Tashkent (AsiaNews / F18) - Violations of religious freedom continue unabated in Uzbekistan, where local authorities target faithful gathered in prayer meetings or in private, confiscating books - including Bibles and Gospels - and placing restrictions on freedom of movement. The raids take place inside private homes, without a warrant, and target both state registered communities as well as individual believers.
The new website Forum18, committed to documenting violations of religious freedom in Central Asia, reports that the latest cases occurred in August and targeted Christian families. The police confiscated personal information, religious material and other items useful to identify their religious affiliation and practice of worship.
In mid-August in the central region of Navoi, a dozen police
officers and other officials - without warrant - broke into the home of a Baptist
pastor, who was leading a prayer meeting with some family members. Police confiscated
religious materials and expelled two faithful from Russia, as well as the man's
mother, from the country. The elderly
lady however lives in Israel and is not a member of any church.
Local sources said that the authorities will bring charges against the small group of Christians; in all likelihood they will be sentenced to pay a fine. The police operation comes under the infamous law passed earlier this year by Tashkent, which strengthens censorship and controls on religious texts and which came into force on 15 August.
In addition, at the beginning of last month in Chirchik (Tashkent region), at least 15 policemen raided the house of a Protestant pastor while the man, together with his children and some friends were playing volleyball. The police seized all the religious material and other properties. Friends of the family were tracked down and brought to the police station where they were interrogated at length.
Another episode took place in the north-western region of Khorezm where police "perfectly fabricated" an accusation against a Protestant Christian, guilty of "sharing" his faith with a family member and another person. In late July, on two different occasions the authorities targeted some Jehovah's Witnesses in eastern Namangan and a Baptist church summer camp in Tashkent.
In a country where about 88 per cent of the population is Sunni Muslim with 8 per cent Christians, religious freedom is under tight government controls. Although only the possession of religious literature that is extremist in nature and incites "religious hatred" is deemed illegal, the judiciary often destroys material seized in homes after receiving "opinion" from "experts" for whom any book about religion is extremist.