Issue 9, Article 21, 27 September 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
SUMMARY: Nine Christians have been detained, beaten and forced to write
statements dictated by the police. In a second raid on their meeting place
immediately following the men�s release, police said they had been ordered to
expel all visiting Baptists from Tashkent. Keston reports on the recent raiding
of two other churches in Uzbekistan and the continued refusal to register the
Greater Grace congregation.

Wednesday 27 September 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

In the wake of the upsurge in fighting this summer in Central Asia against what
the regional governments claim are Islamic fundamentalists, police raids on
Christian churches and groups across Uzbekistan have been stepped up. Many
churches - both registered and unregistered - have had visits in the past few
months and, in a number
of cases, religious leaders have been beaten and detained. `When the conflict
started, surveillance of Christian groups immediately increased,' a source in
Tashkent told Keston News Service on 26 September.

Keston spoke by telephone on 26 September to KAMUL KAMILOV at the
government's Committee for Religious Affairs in the capital Tashkent seeking
an explanation for the series of raids. Kamilov responded briefly before
requesting written questions, which Keston submitted the same day. However,
so far there has been no response.

On 15 August a Baptist church in the town of Chirchik near Tashkent was
raided by police. The church - which meets in a private home - is a member of
the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which refuses to
register its congregations in any of the former Soviet republics where it
operates. `Without the approval of the procurator a search was carried out and
religious literature (Bibles, Gospels etc.) were confiscated,' a statement from
the local Baptists declared. Also confiscated were the Baptists' passports.

During the raid, police beat church members with truncheons before taking
nine people away for questioning. `They interrogated the believers, filmed
them on video and demanded that they write statements dictated by the police
officers.' The police officers - who refused to give their names - gave the nine
Baptists `periodic beatings' during the interrogation. Major ISAYEV of the
local police promised to hand materials over to the procuracy for a case to be
launched against the nine.

church meets) - were held until the following day before being freed and told
to report the following day to the procuracy in Chirchik. Their documents and
the confiscated literature were returned, but they were again told to report the
next day, 19 August. They had only just returned to the home where the church
meets to pray and eat when two officers again arrived, confiscated Annin's
documents and drove everyone out onto the street. The officers told them they
had an order from the local police chief S.T. ABOLABEKOV to expel all the
visiting Baptists from Tashkent. The same day the Baptists sent a letter of
protest against this `arbitrary behaviour on the part of the local authorities' to
Uzbek President ISLAM KARIMOV with a copy to Abolabekov.

It is not clear if the case against the nine has yet been heard, but they are likely
to be fined. Kamilov told Keston that his Committee for Religious Affairs had
investigated the events in Chirchik and discovered that the church does not
have registration. `It must have registration to be able to function,' he declared.
He rejected the Baptists' account of events: `Their information is not true. Do
not listen to them.'

In a separate incident in mid-September, a registered Baptist church belonging
to the Baptist Union was raided in Tashkent. Police arrived at the private home
where the church meets, took down the names of all those present and took
away the leader of the church, Pastor ALEKSANDR STEPANOVICH. He was
charged with `leading an unsanctioned meeting' and was fined five times the
minimum monthly wage, a total of 12,500 soms.

Following a police raid in July on an unregistered Protestant church in the town
of Gulistan, 120 kms from Tashkent, nine members of the church were
detained before being released. However, TAMARA DOSOVA, the wife of the
church's pastor, is being investigated by the procuracy and may face charges of
`illegally distributing religious literature'. Until the investigation is complete it
will not be clear whether she will face charges under the administrative code,
which covers lesser offences, or under the criminal code. Dosova is not in
detention and is waiting at home to hear the results of the investigation.

In separate news, it is reported that in mid-September the justice administration
in the khokimat (local authority) of Samarkand region refused registration to
the Greater Grace congregation in the town. The government's Committee for
Religious Affairs in Tashkent is apparently demanding several further changes
to the statute of the church, although the church has already made changes
required by the authorities. It remains unclear whether official registration will
be blocked again even if the church makes the further changes demanded.
Keston sought a response from Kamilov at the Committee for Religious Affairs
as to whether the Greater Grace will eventually receive registration. `They must
bring all their documents into order,' he declared. `They have not achieved this
yet.' However, despite repeated questioning he failed to declare whether the
church would then be registered if it made the further changes demanded.

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. Despite hints last year that these provisions
would be amended, there have been no changes either to the law or to the
criminal code. (END)