Uzbekistan fines Baptists for meeting without a license - Word&Way

Uzbekistan fines Baptists for meeting without a license

OSLO, Norway (ABP) — Thirteen members of an unregistered Baptist church in Uzbekistan have been fined 100 times the nation's minimum monthly salary, an international news service that tracks stories about abuses of religious freedom reported March 15.

Forum 18, a news service based in Oslo, Norway, said fines were handed down Feb. 23 following arrests Jan. 24 on charges of "illegal teaching of religious doctrines without a special authorization from a central religious organization" in the city of Almalyk not far from Uzbekistan's capital of Tashkent.

Last year members of the same church were fined 50 times the minimum monthly salary. Fines for six Baptists were reduced to five times the monthly wage following an appeal.

The church belongs to the Baptist Council of Churches, a group that refuses to register its congregations within the former Soviet Union as a matter of principle. Fearing interference by the state, the council's churches claim a right to worship under international human-rights agreements that Uzbekistan has signed.

News of the conviction and fines came on the heels of a separate case involving another church that is also part of the Baptist Council of Churches. As reported March 11, Tohar Haydarov, 27, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in the region of Syrdarya in central Uzbekistan on drug charges that fellow Baptists insist were fabricated against him after he refused to renounce his faith.

The Baptists in Almalyk claimed more than 60 violations of Uzbek law by police, including excessive use of force and falsifying of case files.

The United States State Department lists Uzbekistan as one of eight "Countries of Particular Concern," a designation for the world's worst violators of religious freedom.