A court in the southern city of Karshi, Uzbekistan, has punished four members of a Baptist congregation for meeting for worship without state permission. One Baptist was jailed for five days after pointing out that he and his fellow Baptists did not break the Constitution or international human rights law, and the other three were fined several days’ average wages. The Judge illegally did not specify exactly what part of the law the Baptists had broken.
“Each time they come they film us and record our names,” Nabijon Bolikulov told Forum 18 after his release from a five-day jail term. “And then they gradually punish our people whose names they record.” During his trial, the judge told Bolikulov: “Do your prayers at home. It is against the law of our state to meet for worship without state registration.”
Exercising freedom of religion and belief with others without state permission in Uzbekistan is illegal, including sharing any beliefs with anyone, and meeting with others for worship or the study of sacred texts in homes. “Law enforcement” officials raid with impunity people of all faiths meeting together to exercise freedom of religion and belief. Those taking part in such meetings are very often threatened, detained, subjected to violent physical assault and torture, given large fines, and have religious literature – including Islamic texts and the Bible – confiscated and destroyed.
In Urgench, located in the northwestern Khorezm Region, two officers from the local police Department for the Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism broke into the home of a Saidjon Urazov, a Protestant believer. They handed him an official warning that he must not participate in unlawful religious meetings, must not keep religious literature in his home, must not teach religious doctrines, and must not violate the Religion Law. Local Protestants pointed out to Forum 18 that the warning given to Urazov is itself illegal.
Another court there lowered a fine illegally imposed on a Protestant, but left unchanged an order that confiscated religious literature including a Bible should be destroyed and her phone confiscated.
And in the capital Tashkent, a Baptist has failed to overturn on appeal an illegal fine and the destruction of a memory chip with family photos. The original court illegally put Alina Chernikova on trial without informing her that a trial was taking place. Both the original court and the appeal court also illegally failed to supply her with copies of their decisions within the legally specified time.
Council of Churches-Baptist congregations exercise their right under international human rights law not to apply for state permission to meet for worship. However, Uzbekistan makes state permission compulsory for exercising freedom of religion and belief.
Jasur Akramov, appointed the Chair of the Religious Affairs Committee on April 18, has evaded answering Forum 18’s questions about why people exercising their freedom of religion and belief continue to be jailed and fined, and also have their own religious literature confiscated and destroyed. He leads a team of 51 Committee officials, according to an April 16 Presidential Decree.
A more detailed report on actions taken by the government of Uzbekistan against worshippers can be found at forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2388.