12/01/2014, 00.00
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More attacks on religious freedom as Uzbek authorities raid, seize, fine and censor

Authorities have censored a poetic translation of the Qur'an because of the Koran, because "the book may divide society and cause public tension". A court fines a group of Christians for praying without permit on fabricated evidence, local sources say.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/F18) - Forum18 has recently reported that Uzbek religious authorities have banned a poetic version of the Qur'an, by Uzbek poet Jamol Kamol, translator of William Shakespeare's works. Equally, the news service dedicated to documenting violations of religious freedom in central Asia, said that an Uzbek court has punished a group of Protestants for meeting in a private home to read the Bible and pray. Fines amount to 55 times the Central Asia nation's minimum monthly wages

The dispute regarding the poetic translation of the Qur'an began in September when the Religious Affairs Committee stopped the initiative, initially authorised by the country's highest Islamic authorities.

The government through its various agencies controls, limits, and censors religious practice in Uzbekistan, in particular Islam. In this particular case, the Religious Affairs Committee turned down the request out of "fear that the book may divide society and cause public tension".

Also in September, the government cracked down on the Full Gospel Church. The authorities allegedly "surprised" a small group of faithful gathered to pray and read the Bible without the "necessary permits". The defendants have rejected the charge, saying that they were meeting as friends, not for worship.

Despite their denial, in October a court ordered them to stand trial. Some anonymous sources said that police framed the group during its raid, planting religious books and DVDs, which the Christians never owned nor used. Uzbek police often plant false evidence and use torture to extract confessions and obtain convictions.

In another incident in late October, police broke into a private home, whose residents, a mother and her son, were mistaken, local sources said, for Jehovah's Witnesses, a religious minority persecuted by the government. The judge ordered the destruction of the religious material found in the woman's flat, including a notebook. 

Sunni Muslims constitute 88 per cent of the Uzbek population with Christians making up 8 per cent.

In the country, religious freedom is tightly restricted. Under Uzbek law, religious material deemed to incite extremism and hatred is illegal

The courts also tend to order the destruction of material confiscated in homes based on the opinion of experts, who regularly deem all books about religion as "extremist".

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