UZBEK BAPTIST CHURCH RAIDED: A RETURN TO RELIGIOUS
REPRESSION?

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Following a brief thaw in August and September when the Uzbek authorities
released several hundred Muslim prisoners, all known Christian prisoners (a
total of five men) and two Jehovah's Witnesses, and registered several dozen
religious groups which had been denied registration for a number of years,
there are fears that religious repression has returned.

According to reports reaching Keston News Service from the US-based
Russian Evangelistic Ministries and the Friedensstimme mission in Germany,
the local police raided the annual harvest celebration at an unregistered
Evangelical Baptist church in the city of Karshi on 10 October, detaining,
beating and imprisoning many of the participants.

Two of the men have been given administrative sentences and the authorities
are threatening to open a criminal case against the owner of the house where
the meeting was conducted. The Friedensstimme Mission notes that although
unregistered Baptist congregations have suffered controls and the confiscation
of religious literature since the August thaw, this is the first time since then that
the authorities have moved against one of their congregations in such a
`physical' manner.

The press office of the Uzbek Embassy in London faxed a written response on
14 October to Keston's enquiry about the events in Karshi, stressing that
`Uzbekistan is building a secular democratic society. There is no religious
repression, as you put it in your text. We categorically deny such allegations...'

The statement continued: `Uzbekistan is providing the full freedom of
conscience to everyone - Muslims, Christians, Baptists, Bahai etc. At the same
time, Uzbekistan will take appropriate actions within the framework of the Law
on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations against those, who
would not abide the existent laws.'

The Embassy also faxed the text of President ISLAM KARIMOV's May 1998
speech to parliament on religion, as well as copies of the Embassy's press
releases issued in August 1999 on the release of the prisoners and the
registration of 20 religious communities. The Embassy reports that it has
received `hundreds of letters' from people in Britain addressed to President
Karimov thanking him for registering religious organisations in Uzbekistan.

On the events in Karshi, the Embassy statement declared: `As far as the case
you mentioned is concerned, it should be taken up with the legal authorities of
mentioned city through the appropriate channels.'

A 12 October statement signed by members of the congregation in Karshi and
another Baptist congregation in Tashkent, passed to Keston, documents the
police raid on the Karshi church two days earlier. The church - which belongs
to the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which rejected
state control during the Soviet period - meets in the home of church members
A. and S. ANDREICHENKO. Present at the service were not only local
Baptists, but visitors from Tashkent, Samarkand and Mubarek, as well as from
Dushanbe in Tajikistan.

`Six policemen arrived at the site shortly before the beginning of the
celebration service,' the statement recounts. `The district policeman K.
Salokhov asked those present to show their passports, and then took them
away. During the worship service, came a whole police detail headed by the
deputy chief of GOVD [City Department of Internal Affairs] Eshliezov. He
called the owner of the house, who was leading the service, out into the yard
and warned him that the worship meeting without registration was forbidden.
Then he ordered him to be taken away to the police station in the city.'

When S. Andreichenko questioned the legality of the police action, she was
pulled out of the house by three officers and taken away with her husband.
Eshliezov ordered the service to be halted and the people to disperse, but the
Baptists continued praying. The police recorded those present on video. One of
the Baptists who was visiting from Tashkent, B. BELAN, was kneeling in
prayer when he was seized by two policemen and taken outside. Then one by
one all five preachers were led outside from behind the pulpit.

`All of the men in attendance, three sisters, and teenagers who played in the
brass orchestra, were taken away to the GOVD (total more than 40 people),' the
statement reports. `Then they demanded that the sisters who remained in the
house should leave. The Christian literature was thrown from the pulpit to the
ground. The living quarters of the house, in the absence of the owners, without
procurator's sanctions, were searched, while everything was recorded on a
video camera. The police took away Christian literature and audio tapes.'

The statement then records the brutality church members claim was meted out
in the police station. `They kept believers without food until the late evening at
the police station. They interrogated them and demanded that they write a letter
of explanation. They hit some in the face, head, and kidney area. The police
report stated that Christians were participating in an anti-government political
gathering under the direction of A. Andreichenko. Those who refused to sign
such a report and to write under police dictation were beaten. An ethnic Uzbek
brother, R. Usupov, was threatened that he would not be allowed to live in the
city of Karshi because he became a Christian; he was severely beaten. (After
the beatings, this brother could not sleep at night from pain in his body.)'

