I. UZBEKISTAN DENIES VISA RENEWAL TO TASHKENT RABBI

II. ARE THE UZBEK AUTHORITIES SOFTENING THEIR STANCE?





Wednesday 30 September 1998

UZBEKISTAN DENIES VISA RENEWAL TO TASHKENT RABBI



by Felix Corley, Keston News Service



The Uzbek Foreign Ministry has refused to renew the visa of the

head of Tashkent's Jewish community, Rabbi ABBA DAVID GUREVICH.

The Foreign Ministry declined to give a reason for its refusal.

The community is now concerned that he might be forced to leave

Uzbekistan. Rabbi Gurevich, who is a United States citizen and

is affiliated with the Lubavich movement, has worked in

Uzbekistan since 1990.



Since his arrival, he has been instrumental in reviving Jewish

life in this Central Asian state, opening a yeshivah, a kolel

where the Torah can be studied, and a day school for 350

students, the only Jewish school in Tashkent. He has also

organised summer camps, youth clubs and humanitarian aid for the

poor. The community estimates the number of Jews in Tashkent at

more than 30,000.



'Even the note of the Ambassador of Israel in Tashkent, MR NOACH

GAL GENDLER, where he asks the Uzbek Government to renew

Gurevich's visa and to renew the registration of his institutions

under the new law, did not help,' a member of the community told

Keston News Service. 'The situation is very very bad. All the

Jewish life in Uzbekistan and the community's wellbeing is in big

danger!'



The visa refusal comes in the wake of Uzbekistan's harsh new law

on freedom of conscience adopted by parliament on 1 May and which

came into force on 15 May. Jewish communities - like those of

other faiths - have been experiencing difficulties gaining

reregistration under the new law.



These difficulties are perhaps surprising, given the growing ties

between the Uzbek and Israeli governments and the welcome

accorded to Jewish visitors in Tashkent. On 13 May, President of

Uzbekistan ISLAM KARIMOV received a delegation from the Simon

Wiesenthal Center. 'During the Second World War, thousands of

Jews found safety in Uzbekistan,' Karimov told them in remarks

published by the Presidential Office the following day. 'Up to

now, there has been no antisemitism in our country. There are

many functioning synagogues here and a Central Asian seminary.

In several of our cities, there are networks of Jewish

communities. This shows that there is inter-ethnic accord.'



A high-level Israeli delegation headed by Prime Minister BINYAMIN

NETANYAHU visited Tashkent on 28 May and President Karimov of

Uzbekistan recently visited Jerusalem, where he gave strong

backing to the Jewish state.



Such vocal high-level support has not prevented the Jewish

community in Uzbekistan suffering the same problems faced by

other religious communities. (END)





Wednesday 30 September 1998

ARE THE UZBEK AUTHORITIES SOFTENING THEIR STANCE?



by Felix Corley, Keston News Service



Officials of Uzbekistan's State Committee for Religious Affairs,

which reports to the Council of Ministers, have given

contradictory signals on whether the country's harsh new law on

religion is being implemented in full. The Law on Freedom of

Conscience and Religious Organisations, adopted by parliament on

1 May, lays down that all unregistered religious activity is

illegal and, to gain registration with the Ministry of Justice,

religious groups must have at least 100 adult members. An

associated Council of Ministers decree of 20 June gave a deadline

of 15 August for religious communities with registration under

the old law to submit applications for reregistration. The decree

also specified that applications require high fees and

certificates from about a dozen state bodies.



The short timescale allowed for applications to be completed -

especially in view of the complex array of different documents

required - meant that many communities had not presented their

reregistration applications by the 15 August deadline. Only about

one fifth of mosques are said to have done so.



Following protests from minority religious communities and

foreign diplomatic pressure, officials from the Committee for

Religious Affairs appeared to have softened some of the harsh

provisions. On 4 August SHAAMIL MINOVAROV, the deputy chairman

of the Committee, told five Christian leaders verbally in the

course of a meeting that the minimum requirement for 100 adult

members could be waived and that the 15 August deadline was being

extended until the end of the year. This statement was not

published and no amendment was made to the law to allow this.

State officials gave similar responses to foreign diplomats.



