Wednesday 26 January 2000

by Nikolai Mitrokhin, Keston News Service

For Uzbekistan 1999 was a year marked by conflict with religious extremists.
After the bombings in Tashkent on 16 February 1999 several thousand people
who were or had been active members of Muslim communities were arrested
on charges of religious extremism and anti-state activity - this in a country with
a relatively small population of 24 million. This action put Uzbekistan top of
the list of post-Soviet countries for the number of political prisoners: however
this did not bring stability. During 1999 there was a huge leafleting campaign
organised by the underground Islamic party `Hizb ut-Tahrir' (Party of
Liberation), a group advocating the reestablishment of the Caliphate through
non-violent means. An incursion of an armed group of Uzbek Islamic
opposition fighters from neighbouring Tajikistan took place in November. It is
possible that similar incursions will take place this year. Some observers
believe that this, combined with the harsh economic situation and the absence
of any legal opposition, may lead to an outbreak of civil war.

The Uzbek government began to crack down on the Muslim community from
1993. Following the bombings in Tashkent on 16 February 1999, the
authorities wasted no time in accusing religious extremists and secular political
opponents and began large-scale repressions throughout Uzbekistan using
already prepared lists, this time including in the western part of the country,
where the level of religious activity, both in the Soviet and the post-Soviet eras,
was much lower than in the Fergana valley. At least 4000 people - most of
them under 35 years of age - were arrested, tried and sentenced to periods of up
to 20 years' imprisonment for anti-state activity. Such charges would be
brought either for the possession of two copies of leaflets produced by Hizb ut-
Tahrir, or for the possession of one or two grammes of narcotics planted during
a house search or of several ammunition cartridges. The case of DASHYAR
KHADJILETOV in Tashkent is typical. He was arrested at a market in
Tashkent in the summer of 1999 for distributing leaflets produced by Hizb ut-
Tahrir. In October 1999 he and four others were sentenced to 19 years'
imprisonment by the supreme court.

According to the `List of political and religious prisoners in Uzbekistan for
January-October 1999' produced by the Moscow-based Information Centre on
Human Rights in Central Asia, out of 566 known political/religious prisoners
only 143 have been accused of terrorist acts, belying the authorities' claims
about the `struggle against terrorism'. The first trial of terrorists in 1999, which
the authorities decided to hold in the presence of international observers,
demonstrated such weaknesses in the prosecution case that neither foreigners
nor local human rights activists were permitted to observe the four subsequent
trials for terrorism, nor the many cases being heard in the provincial courts.

The case of SOBIR RUZMETOV from the Khazorasp district of Khorezm
region illustrates the methods employed by the investigating authorities to
obtain a confession . He was arrested at the beginning of 1999 as the father of
two `Islamic extremists' who had been arrested and sentenced to death for
terrorism offences. During the criminal investigation Ruzmetov was tortured,
his genitals were burnt and he was beaten seriously. In September 1999
following his trial he was visited by his wife in the Navoi-29 camp. He was
brought in on a stretcher, was unable to sit through the whole visit and had to
be taken away. Some of the accused do not live to see their trial, like
KHASSAN UMARILIYEV from Margilan in the Fergana valley. He was
arrested on 15 April 1999 for the distribution of leaflets produced by Hizb ut-
Tahrir and on the same day died from beatings received while in detention at
the local branch of the National Security Service. So great was the number of
arrests on religious grounds that there was no room in the overcrowded camps
and prisons.

In May 1999 Uzbekistan was the first post-Soviet state to begin the
construction of a special camp for political prisoners. This new Gulag for so-
called Islamic extremists, designed to hold around 600 prisoners, is being built
in the village of Djesalyk in the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan in
the west of Uzbekistan. It is situated in a remote desert area where the
temperature ranges from 40 degrees Celsius in the summer to minus 40 degrees
in the winter. Even the prison officers who spent a couple of weeks in the camp
with the first contingent of prisoners refused to work at the camp in the future.
It was only during the course of 1999 that the relatives of the several dozen
convicted religious activists who had died either as a result of beatings or the
appalling prison conditions had the bodies returned to them from Djesalyk and
other camps.

