Tashkent (AsiaNews/Forum18) Two female students were thrown out of their university because they are members of an "illegal" Protestant church. The expulsion occurred in the town of Nukus, capital of the Karakalpakstan autonomous region, in north-western Uzbekistan.
The two young women Aliya Sherimbetova and Shirin Artykbayeva were told to leave the local branch of the Tashkent Medical Institute in early September. The administration has refused so far to provide information explaining its action.
Sherimbetova, Artykbayeva and other students have been targeted because of their Christian faith and membership in the Church of Christ, a Protestant church that is not officially recognised by the state.
In April, one of the Institute's teaching staff, professor Alima Urazova, raided the students' private flat where she confiscated Christian literature in their possession. She insulted them saying that "it would be better for you to work as prostitutes than to read those dreadful books" and forced them to move to communal lodgings where they could be more easily stopped from spreading Christianity.
According to local sources the two students were expelled because Forum 18, a news agency dedicated to religious freedom, reported their case earlier in the year.
Other students attentind the medical institute in Nukus were threatened because they, too, belonged to Portestant Churches. On April 1 the city prosecutor wrote to the Institute's rector, Oral Ataniyazova, asking her to expel Iklas Aldungarov, a student allegedly involved in "an illegal religious sect". Ms Ataniyazova refused because Aldungarov was a very poor student.
In Karakalpakstan, religious minorities are increasingly subject to restrictions. Christian Churches of all denominations are rarely granted an official registration permit even when they obtain the necessary 100 signatures required by Uzbek law. Believers are thus forced to worship without proper authorisation and are liable to prosecution under Uzbek law which bans all unregistered religious activity.
Uzbekistan has a population of 25 million, approximately 88 per cent Muslim. Christians are around 10 per cent. Catholics number about 4,000.