03/13/2010, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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Baptist pastor sentenced to 10 years in prison

Found guilty of trafficking large quantities of drugs, but the faithful charge that the sentence is "fabricated." Prison and torture for those who practice their religion without authorization.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/F18) - The Baptist pastor Toharia Haydarov was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling large quantities of narcotics or psychotropic substances. The sentence was imposed on March 9 by a court in Guliston in a closed door trial. The Christian faithful tell the agency Forum 18 that the charge is completely "fabricated", and authorities want to punish him for his Christian faith.  

On January 18 Haydarov was called to appear at the Commissariat of Guliston and interrogated for hours to persuade him to recant. The police then told him they had found a matchbox containing drugs in his pocket. His faithful say that he is “a man of clear conscience and an honest Christian" and that the accusation is false and is a retaliation of the authorities as the Council of Baptist Churches refuses to seek state registration.

Tashkent has already sentenced to prison several people for religious reasons. The Pentecostal pastor Dmitry Shestakov is now serving a sentence of 4 years in prison for illegal religious activities. For the same reason Jehovah's Witnesses Abdubannob Ahmedov, Sergei Ivanov and Olim Turaev have been sentenced to between 3 ½ years and 4 years in prison.  

Prison sentences or high fines are frequent in the country for those who practice their faith without authorization, because all unauthorized religious activity is considered a crime, even to meet in private homes to pray. Between February and August 2009 prison sentences of 5 to 15 days to 21 Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestants have been issued. It is also common for the police drag those who pray to police stations where they are subjected to hours of interrogation.  

The minority religious groups are also discredited by state television. On February 11 members of Tashkent Baptist Union were accused on television of "turning people into zombies" and encouraging them to sell everything to donate money to the church.  

On September 9, 2009, the Special Representatives of the United Nations accused Tashkent of having tortured two brothers, Nigmat and Sobit Zufarov in prisoned for practicing their faith, subjecting them to beatings, threats, restrictions and isolation. The report notes that in May 2009 Nigmat began a hunger strike to protest that they were allowed to pray in the Zarafshan labour camp. In the report it is written that after 6 days, he was fed by force and it also showed several bruises. Uzbekistan has denied any use of torture.

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