As a result of the unrelenting repressions of 1997-99 several thousand Islamic
activists and their families have been forced to emigrate. Some have joined the
detachment of ethnic Uzbeks based in Tajikistan led by a field commander who
goes by the name of DJUMA NAMANGANI, formerly a member of the
`Adolat' (Justice) movement in Namangan. Since 1998 his detachment has
grown in number from 200 to 2000 due to the influx of refugees from
Uzbekistan. Of these around 700 are capable of fighting, representing a
significant military force. In August 1999, under pressure from the Tajik
authorities, who did not wish to have a large group of armed foreigners on its
territory, part of this detachment tried to break through to the Fergana valley by
way of Kyrgyzstan resulting in a crisis which became known as the `Batken
events'. For two months a combined Kyrgyz-Uzbek force with difficulty tried
to contain the Islamic detachment before they returned to Tajikistan with the
onset of winter. In November one of these detachments attacked a group of
militia and killed seven officers only 100 kilometres from Tashkent.

Meanwhile, trials of Islamic activists are continuing in Uzbekistan. In the town
of Namangan alone at least 35 people were tried between September and
December 1999. In Djizak, a regional centre to the south-west of Tashkent, at
least 12 people were tried in November. As the experience of the last two years
has demonstrated, such repressive policies have served only to turn moderate
religious activists, who have escaped arrest, beatings and torture, into
aggressive `religious extremists', who are returning to their country with a gun
in their hands. (END)

Wednesday 26 January 2000

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Attempts by the authorities to close down a Pentecostal church in the Russian
town of Kirov north-east of Moscow are set to resume in court later this month.
The first hearing of the case against the Kirov Christian Centre took place on
29 December but was adjourned until 31 January, with the judge ordering the
gathering of further evidence. The main piece of evidence, as in the trial of the
Pentecostals of Magadan which took place in a blaze of publicity in spring
1999, is a secretly-filmed videotape of a church service.

Ahead of the 31 January hearing, the church's pastor ALEKSANDR
VAZHENIN maintains that church members are being put under pressure by
the Federal Security Service, even before the court has reached any decision.
`Federal Security officers are phoning parents of young children who are
members of our church and asking them a lot of questions - this is happening to
me as well,' Pastor Vazhenin told Keston News Service in an interview on 23
January. He claims they are `gathering incriminating evidence' for the
forthcoming hearing. The house of culture, where the church holds its services,
has also refused to renew the rental agreement it had with the church, which
expired in 1999, but for the time being it has not thrown the church out.

Vazhenin recounted that the church - which belongs to the Christian
Association `Global Strategy' (a member of the Russian Union of Evangelical
Christians/Pentecostals, led by SERGEI RYAKHOVSKY) - was refused
reregistration on three occasions before being served with notice to close by the

`I am being accused of using techniques of hypnosis - someone secretly filmed
a church service,' Vazhenin told Keston. `The tape was passed on to a certain
Russian Orthodox priest who handed it in to the advisor on religious affairs at
the regional administration. Then with the blessing of his archbishop,
KHRYSANF of Vyatka and Slobodskoy, he sent a letter to the regional
department of justice. This department decided to ban our church and send me
for psychiatric assessment.'

At the first hearing on 29 December, the Kirov Christian Centre was
represented by two lawyers, ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV and VLADIMIR
RYAKHOVSKY, of the Moscow-based Slavic Legal Centre. Vladimir
Ryakhovsky told Keston on 12 January that `the department of justice provided
no convincing evidence - only the video tape, which was recorded illegally.
According to the 1997 Law there is a ban on videorecordings in any church.
Services are held in the house of culture, and the film was apparently taken
from the stage lighting gallery. By law the penalty for making such recordings
is up to five years in prison.'

TATYANA TOMAYEVA, head of the information department at the Slavic
Legal Centre, told Keston on 20 January that this videocassette had been
passed on to the regional department of justice by Orthodox priest Father
ALEKSANDR (KOROTAYEV). The department of justice brought in a panel
of medical experts, including even a pathologist, and after watching the tape
this panel came to the conclusion that such services `may have a negative effect
on the health of citizens'. They also concluded that `a trance-like state' was
being induced. The department of justice refused reregistration on the strength
of these assessments and on the following day started legal proceedings for the
liquidation of this religious organisation.

