UZBEKISTAN: No-Show Delays Jehovah's Witness Trial.

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 24 October 2002

The failure of the prosecutor to show up today (24 October) at the trial of 26-year-old Jehovah's Witness Marat Mudarisov, which saw the case postponed until 29 October, drew an angry response from his lawyer. "We waited for two hours for the hearing to begin and only then did they announce that the prosecutor had failed to arrive," the lawyer John Burns told Keston News Service outside the Akmal Ikram Court in the capital Tashkent. "We wasted all that time. In any civilised country, if the prosecutor fails to arrive a case would be abandoned." Mudarisov - who has already spent three months in prison - is facing charges of inciting national, racial or religious hatred under Article 156 of the criminal code, which carry a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment. This is the first known trial of non-Muslim believers in Uzbekistan where the content of publications plays a key role in the prosecution case.

The public prosecutor complains that Mudarisov, a member since 1993 of an unregistered Jehovah's Witness community, disseminated religious literature, called on citizens to join the Jehovah's Witnesses, and promoted the activity of his organisation above that of other religious, thus creating grounds for inter-religious strife. Mudarisov is accused in particular of telling citizens not to take part in politics and not to hold public office; telling people not to attend the Orthodox Church and take part in its ceremonies; telling people not to honour the memory of those who gave their lives in the name of religion; planning to destroy families if one of the spouses was not a Jehovah's Witness; telling young people not to perform military service, interpreting incorrectly the commandment "thou shalt not kill"; telling people to refuse medical assistance to those experiencing ill health and life threatening conditions; claiming that the Jehovah's Witnesses are the best of the existing Christian denominations, and fraudulently promoting and imposing pseudo-religious views on citizens (see KNS 29 August 2002).

The trial began on 16 October. At the second hearing on 20 October, attended by Keston, the judge, Sherzod Usmanov, turned down a defence request to allow those present to use audio and video equipment (there were many journalists in the court). He also refused to release Mudarisov from custody until the court reached its verdict, citing a declaration made by the mother of the accused in which she asked her son to be protected against the influence of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Further, Valentina Vanyushina and Olim Jumanov were cross-examined as witnesses to the search of Mudarisov on 19 July. During the cross-examination Jumanov said that Mudarisov's bag, containing Jehovah's Witness literature, was situated in one room, while the accused was put in another room. Moreover, Jumanov admitted that he was not able to read Russian, although the report of the search of Mudarisov that he signed was in that language. After the questioning of witnesses, the trial was adjourned until 24 October.

The case against Mudarisov began in April when several individuals posing as electricians forced their way into an apartment where a Jehovah's Witness meeting was being held. The police confiscated religious literature, while threatening and insulting those present. Subsequently, all in attendance were arrested and taken to the police station. Mudarisov was accused of organising an unlawful religious meeting.

Mudarisov was placed under arrest on 19 July in the Akmal Akramov National Security Service (NSS) building, where he had voluntarily attended together with his mother Nuriya Mudarisova. It is remarkable that Nuriya Mudarisova herself wrote a declaration for the NSS asking them to "protect her son from the influence of the Jehovah's Witnesses". However, speaking to Keston by telephone on 22 August, Mudarisova said that she wrote this declaration under dictation, because the NSS officers promised that they would free her son when she had written this statement.

In the course of the 19 July search of Mudarisov that took place in the NSS building, Russian-language articles from the magazine Watchtower were found, as well as a leaflet in Uzbek, which, according to documents from the case, contained denigrating statements about Islam. Speaking to Keston on 19 September, Mudarisov's lawyer Rustam Satdanov said that it was this Uzbek-language leaflet that became one of the key points in the charge against Mudarisov. Satdanov is convinced that this leaflet was planted on him.

Keston first heard that a leaflet critical of Islam may have been planted on Mudarisov at the beginning of September from a member of the leading council of Jehovah's Witnesses of neighbouring Kazakhstan, Anatoli Melnik. "Another brother of ours from Uzbekistan had a leaflet with similar contents planted on him," he reported. "It is not unlikely that Tashkent has found a new way of criminalising believers." (END)