01/15/2010, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN

Tashkent: heavy fines and prison terms for Christians

Police persecute Christians even during Christmas. Fines often are worth years of wages and repeat offenders can go to prison.
Tashkent (AsiaNews/F18) – Uzbek police continued to persecute Christians during Christmas. In several cases, it stormed gatherings and religious functions, imposing heavy fines. Repeat offenders were also jailed.

On 3 January, police raided a Christmas gathering by about 40 members of the Full Gospel Holiness Church in Umid village (Yangiyul district). Although the Church is recognised by the authorities and is allowed to engage in religious activities, police officer Bobur Usmanov told the Forum 18 new agency that the Church “was not registered in Umid village.”

Under the current law on religious freedom, which was made more restrictive in recent years, religious groups must register in the regions where they want to carry out their activities.

Police have given the law an even more conservative interpretation to mean that religious groups must register in each small town and village. Without such recognition, getting together to pray or just speak about religion in a private home can be considered unlawful.

Now the leaders of Holiness Church, Kholmet Ashirov, Ayazbek Taytaliyev and Rustam Usmanov will probably be heavily fined. The last two were sentenced to five days in prison in 2009 by the district court of Yangiyul for organising and chairing religious meetings. Now they could be sentenced again as “repeat offenders”.

In late December of last year, the Termez City Criminal Court fined Rev Bakhrom Nazarov a total of 2,805,000 som (US$ 1,825) for holding an unauthorised prayer. In a country where the average monthly is around US$ 20, such a fine represents 81 months of wages.

Nazarov, who heads the Full Gospel Church in Urgench, which is also not registered locally, has been harassed by the authorities. He has also been in prison on several occasions. In 2004, even his Bible was seized.

Forum 18 has reported that the situation for Christians has worsened. It noted that many believers have spent anywhere between 5 to 15 days in jail for attending religious meetings, people like Mahmudjon Turdiev, Mahmudjon Boynazarov and Ravshanjon Bahmarov, all from Kurgantepe; and Roman Tsoi, Pavel Nenno, Andrei Sim, Vladimir Tyo, Yuri Tyo and Dmitri Sim from Tashkent.

Local sources said that Mahmudjon Turdiev and Ravshanjon Bahmarov have also been threatened with more time in prison if they insist on appealing their sentence.

Jehovah’s Witnesses Dilshod Akhmedov, Fatima Akhmedov, Ilhamjan Akhmedov, Galina Fris, Ayshe Setablaeva, Mamlakat Nabieva, Angelina Farahova, and Gulchehra Tashboltaeva have spent 5 to 15 days in prison.

A number of them appealed but the appeal court judge in Mirza-Ulugbek (Tashkent) not only confirmed their sentence but also imposed heavy fines, 1,962,800 som or US$ 1,250, for Mamlakat Nabieva, Angelina Farahova, Gulchehra Tashboltaeva and 4 other members of the Church, many of whom are unemployed.

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