UZBEKISTAN: Were Pastor's Mysterious Visitors from Former KGB?

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 3 October 2002

A Pentecostal pastor has been left wondering who his mysterious recent visitors - who claimed to be journalists from the BBC and CNN - really were. Bakhtierjon Tuichiev, pastor of the Full Gospel Church in the town of Andijan in Uzbekistan's part of the Fergana valley close to the border with Kyrgyzstan, told Keston News Service that as the visitors were more interested in collecting "compromising material" on him than interviewing him on how Protestants survive in Uzbekistan, they might have been officers of the National Security Service (NSS, former KGB) masquerading as journalists. "I understand that all my suspicions may turn out to be unsubstantiated," Tuichiev told Keston in Andijan on 29 September, "but believe me, it will be too late after I have been arrested." The relevant BBC and CNN bureaus have denied to Keston that any of their journalists have visited Andijan recently.

Tuichiev told Keston that on 20 September the six ethnic Russians presenting themselves as BBC and CNN journalists arrived at his home from Tashkent. "The journalists were completely uninterested in church issues; they simply wanted to question me constantly about my attitude to the president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov. It was clear to me that compromising material was being collected for use against me." He added that "unfortunately" he did not check his visitors' identity documents and does not even know their surnames, only their first names. "The people who introduced themselves as CNN journalists were called Sergei, Vladimir, Maksim and Anna. The BBC's supposed representatives were Marina and Yevgeny." Keston tried to establish whether BBC and CNN correspondents had visited Andijan. Because the journalists had only one camera, according to Tuichiev, he presumed that the BBC was being represented by radio, not television journalists. "I can tell you categorically that no BBC staff from the Tashkent office have been to Andijan," a correspondent at the BBC's Tashkent office, Alisher Sidikov, told Keston in the Uzbek capital on 1 October. Sidikov also said that BBC journalists visiting Tashkent from other countries almost always come to his office. "In the past month no-one has visited us from other BBC offices." Speaking to Keston by telephone on 1 October, a member of the BBC's Russian-language radio service in Moscow, Yevgeny Vlasenko, said that none of his colleagues had been to Uzbekistan in the past month. Keston has also established that no Moscow-based member of the BBC's English-language radio service visited Uzbekistan in September.

CNN too denies that any of its journalists have been in Uzbekistan recently. Maksim Tkachenko, assignments editor at CNN's Moscow bureau, told Keston from the Russian capital on 3 October that the whole of the former Soviet Union is covered from Moscow and that CNN has no bureau in Uzbekistan. "We didn't send anyone from here. Absolutely." He added that no one with the names listed by Tuichiev works for the CNN Moscow bureau. Sidikov of the Tashkent BBC office said he had not heard of any visiting CNN crew either. "The very arrival in Uzbekistan of journalists from that company is an event we would have heard about first of all." Sidikov told Keston that his office had heard rumours before about visits by people falsely claiming to be from the BBC, but that his office had been unable to check these rumours.

Pastor Tuichiev claims that the NSS has mounted 24-hour surveillance on him and that cars manned by NSS staff are constantly on watch outside the church and his own home (see KNS 24 September 2002). Tuichiev noted down the number plate of the cars from which the NSS officers were keeping watch on him: a Zhiguli, model 6, number plate 17G 9998 and Zhiguli model 8, number plate 1058.

In order to convince Keston that his claims did have some foundation, Tuichiev showed Keston a computer disk that had been forgotten by one of his church's "parishioners". The disk contained the course-work of a student at the NSS institute, A. D. Ivanchin, on the subject of "the criminal law aspect of terrorism". "A young chap by the name of Dior left this disk in my computer," Tuichiev reported. "He came up to me in church one day and explained that although he was a Muslim by birth, he wanted to convert to Christianity. To be honest, this young man aroused certain suspicions in me straight away. Once he had forgotten this disk in my computer, everything became clear to me. The day after his loss, Dior appeared in church and began to ask me whether I had found the disk. I replied that I had not, and from that day Dior stopped coming to church." (END)