UZBEKISTAN: Uzbeks 'Not Allowed to Have Bibles'?

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 22 August 2002

Keston News Service has learnt that in Nukus (capital of the republic of Karakalpakstan in north-west Uzbekistan) on 9 August several police searched a flat in the town of Khodzhali (on the outskirts of Nukus), in which thirteen Protestants had gathered, and seized religious literature, including a Bible, without showing a search warrant. The policemen also stated that Uzbek citizens were not allowed to have Bibles. Police then took the names of those present and on 13 August they were summoned to Khodzhali's town court and sentenced to a fine of between 5 and 10 per cent of the minimum wage, under article 240 of the Administrative Code (breaking the law on religious organisations).

On 21 August Keston spoke to the police chief in Khodzhali, Dzhurabek Ametov. According to Ametov, the policemen's actions were within the law, because meetings of unregistered religious associations are prohibited. Ametov denied that his subordinates had told the Protestants that Uzbek citizens were not allowed to have Bibles but admitted that religious literature had been seized from the Protestants and said that "I do not believe there was a Bible among the confiscated literature".

The chairman of the Uzbek Committee for Religious Affairs, Shoazim Minovarov told Kestin that "if a Bible really was confiscated from the Protestants, then they can appeal to the Committee for Religious Affairs, and the Bible will be returned to them". Minovarov also said that he had read an article by Felix Corley published by Keston on 29 July "Baptist deaf church closed down" (the article reports on the authorities' closure of a church for the deaf in the town of Beruni in Karakalpakstan). According to Minovarov, Uzbekistan's Committee for Religious Affairs "simply had not known about this church, and we think that it can operate". As Keston has reported, the Karakalpakstan authorities have adopted a harsh attitude towards Christians in the Protestant churches that operate in this autonomous republic. It is all but impossible for communities to register, and many Protestant leaders have been subjected to fines (see KNS, 18 June and 29 July 2002). (END).