(Article written by By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service)
In two separate raids in early March, Anti-Terrorism Police and other officials seized religious literature from private homes, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In one raid in Uzbekistan’s central city of Samarkand, Anti-Terrorism officer Makhmud Nodyrov “tore posters with Scripture texts from the walls, and kept threatening [home owner Veniamin] Nemirov that his home could be taken away from him, and that his children could be expelled from school,” Baptists complained to Forum 18. Personal details of the 25 adults and the family’s 12 children present after the Baptist congregation’s Sunday service were taken. Four church members face administrative punishments. Asked why he tore down posters in Nemirov’s home, and why he threatened that Nemirov’s children would be expelled from school, officer Nodyrov referred Forum 18 to the Foreign Ministry, and put the phone down.
Djabbarbergenov lived in a Kazakh prison cell, under threat of deportation to his native Uzbekistan to face almost-certain years of harsh jail time.
His alleged crime: Leading small Christian communities in house churches without official registration. By 2007, this had made “Pastor Makset” a wanted criminal, and he fled across the border into Kazakhstan to escape arrest. By 2009, he and his family had won refugee status there from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR. So far, Kazakhstan has refused to recognize the family’s refugee status.
Last year, Uzbekistan bumped up the convert pastor’s “criminal accusations” to charges of terrorism, and demanded the Kazakh government send him back home to face trial and a potential 15-year prison sentence.
His pregnant wife, Aygul, and their four young sons were left watching wide-eyed as the Kazakh police arrested him in their Almaty home at noon on Sept. 5. It would be three months before they saw each other again.
The autocratic regime in Uzbekistan continues its crusade against human rights. Here is the latest news from WEA-RLC:
It is reported that authorities in Uzbekistan have stepped up raids on homes of Christians, confiscating Christian literature and imposing heavy fines on believers for meeting to worship or Bible study.
In a recent incident, a court fined a Christian belonging to an unregistered Protestant church, USD 4000, (an equivalent of 100 times the minimum monthly wage) for distributing Christian literature. The court also ordered that 3 Bibles and 30 New Testaments found with the Christian be destroyed.
Uzbek pastor Makset Djabbarbergenov, who was arrested in Kazakhstan, at the request of the Uzbek KGB, being accused of running illegal religious activities in this autocratic post-Soviet republic Central Asia, has been freed by the Kazakh authorities, as a result of the pressures of human rights institutions in the West and was allowed to rejoin his family who was already in Germany, where the family has asked for political asylum.
Uzbekistan is now seeking to extradite detained UNHCR-recognised refugee Makset Djabbarbergenov from Kazakhstan on charges which carry a maximum 15 year jail term. The Protestant who fled to Kazakhstan is being sought by Uzbekistan for exercising freedom of religion or belief in his home town of Nukus. A Kazakh 15 October Almaty court decision, authorised further detention until 5 November. The Kazakh court also claimed that the Uzbek charges – which seek to prosecute exercising freedom of religion or belief – can be equated to terrorism-related charges in Kazakh law. Djabbarbergenov’s wife has been stopped by Kazakh authorities from visiting him, she told Forum 18 News Service, as has a human rights defender who found he is being held in “quarantine”. The Supreme Court claims it cannot find an appeal he lodged in August. Also, Kazakhstan has yet to reply to a finding of the UN Committee Against Torture that it violated human rights obligations by extraditing to Uzbekistan a group of Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. Kazakhstan’s current bid to join the UN Human Rights Council claims it would, if elected, “enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Human Rights Council”.
My visit in Uzbekistan a number of years ago convinced me that there is no understanding of freedom and human rights in this former Soviet country, similar to most, if not all, such countries in Central Asia.
Not long ago, the leader of a humanitarian organisation has been arested in another Central Asia republic, at the request of KGB in Uzbekistan (the commonwealth of Soviet KGB is alive and well in most former Soviet republics), because about seven years before his organisation published a leaflet on HIV&AIDS without the approval of Uzbek censureship bureau. Thus, the Uzbek KGB asked for the foreign aid worker be arrested and extradited to this country. Fortunately, it all ended up well for him and he is free now.
On a typical day, the July 29 Associated Baptist Press headline I read, “Uzbekistan charges Baptist camp with crimes,” would catch my attention, but quickly give way to other matters. However, this particular July 29 was no typical day, as I was preparing for a 12-day journey that was to include seven days in Uzbekistan. The itinerary included a meeting with Pavel Peychev — the president of the Baptist Union of Uzbekistan, and one of three charged with tax evasion and illegally teaching religion to children as detailed in the article.
I traveled to Uzbekistan with a group of pastors and mission leaders from the United States, as well as friends from Eastern Europe. During our trip we met with church leaders and heard their stories, while also searching for ways to collaborate on training in theological education.