November 2017, Akmal Saidov, Director of the National Centre for Human Rights, referred the Jehovah's Witness complaint to Khorezm Regional Prosecutor's Office.
On 13 December 2017, Oybek Shamuratov, Khorezm Region's Deputy Prosecutor, in response to the complaint to President Mirziyoyev, wrote to the Jehovah's Witnesses: "We found no unlawful actions carried out by Officer Mukhammad Rakhimov." Jehovah's Witnesses objected to Forum 18: "We did not complain against Officer Rakhimov but against Officer Sobirov."
On 16 December 2017, Urgench City Prosecutor's Office merely referred Jehovah's Witnesses to Prosecutor Shamuratov's 13 December response. The letter was signed again by Prosecutor Madrakhimov.
Seeing the inaction of the Regional authorities, Jehovah's Witnesses refiled their complaint on the presidential website in late December. They complained about the Regional authorities' unwillingness to investigate the torture properly and punish the responsible officials. They also drew the President's attention to the fact that "Tajiev was beaten not by Officer Rakhimov but by Officer Sobirov."
On 7 January 2018, Deputy Prosecutor of Khorezm Region, Shamuratov again responded that Officer "Rakhimov did not violate the Law". Jehovah's Witnesses pointed out to Forum 18 that again the Regional Prosecutor's Office indicated a "wrong name."
On 17 January, Jehovah's Witnesses again complained to the National Centre for Human Rights, which it referred to the General Prosecutor's Office. This in turn told the Centre on 29 January that it had referred the complaint to Khorezm Regional Prosecutor's Office.
On 28 February, Deputy Prosecutor of Khorezm Shamuratov told Jehovah's Witnesses: "We halted the investigation of the complaint, because there are no new circumstances of the case."
The last response Jehovah's Witnesses received was on 3 March from Urgench City Prosecutor's Office: "We found that the Police Officers' actions were not unlawful."
Will authorities implement anti-torture Acts?
Asked why the General Prosecutor's Office will not properly investigate Tajiyev's case in light of the Presidential anti-torture Decree and changes to the Criminal Code, Prosecutor Samir Rakhmanov of the General Prosecutor's Office did not respond. "No new cases of torture took place after the Decree, otherwise we would have investigated and published information on that," he claimed to Forum 18 on 26 April.
Asked why then despite so many complaints from Jehovah's Witnesses, including those made between December 2017 and March 2018, the authorities will not properly investigate Tajiyev's torture and punish the perpetrators, Rakhmanov referred Forum 18 to Prosecutor Vakhib Sharopov.
Forum 18 had already talked to Sharopov of the General Prosecutor's Office on 24 April on the torture of Tajiyev. Called again on 26 April, he told Forum 18: "I passed on your information to the appropriate Prosecutors, who are at the moment studying the case to prepare action. We will need at least 10 days for this."
Asked why the authorities will not register Jehovah's Witness communities across Uzbekistan, why police and other authorities keep pressuring and torturing their members, and why the authorities will not punish officials responsible for Tajiyev's torture, officials at the reception and press service of the Presidential Administration on 26 April referred Forum 18 to Shakhzod Islamov, who oversees religious issues, and Sardor Ibrahimkhojayev, who oversees legislative issues.
Both Islamov and Ibrahimkhojayev refused to respond to Forum 18's questions on 26 April. Ibrahimkhojayev referred Forum 18 to the Justice Ministry.
Asked the questions, Shakhrukh Nuraliyev, Press Secretary of the Justice Ministry, referred Forum 18 on 26 April to Akmal Khamdamov of the Ministry section overseeing religious organisations.
"I don't know why the President's Office referred you to us, because we are not an investigative organ," Khamdamov told Forum 18 on 26 April. Asked why the authorities will not register Jehovah's Witness communities across Uzbekistan, he was quick to answer, "They have registration in Uzbekistan."
Told that Jehovah's Witnesses are registered only in one town in Tashkent Region, Chirchik, while their other communities across Uzbekistan have been denied registration, and that it is illegal to meet for worship without registration, and asked what they should do, Khamdamov was silent. He then said, "I cannot say anything, I do not know why they referred you to us."
National Centre for Human Rights "not competent to investigate human rights violations"
Dilnoza Muradova, Assistant to Akmal Saidov, Chair of the state-sponsored National Centre for Human Rights in Tashkent, told Forum 18 on 24 April that it had sent an enquiry to the General Prosecutor's Office about Tajiyev's torture. However, the General Prosecutor's Office response did "not say anything about any the investigation of the police actions".
Told that Jehovah's Witnesses twice complained to her Human Rights Centre, and asked what steps it took – if any - to help Tajiyev, Muradova replied: "The Centre is not competent to investigate human rights violations – it's the duty and competence of the state organs, to which we always refer complaints."
Asked what the role of the Centre is, and how it can help victims whose rights were violated, Muradova responded: "We inform the authorities about the violations, and they inform us on the course of their investigation."
Asked why the authorities will not begin implementing the new anti-torture acts by punishing the police officers and compensating Tajiyev for damages he suffered, Muradova replied: "He needs to write to us and the authorities about it."
Told that Tajiyev already wrote numerous complaints to her Centre and other state agencies, Muradova was quick to reply, "We will now prepare another letter asking the General Prosecutor's Office to open a new investigation into the police actions."
Prosecutor's officials refuse to discuss torture
Prosecutor Timur Gofurov answered the phone on 23 April of Gulnoza Rakhimova, Chief of the General Prosecutor's Office Public Relations and Legal Information Section in Tashkent. Asked why the General Prosecutor's Office will not properly investigate Tajiyev's case and make Officer Sobirov who tortured Tajiyev and the other police officers responsible, Gofurov claimed to Forum 18 that Khorezm Regional Prosecutor's Office "investigated that case properly and replied to the complaints."
"If Jehovah's Witnesses are not satisfied, they can still file a new complaint," Gofurov added.
Urgench City Prosecutor's officials (who did not give their names) refused to discuss the case with Forum 18 between 23 and 24 April and told Forum 18 that Prosecutor Madrakhimov had been "transferred to Tashkent to the General Prosecutor's Office." They also refused to put Forum 18 through to any other officials.
Asked whether Prosecutor Madrakhimov was indeed transferred to the General Prosecutor's Office, Sharopov of the Prosecutor General, claimed to Forum 18 on 24 April: "I do not know, since there are so many departments and officials in the Office."
Asked about Tajiyev's case, Sharopov took down the details and promised Forum 18 that "We will do our best to properly investigate the case."
Khorezm Prosecutor's officials (who did not give their names) between 23 and 24 April refused to discuss the case with Forum 18 or put it through to Prosecutor Shamuratov or other officials.
Will new ban end "routine" torture?
At its most recent consideration of Uzbekistan's record, in October and November 2013, the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (CAT/C/UZB/CO/4) expressed its concern "about numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations that torture and ill-treatment are routinely used by law enforcement, investigative and prison officials, or at their instigation or with their consent, often to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings".
Uzbekistan told the UN Committee Against Torture in its report due in 2017, submitted on 16 January 2018 (CAT/C/UZB/5), that 29 state officials were convicted in 2015 for committing torture, 21 in 2016 and 8 in the first quarter of 2017. Sentences ranged from a fine to suspended sentences to prison terms. Thirteen state officials were sacked between January 2016 and June 2017 after criminal cases of torture were lodged against them.
However, the report notes that few complaints against "illegal actions" by police were upheld (only 23 of 438 in 2016 and 5 of 39 in January-March 2017).
The government's report claims that legislation has been tightened "to strengthen procedures for compensating the victims of crime, including torture".
On 30 November 2017, President Mirziyoyev signed a Decree on "supplementary measures for reinforcement of guarantees of rights and freedoms of citizens in judicial-investigative activity". This banned using evidence obtained by torture and other inhuman treatment, as well as making inadmissible the use of such evidence by the judiciary or other investigative organs.
Further amendments came in April 2018. On 4 April, President Mirziyoyev signed into law changes and new provisions in the Criminal Code criminalising torture, including psychological pressure, during investigation by Police and other law-enforcement agencies. The amendments came into force on 5 April on publication in the state-sponsored newspaper "Halq Suzi" (People's Tribune).
According to the new legal provisions, law-enforcement officers who are aware of torture and take no action will also be made responsible as accomplices. Punishments for torture include imprisonment of between 3 and 10 years.
However, human rights defenders are not optimistic about the changes. Yelena Urlayeva, a human rights defender from Tashkent, told centre1.com, an independent Uzbek news agency, on 11 April that "there are still many cases of torture by the law-enforcement agencies". The ban on torture initiated by President Mirziyoyev does "not work in reality, because only a few [officials] want to change," she added.
