UZBEKISTAN: Guilty of Religious Activity.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 23 August 2002

For the first time ever a member of a religious minority has been charged and convicted, under an article of the Uzbek criminal code (Article 156 "incitement to national, racial or religious hatred") aimed at religious activity. A Jehovah's Witness in Tashkent, Marat Mudarisov, has been arrested, tried (in a closed court hearing), convicted and is now held in custody under Article 156.

Mudarisov's arrest has a fairly long prehistory. On 21 April this year the police raided a flat in the Akmal-Ikram district of Tashkent, where 13 Jehovah's Witnesses had gathered. The policemen accused those gathered of holding an illegal religious meeting and questioned each of the Jehovah's Witnesses individually. "We have reason to suppose that one of our brothers said that Mudarisov was the leader of the group" a local Jehovah's Witness told Keston. On 17 July Mudarisov's mother, Nuriya Mudarisova was visited at home by two officials of the local Akmal-Ikram branch of the National Security Service (SNB, the ex-KGB). "They said Marat must come to the Akmal-Ikram SNB or 'things would be bad for him'" Nuriya Mudarisova said. Mudarisov refused to go to the SNB until they sent him an official summons. After receiving several threatening phonecalls from the SNB, however, Nuriya Mudarisova mother persuaded her son to go, and accompanied him herself.

Both Marat Mudarisov and his mother were questioned by SNB district officer Ilkhom Tulamov. He demanded that Mudarisov write a confession, including an undertaking not to hold religious meetings in the future. When Marat refused Tulamov started hitting him and threatened to put a gas mask on him and cut off the air supply. When Tulamov realised that his efforts to make Marat write a confession were not going to succeed, he began to persuade Nuriya Mudarisova to write a report of her son's religious activity. "Tulamov told me that this report would help Marat, so I agreed. The report I wrote was practically dictated to me," she said. She was released after writing the report, but Marat was detained at the SNB.

On 20 July Marat Mudarisov was taken from the SNB building to the Akmal-Ikram district court, which sentenced him to 15 days in prison. "It was practically a closed court. Neither his fellow-believers nor his relatives were told when the hearing would be held. We did not even manage to find out what article Marat was convicted under or which prison he was sent to," a Jehovah's Witness told Keston.

On 31 July Ilkhom Tulamov of the SNB summoned Nuriya Mudarisova again and asked her to write out her report again, this time dating it 31 July. He assured her that this was necessary to help Marat. After this however, Marat Murisov was sent to the Akmal-Ikram district department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and charges were brought against him under Article 156 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan ("incitement to national, racial or religious hatred"). He was then transferred temporarily to the city prison.

Mudarisov's case is unprecedented. Up until now there has only been one case of a member of a religious minority receiving a prison sentence for religious activity. In 1999 three Protestants in Karakalpakstan who had drugs planted on them were sentenced to 10 years in prison. They were only released six months later after international pressure, and only after writing an appeal for pardon (see KNS 6 June 2002). Marat Mudarisov's case is the first in which a member of a religious minority has been convicted under a Criminal Code article which refers specifically to their religious activity. "Mudarisov's case is a sort of litmus test. The authorities want to check how the international community will react to it" Mudarisov's lawyer Rustam Satdanov told Keston on 22 August.

Keston's efforts to get the authorities' point of view were unsuccessful. Akmal-Ikram district SNB officials refused to say anything, and put the phone down. The investigator from the Akmal-Ikram district department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs dealing with Mudarisov's case, Khamid Khaidarov, confirmed that the charges against Mudarisov had been brought under Article 156 but refused to answer further questions, stating that he would have to gain the prior permission of his superiors to do so. Behzot Kadyrov, of the department for non-Muslim religions at the Uzbek government's Committee for Religious Affairs, refused to comment, saying that he knew nothing yet about Mudarisov's case. (END)