Tashkent (AsiaNews/F18) – In Uzbekistan, Baptists are systematically persecuted, beaten, victims of raids and illegal Bible seizures by police officers—several members of community have been heavily fined just for praying together. In the Central Asian country, any activity by unregistered religious groups, like praying, is “illegal”.
Baptists in Samarkand told the Forum 18 news agency that on 15 August about 20 police officers raided a private home during a celebration. People were struck, threatened, videotaped against their will; Bibles were even torn from the hands of children. Police eventually took down everyone’s name, and seized the passport of Veniamin Nemirov, the owner of the house. Forum 18 reported that police detained, summoned and intimidated some of the same people a few days later. On 17 August, one Vladimir Abramov was beaten because he refused to sign a statement.
During the raid, police seized Bibles, hymnbooks and other religious literature. The Religious Affairs Committee refused to return them, saying that only registered religious groups can use them. Since Baptists in Samarkand are not a recognised group, the material is “illegal”.
On 21 September, a judge imposed heavy fines (the equivalent of 7 to 11 months of wages) on five Baptists (Veniamin Nemirov, Vladimir Abramov, Alisher Abdullaev, Mikhail Lyubivy and Lyubov Lyubivaya) for taking part in an unauthorised religious service and for “teaching religious beliefs without specialised religious education and without permission from the central organ of a [registered] religious organisation".
The convictions were upheld on 14 October by the Appeal Court in Samarkand. Theoretically, the decision means that teaching one’s religion to one’s children is illegal.
The five Baptists are not taking the decision lying down. They told the court that Article 29 of the Uzbek constitution guarantees “freedom of thought, speech and convictions.” They also complained about the beating they received and the intimidation they had to endure.
The authorities, for their part, have denied all the allegations and have refused any investigation into the claims made by the Baptists.