UZBEKISTAN: Raid on Protestant worship service brings beatings, fines

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

By Joseph C. DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (Worthy News)-- Five Baptists in Uzbekistan have failed to pay fines for participating in an unregistered worship service.

Judge S. Ashurov of Samarkand Regional Criminal Court rejected the Baptists' appeals against fines first imposed in September. The Baptists told the court they consider the fines to be a violation of their religious freedom.

The fines were the result of a so-called "anti-terror" raid on the congregation when they met for worship in August. During the raid, police cursed at church members and seized hymnbooks, personal Bibles and even handwritten notebooks from church members.

"They seized a digital camera from one sister, forcing back her fingers," church members said. "They took away one brother, having forced his hands behind his back."

Officers recorded the identity of all those present at the service and forced them to write statements about their activity. Veniamin Nemirov, in whose home the church met, had his passport confiscated: police have since refused to return it.

Although police allowed mothers of young children and the disabled to leave, officers took ten congregants to the local police station where they were questioned individually; police accused one church member, Alisher Abdullaev, of "betraying" his Muslim faith, while Nemirov was threatened with criminal prosecution, but all detainees were released within hours.

After the raid, police sent the confiscated literature to the Religious Affairs Committee in the capital Tashkent; the Committee ruled that the literature -- including Bibles and hymnbooks -- can only be used within a religious organization that had a central, registered body: as the Samarkand Baptist congregation didn't have that, the literature was declared to be illegal.

In defiance of its international human rights commitments, Uzbekistan bans religious activity without state approval. Fines for unregistered worship are common, as are fines for possessing religious literature and/or films banned by the state Religious Affairs Committee.

Religious communities in Samarkand face particular pressure by the closing of many of its churches by the authorities, usually through the denial of state registration. Seven Samarkand churches have been stripped of their registration in the last four years.