UZBEKISTAN: Jehovah's Witness Fined for 'Illegal' Teaching.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 19 June 2002

A court in the Uzbek capital Tashkent has found a Jehovah's Witness guilty of "illegal" religious teaching after he attended a wake for a dead friend last February, Keston News Service has learned. On 28 May, the court of Tashkent's Mirabad district ruled that Igor Morozov had broken article 241 of the administrative code, which punishes "violation of the procedure for teaching religious faiths", and fined him 19,725 Uzbek Som (27 US Dollars, 18 British Pounds or 28 Euros).

"On 30 February 2002," the court ruling declared, "in the course of an investigation by police officers at flat 67, ul. Gradchushkin, Mirabad district, Tashkent, it was found that I.V. Morozov was engaged in teaching religious beliefs in a private capacity, without holding the corresponding authorisation from the relevant agency."

"At the hearing Morozov denied that he was guilty of breaking the law, and declared in evidence that he was at the said address because this was where his friend's wake was being held," Anatoly Melnik, a member of the Governing Committee of Jehovah's Witnesses of Kazakhstan, told Keston on 14 June. "Morozov's only 'crime' consists in the fact that he, like other believers, was praying at the wake for his deceased friend."

Melnik reported that he and fellow Jehovah's Witness Matthew Kelly, a United States citizen who is currently working at the Jehovah's Witness centre in the Russian city of St Petersburg, recently spoke with the head of the department for liaison with non-Muslim confessions at the Committee for Religious Affairs, Kamol Kamilov. "He told us that if just three believers of an unregistered religious community started to talk about God or to pray together, that could be interpreted as breaking the law."

Melnik added that about a month ago, the deputy chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs, Shoazim Minovarov, told him that if the Jehovah's Witnesses wanted to be registered, they should stop preaching on the streets and distributing Uzbek-language religious literature. (A government campaign is now underway to stop non-Muslim faiths from holding services in Uzbek, although it is the country's official language - see KNS 27 May 2002.)

Article 5 ("Separation of religion from the state") of Uzbekistan's religion law bans actions "intended to convert believers of one confession to others (proselytism) and also any other missionary activity", while Article 10 ("Religious organisations") notes that "religious organisations have the status of juridical persons and may pursue their activity after registering with the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Uzbekistan or its local agencies in a manner prescribed by law."

Kelly complained that the formulation of Uzbekistan's religion law is "very vague". "In essence it states that if one believer of an unregistered religious community visits another, that may arbitrarily be interpreted as an unlawful religious gathering," he told Keston on 14 June. "Or, for example, if two people decide while walking along to discuss religious themes in public, they can be accused of conducting missionary work. Unfortunately, we are in practice having to confront just such examples of the interpretation placed by the authorities on Uzbekistan's religion law."

"Naturally, three believers can meet together - that is not against the law," Kamilov told Keston on 18 June. "It's another matter if a community is unregistered, because then they are not allowed to preach. There is a very fine line between preaching and simple friendly conversation, and we have to look at each such case individually." (END)