KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 6 April 2001

I. UZBEKISTAN: JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES CRITICISE
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR TRIALS. Representatives of Uzbekistan's
Jehovah's Witness community have complained to Keston News Service that
if their members reject compulsory military service because of their religious
beliefs, they are not allowed to do alternative service and continue to be
sentenced for refusing military service, often being given `punitive' fines.

II. UZBEKISTAN: JEHOVAH'S WITNESS REGISTRATIONS
OBSTRUCTED. Some ten Jehovah's Witness communities across
Uzbekistan have been denied registration, despite meeting all the
requirements, Jehovah's Witnesses told Keston News Service in the Uzbek
capital Tashkent on 18 March. Only two communities are registered. The
Jehovah's Witnesses attributed the registration obstructions to a `lack of
understanding' on the part of the authorities at all levels, and pledged to
resolve all outstanding problems with the authorities directly through
dialogue.

I. UZBEKISTAN: JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES CRITICISE
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR TRIALS

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Representatives of Uzbekistan's Jehovah's Witness community have
criticised the treatment of their members who reject compulsory military
service because of their religious beliefs. Speaking to Keston News Service
in Tashkent on 18 March, the representatives � who preferred not to be
named - complained that Jehovah's Witnesses are not allowed to do
alternative service and continue to be sentenced for refusing military service,
often being given `punitive' fines. However, they expressed some
satisfaction that their conscientious objectors are not currently being
sentenced to terms of imprisonment, unlike in Armenia and Turkmenistan,
for example.

The representatives explained that on refusing the first call-up, conscientious
objectors are generally treated under the administrative code, which punishes
lesser offences, and are given administrative fines. However, on second and
subsequent occasions, criminal cases are launched which usually lead to
sentences of compulsory labour, suspended terms of imprisonment or fines
of between five to ten times the minimum monthly wage. `These fines in
particular may not sound much but represent a heavy burden on individuals,
especially as average wages are so low,' the representatives told Keston.
`Every year there are such trials.'

The Jehovah's Witnesses believed such treatment of conscientious objectors
who oppose army service on religious grounds was something Uzbekistan
should have put behind it. `It is not acceptable in a democratic society.'

Uzbekistan adopted a law on alternative service on 3 July 1992, allowing
exemption from compulsory military service for those with at least four
siblings under the age of 16, with siblings or parents who became invalids
during military service or `members of registered religious organisations
whose religious teaching does not allow the bearing of arms or service in the
armed forces'. However, Jehovah's Witnesses - who have only two registered
communities in Uzbekistan (see separate KNS article) - are not allowed to
opt for alternative service.

Those allowed to do alternative service are paid only three quarters of their
wages, according to Major Murad Kazakov, chief of Tashkent's department
of the defence administration, in an interview with the newspaper Pravda
Vostoka of 3 March 2000, with the remainder going to the state. He added
that even then, wages are often paid late. He also confirmed that alternative
service lasts two years, compared with only eighteen months of military
service.

Although Jehovah's Witnesses have traditionally strongly opposed all
fighting and army service, the representatives stressed that the decision
whether or not to serve in the armed forces was a decision for each member.
`Each individual chooses his position personally on the basis of his own
conscience.' They claimed some Jehovah's Witnesses did decide to serve in
the armed forces, although they said this was rare. (END)

II. UZBEKISTAN: JEHOVAH'S WITNESS REGISTRATIONS
OBSTRUCTED

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Some ten Jehovah's Witness communities across Uzbekistan have been
denied registration, despite having 100 adult citizen members and meeting
all the other requirements, Jehovah's Witnesses told Keston News Service in
the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 18 March. `Most of these groups applied back
in 1999, but nothing has changed,' declared the representatives, who
preferred not to be named. `We have only two registered communities in the
entire country - in Chirchik and Fergana.' The Jehovah's Witnesses attributed
the registration obstructions to a `lack of understanding' on the part of the
authorities at all levels, `from the mahalla [local district] right up to the
Ministry of Justice'. `If they knew us better this would be overcome.' They
pledged to resolve all outstanding problems with the authorities directly
through dialogue.

The representatives complained that the authorities `look at the application
documents constantly', but there are `no written refusals'. `They ask us to
change this word in the application, this building is not suitable - all the
responses are on this level.' They reported that they comply with each new
demand. `Each time they mention a problem with an application we sort it
out. We're not giving up.'

Tashkent's 2,000-strong Jehovah's Witness community cannot meet, Keston
was told, because of the lack of registration. `We can't all meet together. It's
banned. They tell us we have no right to meet.' The Jehovah's Witnesses
have decided to comply with this instruction. `We want to show we're law-
abiding people.'

Ever since the harsh new religion law and changes to the criminal code in
1998, the Jehovah's Witnesses have had a difficult time. `Raids, detentions
of up to 15 days and administrative fines were frequent in 1999,' the
Jehovah's Witnesses told Keston. `However, such actions have fallen
considerably more recently.'

Although much reduced, such harassment continues. They cited one `typical
example': a raid on a meeting in the Yunusabad district of Tashkent on 14
March. Eight Jehovah's Witnesses were meeting in a private house when the
police arrived, insisting that they let them in. The owner opened the door
after they threatened to break it down. `The police told them they had been
informed that a Jehovah's Witness meeting was underway.' The eight were
held for almost 24 hours and officially warned, after which six of them were
sentenced under the administrative code for `unregistered religious activity'.
The house owners - Pyotr and Aleksandra Kirilchuk - were each fined
24,500 sums (USD 72 at the official rate, USD 27 at the bazaar rate), ten
times the minimum monthly wage.

Despite such widespread official opposition to their activities, the Jehovah's
Witness representatives told Keston that there are some officials who are
`more objective' and even `sympathetic' towards them. They insist that the
Jehovah's Witnesses simply wish to resolve the outstanding problems
directly with the government. `Our priority is to resolve these problems. Our
aim is to have legal activity in Uzbekistan.' The representatives declined to
give Keston details of other recent instances of harassment, maintaining that
the best method to bring such harassment to an end was by quiet negotiation.
They also insisted that they would obey instructions and halt any religious
activities the government disliked, such as preaching from house to house or
even meeting in large groups until they get registration. `We don't want to do
anything in secret.'

In future the Jehovah's Witnesses would like to register a religious centre,
which would then allow them officially to publish and import literature and
provide education. `We would like to acquaint people with our publications,
the Bible most of all. We would like our education to be available as we
would like people to see that the education the Jehovah's Witnesses offer
makes for better people.' However, the representatives told Keston that such
hopes were not realistic in the immediate future. `At present we're focusing
on registration for our communities.' (END)