06/11/2010, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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Tashkent: prison and torture for Christians and Muslims

Judge sentences 19 Muslims to six years in prison or labour camp on false charges. Police inflicts physical and physiological torture on some defendants. Religious Affairs Committee threatens to strip registered Protestant Church of its permit operate and seize its place of worship, even if they are legal.
Tashkent (AsiaNews/Forum 18) – Christians and Muslims continue to feel the brunt of government repression in Uzbekistan. More and more of them are charged just for the faith, and convicted on false accusations. The authorities have even threatened to seize a church in the capital if its parishioners do not stop complaining about arrests, fines and detentions.

In Tashkent, a Regional Court sentenced 19 Muslims on 27 May to six years in prison for violating the Criminal Code.  Renowned journalist Hairulla Hamidov along with Abdukarim Inamutdinov, Orol Tugaymurotov and Bahodyr Batyrov were given six years in a labour camp.

"The case was fabricated," human rights defender Surat Ikramov said. The trial was in "flagrant violation" of the Criminal Code. Ikramov complained that the defendants were subjected to physical and psychological torture by police during the pre-trial investigation.

"The court did not prove the guilt of the defendants,” he said, “and none of the defendants pleaded guilty of the charges brought against them."

Lawyers in the case have said that the defendants will appeal against the court decision, even if they could get a harsher sentence. The lawyers also risk losing their licence to practice, a threat that is typically made against them when human rights cases go to court.

On 31 May, Judge Sherali Komilov convicted ten Muslims for distributing “materials threatening public security and public order” and creating, leading or participating “in religious extremist, separatist or fundamentalist or other banned organisations”. Sentences varied between five and six years.

As in others, the prosecution in this case failed to prove the defendants’ guilt; however, according to Ikramov, their guilt consisted of being Muslim and praying regularly.

Three members of Tashkent's Protestant Church of Christ, Artur Avanesyan, Vyacheslav Dechkov and Bahodyr Adambaev, were also sent to prison. All three were placed under a 15-day administrative arrest.

Two other members of the Church were instead placed under house arrest after they were followed by police and threatened by law enforcement and newspapers.

The state’s Religious Affairs Committee threatened to strip the registered church of its legal status and prevent church members from holding their services if they continue to complain about arrests and incarcerations.

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