KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 27 June 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

UZBEKISTAN: BAPTIST PASTOR THREATENED WITH FIVE-
YEAR SENTENCE. Following a raid by police on a Baptist church in
the Uzbek capital Tashkent last Sunday, 24 June, the pastor is facing a
charge of leading an `unauthorised group', which carries a penalty of up
to five years in prison. Pastor Nikolai Shevchenko of Bethany Church
told Keston News Service that a criminal case was officially opened
yesterday, 26 June, and a hearing will be held on Friday 29 June. Last
Monday, he was held by the police all day and not permitted to eat until
his release late in the evening. Pastor Shevchenko has been seeking
registration for his church for the past five years - in vain.

UZBEKISTAN: BAPTIST PASTOR THREATENED WITH FIVE-
YEAR SENTENCE

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Following a raid by special police forces on an unregistered Baptist
church in the Uzbek capital Tashkent last Sunday, 24 June, the pastor is
facing a charge of leading an `unauthorised group', which carries a
penalty of up to five years in prison. Pastor Nikolai Shevchenko of
Bethany Church told Keston News Service that he was summoned to the
procuracy of the city's Mirzo-Ulugbek district and a criminal case was
officially opened on 26 June. Shevchenko has been seeking registration
for his church for the past five years - in vain (see KNS 9 April 2001).

Shevchenko told Keston from Tashkent on 27 June that the investigation
can last up to two months, and is being led by investigator Viktoriya
Yevgeniyevna (surname unknown) of Mirzo-Ulugbek district department
of internal affairs. She was not immediately available by telephone when
Keston called on 27 June to enquire about the case. No-one was available
at the Mirzo-Ulugbek procuracy on 27 June either.

Shevchenko is not currently being held, but has been banned from
travelling outside Tashkent.

The head of the Baptist Union, Pavel Peychev, wrote to various
government agencies - including the Justice Ministry, the procuracy and
the country's secret police, the SNB - on 25 June complaining of the
`repressive' measures taken against the Bethany church, accusing the
authorities of refusing it registration and then trying to crush it.

Protestant sources told Keston that the Sunday morning service was
underway on 24 June when eight special police forces officers in civilian
clothes arrived unannounced. The officers, who declined to give their
names or rank, halted the service and separated the congregation into
groups in different rooms at the church. Twelve of those present were
interrogated, among them ten adults, Pastor Shevchenko, Aleksandr
Razlivinsky, Valery Razlivinsky, Sergei Khripunov, Nikolai Nam, Viktor
Nam, Aleksandr Gorelov, Sergei Yashchuk, Roman Kiselev and Aleksei
Molokanov, and two children, Aleksei Tsoi and Mikhail Shevchenko.

`The officers said they had information that drug addicts were gathering
there, but they found no drug addicts,' Shevchenko told Keston. `They
brought handcuffs with them, but did not use them.'

Charges under Articles 240 and 241 of the administrative code - which
punish `violation of legislation on religious organisations' and `violation
of the procedure for teaching religious faith' - were levelled against nine
of the adults, who were summoned to appear before the administrative
commission on 26 June. The procurator recommended penalties of
between 10 and 50 times the minimum monthly wage (currently 2,400
soms per month), but the judge postponed the hearing until 29 June and
promised to try to soften the penalties.

Shevchenko was summoned by Bakhtiyor Khaknazarov of the Mirzo-
Ulugbek procuracy on 25 June and was informed that a criminal case
would be opened under Article 216, which punishes `organisation of
banned social associations and religious organisations'. Khaknazarov told
him he could face imprisonment of up to five years. `Khaknazarov spoke
to me quite crudely,' Shevchenko told Keston. `I did not expect it.' He
was not given anything to eat throughout the day, or allowed to leave for
lunch. Late in the evening he told an officer that he suffers from diabetes,
and his health could suffer if he did not eat for a protracted period. After
that he was allowed to go home, with a requirement that he return the
following morning.

Shevchenko rejected Khaknazarov's accusations that he had failed to
register his church, pointing out that he had applied to all the relevant
government agencies but had been refused, and had since then written to
the presidential office and the government's committee for religious
affairs seeking help in gaining registration. The letter to the presidential
office had merely been handed over to the committee for religious affairs,
and all his letters had elicited no response.

The church's bookkeeper was also summoned with Shevchenko but was
not charged with any criminal offence (although he was among those
scheduled to be fined administratively).

Shevchenko's lawyer also argues that his client should not face charges
under Article 216 as his church cannot be considered an illegal
organisation.

Pastor Shevchenko was the founder of an Association of Independent
Churches, which united a dozen Protestant Churches in various towns
across the country. However, he told Keston that his Tashkent church is
once again a full member of the Baptist Union.

Uzbekistan treats unregistered religious activity as illegal, despite its
international human rights commitments to allow freedom of religious
practice and assembly, and the police often raid unregistered mosques
and churches. (END)