Tatyana Dovlatova, another local human rights defender, told the agency that "many still keep silent about their torture because the law-enforcement agencies threaten them and their family members, telling them that their complaints will only worsen the situation." (END)
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By Guest Nicole
Tales redadasÂ y Â bÃºsquedaÂ de literatura religiosa continÃºan. Los testigos de JehovÃ¡ le dijeron a Forum 18 que entre septiembre de 2016 y julio de 2017 habÃan sufrido 185 redadasÂ en sus reuniones de adoraciÃ³n y registros de hogares privados. Esto resultÃ³ en 155 condenas por ejercer la libertad de religiÃ³n y creencias, 148 multas (19 de ellasÂ entre 50 y 100 veces el salario mÃnimo mensual) y siete encarcelamientos de corto plazo. La policÃa torturÃ³ severamente a 15 testigos de JehovÃ¡ y asaltÃ³ sexualmente a mujeres. La tortura y la impunidad de los torturadores continÃºan, dirigidas contra musulmanes, protestantes, testigos de JehovÃ¡ y personas de otras religiones. Las mujeres son atacadas y, en otro caso de tortura, la policÃa le dijo a un testigo de JehovÃ¡ que las quejas no hacen ninguna diferencia ya que "quedaremos impunes" (ver F18News 12 de octubre de 2017
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A Muslim hairdresser and one of his regular customers with his family is being intensively investigated by Uzbekistan's Anti-Terrorism Police for sharing a Muslim book electronically. Several Protestants also have been fined – two illegally threatened - for keeping Christian material in their own homes.
Muslim Hairdresser Abduboki Yunusov and regular customer Gayrat Ziyakhojayev is being investigated by Uzbekistan's Anti-Terrorism Police for sharing a Muslim book electronically. The two Muslims and their families have been illegally searched and intensively questions since April to this month (October) (see below).
Liliya Sitdikova and her son Vildan Sitdikov, both members of Tashkent's officially registered Seventh-day Adventist Church, have been fined for keeping their own Christian material in their own home (see below).
In Urgench local Protestant Sharofat Allamova is facing attempts to illegally fine her twice for keeping her own Christian books in her home. Local Protestants think that this may be bacause she present during a raid on a meeting for worship of local Protestants (see below).
And an Andijan Protestant has also been ordered to pay the same fine for having Christian books in her home twice (see below).
Approved and then banned Islamic book sparks intensive questioning
Hairdresser Abduboki Yunusov and regular customer Gayrat Ziyakhojayev is being investigated by Uzbekistan's Anti-Terrorism Police for sharing a Muslim book electronically. On 2 April police in the capital Tashkent's Uchteppa District questioned Yunusov and some of his family, some being fined Muslims who are anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18.
This followed an incident in March when one of Yunusov's cousins was stopped late at night on the street and searched. Islamic materials were found on his phone and police then began from April to this month (October) repeatedly interrogating Yunusov, his family, and Ziyakhojayev, who are all Muslims. Police have claimed they will bring prosecutions, but have not specified the charges. This is not unusual in Uzbekistan's "justice system" (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).
State-approved and then state-banned book?
Some years ago Ziyakhojayev bought a book entitled Islam between Two Fires, which had passed state censorship and was published by the still-operating Mavoronnahr publishing house. He had shared the book, which is critical of non-Islamic missionary movements, with Yunusov. In May police found the book on Yunusov's phone and then summoned Ziyakhojayev for questioning in July.
In July police claimed to Ziyakhojayev that the book was banned and had been sent for "expert analysis" to the Religious Affairs Committee. Alleged "expert analysis" is often used by the authorities as an excuse to confiscate and destroy religious literature (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).
Ziyakhojayev was also questioned repeatedly in August and on 12 and 16 October. Senior Lieutenant Dilmurod Akhmedov of Uchteppa's Anti-Terrorism Police questioned Ziyakhojayev. Akhmedov on 16 October stated that police had found the book on Yunusov's phone.
In January police confiscated a car from a Seventh-day Adventist Pastor because he did not pay illegal fines for giving religious books away. The books were approved by the Religious Affairs Committee, which apparently changed its mind so as to fine the Pastor (see F18News 10 February 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2255).
Uchteppa Anti-Terrorism Police, led by Senior Lieutenant Akhmedov, on 12 October raided Ziyakhojayev's parents' flat in the District, but without a search warrant signed by the District Prosecutor's Office. Such violations of the rule of law are common in Uzbekistan (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314). Police confiscated his father's two computers, and sent them for "expert analysis" to the Religious Affairs Committee.
Senior Lieutenant Akhmedov and Major Jahongir Gaziyev, the head of Uchteppa Anti-Terrorism Police refused to discuss the case with Forum 18 on 25 October. Both put the phone down and did not answer subsequent calls.
Tashkent Police and Anti-Terrorism officers (who would not give their names) on 25 October claimed that no-one called Yusupov works for them.
As this and many similar "Anti-Terrorism Police" cases illustrate, the regime's definition of "terrorism" includes people exercising their human rights (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).
Severe state censorship, harsh punishments
There is severe state censorship of all religious literature, and the import and production of literature – including the Koran and the Bible - is strictly controlled. This includes material on mobile phones, tablets, personal computers, memory sticks and other electronic devices and media, with compulsory prior censorship by the Religious Affairs Committee. Officials often search mobile phones and other electronic devices in the hunt for religious materials. Punishments can be severe, and from around 2013 the authorities have often jailed for up to five years or fined Muslims (including foreign citizens) found with the Koran and Muslim sermons on their mobile phones (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).
Tashkent fine for keeping own Christian material in own home
On 2 June Liliya Sitdikova and her son Vildan Sitdikov, both members of Tashkent's officially registered Seventh-day Adventist Church, were fined 2,995,500 Soms or 20 times the minimum monthly under Administrative Code Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons"). Judge Bobyr Inagamov of Mirabad District Criminal Court also ordered the destruction of the notebooks and computers with Christian material confiscated from the family, local Adventists who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18.
Numerous court verdicts seen by Forum 18 order that such literature – including Muslim books or Christian Bibles - be destroyed, which is often carried out by burning see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).
The Adventists appealed, but on 27 September Judge Mumin Astanov of the Supreme Court upheld the fine and destruction.
Judge Inagamov of Mirabad District Court refused to answer, when asked by Forum 18 on 26 October why Christians and other religious believers cannot keep religious books or materials in their private homes or on their electronic devices. "You need to ask that question to the Supreme Court", he claimed. When Forum 18 repeated the question, he claimed that "I gave my reasoning in the decision." He then refused to talk further to Forum 18.
Judge Astamov of the Supreme Court also would not answer, when asked by Forum 18 twice on 26 October why Christians and other religious believers cannot keep religious books or materials in their private homes or on their electronic devices. He asked Forum 18 to call back the next morning, but did not answer his phone when repeatedly called again on 27 October.
Raids, literature searches, torture continues
Such raids continue and searches for religious literature continue. Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 that between September 2016 and July 2017 they had experienced 185 raids on their meetings for worship and searches of private homes. These resulted in 155 convictions for exercising freedom of religion and belief, 148 fines (19 of them for between 50 and 100 times the minimum monthly wage), and seven short-term jailings. Police severely tortured 15 Jehovah's Witnesses and sexually assaulted women. Torture and impunity for torturers continues, directed against Muslims, Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses and people of other faiths. Women are targetted for assault, and in another torture case police told a Jehovah's Witness that complaining makes no difference as "we will remain unpunished" (see F18News 12 October 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2325).
Urgench illegal fine order as reprisal?
On 21 August Sharofat Allamova, Protestant from Urgench [Urganch] in the north-western Khorezm Region, received a summons dated 14 August from Urgench Bailiff D. Yuldashev that she must in person pay a May 2012 fine to the Bailiff. Allamova was fined on 18 May 2012 for keeping her own Christian books in her home (see F18 News 6 August 2012 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1729).
But under the law the maximum time for Bailiffs to make such demands is three years after a fine, local Protestants who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. Local Protestants told Forum 18 that Allamova did not pay the fine "because she is only guilty of peacefully exercising her freedom of religion and belief as guaranteed by the Constitution".
After the May 2012 fine the authorities then brought criminal charges against her, for the same "crime" of keeping her own Christian books in her own home. In April 2013 she was sentenced to 18 months' corrective labour, for the "illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious literature". She was placed in a low-paid state job, her salary being further reduced by having to pay 20 per cent of it to the state during her sentence (see F18News 21 May 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1838).
Local Protestants think that Bailiffs may have summoned Allamova because she was present during a raid on a meeting for worship of local Protestants. Urgench Police armed with automatic weapons raided the meeting, took all present to the Police Station, and strip searched all the women (see F18News 7 August 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2304).
Urgench Bailiffs (who refused to give their names) on 26 October refused to discuss their actions with Forum 18. They also claimed that they have no Bailiff called Yuldashev.
