14 October 1999

UZBEK BAPTIST CHURCH RAIDED: A RETURN TO RELIGIOUS REPRESSION? by Felix Corley, Keston News Service Following a brief thaw in August and September when the Uzbek authorities released several hundred Muslim prisoners, all known Christian prisoners (a total of five men) and two Jehovah's Witnesses, and registered several dozen religious groups which had been denied registration for a number of years, there are fears that religious repression has returned. According to reports reaching Keston News Service from the US-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries and the Friedensstimme mission in Germany, the local police raided the annual harvest celebration at an unregistered Evangelical Baptist church in the city of Karshi on 10 October, detaining, beating and imprisoning many of the participants. Two of the men have been given administrative sentences and the authorities are threatening to open a criminal case against the owner of the house where the meeting was conducted. The Friedensstimme Mission notes that although unregistered Baptist congregations have suffered controls and the confiscation of religious literature since the August thaw, this is the first time since then that the authorities have moved against one of their congregations in such a `physical' manner. The press office of the Uzbek Embassy in London faxed a written response on 14 October to Keston's enquiry about the events in Karshi, stressing that `Uzbekistan is building a secular democratic society. There is no religious repression, as you put it in your text. We categorically deny such allegations...' The statement continued: `Uzbekistan is providing the full freedom of conscience to everyone - Muslims, Christians, Baptists, Bahai etc. At the same time, Uzbekistan will take appropriate actions within the framework of the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations against those, who would not abide the existent laws.' The Embassy also faxed the text of President ISLAM KARIMOV's May 1998 speech to parliament on religion, as well as copies of the Embassy's press releases issued in August 1999 on the release of the prisoners and the registration of 20 religious communities. The Embassy reports that it has received `hundreds of letters' from people in Britain addressed to President Karimov thanking him for registering religious organisations in Uzbekistan. On the events in Karshi, the Embassy statement declared: `As far as the case you mentioned is concerned, it should be taken up with the legal authorities of mentioned city through the appropriate channels.' A 12 October statement signed by members of the congregation in Karshi and another Baptist congregation in Tashkent, passed to Keston, documents the police raid on the Karshi church two days earlier. The church - which belongs to the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which rejected state control during the Soviet period - meets in the home of church members A. and S. ANDREICHENKO. Present at the service were not only local Baptists, but visitors from Tashkent, Samarkand and Mubarek, as well as from Dushanbe in Tajikistan. `Six policemen arrived at the site shortly before the beginning of the celebration service,' the statement recounts. `The district policeman K. Salokhov asked those present to show their passports, and then took them away. During the worship service, came a whole police detail headed by the deputy chief of GOVD [City Department of Internal Affairs] Eshliezov.  He called the owner of the house, who was leading the service, out into the yard and warned him that the worship meeting without registration was forbidden. Then he ordered him to be taken away to the police station in the city.' When S. Andreichenko questioned the legality of the police action, she was pulled out of the house by three officers and taken away with her husband. Eshliezov ordered the service to be halted and the people to disperse, but the Baptists continued praying. The police recorded those present on video. One of the Baptists who was visiting from Tashkent, B. BELAN, was kneeling in prayer when he was seized by two policemen and taken outside. Then one by one all five preachers were led outside from behind the pulpit. `All of the men in attendance, three sisters, and teenagers who played in the brass orchestra, were taken away to the GOVD (total more than 40 people),' the statement reports. `Then they demanded that the sisters who remained in the house should leave. The Christian literature was thrown from the pulpit to the ground. The living quarters of the house, in the absence of the owners, without procurator's sanctions, were searched, while everything was recorded on a video camera. The police took away Christian literature and audio tapes.' The statement then records the brutality church members claim was meted out in the police station. `They kept believers without food until the late evening at the police station. They interrogated them and demanded that they write a letter of explanation. They hit some in the face, head, and kidney area. The police report stated that Christians were participating in an anti-government political gathering under the direction of A. Andreichenko. Those who refused to sign such a report and to write under police dictation were beaten. An ethnic Uzbek brother, R. Usupov, was threatened that he would not be allowed to live in the city of Karshi because he became a Christian; he was severely beaten. (After the beatings, this brother could not sleep at night from pain in his body.)' The police demanded that all sign the report, written in Uzbek (without a Russian translation), that