Uzbekistan Protestant sentenced for "teaching religion"

Monday, May 14, 2007

By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest

TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- A Pentecostal Christian in Uzbekistan faced a difficult Sunday, May 13, after receiving a two-year suspended prison sentence in Nukus, the capital of the Karakalpakstan autonomous republic in north-western Uzbekistan, on charges of teaching religion illegally, human rights watchers and local Christians confirmed.

Salavat Serikbayev was sentenced this week, May)10 to a two-year suspended prison sentence in Nukus, but could be jailed if he commits any further "crime," including giving Bible teaching or other activities the authorities regard as an offence, suggested Forum 18, a major human rights group following the case.

The court reputedly banned Serikbayev from traveling abroad during the two-year period. It also ordered that 20 per cent of the salary of any job Serikbayev gains be taken from by an employer. He currently does not have paid employment, so the fine was not expected to apply yet.

Serikbayev was prosecuted under Article 229-2 of the Criminal Code, which punishes "violating the procedure for teaching religion" and carries a maximum term of three years' imprisonment. He has denied the charges, claiming that police officers who testified that they had seen him "teaching religion" were "lying". Forum 18 said Serikbayev had to defend himself, as he could not afford to pay a lawyer. Officials refused to comment.


The 32-year-old Serikbayev has long faced harassment for his Christian activity, supporters say. In 1999 he reportedly spent four months in prison, while last year he was fined. He also "has been repeatedly warned, threatened and harassed," Forum 18 added.

In addition, local authorities have apparently begun proceedings to deprive him, his wife and their five children of social protection payments, including childcare benefits. Serikbayev, who is from the town of Muynak north of Nukus close to the Aral Sea, was among a group of 18 Protestants reportedly detained when police raided the Nukus home of a Presbyterian Christian Grigory Ten in January.

On April 9 Nukus Criminal Court found Ten guilty of a variety of religious offences under the Code of Administrative Offences. It fined him 621,000 Sums $496), described as a massive sum in Karakalpakstan and more than many local people earn in a year. Unemployment has reportedly reached 80 per cent, and the standard of living here is lower than almost anywhere in Central Asia.


In the latest known instance of harassment, police detained six Protestant women in Nukus on Sunday April 29 for gathering to celebrate a birthday in a private home, Forum 18 cited Protestant sources as saying on condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisals.

The six -- together with one man - were handcuffed and "some of the detainees were beaten up by police in custody," Forum 18 said. All six of the detainees were freed on the morning of April 30.

Elsewhere in Uzbekistan, concerns continue to be expressed by friends and family "about the decline in the health of jailed Protestant Pastor Dmitry Shestakov," Forum 18 said in a statement. State-run mass media also continue to attack religious minorities, particularly targeting Protestants, observers say. (With reporting from Uzbekistan).

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