UZBEKISTAN: Jehovah's Witness Fears Imprisonment if he Returns Home.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 9 September 2002

Three years after a criminal case was launched against a Jehovah's Witness from the town of Navoi in western Uzbekistan in an apparent bid to halt his religious activity, he is still frightened to return to his home town despite a presidential amnesty. Mars Munasypov - who has just returned from self-exile in neighbouring Kazakhstan after the Uzbek authorities started making enquiries about him there - told Keston News Service on 4 September in the Uzbek capital Tashkent that he fears he might end up in prison on account of his religious beliefs. The investigator in charge of his case has insisted to Keston that Munasypov will be amnestied, but says he must return to Navoi first for this to be processed.

In July 1998 the police in Navoi raided a private apartment in the town where a group of Jehovah's Witnesses, among them Munasypov, was holding an unregistered meeting. That same month, the Navoi town court fined Munasypov under Article 240 of Uzbekistan's administrative code (breaking the law on religious organisations).

In May 1999, officers of the internal affairs administration of Navoi region carried out a search of Munasypov's home during which, according to the police report, firearms were found. "The firearms were simply planted on me," Munasypov told Keston. "When I was fined, the police warned me that if I did not put a stop to my religious activity, then it would be more than a fine next time."

Immediately after the search, a criminal case was brought against Munasypov under several articles of Uzbekistan's criminal code: 216-2 (unlawful establishment of public associations or religious organisations), 229-2 (breaking the law on preaching religious doctrines) and 248 (unlawful possession of firearms, military equipment, explosives or explosive devices). Fearing arrest, Munasypov fled to Kazakhstan. There, the Jehovah's Witness Centre in Kazakhstan engaged a lawyer to defend him, Czech citizen Lubomir Muller. However, Muller's attempts to get the charges against Munasypov dropped proved fruitless.

When on 22 August 2001 Uzbek president Islam Karimov declared an amnesty for prisoners to mark the tenth anniversary of the country's independence, Muller tried to establish whether his client would be included in it. "On 8 October 2001, I sent an official written inquiry to the head of the administration of internal affairs of Navoi region, B. Z. Borozov, to see if Munasypov would be included in the amnesty," Muller told Keston by telephone from Prague on 4 September. "On 30 October I received a response from him, saying that I should send my inquiry to Navoi's town court. On 3 December I therefore wrote an inquiry to the Navoi town court and received a response on 14 February 2002, saying that Munasypov's case had been returned to the administration for internal affairs of Navoi region i.e. things had gone full circle!" He said he had written on 18 March of this year to Uzbekistan's parliamentary ombudsman, Saera Rashidova, outlining Munasypov's case. "But I received no response from her."

Meanwhile, it has become unsafe for Munasypov to remain in Kazakhstan. He told Keston in Tashkent that in August this year he had been summoned to the district department of internal affairs in the town of Yasyk, 60 kilometres (35 miles) east of Kazakhstan's former capital Almaty, and had been warned that the administration of internal affairs of Navoi region of Uzbekistan had twice made inquiries about him, and that by law he should be arrested and handed over to the Uzbek law enforcement agencies.

Munasypov reported that he had telephoned the investigator in charge of his case at the internal affairs administration of Navoi region, Shavkat Rizoyev, who had promised him that if he returned to Navoi his case would be dropped in accordance with the presidential decree on the amnesty of 22 August 2001. "However, I do not trust these people, and I fear for my safety," Munasypov told Keston. "I am ready to answer for my religious convictions in court, but not for the firearms, which were planted on me." According to Muller, "Munasypov will be safe only when the internal affairs administration of Navoi region has confirmed in writing that he has been amnestied."

"I guarantee that Munasypov will be amnestied, but he must come to Navoi for this to happen," investigator Rizoyev insisted. He told Keston by telephone from Navoi on 5 September that all the articles under which Munasypov had been accused "were automatically included in the amnesty". When Keston responded that Article 248 of the criminal code (unlawful possession of firearms, military equipment, explosives or explosive devices) was not included in the amnesty, Rizoyev replied: "Let him come to Navoi and we will sort that problem out in five minutes." Asked by Keston whether Rizoyev agreed that the firearms had been planted on Munasypov, the investigator replied: "That's not something for discussion on the telephone. Times were complicated then [in 1999]. Maybe they were planted." (END)