Father Aleksandr Korotayev - parish priest of the Church of St John the
Baptist, head of the missionary department of the Vyatka diocese and teacher
of Orthodox pedagogy - admitted that he had been involved in passing on the
videotape. In an interview with Keston on 21 January he stated that one of his
parishioners had given him the tape. `She asked me to do something. Her
daughter had become a member of this church. Her personality had changed
dramatically and the mother was in despair.' However, he denied having
instigated the case. `I watched the video and made enquiries at the department
of justice, but we are not getting involved in the case. We have no right to be
involved and all religions are equal in the eyes of the state. The department of
justice asked me to come to the trial and give evidence, but I replied that if I am
called officially I will comply with their request, otherwise not.'

Asked by Keston what the tape showed, Father Aleksandr replied: `It shows a
preacher in a state of frenzy and the people in the hall listening to him also in a
state of ecstasy, in a trance.' Father Aleksandr explained to Keston why he
considered this to be so dangerous: according to Orthodox tradition, if a person
loses control of his will he will be possessed by unclean spirits. `There are
three criteria for a healthy spiritual life, which applies both to Orthodox laity
and clergy. You can tell from how a person is behaving whether he is in a state
of ecstasy or in a deluded state or whether he has deluded himself to the point
of frenzy when he surrenders himself completely to the forces that he has
entrusted himself to.'

ALEKSANDR BALYBERDIN, advisor on religious organisations to the
regional authorities, was also invited to stand as an expert witness at the court
case, but he was not called. He told Keston on 21 January that `problems' had
arisen over the reregistration of the church. `In accordance with the Law on
Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations if there are unresolved
issues at the department of justice and it is unable to register a religious
organisation then in accordance with article 14 of the law the matter must be
referred to the courts.'

Balyberdin categorically denied that there had been accusations of sectarianism
at the hearing: `There were no accusations of a sectarian nature at the trial!
Witnesses stated that this religious organisation had caused actual harm to a
Kirov family. A mother accused the church of causing her son (who is over
eighteen) to leave his studies and said that the church had indirectly caused a
divorce and the breakdown of her family. On a number of occasions the son
had taken things from the family home to give to the church. The church
representative denied everything.' Balyberdin recounted what he said had led
up to the case. `In January 1999 this woman came to see me and asked for my
assistance. I explained that this was not a matter for the regional authorities and
suggested that she set up a meeting with her son and the pastor. The pastor
gave a very good account of the son's character, who was one of the leaders in
the community, but in the summer he phoned me out of the blue and told me
that the son had been expelled from the church for breaking some of the
internal rules of the community.'

Pastor Vazhenin offered Keston a different version of events: `We had our false
witnesses at the trial: the mother of one young man, ALEKSANDR
USHAKOV, who had been expelled from our church for conduct not in
keeping with a Christian life - lying, gossip, drunkenness - told the court that
the church had caused him to drop his studies. Then she herself admitted that
he dropped out of higher education after he had been expelled from the church.
This woman also testified that her son had taken 2000 roubles to give to the
church. However, when the judge issued a stern warning that if she gave a false
testimony she would be answerable before the law, and that she should only
tell what she had seen with her own eyes, she retracted this statement. Thus the
accusations of this witness, which were considered to be a key element of the
case, were rejected by the judge at the hearing.'

According to the pastor the accusations of causing the breakdown of families
and harming the health of citizens were also false. `Since the court allowed
these accusations to be made and listened to the evidence given by all the
doctors from the expert panel convened by the department of justice at the trial,
we asked that members of our church too be allowed to give evidence. We have
a couple who married in our church who now have four children, including a
daughter who was healed of alcoholism and is now top of the class at her
institute. We even have had cases, backed up by medical evidence, of the
healing of cancer.'

Protestant organisations in the Kirov region have faced a number of difficulties
with the regional authorities in recent years (see KNS 22 June 1999). (END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 2000