12/23/2006, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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Christians subject to defamation and police raids

State TV has attacked Protestant groups. Baptist churches say believers praying at home have been subject to further harassment. But the government says religious freedom is respected and is urging the European Union to ease sanctions imposed.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/Forum18) – Uzbek state television is insulting Christian minorities and provoking general disrespect in their regard. Meanwhile the government has “concocted” a survey on religious freedom to tell the world that the country is tolerant towards all religions, according to the news agency Forum 18.

 

Uzbek state television broadcast a previously unscheduled programme entitled "Hypocrites" on the evenings of 30 November and 1 December, attacking Protestant churches and accusing them of plagiarism and using drugs. The programme said: "On the pretext of financially helping people in need, they [these groups] instil their own teachings in these people's minds. Soon the targeted people become complete zombies." The programme cited and attacked many religious groups, including the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church – which the government recognises as registered – as "illegally operating".


Begzot Kadyrov, specialist of the State’s Religious Affairs Committee, intervened only to criticise missionary activities. "Turning away from the religion of one's ancestors is not only one's own mistake but could also lead to very bad situations between brothers, sisters and between parents and their children." Whoever converts to Christianity “is lost to family, friends and society.” Local Christians told Forum 18 that their relationships with other people have deteriorated since the programme, which attracted a large audience.


The programme is at odds with a drive by the Uzbek government to gain points as a tolerant country that respects religious freedom. In 13 December, the government published the results of a survey on religious freedom conducted by the
Ijtimoiy Fikr (Social Opinion) centre. According to this survey, only 3.9% of respondents complained about restrictions of this freedom. The results were sent to the websites of many embassies, especially of countries like Germany – set to hold the EU presidency – that must decide about whether to lift European Union sanctions imposed on Tashkent.

 

In November, the US State Department put Uzbekistan on the list of “countries of particular concern” because of abuses of the right to religious freedom. In November, the EU confirmed sanctions against the Uzbek government after the Andijan massacre in Many 2005, but states like Germany have asked if they could be “eased”. Last week, EU officials went to the country to discuss its human rights record.

 

Sources of Forum 18 said the research centre in question was not independent and the survey “results” were “fabricated” for propaganda purposes. In any case, the number of respondents and criteria for establishing the degree of representation of the study sample were not revealed. The study claimed that 22% of Muslims have been able to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in 15 years but Forum 18 contested this, saying that in recent years the government has allowed only about 4,000 Muslims to conduct the pilgrimage each year.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks, some Protestant churches were shut down and heavy fines were handed down to believers. On 7 December, the Council of Churches Baptists (that refuses the registration stipulated by the government for all religious groups) denounced that “many religious services were disrupted... Believers have been forcibly taken to police stations” after which “fines have been imposed, even when just a few people have come together for prayer in a private flat."

 

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