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  • » 12/13/2014, 00.00


    Uzbek state media campaign against freedom of worship and religion

    Official newspapers pursue a campaign against religious communities and believers, such as Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses. One of their accusations is that the latter "turn children into zombies". Victims of slander have no chance to reply. In one case, defamatory articles led to four Christians losing their job.

    Tashkent (AsiaNews/F18) - Uzbekistan's official state media continue their campaign against religious communities and believers, targeting in particular Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses.

    According to Forum 18, a news service committed to documenting violations of religious freedom in Central Asia, various articles and editorials have appeared, attacking people who demand the right to religious freedom. What is more, victims are denied the right to reply to articles that contain unsubstantiated slanderous and defamatory content.

    In one particularly telling case, a judge fined religious believers based on false information found in a number of articles. More generally, newspapers like to allege that those who practice faith use brainwashing techniques to "turn children into zombies".

    Attacks by media and the press in Uzbekistan are so commonplace that they appear to be part of a strategy by Uzbek authorities to undermine religious freedom and worship, whether by individual believers or entire communities. This strategy, experts explain, is aimed at controlling society.

    Inaccurate or false reporting and the impossibility for victims to reply against attacks have created a culture of impunity for government officials and their acolytes.

    Government censorship of all sources of information, including the seizure and ban of texts and other material somehow linked to faith or religious freedom, underpin the situation.

    The latest cases of press attacks against religions occurred in the last two months, involving two different Baptist communities, the Church of Eternal Life, and a group of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    In one case, Forum 18 reports that on 13 November, the 12news newspaper published several defamatory articles about Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses whose only fault was to demand the right to practice their religion.

    Before that, another newspaper, Oltin Vodiy, had attacked four members of a Protestant community in the region of Navoi.

    Calling them "lost souls," it compared the four to the characters in a movie in which a Muslim couple goes through all sorts of mishaps after converting to Christianity.

    After the article came out with the names and addresses of the four Christians, they lost their job, local Christian sources said.

    In a country where Sunni Muslims constitute 88 per cent of the population, and Christians make up 8 per cent, government restrictions on religious freedom are a normal feature.

    Under Uzbek law, it is illegal for example to possess religious literature "if it is extremist and incites hatred". At the same time, courts often order the destruction of material seized in private homes after hearing the "learned" opinion of "experts" who tend to define all books on religion as "extremist".

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    See also

    23/08/2008 UZBEKISTAN
    In Tashkent meeting at home to pray is a crime
    The state appoints imams, chooses what goes into religious education and decides who can and who cannot go to Makkah. Non-Muslim groups are hard pressed to be recognised. Jehovah Witnesses can get two or three years in jail just for getting together.

    06/07/2012 UZBEKISTAN
    After four years in prison, Uzbek Jehovah's Witness gets another 30 months
    Abdubannob Ahmedov was set for release on 23 July but was convicted on unspecified charges of violating prison rules. A Baptist woman could also get three years in prison for "illegally reaching religion." Uzbek authorities continue their crackdown on religion.

    21/06/2010 UZBEKISTAN
    Uzbek authorities force Christians, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, to go underground
    Church members and religious groups complain that the state does not authorise them to operate on the basis of pretexts or by silently ignoring them. Without a permit, even meeting to pray can be punished. After many years, the Central Protestant Church is still fighting for its rights.

    15/01/2010 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.

    14/06/2012 UZBEKISTAN
    Tashkent, Uzbekistan Jehovah's Witness risk expulsion
    The woman forced to abandon her mother, ill and in need of care, on alleged irregularities relating to citizenship. In reality it’s because of their faith. In the past year they have been sentenced twice to heavy fines. Christian Baptist also targeted by the authorities.

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