Pastor Ahmadjon Nazarov, who led the Urgench meeting for worship, was put under surveillance and followed to a neighbouring region where another meeting was raided. A Bible was ordered to be destroyed, and one person was tortured. Police replied to complaints about torture: "We do not care, you can complain anywhere" (see F18News 19 October 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2326). On 13 October Judge Zh Sultanova of Khorezm Regional Court upheld fines and short-term jail sentence imposed on five of the Protestants.
Andijan Protestant ordered to pay same fine twice
On 14 September 2014 police and the NSS secret police raided a meeting for Sunday worship of state-registered Baptists in Andijan [Andijon]. The police halted the worship meeting, confiscated the Christian books they found, threatened those present (see F18News 1 October 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2003). On 17 October Zamira Kurbangaliyeva was fined 538,175 Soms under Administrative Code Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons"). She paid the fine plus a 5,381 Soms payment fee on 30 March 2015, and has documentation seen by Forum 18 of this payment.
But on 23 August 2017 Andijan City Court Bailiff Sardor Goipov, in a letter received on 9 September, ordered Kurbangaliyeva to pay the fine again. The letter threatens that if she does not pay the same fine twice that she will also be fined 1,497,750 Soms, or 10 times the minimum monthly salary, local Baptists who wish to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18.
Bailiff Oybek (who would not give his last name) of Andijan's Bailiffs Department on 26 October claimed to Forum 18 that Bailiff Goipov opened the case because he did not have the receipt for the payment. He then claimed that the case was closed after Kurbangaliyeva presented them. He refused to answer when Forum 18 pointed out that the Bailiffs had been given the receipt in March 2015 and asked why she was ordered to pay the same fine again. Other calls to Andijan Bailiffs on 27 October were not answered. (END)
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By Guest Nicole
The Uzbek authorities and the religious organization «Jehovah’s Witnesses» (the activity of its main centre is recognised as extremist and banned in Russia) are engaged in a constructive dialogue about its activities in the Republic, told RIA Novosti on Thursday, the Committee on religious Affairs under the government of Uzbekistan.
In April, the US Commission on international religious freedom has identified 16 countries, including Uzbekistan, in a number of countries-violators of religious freedoms for the use of the law against extremism for restricting the activities of the «Jehovah’s Witnesses».
The Committee on religious Affairs of Uzbekistan said that the Deputy Chairman of the Committee of Utkir Hasanbaev met with representatives of the governing Board of «Jehovah’s Witnesses» in the United States Kenneth Flodine and the European Association of organization Lorenzo Trapanese. «Flodin thanked for reception and conveyed the information and told about the purpose of his visit, which was to discuss the activities of the religious organization «Jehovah’s Witnesses» in the Republic. They also expressed satisfaction from the talks with the leadership of the Committee,» — said the representative office.
According to him, during the meeting the Uzbek side noted that legislation of Uzbekistan in compliance with all the norms of international covenants and agreements on human rights concerning freedom of conscience. «Following the talks, the sides agreed to continue relevant consultations on the discussed issues. The meeting was held in constructive and friendly atmosphere,» added the Committee.
Uzbekistan’s law enforcement bodies have repeatedly detained by representatives of the «Jehovah’s Witnesses» for illegal involvement in the ranks of the locals and the secret meetings in different regions of the country. «Jehovah’s witnesses» was just one city of Chirchik near Tashkent. By law, they have the right to hold meetings only in places besides conducting religious propaganda is prohibited. Under Uzbek law, the detainees are brought to administrative responsibility and fined up to 100 times the minimum wage (about 4.5 thousand dollars).
In Uzbekistan registered more than 2,2 thousand religious organizations, of which more than 90% are Muslim. However, in carrying out activities 157 Christian organizations, eight Jewish communities, six Baha’i communities, one hare Krishna society and one Buddhist temple.
«Jehovah’s witnesses» is an international religious organization with headquarters in Brooklyn (new York). As reported on the website of Jehovah’s witnesses, «Witnesses» exist in Russia more than 100 years. Since 2004, the courts were closed a number of communities and local offices, «Jehovah’s Witnesses» in the regions — the Belgorod, Samara, Rostov and Orel oblasts and other constituent entities of the Russian Federation. Russia’s Supreme court on 20 April as extremist activity «administrative center of Jehovah’s witnesses in Russia» — the head of the organization, managing the branches of «Jehovah’s Witnesses» in Russia.
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By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18
A car has been confiscated from a Protestant because he did not pay illegal fines for giving religious books away. The books were approved by the Religious Affairs Committee, which apparently changed its mind so as to fine the Pastor. Raids and fines continue.
Bailiffs in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent in January confiscated a car from Seventh-day Adventist pastor Andrei Ten because he did not pay an August 2016 fine for giving religious books away. The books had originally been approved by the Religious Affairs Committee, which then apparently changed it mind so as to fine the Pastor. He was denied the chance to appeal against the fine, and an extra fine was imposed for not paying the first fine. The confiscated could be worth more than three times the value of the fines (see below).
In Nukus, police are pressuring a local Protestant to sign a record officers want to dictate admitting to the "offence" of having religious literature in his home (see below).
A total of 19 Jehovah's Witnesses across Uzbekistan are known to have been fined between August 2016 and January 2017 for possessing religious literature and other materials. In the same period, customs officers have confiscated religious books and electronic devices containing religious material from 17 Jehovah's Witnesses arriving in the country (see below).
Severe state censorship
Uzbekistan enforces strict censorship of all religious publications and all aspects of their distribution. The authorities also impose a de facto ban on religious literature of any belief in homes or in public places. If found such literature is frequently ordered to be destroyed. State pressure is so great that for their own safety some religious believers have destroyed their own sacred texts. The so-called "expert analyses" used to justify such freedom of religion and belief violations are often flawed, or even violate published law. The resulting court trials also often violate the rule of law (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1862).
The harshest punishments for the possession of banned religious literature, including on electronic devices, are normally imposed on Muslims. For example, in late 2016 courts imprisoned two more foreign citizens – for five years and three years - for having Islamic sermons on their mobiles as they entered Uzbekistan. One was tortured. Three Tashkent Muslims were given suspended prison sentences, after the father of one was "severely tortured" (see F18News 19 December 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2241).
Car confiscated for unpaid illegal fines
In August 2016 police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police arrested four men riding in a taxi in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. They then confiscated copies of a religious book which the Religious Affairs Committee had in writing stated that, after "expert analysis", was allowed to be imported and distributed in Uzbekistan.
One of the men, Pastor Andrei Ten of the registered Seventh-day Adventist Church, was summoned to a police station and asked to write a statement that he gave out copies of the book. He was only then shown a second "expert analysis" in which the Religious Affairs Committee contradicted itself banning the book. Pastor Ten was on 19 August fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage, the other three men being each fined five times the minimum monthly wage (see F18 News, 4 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2221).
Denied chance to appeal
Pastor Ten has not been given a copy of the 19 August 2016 decision fining him, so denying him a chance to appeal. Neither his 25 August complaint to Olmazor District Court and 28 December cassation appeal to Tashkent City Court were answered, Adventists who wish to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 1 February.
Instead Judge Musa Yusupov sent the decision, which had not entered into force, for execution to bailiffs.
Asked why the Judge did this, Aziz Rakhimov, Judge Yusupov's Assistant, on 9 February 2017 claimed that: "I myself gave a copy to Ten three days after the decision". He then declined to discuss the case further.
On 18 January Ten received two letters. The first was a decision to exact the administrative fine imposed in August 2016. The second was a new 19 December 2016 decision imposing an extra fine of 10 times the minimum monthly wage, or 1,497,750 Soms, for failure to pay the first fine. The second fine was signed by Bailiff Imamjan Tuychiyev under the Code of Administrative Offences' Article 198-1 ("Failure by a debtor to obey executive orders").
On 19 January Bailiff Tuychiyev with five colleagues broke into the grounds of Ten's home. They waited for Ten, and when he returned home at 8 pm illegally confiscated his car. "Pastor Ten doesn't know where they took the car," Adventists stated.
Bailiff Tuychiyev claimed to Forum 18 on 8 February that "we did everything according to the law". Told that Ten was not given a copy of the original court decision and so could not pay the first fine, and that his complaint and cassation appeals were ignored, Tuychiyev replied: "That's not our problem. You need to ask the court which ordered us to exact the fine."
Told that the market value of Ten's car could be up 30 million Soms, several times the level of the fine, Bailiff Tuychiyev answered: "I am not a market specialist. When he pays the total sum of the fine he can get it back."
Pressure to admit to "offence"
Nine police officers, only one of whom was in uniform, broke into Bakhbergen Abdikarimov's flat in Nukus in the afternoon of 27 November 2016. The police did not have a search warrant, so both their breaking into his home and subsequent search were illegal. Police confiscated one Christian book, three CD and DVD discs - one of which contained a video of Abdikarimov's wedding - and one memory chip, local Protestants who wish to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 2 February.
Police then took Abdikarimov to Nukus Police Station and questioned him for three hours. The unnamed officers demanded that he write a statement they would dictate, in which he would claim to be illegally storing Christian books in his home. Abdikarimov refused to do this and the police then released him.
