Issue 9, Articles 19-20 , 26 September 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
Christian leader Nikolai Rodzinsky appears to remain in prison awaiting trial -
set today for Thursday at 3pm. This is despite claims made just yesterday by
the Uzbek embassy in Washington DC that Rodzinsky had been freed with 10
other Christian leaders.

CLOSED. With the revocation of registration for Mir Presbyterian church in
the Uzbek autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, its 1.5 million inhabitants
are left without one registered Christian organisation. Under Uzbek law, this
means any act of Christian worship or activity is illegal.

Tuesday 26 September 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The judicial authorities in the town of Nukus in the western Uzbek autonomous
republic of Karakalpakstan have today set a trial date for NIKOLAI
RODZINSKY, a Christian leader who has been held in prison since his arrest
in July after police broke up a children's camp organised by the Nukus-based
Mir Presbyterian church. The trial will begin at Nukus city court at 3 pm on
Thursday (28 September), when Rodzinsky will face charges under Article 276
part 1 of the Uzbek criminal code, which covers drug offences. He faces
imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of up to 15 times the minimum
monthly wage if convicted.

Contacted by telephone on 26 September, officials at the Karakalpakstan
procuracy in Nukus declined to discuss Rodzinsky's case in view of the
imminent start of the trial or even to inform Keston News Service of the name
of the investigator who had handled the case. However, when asked about
Rodzinsky's case, KAMUL KAMILOV of the government's Committee for
Religious Affairs in the Uzbek capital Tashkent told Keston on 26 September
that `no such comrade exists' and that the police break-up of the children's
camp in July `didn't take place'. He said his office had received enquiries about
the case and had enquired of the Karakalpakstan authorities and discovered that
there was no truth to the reports.

In a bizarre move, the Uzbek embassy in Washington DC telephoned the US
State Department yesterday (25 September) to report that Rodzinsky had been
freed from prison, but Keston was told today that the trial date has just been
set, making it unlikely he is about to be freed. RAVSHAN NAZARKULOV,
first secretary of the Uzbek embassy in Washington, told US officials as well as
Keston today that he had received `clear positive information' about
Rodzinsky's release from the Foreign Ministry in Tashkent but would seek
further clarification in the light of the news of his imminent trial he had learnt
from Keston.

Keston has also learnt that the Mir Presbyterian church had its registration
removed by the Karakalpakstan Justice Ministry the day before Rodzinsky was
arrested (see separate KNS article).

Rodzinsky has been in prison in Nukus since his arrest on 25 July after police
allegedly found 0.2 grammes of opium in his pocket and has been charged with
illegal drug possession. The US-based Compass news service reported in early
September that Rodzinsky was arrested just a few hours after Nukus police had
closed down a church youth camp he had helped to organise. The officials
claimed that the local church had `no right to operate a religious camp'. The
camp was the second of two youth camps held during July in a camping facility
near Nukus and sponsored by the Mir Church. Some 50 children had attended
the first camp session without incident. Nukus city authorities reportedly did
not send the children home from the camp facility but replaced the church's
camp staff with their own secular personnel.

A local source told Compass that Rodzinsky had come from a nearby city to
visit the Mir church on 25 July when word came that the police were closing
down the children's camp. As one of the camp organisers, Rodzinsky promptly
went to the facility, where he told the authorities that the camp was sponsored
by a registered church and was legally funded. But after Rodzinsky returned to
the church, police arrested him and took him in for interrogation, which lasted
four hours.

Security police investigators told Rodzinsky he could be imprisoned `for the
rest of his life' if he did not cooperate with their investigation. However, he
apparently refused to answer some of their questions concerning the organisers
and sponsors of the camp. It was then that the police claim to have discovered
the drugs. Rodzinsky is reported to have been beaten many times and to have
been denied medical attention which his friends say he needs. He has been
allowed only one visit a month from his wife, although he has been able to
maintain contact with his lawyer.

In August last year the Uzbek government suddenly freed five Christian
prisoners and one Jehovah's Witness from prison and registered several dozen
Christian, Jehovah's Witness and Bahai communities (see KNS 23 August
1999). The moves were announced with great fanfare by Uzbek embassies in
London and Washington DC. It remains unclear why the Uzbek embassy in
Washington DC reported Rodzinsky had been freed while he remains in prison
on the eve of his trial. (END)

Tuesday 26 September 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The last Christian church which had registration in the western Uzbek
autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan was closed down in July, one day
before the arrest of NIKOLAI RODZINSKY, a leader of a camp run by the
church (see separate KNS article). The Mir Presbyterian Church was the only
non-Muslim religious organisation that had registration in the autonomous
republic, which has a population of some 1.5 million.

MIRMAN ISMAILOV of the Karakalpakstan Ministry of Justice told Keston
by telephone from Nukus on 26 September that the registration of the Mir
Presbyterian Church was revoked on 24 July, leaving just 45 registered
religious groups in the autonomous republic, all of them Muslim. `No other
religious group has registration,' he admitted. `The Mir Presbyterian Church
was the last Christian group, until we closed it down.' He reports that the
church is no longer functioning.

Officials, who reportedly came to the church to announce the revocation of
registration, cited the fact that the church had organised the children's camp
which, they declared, violated Article 3 point 3 of Uzbekistan's law on religion,
which prohibits `drawing young people into religious activity'.

Ismailov claimed to Keston that the church was closed down because it taught
religion to under-age children `illegally' without the permission of parents.
Asked who had alleged this, he declared: `They said.' Asked to clarify who had
said this, he declared that the information had come from the Supreme Soviet
together with an instruction to close down the church. He admitted that his
office had not verified the claims as its job was merely to register religious
organisations. He declined to answer any further questions about the Mir
Church, referring all questions to KHALBEI MUKHANOV, Karakalpakstan's
deputy justice minister.

Contacted by telephone on 26 September, Mukhanov initially refused to
discuss the case by telephone. Eventually he told Keston that he did not
personally issue an order to close down the Mir church. `The decision was
taken by the Board of the Ministry of Justice of Karakalpakstan,' he declared.
`It was a collegial decision.' Asked what proof he had of the claims that the
church illegally taught religion to young children he declared: `The Ministry
has lots of documents and letters.' He invited Keston to view them in his office,
but declined to fax any of them. When Keston tried to clarify the nature and
source of these complaints Mukhanov put down the phone.

Ismailov confirmed to Keston that the Full Gospel Church - a Pentecostal
church which faced severe persecution after its pastor RASHID TURIBAYEV
tried to register in the mid-1990s - has still not been registered. `They last
presented a registration application in 1999, but it was incomplete,' Ismailov
claimed. `We have not heard from them since.' Turibayev was freed from
prison in August 1999 in a round of releases of Christian and Jehovah's
Witness prisoners under presidential pardon (see KNS 23 August 1999). There
were hopes then that the church would gain registration, but the mahalla (town
district) committee vetoed the application (see KNS 10 December 1999).
Hopes that such obstruction could be overcome have come to nothing.

Given that Uzbekistan's highly restrictive law on religion specifically outlaws
unregistered religious activity and the country's criminal code lays down harsh
penalties for those engaged in such activity, any Christian worship or other
Christian activity in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan is now illegal.