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
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
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
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
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
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
'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.