Five members of a Baptist church in the southern Uzbek city of Karshi were detained and fined for meeting without state permission, without hearing the exact charges, reports Forum 18.
Police also raided the homes of two Baptists, Khamid and Ziyatullo Rakhmonov (not related), on 23 May, and took them to the police station for questioning.
The five fined Baptists, Nabijon Bolikulov, Viktor Tashpulatov, Mikhail Balykbayev, Munira Gaziyeva and Svetlana Andreychenko, were initially summoned for questioning, which lasted seven and a half hours. Following the court hearing the next day, 24 May, Bolikulov was kept in jail for five days because he protested their arrest, saying they had not broken any law.
Judge Azamat Khushvakhtov said the five were being fined for “violating [the country’s] Religion Law”, but did not specify what the specific charges against them were.
The judge told Bolikulov: “Do your prayers at home. It is against the law of our state to meet for worship without state registration.”
He also threatened the Baptists that if they continue meeting for worship without state permission, he will open a criminal case against them.
Forum 18 said that both Khamid and Ziyatullo Rakhmonov, together with a third Baptist member, Jamol Bobomurodo, were also brought before the court and fined the equivalent of one month’s minimum wage.
Baptist churches that are members of the Uzbek Baptist Council of Churches currently meet for worship without seeking state permission, as is their right under international human rights law. But Uzbekistan, against its international human rights obligations, bans any collective religious meeting without state permission.
Warnings and court cases
Meanwhile, in the western Uzbek city of Urgench, officers of the local Department for the Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism also broke into the home of a Christian man, Saidjon Urazov.
According to Forum 18, “they handed him [Urazov] 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”. But Urazov refused to sign the warning.
Urazov was present during a raid on a church meeting in a flat in Urgench in July last year, as was Shakhzoda Rajabova, who was charged for possessing Christian literature.
The fine she received, which was initially was 80 times the minimum monthly salary – almost 1,500 US$ – has now been reduced, according to Forum 18. However, the literature she had with her, including her Uzbek-language New Testament, was ordered to be destroyed, and her phone confiscated.
Rajaboya was put on trial without being informed about the fact that her case was before a court, and the same happened to another woman, Alina Chernikova, a Baptist from the capital Tashkent.
Chernikova failed to receive copies of either the lower or appeal court’s decisions within the time period that is legally required, said Forum 18. Her appeal to overturn a lower court’s ruling, ordering her to pay a fine and the destruction of a memory chip with family photos, was unsuccessful.
Earlier this month the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, welcomed Uzbekistan’s pledge to implement 12 of his recommendations in the wake of a visit there in October last year.
Following his visit, Shaheed said that in Uzbekistan “freedom of religion or belief as a human right inherent to every human being is not recognised in law and in practice,” adding that this “poses a fundamental challenge for religious freedom in Uzbekistan”.