Uzbekistan authorities have banned a translation of the Koran, destroyed New Testaments and given heavy fines for ‘illegal’ religious gatherings, reports Forum 18.
The Religious Affairs Committee has banned the publication of a poetic translation of Koran into Uzbek. They stated that the Koran “was never translated into Uzbek in poetic form, and that Imam-hatyps from various regions of Uzbekistan gave a negative opinion of it”. However, Forum 18 was told that the Muslim Board, the Mufti and Deputy Chief Mufti, Abdulaziz Mansurov had given their approval along with that of a number of other religious scholars in Uzbekistan.
In Uzbekistan all exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission is forbidden. Via the Muslim Board and other state agencies the government imposes total control of every aspect of the Muslim community’s life.
In early November the Religious Affairs Committee was asked to authorise a limited print-run of up to 1,000 copies, for distribution among Muslim leaders, professionals, experts, scholars and others to gain backing for the verse translation. The Committee refused this request, telling Khusainov in a meeting that they “fear that the book may divide society and cause public tension”. Khusainov hopes that “one day we will be able to publish it”.
STATE CONTROL OF RELIGIOUS GATHERINGS
On the evening of 5 September police in Syrdarya in the centre of the country raided and searched Denis Absattarov’s home. He is a member of the local Full Gospel Church. The police stated they launched the raid following information from the chair of the local mahalla [local district] committee.
Police claimed in the subsequent court hearing (see below) that they found Absattarov, Kurbanay Abdiyeva, Arina Kim and Vladimir Mehseryakov holding a religious meeting without state permission. All four deny this, insisting that they were meeting as friends to drink tea together. Absattarov told Syrdarya District Criminal Court on 2 October that the authorities “broke in when they were about to pray together”.
Judge Nazarov fined the four defendants on 2 October, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. Absattarov was fined 55 times the minimum monthly salary; each of the others was fined 10 times the minimum monthly salary under Article 240 Part 1.
Article 240 Part 1 bans: “Carrying out of unauthorised religious activity, evasion by leaders of religious organisations of registration of the charter of the organisation, the unauthorised organisation and conduct of worship by religious ministers, and the organisation and conduct of special children’s and youth meetings, as well as vocational, literature and other study groups not relating to worship”. Article 241 Part 1 bans: “Teaching religious beliefs without specialised religious education and without permission from the central organ of a [registered] religious organisation, as well as teaching religious beliefs privately”.
Judge Nazarov also ordered two Bibles – one each in Uzbek and Russian – a Children’s Bible, and another Christian book, and two Christian songbooks to given to the Religious Affairs Committee in the capital Tashkent. He also ordered that a personal diary, one video-cassette tape and 26 DVD discs be destroyed. Judge Nazarov’s Assistant (who would not give his name) on 25 November told Forum 18 that he “cannot comment on the case”.
Religious literature seized from individuals – whether Muslims, Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses or of other faiths – is frequently ordered destroyed by the courts.
On 24 October the private home of mother and son Durdona Abdullayeva and Ulugbek Kenzhayev was raided. Both belong to the Full Gospel Church and on 11 November Judge Sherzod Yuldashev of Tashkent’s Sergeli District Criminal Court fined each of them 30 times the minimum monthly salary under Administrative Code Article 184-2 (“Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons”).
The Judge also ordered the destruction of 30 Christian books, including three New Testaments (one in Russian and two in Uzbek), two booklets, one notebook with personal notes and 14 leaflets, as well as 125 video cassette tapes of films which have been shown on Uzbek television.
When asked why he ordered the destruction of the Christian holy scriptures, Judge Yuldashev fell silent. When Forum 18 repeated the question he replied “I cannot explain these things to you over the phone” and then put the phone down.
Monday 8 December 2014 – update from Forum 18
UZBEKISTAN: STATE-SPONSORED MEDIA ATTACKS CONTINUE
Uzbekistan’s state-sponsored mass media continues attacking named people exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. The victims are not given a right of reply and media staff evade answering question on the attacks.
The authors of attacks have included a Judge who subsequently fined people he attacked. Asked whether this made the Judge prejudiced against one party in a case, his assistant replied: “Who are you to question the Judge’s rights and what he can and cannot do?”
Recent allegations against named people include “making zombies out of children”, improperly associating with young girls, drug dealing, and that “a sudden death awaits every member of the [named religious community] who owns any kind of property and lives alone”.
Various religious believers commented to Forum 18 on the contradiction between state-supported media making serious allegations of crime, and law enforcement agencies making no known investigations. Belief communities thought the purpose of media attacks was to publicly discredit them, and when full names and addresses are published to make people afraid of physical attack.