By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
SYRDARYA, UZBEKISTAN (ANS) -- The Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan continues to fine people for meeting to exercise their freedom of religion or belief, recently fining 15 Protestants and a non-Christian flat owner who rented her flat (apartment) to Christians.
A prayer meeting in Uzbekistan
According to Mushfig Bayram, Central Asia Correspondent for Forum 18 News Service (www.forum18.org), the fines imposed varied between 10 and 55 times the minimum monthly salary, and books and other religious material were ordered to be confiscated or given to the Russian Orthodox Church..
"In one case this resulted in a fine of 55 times the minimum monthly salary, and also it appears that police planted 'evidence' and a witness," said Bayram.
He said that Judge Sherzod Yuldashev fell silent when asked by Forum 18 why he ordered the destruction of Christian holy scriptures. When Forum 18 repeated the question he replied "I cannot explain these things to you over the phone" and then put the phone down.
He also fined Durdona Abdullayeva and Ulugbek Kenzhayev, whose personal New Testaments they were, 30 times the minimum monthly salary.
Planted evidence and witness, real fines
On the evening of September 5, 2014, police in Syrdarya, in the center of the country, raided and searched Denis Absattarov's home. He is a member of the local Full Gospel Church. The police stated they launched the raid following information from the chair of the local mahalla [local district] committee the Pakhtakor-4 district. (Mahalla committees are a key part of Uzbekistan's apparatus of repression).
Young Uzbek believers praying
Police claimed in the subsequent court hearing that they found Absattarov, Kurbanay Abdiyeva, Arina Kim and Vladimir Mehseryakov holding a religious meeting without state permission. All four (all of whom are Christian) deny this, insisting that they were meeting as friends to drink tea together.
Absattarov told Syrdarya District Criminal Court on October 2, 2014, that the authorities "broke in when they were about to pray together".
Absattarov also told the Court that a Bible in Uzbek, personal diary, and a video-cassette tape the police claimed to have found did not belong to him or his fellow-Christians, and did not know how they appeared in his home.
"A local Protestant who knows the Full Gospel Church, and who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 on November 20, 2014, that they think that the police planted those books," said Bayram.
An Uzbek legal expert, who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 on November 22, 2014, that he knows of other cases where the police plant religious literature in the homes of people as "evidence". The planting of evidence and torture by the authorities is often credibly claimed by people targeted for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief
Bayram stated that Kholmurod Yakhyayev told the Court that he works for the Narvuz-3 mahalla committee in Syrdarya, and was asked by Syrdarya Police to participate in the raid as a witness. Yakhyayev stated that police officers "did not act rudely or violate rights while apprehending the violators". He asked the Court to "stop and punish the illegal activity of the violators".
Yakhyayev, a local Protestant told Forum 18 on November 21, 2014, "has collaborated with Syrdarya Police as a witness, and is often used in cases against religious communities". One such case they knew of was on June 4, 2014, when Judge Zafar Nazarov of Syrdarya District Criminal Court fined nine Baptists for the "offence" of meeting together. The court decision in that case, seen by Forum 18, records Yakhyayev's participation as a witness.
Judge Nazarov fined the four defendants on October 2, 2014, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. Absattarov was fined 55 times the minimum monthly salary $2,450 US Dollars (at the inflated official exchange rate) under the Code of Administrative Offences' Articles 240 Part 1 and 241 Part 1. Each of the others was fined 10 times the minimum monthly salary under Article 240 Part 1.
Article 240 Part 1 bans: "Carrying out of unauthorized religious activity, evasion by leaders of religious organizations of registration of the charter of the organization, the unauthorized organization and conduct of worship by religious ministers, and the organization and conduct of special children's and youth meetings, as well as vocational, literature and other study groups not relating to worship".
Article 241 Part 1 bans: "Teaching religious beliefs without specialized religious education and without permission from the central organ of a [registered] religious organization, as well as teaching religious beliefs privately".
Confiscated and destroyed
Judge Nazarov also ordered two Bibles - one each in Uzbek and Russian - a Children's Bible, and another Christian book, and two Christian songbooks to be given to the Religious Affairs Committee in the capital city of Tashkent. He also ordered that a personal diary, one video-cassette tape and 26 DVD discs be destroyed. Judge Nazarov's Assistant (who would not give his name) on November 25, 2014, told Forum 18 that he "cannot comment on the case".
"Within Uzbekistan's police apparatus it is often the Anti-Terrorism Police who investigate cases involving people of all beliefs exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief," concluded Bayram.
On October 24, 2014, the private home of mother and son Durdona Abdullayeva and Ulugbek Kenzhayev was raided. Both belong to the Full Gospel Church and on November 11, 2014, Judge Sherzod Yuldashev of Tashkent's Sergeli District Criminal Court fined each of them 30 times the minimum monthly salary -- $1,330 US Dollars -- under Administrative Code Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons").
The prosecution claimed the two are Jehovah's Witnesses, although both testified that they are not. A local Protestant, who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 on 21 November 21, 2014, that the authorities may have deliberately misidentified the two as Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Judge also ordered the destruction of 30 Christian books, including three New Testaments (one in Russian and two in Uzbek), two booklets, one notebook with personal notes and 14 leaflets, as well as 125 video cassette tapes of films which have been shown on Uzbek television.