UZBEKISTAN: Three church members jailed after raid on church

Uzbekistan mapThree members of a large church in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, were yesterday sentenced to 15 days in prison.

Artur Avanesyan (assistant pastor of the church) and two other men from the church, Bahodyr Adambaev and Vyacheslav Dechkov, began their sentences immediately at the end of the hasty trial on Tuesday evening (the court sat until 10.30pm when the sentences were announced). Five other church members were given large fines. The arrests took place last Sunday (16 May) during a massive police raid on the church in central Tashkent.

The church raid was carried out without a warrant during Sunday worship on by the Mirzo-Ulugbek District Police, National Security Service(NSS) secret police, Tax Inspectorate, Fire Brigade, andSanitary-Epidemiological Service. After a five-hour search the policeofficially sealed the church, preventing the congregation from having
further access, and the Fire Brigade cut off the electricity. The church was raided despite the fact that it is registered with the government and is listed as a religious organisation in the Uzbek Golden Pages business directory.

Raids, threats, fines and literature confiscations continue throughout Uzbekistan. The authorities use films to encourage intolerance of religious minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians and Methodists.

Increasing numbers of Christians are receiving summonses to the Prosecutor’s Office to sign statements not to meet with other Christians or hold Christian literature. Those found guilty of ‚Äòattracting believers of one confession to another and other missionary activity’ receive large fines. Homes are raided and religious literature seized and burned. Religious activity amongst students puts them at risk of expulsion from their courses.

The Uzbek government has designated 2010 ‚ÄòThe Year for the Harmonious Development of the Generation’, and has ordered a series of measures against, amongst other things, ‚Äòalien for us religious and extremist influences.’ The decree approving this programme was signed by President Islam Karimov on 27 January 2010.

State-imposed restrictions on all faiths are particularly tight in the north-western state of Karakalpakstan, where the only permitted religions are Russian Orthodox and state-controlled Islam. All others are restricted. Their practice is considered a criminal offence, and their followers face criminal trials. Christians are facing increasing harassment in the form of raids, threats, fines, literature confiscations and court-ordered destruction of religious literature.

On 8 April 2010, police officers in Karakalpakstan’s capital, Nukus, summoned for interrogation Aimurat Khayburahmanov, a Christian who has previously been prosecuted for his faith. (He was held for three months in 2008 for teaching religion without official permission, and alleged religious extremism.) Officers demanded that he sign a statement that he would not associate with other Christians or have any Christian books in his home. Khayburahmanov refused to sign, and asked why this was being demanded. The police told him that all Christians are recorded on file and he especially, given his previous prosecution. Khayburahmanov refused to answer any more questions, despite police threats that they would have him imprisoned again if he refused to give weekly statements pledging not to meet with other Christians. He was freed after three hours, but was told he would have to return to the police station.

In another recent case, on 1st March 2010 Nukus Criminal Court heard a case (‚Äòillegal religious teaching’) against Svetlana Amanjanova. She was not fined, merely warned, but the judge ruled that four confiscated religious books and CDs be destroyed. However, the prosecutor complained about the judgment to the Karakalpakstan Supreme Court and, at a new trial, Svetlana was fined five months’ minimum wage.(Forum 18 News Service)