UZBEKISTAN: Former KGB Vetoes Jehovah's Witness Services.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 19 June 2002

Ramil Gareyev, leader of an unregistered Jehovah's Witness community in Kashkadarya, a town close to Karshi in southern Uzbekistan, has been refused permission to use a local home for religious meetings after the local branch of the former KGB vetoed the proposal, Keston News Service has learned. At the beginning of June Gareyev wrote to F. Mamanov, chairman of the Khonatepa mahalla in the town of Kashkadarya, asking him to give his permission for a Jehovah's Witness prayer house to function. Mamanov gave Gareyev a verbal refusal. When Gareyev asked for the refusal in writing, Mamanov replied that he had sought advice from the regional National Security Service (the former KGB), where he had been told that Gareyev's request had no juridical force because it did not contain a stamp from any organisation. Gareyev also claims that Mamanov threatened Gulchakhra Buzrukova (the Jehovah's Witnesses wanted to register her home officially as a place of worship). After Mamanov's threat, Buzrukova asked the Jehovah's Witnesses not to use her address for any registration attempt, because she was frightened for her children.

Two years ago the Jehovah's Witnesses tried to register Buzrukova's home as a prayer house. However this was turned down by a meeting of residents of the mahalla (the chairman of the mahalla committee was the same Mamanov). "Taking into account the suggestion from citizens and in order to safeguard the safety, rights, morals and freedom of residents," the mahalla meeting ruled in a 9 July 2000 resolution, "the Jehovah's Witnesses should not be given a site on the territory of the mahalla. If G. Buzrukova does not draw the correct conclusion from this resolution and refuse to give her home to the Jehovah's Witness organisation, then in view of the negative influence on young people and unemployed women and young girls, this issue should be taken to the general mahalla meeting, and consideration given to whether the Buzrukova family should be re-settled away from the mahalla. The resolution has been adopted unanimously, with no votes against or abstentions."

The mahalla is a distinctive social institution in Uzbek society. Members of a mahalla live in a single city sector in privately-owned accommodation and develop their own type of community. Historically, mahalla members have resolved many issues collectively. For example, they celebrate weddings and funerals together. It is customary for mahalla neighbours to offer each other financial support: the entire collective generally helps to build a new house for a mahalla member, and collects money if a community member is in urgent need.

After Uzbekistan gained independence, state ideology assigned exceptional significance to the mahallas as a traditional form of Uzbek grass-roots democracy. The mahalla committees have been given very wide-ranging powers, even so far as turning a family out of a mahalla according to a resolution of the general assembly.

In order for a religious community to be registered with the Ministry of Justice it is necessary first to receive permission from the mahalla committee. However, in practice the mahalla committees have become an obedient instrument of the state authorities (just as in Soviet times the district councils unquestioningly followed the secret orders of the city's party committee). A number of chairmen of mahalla committees from different parts of Uzbekistan have told Keston that they have refused permission for a religious community to operate on the orders of city authorities. (END)