08/17/2013, 00.00
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Uzbek authorities raid Christian family summer camps

Recent raids in Tashkent and Samarkand. Police target the annual summer camps organized by the Baptist Union. The Baptists are accused of violating rules relating to the ownership and distribution of religious materials. Samarkand police interrogate even children for over six hours.

Tashkent (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Uzbek government is clamping down further on Protestants. After numerous cases of seizures and destruction of religious material, according to the organization F18,  the authorities recently targeted the family summer camps organized by the Baptist community. The first case concerns the Bostanlyk District in the region of Tashkent, where police seized an area owned by the Baptist Union. This past June, the authorities raided the camp seizing religious material and hunting families with children. The police presented a warrant of eviction, claiming that the land was not owned by the community, but the state. The Baptist Union objected to the measure and denounced the violence to the local court, which will issue a decision in the next few days. The heads of the Christian minority argue that all their documents are in order. The community of Bostanlick had purchased the land of about an acre in 2000 from a chain of restaurants, which in 1993 had taken over the property from the Department of Privatization and Deregulation of Property (DPD).

The DPD - which in 1993 had sold the land to the chain of restaurants - claims that in 2004, some local residents filed complaints, denouncing the alleged "violation of religious and legal norms by the Baptists who have exploited a space used in past as a cemetery. Based on these statements  June 18 the DPD began a lawsuit at Tashkent Economic Court, arguing that the Baptist Union must return the land to the state. Jamshid Tursunov, head of DPD presented in person the complaint before the court. His claim is based on a law dating back to 'April 2006, which allows the state to revoke the right to property in some cases.

Another case of violation of private property and religious freedom is linked to a forced eviction that took place on July 23 in the Samarkand region, but the news was released only on August 6. Anonymous sources report that the police raided a camp for children, in the village of Mironkul organized by the local Protestant community. One of the witnesses said that the authorities arrived at the camp with "four bus carrying 80 people, including officials and police. At least 20 police were in riot gear." The anonymous source says that the raid began at 11 am, "agents raided the camp wielding rubber truncheons, threatening not only adults, but also children. All residents of the camp were subjected to six hours of questioning. Prior to their release agents led nine adults and 22 children to the Mironkul police station for further questioning. " According to the witness officials have seized all the material in the field: laptops, books, posters, four mobile phones, cameras, electric guitars and other materials. The police also confiscated the passports of two Ukrainian citizens without informing their embassy.

88% of the Uzbek population is Sunni Muslim faith while Christians make up 8%. In the country, freedom of religion is subject to strong limitation by the government. The Uzbek law considers detention of religious literature "illegal, only if it is connected to extremism and incites hatred." But the courts often destroy confiscated private materials after the "opinion" of some "experts", who generally define all the books that talk about religion as "extremist".


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