Since then Nukus Police have been "constantly making phone calls to summoning him to Nukus Police Station", Protestants stated. The police are still trying to force Abdikarimov to sign a police report incriminating himself for allegedly violating Administrative Code Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons").
Major Isak Soliyev of Nukus Police's Criminal Investigation Division refused to discuss the case on 9 February. He asked Forum 18 to call back in one hour, and when called claimed: "We don't know you, and we cannot talk to you over the phone".
Fines follow literature, electronic device seizures
Police raided and searched homes of 43 Jehovah's Witnesses across Uzbekistan for religious literature between August 2016 and January 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. This resulted in the confiscation of 43 publications and electronic devices and 19 Jehovah's Witnesses being fined. A recent example took place in Jizakh Region. Judge Sherzod Peshmirzayev of Jizakh City Criminal Court fined 23-year old Muborak Abdurakhmanova on 22 December 2016 for reading Jehovah's Witness literature. The Judge fined her 20 times the minimum monthly wage or 2,995,500 Soms under Administrative Code Article 184-2, the Court's Chancellery told Forum 18 on 9 February.
Jizakh Regional Administration's official website on 27 January published an article titled "Regret of a woman of thoughtless actions." It instructs readers that "one must not act based on one's impulses but on science and a world view", before adding that: "Wilfulness and thoughtless actions can bring any person like Abdurakhmanova into the court room." The article claims that Abdurakhmanova admitted in Court that she "became interested in Jehovah's Witnesses, and recorded on her mobile phone video-films made by the followers of this sect. She also made notes in her notebook on various religious topics."
Abdurakhmanova "studied the Bible, listened to sermons by Jehovah's Witnesses and sang religious songs for one year", the article said. She "illegally kept" the religious materials in her phone until 18 November 2016, when police confiscated it from her.
A Jizakh Criminal Court Chancellery official (who would not give his name) refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. Calls to Judge Peshmirzayev went unanswered on 9 February.
Uzbekistan frequently raids, arrests, fines, and jails people exercising freedom of religion and belief who possess religious literature. For example, two Protestant five-day prisoners of conscience were ordered in November 2016 to pay 15 per cent each of a month's minimum salary as "compensation" for state prison costs (see F18News 1 December 2016 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2235).
Customs seize religious literature
Between August 2016 and January 2017, Uzbek customs officers confiscated religious literature and electronic devices from 17 Jehovah's Witnesses entering the country. Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 on 8 February that "in 2006 the Religious Affairs Committee forbade the import of any Jehovah's Witness publications after a shipment of Bibles were confiscated by customs officers (see F18News 24 October 2007 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1039).
Asked why the Religious Affairs Committee bans the import of such religious texts, and why customs officers keep confiscating religious literature from people, Begzod Kadyrov, Committee Chief Expert, replied: "Come to our office". He then put the phone down. (END)
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By Guest Nicole
Uzbekistan arrested four men, confiscating a book a government "expert analysis” stated was permitted. Adventist Pastor Andrei Ten was later shown a second "expert analysis” banning the book and fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage, the other three being each fined smaller amounts.
Police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police on 2 August arrested four men riding in a taxi in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. They then confiscated copies of a religious book, "The Great Controversy”, which the Religious Affairs Committee had in writing stated that after "expert analysis” was allowed to be imported and distributed in Uzbekistan.
On 8 August one of the men, Pastor Andrei Ten of the registered Seventh-day Adventist Church, was summoned to a police station and asked to write a statement that he gave out copies of the book. He was only then shown a second "expert analysis” in which the Religious Affairs Committee contradicted itself banning the book. Pastor Ten was on 19 August fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage, the other three men being each fined five times the minimum monthly wage (see below).
Many similar cases take place in Uzbekistan against physical and electronic religious literature held by people of many beliefs, often involving sometimes very large fines and jail sentences. In some cases, rape threats and physical abuse has been used by male officials against female religious believers (see below).
Arrested in taxi
On 2 August, police and NSS secret police officers in the Olmazor District of Tashkent detained Pastor Andrei Ten, Olimzhan Mirzamambetov, Anarvoy Ergashev and Rahim Tursunov while they were riding in a taxi. Pastor Ten is from the officially registered local Seventh-day Adventist Church, but Mirzamambetov, Ergashev and Tursunov are not part of this Church and had been hired to do work on its building, Adventists who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 12 September. Officers searched the men and confiscated from each of them a copy of a Russian translation of "The Great Controversy”, a book by Ellen White. She was one of the founders of what would become the Adventist Church.
Adventists told Forum 18 that the Religious Affairs Committee had on 2 May written to the Bible Society stating that, after "expert analysis”, it was allowing "The Great Controversy” to be imported and distributed in Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan imposes strict censorship on all religious publications and all aspects of their distribution. There is a de facto ban on religious literature of any faith in homes and if found such literature is frequently ordered to be destroyed. State pressure is so great that for their own safety some religious believers have destroyed their own sacred texts (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).
Contradictory "expert analysis”
On 8 August, six days after the men were stopped in the taxi and the books confiscated from them, Officer Shavkat (who did not give his last name) of Olmazor District Police phoned Pastor Ten. Shavkat asked Ten to come to Olmazor Police Station at 5 pm the same day. When Ten came to the Police Station, Officer Shavkat demanded that he write a statement that he gave the books to the three men.
After Pastor Ten wrote the statement, police then showed him another "expert analysis” by the Religious Affairs Committee. This contradicted the first "analysis” and stated that "The Great Controversy” is banned.
So-called "expert analyses” are often flawed, or even violate published law. Court trials also often violate the rule of law (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862). Shovkat Khamdamov, Press Secretary of the Religious Affairs Committee in Tashkent, refused to tell Forum 18 on 27 September why the Committee contradicted itself on the book "The Great Controversy”. He referred Forum 18 to Begzod Kadyrov, Chief Expert of the Committee. Khamdamov also refused to answer Forum 18's other questions, and put the phone down. The phones of Kadyrov and other Committee officials were not answered on 27 September.
After showing Pastor Ten the contradictory "expert analysis”, Olmazor Police then opened cases against all four men under the Code of Administrative Offences' Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons”).
Olmazor Police told Forum 18 on 26 September that the only officer named Shavkat who works for Olmazor District Police is Deputy Chief of Olmazor Police Myrzajanov. Forum 18 on 26 September called the mobile phone number from which Ten was called. Officer Shavkat (who refused to give his last name) answered the phone. But after Forum 18 started asking about the case he then claimed that it was a "wrong number” and put the phone down. Subsequent calls went unanswered.
Deputy Police Chief Myrzajanov's land line phone number went unanswered on 26 September.
Asked why cases were opened against Ten and the other three men, Olmazor Police Department on 26 September referred Forum 18 to Makhmud Tolipov, the head of the local Anti-Terrorism Police. Police did not explain what so-called "anti-terrorism” has to do with these cases.
Asked about the case on 27 September, Anti-Terrorism Police officer Tolipov refused to comment. "These are internal issues of Uzbekistan,” he claimed to Forum 18. "Talk to our Foreign Ministry and they will explain them to you.” He put the phone down.
On 19 August Judge Musa Yusupov of Olmazor District Criminal Court of Tashkent fined Pastor Ten, Mirzamambetov, Ergashev and Tursunov. Ten was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage, 13,024,000 Soms. The other three men were each fined five times the minimum monthly wage, 651,200 Soms. (Large discrepancies exist between the market and official currency exchange rates.) "Judge Yusupov unlawfully ordered the confiscation of the books,” the Adventists stated.
Olmazor Court officials (who would not give their names) between 26 and 27 September refused to comment on the case or put Forum 18 through to Judge Yusupov.
Many fines, jail sentences, rape threats and assaults
Many similar cases take place in Uzbekistan. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses have told Forum 18 that between January and July 2016 at least 51 Jehovah's Witnesses across all of Uzbekistan were fined for "offences” related to the possession of religious literature. Fines imposed varied between three and 60 times the minimum monthly wage. They commented that "the use of or even the mere possession of the Bible” outside the building of their only state-registered religious community, in Chirchik, "is considered to be an administrative violation”.
Only belief communities that have state registration are allowed to exist, violating international human rights law (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1862).
These kind of fines and other punishments for having religious literature affect people of many beliefs. One Baptist, Stanislav Kim, was on 26 August given two years corrective labour living in his home for having religious books at home (see F18News 29 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2219). Similarly, two Jehovah's Witnesses were on 27 January jailed for 10 days and, with 28 others, fined for "illegal” literature and meeting for worship (see F18News 28 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2192).
Materials in electronic form are also targeted, Jehovah's Witnesses noting that religious literature and electronic devices were confiscated from the homes of two Jehovah's Witnesses in Chirchik on 11 May and from two others in Fergana on 11 June. No prosecutions appear to have followed. Bakhtiyor Khudaiberdiyev was arrested on 9 January at Tashkent Airport for having suras [verses] from the Koran and other material on his phone, and at least two Muslims are serving five-year prison terms for the Koran and sermons in their mobile phones (see F18News 7 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2165).
