09/08/2009, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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Tashkent, Muslim immigrants convicted as terrorists

The courts hand down lengthy sentences for followers of cults not approved by the government, applying the penalties for terrorism. Human rights groups denounce that the convicted have only practised their religion. Meanwhile, crackdowns ensue against Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Tashkent (AsiaNews/F18) - Twenty young Muslims aged between 20 and 30 years were heavily sentenced because followers of the theology of Turk Said Nursi. Authorities apply to not approved Islamic groups penalties reserved for extremists and Islamic terrorists.
 
 
July 6 in Samarkand, 11 people were sentenced to terms of 7 to 11 years in prison on charges of "having prepared or distributed material hazardous for social security and order" and "having created, led or participated in extremist religious groups, separatist, fundamentalist or otherwise prohibited". The rights activist Surat Ikramov told Forum 18 agency that they were illegally arrested in February and have since been kept in solitary confinement without even being able to see relatives as well as being "subjected to brutal torture."
 
 
July 7 in Khorezm 10 young people, detained since January 19, received sentences of 5 to 11 years for similar offences.
 
 
These offences were designed to combat Islamic fundamentalists such as the Taliban, but civil rights groups denounce their use to suppress dissent.
 
 
May 4 another young man was sentenced by a court in Jizak to 7 years in prison for subversion of the constitutional order, participation in religious extremist groups and illegal distribution of religious material. According to pro-government press sources of, the young man wanted to spread the ideas of Nursi.
 
 
Veritas Youth Human Rigths Group and Najom Human Rights Group reported that these two "trials failed to provide evidence to support the charges and the defendants were convicted as religious extremists for the simple practice of their religion outside of the traditional canons of Islam as wanted and monitored by the state".
 
 
The Uzbek authorities persecute the followers of this theology since the end of 2008. There have already been at least 47 heavy prison sentences and the outcome of other trials is completely unknown.  Followers respond that there is no organized movement, but only people who study the writings of Nursi as an aid to their faith.
 
 
In addition to these charges, the authorities increasingly use imprisonment of up to 15 days for those who belong to unauthorized religious groups: in 2009 a number of Protestant Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses were sentenced. On 24 August in Tashkent a Protestant pastor and 3 followers were charged with taking part in a "unauthorized" religious meeting. Authorities refuse to recognise small Protestant groups and other religious faiths, forcing them to operate illegally.
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