On 24 August, two lawyers who have been working with the

Jehovah's Witnesses, LUBOMIR MULLER and SERGEI SVETKIN, met

SHARAFUDDIN MIRMAKHMUDOV, the Chairman of the Committee for

Religious Affairs. Mirmakhmudov told them that if a local

religious organisation had fewer than one hundred persons (as

required by the law) it could ask for an exemption from the

provision, and such a request could be approved. If several

local religious organisations would like to create a centralised

governing body, but they were not registered in eight districts

(as required by the law), they could also ask for an exemption

from the provision. Muller commented after the meeting: 'This

information was very surprising since the law does not say

anything about any exemptions.'



The two lawyers also asked about the exact meaning of the term

'proselytism' because, while prohibited by the law, the term is

not defined. Mirmakhmudov said that it meant applying constant

pressure to others when spreading one's faith. He claimed that

this prohibition is not in conflict with freedom of religion.



At the end of August a leading Christian met the deputy justice

minister, who said that the Catholics, Lutherans and Baptists,

and the Bible Society, had been granted exemptions from the new

law and were registered.



To clarify the situation, Keston News Service telephoned the

Committee for Religious Affairs in Tashkent. An official who

answered the phone declared that the deadline for reregistration

applications had been extended from 15 August to 15 October, as

many religious communities had not succeeded in completing

application formalities by then, although he declared he did not

know whether the deadline extension was by a decree of the

government or otherwise. He then referred further enquiries about

such 'official information' to Minovarov, the deputy chairman.



Minovarov, in a lengthy telephone interview with Keston News

Service on 29 September, declared that the 15 August deadline had

not changed, although he pledged that any community applying for

reregistration after that date would get it. 'The process hasn't

ended,' he declared.



He reported that two centralised religious organisations had been

reregistered, the Muslim Administration and the Russian Orthodox

Church. He said that no other applications to register

centralised religious organisations had been received, but that

if any were received they would be considered.



Minovarov also reported that as of 15 September, 721 religious

organisations had been reregistered. Some 600 were Muslim, 103

were Christian of various denominations, while the rest were of

other faiths. He named among the Christian denominations the

Russian Orthodox, Adventists, Catholics, Lutherans and Baptists,

but said he did not have a breakdown of how many communities of

each denomination had been reregistered. Of the reregistered

groups of other faiths, he said three were Jewish. He said the

Jehovah's Witnesses had not put in any reregistration

applications.



Minovarov admitted that not all reregistration applications had

been successful. He denied that any had been refused, but said

that eleven had been returned for further additions as some of

the information on the applications had been inadequate or

incomplete. However, he did not have information on which

religious groups these eleven represented.



Asked about reports that the Uzbek authorities might have reduced

the minimum requirement for 100 adult members, Minovarov -

describing this as a 'change' - confirmed the statements he made

to Christian leaders at the meeting in early August that

exceptions could be made to the provisions of the law for groups

with fewer than 100 adult members. 'If religious minorities, such

as Baptists, Adventists or Lutherans, do not have enough

members,' he told Keston News Service, 'we will consider their

applications. If there are 70 members or even 50, in principle

we will consider them. This is so as not to deprive them of their

right to meet.' Minovarov declared that a commission had been set

up in August to consider applications submitted by religious

minorities.



Asked if this 'change' to the law had been published, he declared

that it had been announced 'officially' to religious leaders

verbally in the course of a meeting. 'It is not necessary to

publish this in the newspapers. All the people who need to know

do know.'



Asked whether believers who held meetings without registration

were breaking the law, Minovarov said that groups of say ten

people who wished to meet together for prayer, for example, would

not be breaking the law. However, he said that to engage in any

activity as a religious community, for example to hold a bank

account, required registration.



Minovarov appeared to be surprised to learn that Keston had

copies of three appeals by Christian groups sent to President

ISLAM KARIMOV in May and June protesting at some provisions of

the new law. On 28 May the Evangelical Christians-Baptists had

complained that the new law turned law-abiding believers into

criminals. On 16 June the Adventists had appealed for a reduction

in the minimum number of members required for registration from

100 to 10 and for groups with only three communities to be

allowed to set up centralised religious organisations. They also

asked for the ban on proselytism to be lifted. Also on 16 June,

priests and ministers from five communities (Catholic,

Evangelical-Lutheran, Evangelical Christian-Baptist, Adventist

and Full Gospel) had asked for the removal of the 100-member

provision and removal of the ban on missionary activity. There

were apparently no replies to these letters.