During some of raids and confiscations in 2016, male police threatened female Jehovah's Witnesses with rape and also physically assaulted women (see F18News 25 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2182). Torture is "routine” in Uzbekistan, the United Nations (UN) Committee has found (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1862). (END)
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By Guest Nicole
Stanislav Kim could be jailed for up to three years if convicted of having "illegal" religious literature in his home in Urgench. In Bukhara, two Jehovah's Witnesses were jailed for ten days and, with 28 others, fined for "illegal" literature and worship meeting.
Police in Urgench [Urganch] in Uzbekistan's north-western Khorezm Region appear about to hand to court a criminal case against a local Baptist to punish him for "illegal possession" of religious literature in his home. Stanislav Kim could face up to three years' imprisonment if convicted. The Investigator who prepared the indictment refused to tell Forum 18 if Nikolai Serin, another Baptist questioned as a witness in the case, also faces prosecution. Courts routinely punish people for "illegal" religious literature as well as holding meetings for worship.
Khorezm authorities also raided a Baptist worship meeting in February. In late March the host and her non-believing husband were fined for possessing "illegal" literature in their home when the meeting was raided.
Meanwhile in the southern Bukhara Region on 27 January, 30 Jehovah's Witnesses were punished for meeting for worship and possessing religious literature officials claimed was "illegal". They received fines totalling more than 1,050 times the minimum monthly wage or 136,752,000 Soms (390,000 Norwegian Kroner, 42,000 Euros or 47,000 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate). Two of the Jehovah's Witnesses - Andrei and Yelena Yu - were fined 30 times the minimum monthly wage each and given 10-day jail terms for exercising their freedom of religion and belief.
Against its international human rights obligations, Uzbekistan imposes strict censorship on all religious publications and all aspects of their distribution. There is a de facto ban on religious literature of any faith in homes and if found such literature is frequently ordered to be destroyed. State pressure is so great that for their own safety some religious believers have destroyed their own sacred texts (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).
Imprisonment for religious literature?
On 27 June Investigator Lieutenant Sarvar Artykov of Urgench City Police in Khorezm Region prepared and signed the indictment (seen by Forum 18) against local Baptist Stanislav Kim. He is accused of "illegal possession" of Christian literature under Criminal Code Article 244-3.
Article 244-3 punishes "Illegal production, storage, import into the territory of Uzbekistan with a purpose to distribute or distribution of religious materials, committed after enforcement of an administrative penalty for a similar violation" with a fine of 100 to 200 times the minimum monthly wage or corrective labour of up to three years.
"The Investigator warned us that Stanislav might be fined or even jailed for up to three years," Nikolai Serin, Kim's fellow-Baptist from Navoi Region, told Forum 18 on 27 June. Police told Serin and Kim that Urgench City Court will hear the case in up to fifteen days (by about 10 July), Serin added.
Both Kim and Serin are members of separate Council of Churches Baptist congregations. Council of Churches Baptist churches do not – as Uzbekistan against its human rights obligations requires – seek state permission to exist (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).
Urgench Police questioned Serin on 26 June as a witness in the case, he noted. On 19 June Police in Navoi had already raided his home there and confiscated his Christian books. Navoi Police told him that a case had been opened against him under Administrative Code Article 184-2, which punishes "Illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious materials" with a fine for individuals of 20 to 100 times the minimum monthly wage, as well as confiscation of the materials and any equipment used to produce them.
"We've done nothing criminal, but only exercised our Constitutional rights which allow us peacefully to practice our faith, which does no harm to anyone," Serin insisted to Forum 18. He said that when he told Investigator Artykov, who is leading the case, that he refuses to be a witness, the Investigator warned him that "I also may be punished with up to three years' imprisonment unless I cooperate with the Police."
Serin did not sign any Police reports or statements prepared by Urgench Police during questioning either on 17 May or 26 June, he told Forum 18.
Investigator Artykov argues in the 27 June indictment that the materials found in Kim's home "contain ideas of converting believers of one confession to another, which is against Article 5, Part 3 of the Religion Law". He concludes therefore that Kim "stored illegal religious materials in his private flat".
The indictment says that among the items officers seized from Kim was a Russian-language book "To Mecca", which "propagates the Protestant religion". The book is a "testimony of a former [non-Uzbek] Muslim man who became a Christian", Serin told Forum 18. He confirmed that Kim had a copy.
The "expert analysis" by the government's Religious Affairs Committee says that the book "does not contain ideas against Uzbekistan's Constitutional order, or of an extremist or separatist nature". But it claims that the book "can be used for missionary purposes", Serin noted.
Arslan Ruzimov, Chief of Khorezm Regional Police Criminal Investigation Department, adamantly defended the charges against Kim. Asked on 28 June why the authorities want to imprison him, he told Forum 18 from Urgench: "The religious expert analysis found the materials confiscated from Kim to be extremist."
Told that the confiscated literature consisted of Christian magazines, children's stories, song-books and Kim's personal notes, and asked what specifically is "extremist" in those materials, Ruzimov could not answer. "They have a lawyer, they can ask him to defend them," he retorted. Asked why Serin was pressured to be a witness against Kim, his co-believer, he did not answer. He then declined to talk to Forum 18.
Investigator Artykov also used a July 2001 conviction in a non-religious criminal case to justify the unrelated new case. Kim was sentenced that year to 20 years' imprisonment as an alleged accomplice in an intentional killing. Artykov argues that although Kim was freed from his sentence, "he continued violating the Law".
Serin told Forum 18 that Kim was released from prison in 2009, and that "he became a believer while in prison." He said that "it looks like the authorities want to imprison him again, which is why they bring up his criminal conviction from the past in the indictment."
Investigator Artykov told Forum 18 on 28 June that the case against Kim has not yet been handed to the Court, but refused to answer Forum 18's other questions. Asked whether any charges were brought against Serin, as well as why a criminal case was opened against Kim simply for having Christian books and materials in his home, Artykov replied: "If you want to know the answers then send your representative to our office. I will not answer your questions over the phone." Artykov also did not say when the Police will refer the case to the Court.
Why criminal charges?
The indictment explains that police opened a criminal case against Kim because this is the second case against him within one year for possessing "illegal" religious literature.
Urgench City Criminal Court fined Kim ten times the minimum monthly wage, 1,184,000 Soms, on 8 August 2015 under Administrative Code Article 184-2, according to the June 2016 indictment. The Court ordered part of the Christian literature confiscated from him to be destroyed and the rest to be handed over to the Khorezm Department of the state-backed Muslim Board.
Secret police and anti-terrorism police raid and confiscations
The latest trouble began for Kim on 17 May, when Major Shukhrat Masharipov of Urgench Anti-Terrorism Police and two unidentified officers raided his home in the city, Serin told Forum 18. The indictment indicates that the two officers represented the National Security Service (NSS) secret police. The officers pretended to be conducting a passport inspection.
Without showing a search warrant, officers confiscated Christian literature, including the book "To Mecca", one copy each of "Herald of Truth" magazine, two Baptist song books ("Hold on to Christ" and "Youth for Christ"), a book of Christian children's stories, and several notebooks with personal notes.
Serin told Forum 18 that he was present during the Police raid on Kim's home, since he happened to be visiting him that day.
Six hour interrogation
Officer Masharipov and the other officers took Kim's and Serin's passports and left, demanding that the two appear at Urgench Police Station the next morning.
On 18 May, Major Masharipov and Police Investigator Shavkat Bekjanov questioned the two Baptists for six hours, Serin told Forum 18. "They suggested that we write statements but we refused." The Police told the Baptists that as Kim had been found for the second time "illegally possessing" Christian literature in his home, this time he may be jailed. The two were released from the Police Station that evening.
February Khorezm raid and fines
On 17 February in Gullanbog, in Yangiaryk District of Khorezm Region, two plain-clothes Anti-Terrorism Police officers and the local ordinary police officer raided the home of Oybek and Gulnara Rahimov as 15 Council of Churches Baptists were meeting for worship.
"When the local police officer saw we were worshipping, he called for a police squad," Baptists told Forum 18 on 15 April. Police then began filming those present and took down their names. Police also confiscated a Bible, a children's Bible, one other Christian book and two Baptist song-books.
All the meeting participants were taken to Yangiaryk District Police Station, where they were questioned for three hours.
Oybek Rahimov is not a Baptist and was not at home during the raid. But that did not stop Judge Yerpolat Berdiyev, Chair of Bogot District Criminal Court, on 22 March fining both wife and husband 10 times the minimum monthly wage each. Baptists have particularly expressed outrage at the fine imposed on Oybek.
Judge Berdiyev also ordered the destruction of Christian literature confiscated from the Rahimovs' home. Courts frequently order that such confiscated religious literature be destroyed (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).