they promise not to hold any more meetings in the future. They threatened those who refused to sign. To those who could not understand Uzbek they reportedly shouted: `Go back to your Russia! Why are you eating Uzbek bread and breathing our air?' Among those detained were several deaf men, who were threatened with arrest if they ever attended church meetings again. Late in the evening, the visiting Baptists from Dushanbe were taken to the railway station and deported from Uzbekistan. All the others were released, except for Belan, A. VAKHIDOV, and A. Andreichenko. The following day, 11 October, Belan and Vakhidov were sentenced to ten days' imprisonment under the Administrative Code. Local Baptists fear that the police will open a criminal case against the owner of the house, Andreichenko, who remains in detention. The Christian literature and audio tapes that were taken away were confiscated. The statement's signatories call for prayer and appeals for `the release of the brothers who were sentenced; for the authorities not to open a criminal case against the owner of the house A. Andreichenko; the return of confiscated Christian literature and audio tapes; the freedom to conduct worship services and preach the Gospel.' One of those detained, NIKOLAI SERIN, wrote a brief statement about his treatment in police detention. His statement reads in full: `The five of us (two of them minors) were brought into an office. I was told to write a letter of explanation. I refused. This really agitated them. They warned me to reconsider. The others were taken out of the office, and they began to beat them with a plastic bottle filled with water (not to leave any marks on the body from beating), then they began to beat them with fists. They put a gas mask over my head, and turned off the air supply and began to strangle me, demanding, "Will you write it?" God helped me to persevere. At the police station they also interrogated the deaf men, and forced the minor, Yevgeny Vinokurov, to translate for them. When he refused to sign the letter of explanation, they beat him, twisting his arms, and pushing against his collarbone so hard that he had to squat due to the pain. They continued to press him, and said, "Do you get it now?" Then they picked him up and hit his legs, so that he collapsed. They threatened to make him a cripple.' In the wake of the police raid, a group of `Christian Mothers', as they described themselves, whose teenage children had been maltreated by the police, wrote a petition to President Karimov, complaining of `the display of lawlessness by the police officers'. They told the president that their children `were physically and morally assaulted and threatened. The children were yelled at and forced to write a letter of explanation at the dictation of the police. Gleb Izmestyev had a trumpet placed on his forehead, and forced to stand in such a way... Nikolai Vinokurov was beaten when he refused to answer any questions in the absence of his parents. They beat him in such a way as not to leave any marks on the body: hitting his spine, painful areas on the body, and twisted his arms.' The four mothers, YELENA VINOKUROVA, GALINA IZMESTYEVA, TAMARA BELAN and ALLA ANDREICHENKO, asked the president to investigate `this case of lawlessness over our defenceless children'. The maltreatment of these Baptists as well as the well-documented maltreatment of the Christian and other prisoners freed in August is certain to come up for discussion in Geneva in November, when the United Nations Committee against Torture (a ten-member independent panel of experts) is to review the periodic report of the Government of Uzbekistan during its forthcoming 23rd session. Uzbekistan will be discussed by the Committee on the morning of 17 November and on the morning of 19 November. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Uzbekistan is required to submit a report on what legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures it has enacted to implement the provisions of the Convention. The Convention against Torture `is an international human rights treaty aimed at protecting all person against torture and ill-treatment,' Amnesty International explains. `Governments which ratify the Convention against Torture, referred to as "states parties", agree to be legally bound by its provisions and to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under their jurisdiction. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification for torture.' Amnesty describes some of the obligations under the Convention: `States parties to the Convention against Torture also undertake to ensure that all acts of torture are offences under their criminal law... The Convention against Torture also obliges states parties to keep rules and methods of interrogation under systematic review, as well as to provide training and education regarding the prohibition of torture for law enforcement officials and others engaged in similar professions.' Also under review in Geneva in November will be the reports of the Governments of Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. (END) All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright: (c) Keston Institute 1999 Unauthorized reproduction and dissemination of KNS is illegal and immoral. Subscription payments directly help religious freedom as we cannot provide this material unless we have income. Use of this material by accredited journalists, except for e-mail and websites, is normally permitted providing Keston Institute is quoted as the source and a copy of the publication is sent to Keston in Oxford. 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