TAJIKISTAN: Protestant Pastor jailed for three years

Pastor Bakhrom's family.

Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov of Khujand's [Khojand's] Sunmin Sunbogym (Full Gospel) Protestant Church has been jailed for three years, Protestants who wish to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 14 July. Prisoner of conscience Kholmatov was jailed in early July by Khujand City Court in Tajikistan's Sogd Region.

The 42-year-old prisoner of conscience Kholmatov, who is married with three children, was first held in NSC secret police custody after his 10 April arrest (see F18News 28 April 2017 While on trial he was held in a police detention centre, and he has now been moved to an unknown prison.

The authorities have threatened family members, friends, and church members with reprisals if they reveal any details of the case, trial, or jailing to anyone. "We are afraid of more arrests or other punishments", Protestants told Forum 18.

The National Security Committee (NSC) secret police, together with the State Committee for Religious Affairs (SCRA) and other law-enforcement agencies, raided Sunmin Sunbogym's affiliated congregations in Sogd Region in early February. Officials closed down the congregation in the town of Konibodom in March after interrogating and torturing church members, and NSC secret police officers pressured employers into firing church members from their jobs. The NSC arrested Pastor Kholmatov on 10 April after they raided his Church also, and harassed and physically tortured with beatings its members (see F18News 28 April 2017

No arrests or trials have taken place of officials who tortured people, contrary to Tajikistan's binding international human rights law obligations under the United Nations (UN) Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey 

Protestants in Tajikistan state that they do not know the exact details of the jailing of prisoner of conscience Kholmatov, but do know that he was jailed for allegedly "singing extremist songs in church and so inciting 'religious hatred'". The charges were brought after the February raid, when the NSC secret police claimed that songs based on Biblical passages, such as "Praise God, oh the godless country", "God's army is marching", and "Our fight is not against flesh and blood" are "extremist and call on people to overthrow the government". The NSC also claimed that a book, "More Than a Carpenter" by American Protestant author Josh McDowell, is also "extremist". The "experts" who concluded this are imams working for the NSC (see F18News 28 April 2017

Prisoner of conscience Kholmatov was jailed under Criminal Code Article 189, Part 1 ("Inciting national, racial, local or religious hatred or dissension, humiliation of national dignity, as well as propaganda of the superiority of citizens based on their religion, national, racial, or local origin, if committed in public or using the mass media").

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