Asked why the Baptists were raided, Bogot District Police on 8 June referred Forum 18 to Anti-Terrorism Police officer Dilshot Fayzullayev. However, asked the same day why officers conducted the raid, fines and confiscations, he refused to answer.
Neither Bogot District Court, nor Judge Berdiyev, answered their phones on 9 June.
Two short-term prisoners of conscience, 30 large fines
Meanwhile, in Kogon in Bukhara [Bukhoro] Region on 27 January, 30 Jehovah's Witnesses received fines totalling more than 1,050 times the minimum monthly wage or 136,752,000 Soms (390,000 Norwegian Kroner, 42,000 Euros or 47,000 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate). Two of the Jehovah's Witnesses - Andrei and Yelena Yu - were fined 30 times the minimum monthly wage each and given 10-day jail terms for exercising their freedom of religion and belief.
The fines and jailing of the two prisoners of conscience followed an early January raid by Kogon Anti-Terrorism Police and the ordinary police on the home of Aziz Pulatov. Jehovah's Witnesses were meeting together for worship, they told Forum 18 on 8 June.
Numon Tukhtayev, Deputy Head of Kogon Anti-Terrorism Police, refused on 8 June to explain why the raid took place. The same day the ordinary police similarly refused to explain their actions.
Judge Zarif Sherov, Chair of Kogon Criminal Court, found the accused guilty under Administrative Code Articles 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons") and Article 240 ("Violation of the Religion Law"), Part 1 ("Carrying out of unauthorised religious activity, evasion by leaders of religious organisations of registration of the charter of the organisation, the unauthorised organisation and conduct of worship by religious ministers, and the organisation and conduct of special children's and youth meetings, as well as vocational, literature and other study groups not relating to worship").
Aziz Pulatov and Fazliddin Tukhtayev were fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage each; Akpar Pulatov, Shahzoda Pulatova, Mukaddas Rakhmatova, Zuhra Tashayeva, and Malyuda Kuldasheva were fined 50 times the minimum monthly wage each; Shahnoz Gulomova, Shahzoda Mavlyanova, Mukhabbatkhon Mirzayeva, Mokhidil Zairova, Gulnora Norova, Dilfuza Kobilova, Orom Khaydarova, Soliya Niyazova, Mahliyo Zhurayeva, Ibodillo Zhurayev, Gulchehra Ibadova, Shoista Mamedova, Shahin Norov, Zarina Kosimova, Munavvar Mardonova, Azamzhon Ismatilloyev, Farida Amonova, and Zarina Amonova were fined 30 times the minimum monthly wage each; and Gulbahor Mavlonova, Nilufar Ibrohimova, and Mizhgona Ismatillayeva were fined 5 times the minimum monthly wage each.
Judge Sherov denied that he had jailed prisoners of conscience Andrei and Yelena Yu. "I do not know about the jailing," he claimed to Forum 18 on 9 June.
However, the Judge admitted that he had imposed fines totalling 1,050 times the minimum monthly wage. Asked why he did this to people exercising their freedom of religion and belief, Sherov stated: "I explained to them during the hearing that the fines were given based on the existing law."
Asked about the restrictions the Religion Law, Administrative and Criminal Codes put on the exercise of freedom of religion and belief, the Judge replied: "I cannot comment on that". He then said "let them appeal if they do not agree with our decision" before declining to talk further to Forum 18. (END)
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By Guest Nicole
Of four female Jehovah's Witnesses detained by Samarkand police for meeting for worship, one faced rape threats, Forum 18 has learnt. Three were fined for "illegal" religious literature. Two Protestants – one spent 16 days in prison - have fled Uzbekistan to escape "police persecution".
Individuals across Uzbekistan continue to face fines for religious literature found during police raids in homes. Samarkand City Criminal Court in the central Samarkand Region on 15 March handed down huge fines to three Jehovah's Witnesses women for religious materials found on their tablet device, Forum 18 notes. During nearly 24 hours in detention at Samarkand City Police in early February, officers hit the women and demanded that they renounce their faith, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. Officers threatened one with rape.
Two Protestants - Latipzhon Mamazhanov and Murot Turdiyev - have chosen to flee Uzbekistan with their families after what fellow Protestants have described to Forum 18 as continuous pressure from the authorities.
The Court and Police in Fergana are searching for Mamazhanov to punish him for a second time for the same "offence" of possessing religious literature. Local Protestants complained to Forum 18 that he became very sick during 16 days in prison in Fergana in March.
Between February and March Almalyk City Police raided Turdiyev's home in Almalyk, cut off its electricity, ambushed his home waiting to catch him, threatened him with a criminal case, and asked him to become a police informer. Also Fergana Police seized his car for 12 days, and Fergana Court warned him (see below).
Uzbekistan retains tight state controls on all exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Printed literature, videos and DVDs of religious content have long been subjected to harsh prior compulsory state censorship. Police and secret police officers frequently raid homes and confiscate religious literature from their owners, including Arabic-language Korans, and Uzbek and Russian-language Bibles and New Testaments. Courts frequently order that such confiscated religious literature be destroyed (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862). A court in Tashkent ordered Bibles and New Testaments destroyed in December 2015.
Prisoners of conscience Zuboyd Mirzorakhimov, a Tajik citizen, and Zoirjon Mirzayev are both serving five year prison terms for having Muslim sermons on their mobile phones when they entered Uzbekistan (see F18News 21 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2160).
Mass raids, fined, short-term jailings
Across Uzbekistan the authorities continue raiding individuals' homes – including those of Protestants of various denominations and Jehovah's Witnesses - and confiscating their religious literature. On 17 May, officers raided Council of Churches Baptists in Khorezm Region.
Between January and May, at least 14 Protestants and 49 Jehovah's Witnesses are known to have received fines of up to 100 times the minimum monthly wage under Administrative Code Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons").
A fine of 100 times the minimum monthly wage – currently 1,302,400 Soms – is equivalent to 3,700 Norwegian Kroner, 400 Euros or 450 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate.
In one case in Nukus in the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, 14 Protestants received total fines of 350 times the minimum monthly wage or 45,584,000 Soms (130,000 Norwegian Kroner, 14,000 Euros or 15,600 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate). In another case, 30 Jehovah's Witnesses received fines totalling more than 1,050 times the minimum monthly wage or 136,752,000 Soms (390,000 Norwegian Kroner, 42,000 Euros or 47,000 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate). Two of the Jehovah's Witnesses were also given ten-day jail terms.
A total of 52 Jehovah's Witnesses are also known to have been fined for "illegal" religious activity in the first three months of 2016 (see forthcoming F18News article).
Samarkand literature fines follow raid on religious meeting
Judge Zafar Kholikulov of Samarkand City Court on 15 March fined three female Jehovah's Witnesses for meeting for worship in a home in February. Each was fined 50 times the minimum monthly wage, 6,512,000 Soms. They were punished under Administrative Code Article 184-2 for possessing "illegal" literature.
On the evening of 3 February Samarkand Police arrested the three together with another local resident with whom they were meeting for worship and religious study. Police held the four women at a Samarkand Police Station for almost 24 hours. The Police confiscated their tablet device and passports before releasing them in the afternoon of 4 February.
While in detention, two of the women were "physically abused", while another female Jehovah's Witness was "subjected to sexual harassment", Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 on 25 April.
Asked why Judge Kholikulov fined the Jehovah's Witnesses, the official who answered his phone on 23 May, replied that he (refused to give his name) is the Assistant to the Judge, and that he is "on a vacation." He declined to comment on the decision and tell Forum 18 whether the Court investigated the police abuses. He referred Forum 18 to the Chancellery.
A Chancellery official (who refused to give his name) looked up Kholikulov's decision, but refused to explain the reasons of the fines. "I cannot comment," he told Forum 18 on 23 May.
Police torture female Jehovah's Witnesses
At Samarkand's Police Station No.6 in early February, the four women were questioned by Officer Sanjar Esanov, Chief of the Station, Lieutenant Askarali Boykobilov and Officer Sobir Rakhimov (both of whom are Esanov's subordinates), as well as Officer Khusrav Shamsiyev of Samarkand's Anti-Terrorism Police.
The officers who questioned the women were "drunk and very aggressive", Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. "They demanded that the women deny their faith." Lieutenant Boykobilov "roughly grasped the shoulders of [one of the women] and kept pushing her". Another was also "pushed", and Officer Shamsiyev "slapped her on the face".
Chief Officer Esanov took another of the four women to a dark room and "strangled her and hit her on the body", Jehovah's Witnesses complained. Officer Rakhimov also slapped her face. Officer Esanov threatened to "undress her and rape her, after which he will take her out of the room naked so the others could see. Then he began unbuttoning her overcoat but she resisted and he stopped."
Police Chief Esanov adamantly denied to Forum 18 that he or his colleagues abused the Jehovah's Witnesses. "It's all a pack of lies. Police in Uzbekistan never act in such a way," he told Forum 18 from Samarkand on 23 May.
