03/19/2009, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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Uzbek Christians face persecution and discrimination even after death

The police and town authorities oppose a funeral for a man because his wife and son are Christian. Later they allow it, but in practically concealed form. Christians sentenced to prison solely because they gather together and pray. Persecution expanded against those who do not adhere to the country's official religion, Islam.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/F18) - The Uzbek National Security Service (NSS, the secret police) and the leaders of the mahalla (local governing body) in the city of Khodjeli (Karakalpakstan) opposed the burial of Zhumabai Smetullaev, a Muslim. Sources for the agency Forum 18 speak of genuine discrimination against the wife and son of the deceased man, both of whom are Christian.

Mahalla officials admit that there were obstacles to the funeral, without explaining why. Finally, a modest funeral was permitted, but without any procession, and just outside of the cemetery. But the sources for F18 say that the discrimination continues: the wife was warned by NSS officials not to organize the traditional ceremonies and commemorations at 40 and 100 days after burial, and that those who help her would be punished. A number of local inhabitants report threats from the police that those who convert to Christianity "will not be buried after death."

In the tradition of central Asia, it is normal for the entire community to attend the funeral for the deceased. Failure to participate indicates that the dead person and his family are considered outside of the community, genuine pariahs. Local authorities deny that they opposed the funeral, and municipal official Khudoyor Kurbaniyazo says that "we have six cemeteries, and even one for Christians." Smetullaev's family had suffered persecution even before this. In February, the police searched their home without authorization, and without saying what they were looking for: they took a Bible away.

The Protestants in nearby Nukus also denounce similar problems in the burial of their loved ones, with a ban on the community participating in the funeral or providing any help.

In various areas of the country, systematic repression is underway against Christians and other non-Islamic faiths. At the beginning of March, the Protestants Mahmudjon Turdiev, Mahmudjon Boynazarov, and Ravshanjon Bahramov were sentenced to 15 days in jail, in Andijan, solely for having attended a meeting in a private home and talked about religious topics. In the capital of Tashkent, Roman Tsoi, a South Korean Baptist Christian, was sentenced to 10 days in jail for participating in a prayer meeting in a registered church: sometimes the authorities demand specific authorization for every religious activity, except for Mass on Sundays and feast days, even if this is not required by the law.

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