Friday, November 30, 2012

Uzbekistan: Thousands of Bibles and Other Religious Literature Ordered to be Destroyed

11/29/2012 Uzbekistan (Forum 18)- Uzbekistan continues to violate the right to freedom of religion or belief by fining and raiding people meeting to discuss their faith and pray together. In Tashkent Region a Protestant has been fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage for allegedly illegally distributing religious literature, and books including Bibles and New Testaments have been ordered to be destroyed, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The court that punished the Protestants' "offence" also violated Uzbek legal procedures.

In another case in the central Samarkand [Samarqand] Region, three Protestants have been given one fine of 50 times the minimum monthly wage and two fines of 10 times the minimum monthly wage for allegedly distributing religious literature. They deny this, telling Forum 18 that their real "offence" is to meet with others to read the Bible and pray.

Also, Protestant churches with state permission to exist in the capital Tashkent have been told that they must change their charters and apply for re-registration – and so state permission to exist - within one month. Exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission is a criminal offence (see forthcoming F18News article).

The trials of Protestants took place in the same month that nine Muslim men from Tashkent Region, who met to discuss their faith and to learn how to pray, were sentenced after a criminal trial. Gayrat Khusanov and Shuhrat Yunusov were each given seven year jail terms on 22 November, and the other seven defendants received three year suspended prison terms. Relatives of the men told Forum 18 that they simply met sometimes to read the Koran and pray together. Books confiscated, possibly fabricated statement?

In the central town of Chirchik [Chirchiq], on 7 November Police Officer Aziz Zhurayev demanded that Vadim Shim open the boot of his car and confiscated Christian books that were found. Later the same day Officer Zhurayev confiscated more Christian books and materials from a garage belonging to Lyubov Tambovtseva. But on 7 November Officer Zhurayev stated in his report that all the religious materials were confiscated from Shim.
A very strict censorship regime is applied against religious literature and other material of all faiths that is published, distributed, or imported, or that people posses.
Officer Zhurayev's report also includes an undated statement from another woman who has been verified to be not resident at the address given in the statement. The woman is herself wanted for an offence by the police.
Chirchik police officers on 28 November referred Forum 18 to Officer Ulugbek Zhurayev to discuss the case. Zhurayev said that Forum 18 should talk to Officer Aziz Zhurayev at the the town's police Criminal Investigation and Struggle against Terrorism Division. This division oversees cases involving violations of freedom of religion or belief.
However, the officer who answered the Zhurayev's phone, adamantly denied to Forum 18 that anyone called Zhurayev works for Chirchik Police. Told that his colleagues referred Forum 18 to his number, he said that it is a "wrong number" and put the phone down.
Fined, Bibles and New Testaments ordered destroyed
On 9 November Judge Ikrom Obidov of Tashkent Region's Bostanlyk District Criminal Court fined Shim 7,235,500 Soms (about 21,500 Norwegian Kroner, 3,000 Euros, or 4,000 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate), 100 times the minimum monthly wage.
Shim, a member of an unregistered local Protestant Church called Mir (Peace), was fined under the Code of Administrative Offences' Article 184-2, which bans "Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan with a purpose to distribute or distribution of religious materials by physical persons". Punishments are a fine of between 50 and 150 times the minimum monthly wage, "with confiscation of the religious materials and the relevant means of their production and distribution".
Judge Obidov with the same decision, which has been seen by Forum 18, ordered the destruction of the confiscated Christian literature and materials: 1,379 books, 2,103 brochures, 448 leaflets 48 magazines, 193 video-tapes, 354 audio cassette-tapes. Among the confiscated books were three Bibles in Russian and 30 New Testaments – 20 in Uzbek and 10 in Russian(Source).

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