The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Uzbekistan acceded to in 1995, defines torture as: "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity".
Under Article 6 of the Convention Uzbekistan is obliged to arrest any person suspected on good grounds of having committed torture. Under Article 4 Uzbekistan is obliged to try them under criminal law which makes "these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature" (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).
Asked why police arrested the four women, Esanov responded: "Ask the Court, everything is explained in its decision."
Told that Forum 18 has documented many cases where police in Samarkand and elsewhere in Uzbekistan have arrested and abused individuals for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief - including Jehovah's Witnesses - and asked why Police and other authorities violate individuals' human rights, Chief Esanov paused and Forum 18 could hear him consult his officers. "If you disagree with us then talk to the Court," he responded, before declining to talk to Forum 18 further.
Families flee "police persecution"
Two members of the same Protestant Church, Latipzhon Mamazhanov from Fergana in eastern Uzbekistan and Murot Turdiyev from Almalyk in Tashkent Region, have fled Uzbekistan after continuous pressure from the authorities, their fellow-believers complained to Forum 18 on 12 May. Both were "sick and tired of the police persecution, and therefore took their families and left Uzbekistan," they said.
Mamazhanov was arrested and jailed on 12 March for 15 days in Fergana, the same day police illegally raided his home and those of other local Protestants searching for religious literature. He was released only on 28 March, one day after he should have been released under the law. Mamazhanov was imprisoned in the Region's Kuva District Police Detention Centre where up to seven inmates were put in a cell designed for two people, no sanitary and hygiene rules are followed, and food is given only once a day. He and other prisoners who insisted they were innocent of crime were also tortured several times (see F18News 13 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2167).
After his release from prison, Mamazhanov "felt very sick and found he had developed several diseases", Protestants complained to Forum 18. They said that during his imprisonment he lost seven kilos in weight, developed shingles and experienced stomach problems. "The prison made him practically an invalid," Protestants lamented.
Harsh treatment and even torture in prisons is common (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).
Protestants note that Mamazhanov suffers from hepatitis, diabetes, osteochondrosis of his back and spine, and two hernias of his spine.
New case against Mamazhanov?
Since early May Fergana City Court and Police have attempted to bring Mamazhanov before the Court to hand him an administrative fine for the 12 March confiscation of religious literature from his home, his fellow-believers told Forum 18. "He was already jailed after that Police raid and confiscation, and now the authorities are looking to punish him a second time for the same alleged offence," local Protestants complained to Forum 18.
An official of Fergana City Court Chancellery (who did not give her name) told Forum 18 that the Police had brought a case against Mamazhanov under Administrative Code Article 184-2, but that the Court referred it back to the Police for further investigation. She declined to give any further information.
Rustam Yegamberdiyev, Chief of Criminal Police of Fergana Region, on 24 May referred Forum 18 to the Anti-Terrorism Police. "I don't know the details, ask them, they are leading the case," he said.
Asked about the case, Anvar Myrzayev, Chief of the Anti-Terrorism Police in Fergana, refused to talk to Forum 18. "I don't know you, and it's a wrong number," he said. Subsequent calls to him on the same day went unanswered.
Asked about the case on 24 May, duty officers (who did not give their names) at Fergana Police refused to put Forum 18 through to any other officials, but referred Forum 18 to Myrzayev.
Police threaten Turdiyev with criminal case
Police detained Turdiyev, together with Mamazhanov's brothers, in Fergana on 12 March as they tried to defend Mamazhanov against the unlawful police actions. Police confiscated his car the same day. The car was returned to him 16 days later, on 28 March, when Judge Shukhrat Sotivoldiyev who gave the administrative arrest to Mamazhanov issued Turdiyev with a warning (see F18News 13 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2167).
On 28 April, one month after the Fergana Court warning, two plain-clothes officers of the Criminal Police in Almalyk stopped Turdiyev while he was trying to get in his car, local Protestants told Forum 18. Turdiyev was taken to Almalyk Police Station where he was questioned.
Officer Alisher (last name not given) of the Criminal Police questioned Turdiyev, demanding that he write a statement. Turdiyev was "threatened that he will be put in prison unless he stops writing complaints about police actions," local Protestants complained. Officer Alisher told Turdiyev that "Police will plant drugs or bullets on him, and open a fabricated case against him." However, Turdiyev refused to do so or sign the police report. Officers, "seeing that they could not achieve what they want", then released him.
Turdiyev's home ambushed by Police
While Turdiyev was being tried by the Fergana Court on 28 March, one police officer in uniform and several plain-clothes officials came to his home in Almalyk at 8 am and "began pounding and kicking on the doors for one hour." Turdiyev's "neighbours came out to the noise and asked them why they behaved in such an unruly way." The officials answered that "they want to see Turdiyev and check up on his flat."
The officials then "took turns putting their ears to the door to see whether or not Turdiyev was in the flat." After this they turned off electricity to Turdiyev's flat and left. However, "unidentified Police officers set up an ambush not far from the home, and began waiting to catch him."
When Turdiyev returned from Fergana to Almalyk on 1 April, he found out that all the food in their refrigerator was spoiled because the electricity had been cut off. Food, which included beef, sausage, and lard and products, cost Turdiyev some 107,000 Soms.
Turdiyev harassed earlier
Two officers of Almalyk Police also earlier on 20 February raided Turdiyev's home at 6.30 am under the guise of a passport inspection in the building, Protestants complained to Forum 18.
They checked the passports of Turdiyev, his wife and children, as well as the title deed of their flat, taking copies of it. "We found out later that in the entire building, police checked up only on Turdiyev's flat. This shows that there was no passport regime check-up. The police only wanted to harass him and his family."
Turdiyev was on the same day "against his will" taken to Almalyk Police Station. There an officer who would not give his name but said he was Chief of the Criminal Police "demanded that he write a statement explaining why he travels abroad, which countries and for what purpose he visited, why he chose to buy a flat in Almalyk, why he was registered with his family and lives in Almalyk." Police also demanded that he should write about the lifestyle of his family members, their sources of money, and about his family and other relations.
The Police Chief then asked Turdiyev to become an informer for the police, Protestants complained. However, Turdiyev refused to do so.
Asked why the police are pressuring Turdiyev, Ravshan Amilov, Chief of Almalyk's Criminal Police, claimed to Forum 18 on 24 May that "I know him but we do not have such facts." When Forum 18 asked why his colleagues ambushed Turdiyev's home and turned off his electricity, as well as why he was brought to the Criminal Police and threatened with a criminal case, Amilov did not say. "I will ask the terrorism Police about the case and you call us back some time later," he said.
Jahongir Baltayev, Chief of Almalyk Anti-Terrorism Police refused to talk to Forum 18 on 24 May. "It's a wrong number," he replied. Told that Almalyk Police gave his number to Forum 18, he put the phone down. (END)
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By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service
Tashkent Regional Customs Department held Kazakh citizen Boris Prokopenko for two days in mid-March after discovering religious materials on electronic devices as he entered Uzbekistan, fellow Baptists complained to Forum 18 News Service. Freed after an "expert analysis" found nothing "extremist", he still faces administrative prosecution. "Aren't you exaggerating by saying he was detained? He was only staying with us temporarily since we were waiting for the expert analysis from the Religious Affairs Committee," Chief Customs Inspector Tahir Nasirkhodjayev told Forum 18. He denied any violation of Prokopenko's rights, as "we only enforce the Law, which demands us to stop and clarify what kind of religious materials people carry with them". Six Muslims were fined after being stopped in December 2015 for carrying "illegal" religious materials on their mobile phones, customs officials told Forum 18. Such punishments are part of the rigid control of religious materials entering and being transported within the country on mobile phones, tablets, personal computers, memory sticks and other electronic devices and media. At least two Muslims are serving five-year prison terms for the Koran and sermons in their mobile phones.
Uzbekistan continues its rigid control of religious materials entering and being transported within the country on mobile phones, tablets, personal computers, memory sticks and other electronic devices and media, Forum 18 News Service notes. This control parallels the control of printed and other religious materials. Uzbek Customs officials on 13 March stopped a Baptist from neighbouring Kazakhstan, Boris Prokopenko, at a border-crossing between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, for carrying religious materials on electronic devices. Officials kept him for two days at Tashkent Regional Customs Department. They released him after opening an administrative case against him.
Meanwhile, six Muslims were fined after being stopped in December 2015 for carrying "illegal" religious materials on their mobile phones, Tashkent City Customs Department told Forum 18 on 10 March. Officials refused to give specific details of any of the cases (see below).
Forum 18 tried to find out whether it is legal or illegal for individuals to have religious material in electronic devices and why individuals are punished – often severely – if they do. However, the state Religious Affairs Committee in Tashkent refused to discuss the issue and cases with Forum 18.