The police demanded that all sign the report, written in Uzbek (without a
Russian translation), that they promise not to hold any more meetings in the
future. They threatened those who refused to sign. To those who could not
understand Uzbek they reportedly shouted: `Go back to your Russia! Why are
you eating Uzbek bread and breathing our air?' Among those detained were
several deaf men, who were threatened with arrest if they ever attended church
meetings again.

Late in the evening, the visiting Baptists from Dushanbe were taken to the
railway station and deported from Uzbekistan. All the others were released,
except for Belan, A. VAKHIDOV, and A. Andreichenko. The following day,
11 October, Belan and Vakhidov were sentenced to ten days' imprisonment
under the Administrative Code. Local Baptists fear that the police will open a
criminal case against the owner of the house, Andreichenko, who remains in
detention. The Christian literature and audio tapes that were taken away were
confiscated.

The statement's signatories call for prayer and appeals for `the release of the
brothers who were sentenced; for the authorities not to open a criminal case
against the owner of the house A. Andreichenko; the return of confiscated
Christian literature and audio tapes; the freedom to conduct worship services
and preach the Gospel.'

One of those detained, NIKOLAI SERIN, wrote a brief statement about his
treatment in police detention. His statement reads in full:

`The five of us (two of them minors) were brought into an office. I was told to
write a letter of explanation. I refused. This really agitated them. They warned
me to reconsider. The others were taken out of the office, and they began to
beat them with a plastic bottle filled with water (not to leave any marks on the
body from beating), then they began to beat them with fists. They put a gas
mask over my head, and turned off the air supply and began to strangle me,
demanding, "Will you write it?" God helped me to persevere.

At the police station they also interrogated the deaf men, and forced the minor,
Yevgeny Vinokurov, to translate for them. When he refused to sign the letter of
explanation, they beat him, twisting his arms, and pushing against his
collarbone so hard that he had to squat due to the pain. They continued to press
him, and said, "Do you get it now?" Then they picked him up and hit his legs,
so that he collapsed. They threatened to make him a cripple.'

In the wake of the police raid, a group of `Christian Mothers', as they described
themselves, whose teenage children had been maltreated by the police, wrote a
petition to President Karimov, complaining of `the display of lawlessness by
the police officers'.

They told the president that their children `were physically and morally
assaulted and threatened. The children were yelled at and forced to write a
letter of explanation at the dictation of the police. Gleb Izmestyev had a
trumpet placed on his forehead, and forced to stand in such a way... Nikolai
Vinokurov was beaten when he refused to answer any questions in the absence
of his parents. They beat him in such a way as not to leave any marks on the
body: hitting his spine, painful areas on the body, and twisted his arms.'

The four mothers, YELENA VINOKUROVA, GALINA IZMESTYEVA,
TAMARA BELAN and ALLA ANDREICHENKO, asked the president to
investigate `this case of lawlessness over our defenceless children'.

The maltreatment of these Baptists as well as the well-documented
maltreatment of the Christian and other prisoners freed in August is certain to
come up for discussion in Geneva in November, when the United Nations
Committee against Torture (a ten-member independent panel of experts) is to
review the periodic report of the Government of Uzbekistan during its
forthcoming 23rd session. Uzbekistan will be discussed by the Committee on
the morning of 17 November and on the morning of 19 November. As a
signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel,
Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Uzbekistan is required to
submit a report on what legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures
it has enacted to implement the provisions of the Convention.

The Convention against Torture `is an international human rights treaty aimed
at protecting all person against torture and ill-treatment,' Amnesty International
explains. `Governments which ratify the Convention against Torture, referred
to as "states parties", agree to be legally bound by its provisions and to take
effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts
of torture in any territory under their jurisdiction. No exceptional circumstances
whatsoever may be invoked as a justification for torture.'

Amnesty describes some of the obligations under the Convention: `States
parties to the Convention against Torture also undertake to ensure that all acts
of torture are offences under their criminal law... The Convention against
Torture also obliges states parties to keep rules and methods of interrogation
under systematic review, as well as to provide training and education regarding
the prohibition of torture for law enforcement officials and others engaged in
similar professions.'

Also under review in Geneva in November will be the reports of the
Governments of Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. (END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 1999