UZBEKISTAN: Dmitry Shestakov released but not free

Shestakov family (Jan 11)Pastor Dmitry Shestakov was released from prison on 21 January 2011, at the end of a four-year sentence for “religious activities”.

Dmitry’s wife, daughters and two representatives from his church in Andijan were at the prison gate to welcome him. No representative of any other church was present, for fear of state reprisals, and his lawyer was not permitted to be present. A large number of prison officials and plain-clothes secret police attended the release, and filmed it.

“I am overwhelmed with joy because of all the attention I received after I was released,” said Dmitry. “I wish to thank all my brothers and sisters who have prayed for me and who have thought about me while I was imprisoned.”

Dmitry was 38 when he was arrested on 21 January 2007 during a raid on the Full Gospel Church in Andijan, Uzbekistan, where he had been pastor since 2003. In March 2007 he was charged with breaking the Uzbek criminal law and sentenced to four years in Navoi labour camp in Central Uzbekistan, approximately 800 km away from his home. His wife Marina and three daughters Masha, Sasha and Vera were able to visit him in prison several times a year.

Dmitry’s mother died on 24 January, just three days after his release, so his joy at being released has been tempered by the grief of bereavement. In addition, he is suffering from heart and liver problems and high blood pressure. Dmitry’s mother was paralysed by a stroke after his arrest. On his way home from prison he visited her, but she was in a coma.

Despite being released, Dmitry is under the severe restrictions of “administrative supervision”. For one year, he must report to Andijan Regional Police no fewer than three times a month, and he must report to the police inspector every month. He may not be outside his home between 9pm and 6am, he may not leave the city of Andijan without written police permission and he may not visit public places where alcohol is served, such as cafás, bars and restaurants. The police have the right to check that he is at home several times each night after 9pm. Before any major public holiday, he will be summoned to the city police station and asked to write a statement about himself.

The prison administration asked the Criminal Court to place Dmitry under administrative supervision, claiming that he was a persistent violator of the prison regime (strongly denied by those who know him). He was given the maximum term of supervision, usually reserved, according to a human rights defender, for “thugs or violent religious extremists”. The term of supervision can be extended, and the punishments for infringement range from very large fines to imprisonment for four years.

Local Christians have complained that, “all this is done to crush Shestakov and his church. The police will do everything in their power to bring a criminal case against Shestakov, and send him back to prison.” They fear that the police may arrange the planting on him of narcotic drugs, cartridges, explosives, guns or religious literature.

The church, too, faces much pressure, despite the fact that it is officially registered. “I have been ordered to follow strict guidelines and regulations,” Dmitry said. “I am a pastor and I want to serve God but I have to find a wise way to do this.”
(Forum 18 News Service, Open Doors)