Artykbek Yusupov, Chair of the Committee, Press-Secretary Shovkat Hamdamov and Sobitjon Nasimov, Chief of the "Expert analysis" Section, all refused to talk to Forum 18 on 16 March. Shukhrat, as he introduced himself, the official who answered the phone of Zulhaydar Sultanov, Chief of the International Relations Section, said that Sultanov is "not available" to talk and that he himself "cannot comment" on the issues since "I am only a volunteer worker".
A January 2014 Cabinet of Ministers Decree on religious literature requires the State Customs Committee and the State Borders Protection Committee (part of the National Security Service secret police) to seize all religious materials being imported. They are to be sent for "expert analysis" by the Religious Affairs Committee. Only if it approves them are such materials allowed to be handed back to travellers (see F18News 12 February 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1928).
Searches, seizures, fines, prison terms
Printed literature, videos and DVDs of religious content have long been subjected to harsh prior compulsory state censorship. Police and secret police officers frequently raid homes and confiscate religious literature from their owners, including Arabic-language Korans, and Uzbek and Russian-language Bibles and New Testaments. Courts frequently order that such confiscated religious literature be destroyed, as happened to Bibles and New Testaments in Tashkent in December 2015. In March 2016, a Christian in Fergana [Farghona] in eastern Uzbekistan was jailed for 15 days after a police search for religious literature (see F18News 18 March 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2159).
The growth in the use of electronic devices in recent years has seen officials devote increasing attention to them. Officials often search mobile phones and other electronic devices in the hunt for religious materials. When they find such content - including holy books, sermons or religious music - punishments can range from long prison terms (especially when the material is Muslim) to administrative fines.
Prisoner of conscience Zuboyd Mirzorakhimov, a Tajik citizen arrested in Uzbekistan in 2013 for carrying the Koran and Muslim sermons on his mobile phone, is serving a five-year prison term. Also serving a five-year prison term handed down in 2014 is Zoirjon Mirzayev, originally from Fergana. He was arrested at a Tashkent Region train station on returning from Russia to his native Uzbekistan, after customs officials found 29 sermon recordings (see F18News 17 February 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2149).
In 2015 the authorities stopped the import of 50,000 religious materials into Uzbekistan and opened 1,200 cases, the state news agency UzA on 11 January 2016 cited State Customs and other law-enforcement agencies as declaring. "Extremist religious materials were found on mobile electronic devices of many citizens traveling back from abroad," it complained.
Two individuals were stopped at Tashkent airport after religious sermons were found in their phones, while two more individuals were stopped at a train station after materials officials claim were "extremist" were found in their phones (see below).
In another instance, an Uzbek citizen who returned to the country in late 2015 was fined for religious content in a mobile phone, friends told Forum 18, asking that the individual not be identified. Officers had discovered the religious materials when the mobile phone was checked as the individual re-entered the country. An administrative case was prepared and a court fined the individual 30 times the minimum monthly wage, 3,907,200 Soms.
However, when an officer at a regional airport discovered Christian materials in an individual's mobile phone in early 2016, the officer merely deleted the material before handing back the phone, the individual told Forum 18.
Also Police in Samarkand Region in summer 2015 stopped two Jehovah's Witnesses in a park for carrying a tablet device which contained religious materials. A Samarkand Court then fined the two (see below).
Two day detention, administrative case for religious materials on device
On 13 March Uzbek Customs officials stopped Prokopenko, a Kazakhstan citizen, at Gisht-Kuprik border-crossing point between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, his fellow Council of Churches Baptists told Forum 18 on 16 March.
Prokopenko, who came to visit Baptist friends in Uzbekistan, was stopped "because customs officials found a leaflet in his pocket during a search. The leaflet had the word Christ on it, and so the officials took him to a separate room, where his luggage was thoroughly checked." Officials then found that the electronic book and memory stick he carried with him had on them Christian materials in Russian.
"Boris was taken from Gisht-Kuprik Station to the Tashkent Regional Customs Department in Tashkent City, and detained for two days," the Baptists complained. Customs officials sent his religious materials for an "expert analysis" at the state Religious Affairs Committee. Officials also opened an administrative case against him.
When they released him on 15 March, officials did, however, return Prokopenko's electronic book and memory stick as he left the Department, the Baptists added.
"Aren't you exaggerating by saying he was detained?"
Tahir Nasirkhodjayev, Chief Customs Inspector of the Department, told Forum 18 that an administrative case was opened against Prokopenko under Administrative Code Article 227-22 for not declaring that he carried with him religious materials. This carries a fine for individuals of five to ten times the minimum monthly wage and confiscation of the items. "But we may confine ourselves to only giving him a warning, since he is not an Uzbek citizen," he claimed.
Asked why his Department detained Prokopenko for two days, Inspector Nasirkhodjayev responded: "Aren't you exaggerating by saying he was detained? He was only staying with us temporarily since we were waiting for the expert analysis of his materials from the Religious Affairs Committee. And then we let him go after we received an answer that nothing extremist was found in his materials."
Asked if he does not think this a violation of Prokopenko's rights, Inspector Nasirkhodjayev replied: "No, because we only enforce the Law, which demands us to stop and clarify what kind of religious materials people carry with them." Asked whether he does not think the controls on religious literature enshrined in the Religion Law and the Cabinet of Ministers Decree violate the rights of individuals, he referred Forum 18 to the state Religious Affairs Committee. He refused to discuss the issue further.
Cases for religious sermons in mobile phones
After searching the mobile phones of I. Khamidov and M. Salimov, two passengers arriving from Ufa, Customs officials at Tashkent airport discovered respectively ten and thirty "illegal" religious sermons on various topics, state-controlled news agency UzA on 11 January cited State Customs and other law-enforcement agencies as declaring. Cases were opened against the two. UzA did not say when the incident occurred or whether the cases were administrative or criminal.
Asked what charges were brought against Khamidov and Salimov, officials of Tashkent City Airport Customs (no names were given) on 10 March referred Forum 18 to its Investigations Department. Investigator Ilhom (who did not give his last name) told Forum 18 the same day that Chief Investigator Akmal Jalilov was "not available at the moment" and asked it to call back in 30 minutes. Called back, the same officer told Forum 18: "Even if we are investigating the cases, we cannot inform you over the phone. Please send us a letter."
"Importing into Uzbekistan illegal religious materials on electronic devices"
Two individuals returning to Uzbekistan from Russia – identified as F. Bekmatov and Sh. Odilov - were stopped by customs officials at Keles train station in Tashkent, UzA also reported. Bekmatov was travelling from Moscow and Odilov from Ufa. Searches "revealed extremist religious video materials on the mobile phone propagating violence".
UzA did not identify the video materials, so it is impossible to find out whether the materials were indeed violent or not.
Cases were opened against both Bekmatov and Odilov. UzA did not say when the incident occurred or whether the cases were administrative or criminal.
Asked what charges were brought against Bekmatov and Odilov, Keles Station customs officials, who would not give their names, refused to discuss the cases. They referred Forum 18 on 10 March to Tashkent City Customs Investigations Department.
Asked about the cases against all four men, Shavkat Salihov, Chief of Tashkent City Customs Investigators, claimed to Forum 18 on 10 March he could not find "such names or such cases". However, he admitted that "six cases were opened in December 2015 for importing into Uzbekistan illegal religious materials on electronic devices". Salihov declined to give any names or more specific details of the cases but said that all cases were administrative and the punishments consisted of fines.
Asked whether he does not think the censorship is a violation of the rights of travellers, Salihov referred Forum 18 to the Religious Affairs Committee. "We as Customs organs only enforce the Law, and the Law makes the Religious Affairs Committee responsible for the import of any religious materials into the country. They must give their prior consent to any import."
Fined for religious materials in tablet device
On 2 July 2015, Kattakurgan City Criminal Court of Samarkand Region punished two local Jehovah's Witnesses, Galina Podtikhova and Nilufar Bulatova, for carrying religious materials on their tablet device in a local park, Muzaffar Azykulov of the Court Chancellery told Forum 18 on 14 March 2016. Each was fined ten times the minimum monthly wage, 1,184,000 Soms, under Administrative Code Article 184-2.
Asked why the Court fined the two, Azykulov told Forum 18: "Police found religious materials on their tablet device." Asked why individuals cannot carry an electronic device containing religious materials on the street without committing an "offence", he refused to say. He also refused to identify the Judge who heard the case, or to put Forum 18 through to any other Court officials.
The Police had stopped the two women in the park on 22 June 2015 after noticing that they carried a tablet device, Samarkand Regional Administration's official newspaper "Samarkand Herald" reported on 23 January 2016.
Shukhrat Anorov, the author of the report, described the Jehovah's Witnesses as "sectarians" whose "activity was stopped" by the Police. He attacked the Jehovah's Witness organisation saying that it is "aiming at enslaving the conscience of man". The report said that the tablet device was "confiscated for the benefit of the state by the Court decision," and that "illegal religious materials were stored on it". (END)