Minovarov told Keston that he had not seen the text of these

appeals.



Asked about the visa renewal problems of Chief Rabbi ABBA DAVID

GUREVICH, Minovarov became clearly angry and refused to answer.

'Your questions are not journalistic questions.'



At the conclusion of the interview, Minovarov requested that

Keston publish the account of the interview accurately, in order

to avoid any misunderstandings.



Several of Minovarov's remarks seem to contradict information

from other sources. Lubomir Muller reports that the Jehovah's

Witness congregation in Chirchik was registered in 1994 and has

applied for reregistration, although Minovarov denies any

Jehovah's Witness congregations have applied. The Tashkent

Jehovah's Witness community has repeatedly applied for

registration without success since 1996. Both communities have

assembled all the relevant paperwork for new applications, but

the local heads of administration have - without explanation -

refused to sign papers guaranteeing their address and mailing

address. Although the applications have therefore not yet been

lodged with the Committee, Muller's complaints on behalf of the

two communities have certainly brought these pending applications

to the attention of the Committee.



Despite Minovarov's claims that registration is not absolutely

required for private religious meetings, Muller reports

continuing fines of Jehovah's Witnesses for holding meetings in

private homes without registration. For example, on 12 August,

LYUDMILA MOISEYEVA, born 1951, PYOTR KIRILCHUK, born 1969, and

ALEKSANDR VOROBYOV, born 1974, were fined by Mizo-Ulugbek Circuit

Court judge M. B. KURBANBAYEV. The fine, under Article 241 of

the Administrative Code (which punishes illegal religious

education), was 5500 Uzbek sum (about $US54 according to the

official exchange rate). The only reason given for the fine was

that on 9 August, together with '40-50 other people', they met

at the home of Lyudmila Moiseyeva and 'without permission and

without registration_ preached religious doctrines without

special ecclesiastical education and without permission from an

ecclesiastical Centre'.



'I sent complaints against the khyakims [administration heads]

in Tashkent and Chirchik to Mr. Mirmakhmudov and also to MRS

RASHIDOVA, the ombudsman of Uzbekistan,' Muller reports. 'As an

attorney, I also prepared an appeal against the 12 August

decision of the Mizo-Ulugbek Circuit Court on the grounds that

it violates obligations made by Uzbekistan according to

international agreements, in particular Articles 18-20 of the

Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 1-3, 6, a),

e) and i) of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of

Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.'



In addition, representatives of minority communities fear that

those who put their signature on registration applications may

face negative consequences for doing so. A Vatican official told

Keston on 30 September that, while at present signatures of the

100 members are sufficient, 'there is a fear that a more detailed

identification of the signatories on the part of the Uzbek

authorities could discourage those willing to sign.' Such fears

especially affect Catholics who, mostly of Slav origin (Polish,

Ukrainian, Russian), feel less secure in Uzbekistan. However, the

official was careful to highlight some of the positive

developments, such as the return to the Catholic communities of

the churches in Tashkent and Samarkand confiscated during the

early communist period.



Privately, senior Uzbek officials have told Western diplomats

over the past few months that they are prepared to grant certain

Christian groups concessions, believing that Western governments

have little interest in problems faced by Muslims who reject

government controls. Western diplomats have reportedly sressed

to the Uzbek authorities that they are just as concerned about

religious liberty violations against the majority Muslim

population as against the Christian and other minorities.



Muslims who reject government control have faced harassment and

some activists have been arrested and sentenced on trumped-up

charges. A number of leading Islamic figures have 'disappeared'.



While it appears that the Uzbek authorities are prepared to relax

some of the law's provisions on an unofficial, ad hoc basis, the

principle of strict state control of all religious activity has

not changed. The failure to publicise these unofficial exemptions

and the failure to apply them equally to all religious groups

will put in doubt the government's claims to want to protect the

rights of religious communities. The government has done nothing

to address other parts of the law that violate its international

commitments to religious freedom and freedom of expression.