UZBEKISTAN: Guilty of Religious Activity - the Prosecution Case.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 29 August 2002

As Keston News Service has reported (see KNS 23 August 2002) a member of a religious minority, a Jehovah's Witness, has for the first time ever been convicted under an article of the Uzbek criminal code (Article 156 "incitement to national, racial or religious hatred") specifically aimed at religious activity. Keston has now seen a copy of the prosecution statement against Marat Mudarisov on 6 August made by the investigator at the department of Internal affairs in the Akmal-Ikramovsky district of Tashkent, police chief Khamid Khaidarov.

According to this document, "Marat Mudarisov has been a member of an unofficial religious organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses since 1993. Marat Mudarisov has distributed religious literature, has called on citizens to join the Jehovah's Witnesses and has promoted the activity of his organisation over other religions, thus creating the conditions for inter-religious strife. On 20 July Mudarisov was invited to a discussion [by the National Security Services, the ex-KGB] of Akmal Ikramovsky district in Tashkent. When searched, he was found to be carrying religious literature which is banned from distribution in Uzbekistan..."

Marat Mudarsiov's lawyer, Rustam Satdanov, told Keston on 26 August that "the prosecution statement contains a whole range of inaccuracies and absurdities. For example, the Jehovah's Witness organisation, although unregistered in Tashkent, had been registered in the town of Chirchik [on the outskirts of the Uzbek capital]. The accusations against Mudarisov of promoting his own religion above others and inciting inter-religious dissent appear to be completely unsubstantiated. The literature found on Mudarisov had not been banned, but was sent by official channels to the Jehovah's Witness organisation in the town of Chirchik. One quite high-up policeman told me frankly that I was just wasting my time defending Mudarisov, because "there had been an order from high up".

Unusually the Jehovah's Witnesses tried to seek protection from the official organisations, but this attempt failed. According to Aleksandr Simontsev "On 22 August, we tried to reach the office of Sayera Rashidova, the Uzbek Parliamentery Ombudsman [the human rights representative elected by parliament], but she would not see us and sent us to the Ombudsman's chief adviser, Tatyana Matirnyuk. Matirnyuk told us that our complaint was pointless, as the Jehovah's Witness organisation was not registered in Tashkent. It is remarkable that Matirnyuk did not even react to the fact that Mudarisov had been beaten at the National Security Services,"

The Ombudsman's chief adviser, Tatyana Matirnyuk, denied to Keston on 26 August that she had refused to help the Jehovah's Witnesses. "I just told them that before coming to us they needed to hire a lawyer who could get to know about the case" The Jehovah's Witnesses went to the Ombusdman before hiring a lawyer.

Speaking to Keston on 26 August, the Chairman of the Uzbek government's Committee for Religious Affairs, Shoazim Minovarov, said that it was difficult from him to draw concrete conclusions, as he knew nothing about the Mudarisov case. However, Minovarov suggested that if a criminal case had been brought against Mudarisov, then probably the accused had not only been a member of an unregistered religious organisation but also had been preaching. "One may preach in different ways. Let's take a concrete example: not long ago leaflets from a certain religious organisation came into our possession, in which the Koran was criticised in an insulting manner," Shoazim Minovarov told Keston on 26 August. (END)