11/28/2006, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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Bible burning and high fines for those who pray

"Unauthorized" religious minorities are continuously condemned for "illegal religious activities" because believers pray or come together in church. Police frequently conduct raids in places of worship to identify those present.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/Forum18) – Heavy fines for those who pray and the burning of bibles have been ordered by courts against Christian believers: the persecution against Uzbekistan's religious minorities continues without respite.

Forum 18 reported that the court of Chilanzar district (in the capital Tashkent) ordered a Pentecostal Christian, Risto Dyachkov, to pay a fine of 60,000 sum (around 38 euros) for violating Article 240 of the Code of Administrative Offences, which punishes "violations of the law on religious organizations".

Dyachkov was in church on 13 November when it was raided by 30 police officers who confiscated bibles, other Christian books and tapes and identified those present. Participating in prayer meetings of unregistered groups (even if they asked to be registered) is considered illegal and consequently punished. Baptist groups often refuse to ask for registration because they believe it is unwarranted interference by the State.

Already on 25 October, in the city of Karshi in the southern region of Surkhandarya, six Baptist Christians were ordered to pay fines of up to 540,000 sum (around 334 euros) for violation of Article 240. They were found in church during a raid on 27 August, during which their bibles and other religious books were seized. Two of them maintained they were just visitors and did not belong to the group.

The penalty is a harsh one considering that the minimum monthly wage in the region is less than 12,000 sums, and the average wage is less than 60,000 sums. The books were burned by order of the court. Some months ago, Begzot Kadyrov, an official of the Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18: "Unlawfully imported [religious] literature that arrives in Uzbekistan is not burnt, but is sent back to the country from which it came." But Forum 18 claims that bibles confiscated from unregistered religious organisations are often burned.

According to local sources, on 3 November, the Justice Department in Tashkent region handed down an "official warning" to Pastor Vyacheslav Bely of the Full Gospel Church, the leader of a Pentecostal group in Yangiyul, near the capital. The group must register again by the end of the month or be considered illegal. But in reality it is practically impossible to get new registration in so short a time.

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