KAZAKHSTAN: "State prosecutor wants Yklas to serve 7 years in prison!"

State Prosecutor Asylzhan Gabdykaparov is seeking to have Protestant Christian Yklas Kabduakasov's punishment of seven years' restricted freedom turned into an actual seven-year prison sentence, Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Andrei Teteryuk told Forum 18 News Service.

The Prosecutor's protest – and Kabduakasov's appeal to have the sentence quashed – are due to be heard on 22 December at Astana City Court. The November verdict ordered that nine Christian books seized by the secret police in the case should be destroyed. "It is barbarism to destroy books," human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis told Forum 18. An Astana-based court bailiff - who has witnessed the destruction of religious books - explained to Forum 18 that bailiffs throw books ordered destroyed – including religious books – into the rubbish bin. "They are normally disposed off at a general rubbish dump outside the city."

The City Court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana is due to hear the appeal in the case of Protestant Christian Yklas Kabduakasov in the morning of 22 December, according to case documents seen by Forum 18 News Service. Judge Gulnara Mergenova is due to preside. Both the state prosecutor and Kabduakasov himself have appealed against the sentence of seven years' restricted freedom handed down on 9 November to punish him for talking to others of his faith. "The state prosecutor wants Yklas to serve the seven years in prison!" Astana Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Andrei Teteryuk told Forum 18 on 4 December.

Despite repeated calls, Forum 18 was unable to reach state prosecutor Asylzhan Gabdykaparov to find out why he is seeking to have Kabduakasov imprisoned. His colleagues either told Forum 18 he was out of the office or his telephone went unanswered between 2 and 8 December.

Although Gabdykaparov led the prosecution case in court, the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police spent more than a year preparing the prosecution.

The written verdict sentencing Kabduakasov orders that nine religious books seized in raids on his home and other locations – among other items - should be destroyed (see below).

The court order to destroy yet more religious books comes as Jehovah's Witnesses have failed to overturn in court repeated religious censorship on the import of their publications. Courts confined themselves to technical points, refusing to consider whether the Culture and Sport Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee had been right to ban specific Jehovah's Witness publications or not (see below).

Fines continue on individuals who offer religious literature outside the limited spaces enshrined in law where it is allowed to be distributed (see below).

"It is barbarism to destroy books"

Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law condemned the court order to destroy books seized from Kabduakasov and others in the case. "It is barbarism to destroy books," he told Forum 18 on 3 December. "And it makes the authorities in Kazakhstan - who position themselves as modernising the country - look from the cultural point of view like the Taliban or ISIS."

Zhovtis noted that he had similarly objected over the court-ordered destruction of 121 religious books, mainly Bibles, in Akmola Region in March 2013. After an outcry, that decision was then overturned (see F18News 10 April 2013

In May 2013, four books confiscated from a bookseller in East Kazakhstan Region – including two with prayers to Russian Orthodox saints Serafim of Sarov and Sergius of Radonezh – were ordered destroyed when the bookseller was fined. If it was carried out, this would have been the first known time that a court-ordered religious book destruction was carried out in Kazakhstan. Other religious literature destruction orders followed (see F18News 15 November 2013

"We will fulfil court orders to destroy books"

An Astana-based court bailiff – whose role falls under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry – explained to Forum 18 in late November 2015 how he and his colleagues destroy items as ordered in court decisions. Asked if this includes the destruction of books, the bailiff responded: "Whatever the court orders, we will do it - we will fulfil court orders to destroy books."

The bailiff noted that courts often order the destruction of seized alcohol and books. Asked what bailiffs do to destroy books, including religious books, the bailiff responded: "Generally we throw them into the bin. They are normally disposed off at a general rubbish dump outside the city." By contrast, bailiffs hand confiscated weapons or gold to the police.

Asked if the bailiff had personally destroyed religious books, the bailiff responded: "There are cases of destruction of religious books, though not so many. I haven't done it, but I've seen others do it, of course." The bailiff said they had not come across cases where other bailiffs had refused to destroy religious books on grounds of conscience.

Judge orders religious book destruction

The KNB secret police had been tracking Adventist Kabduakasov for a year as he spoke to others about his faith. The KNB appear to have rented the flat to which four students invited him for religious discussions, appear to have organised the secret filming of the meetings with at least two hidden cameras, and prepared the prosecution case.

The KNB secret police finally arrested Kabduakasov in Astana on 14 August, accused of violating Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2. This punishes "incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious discord" by repeat "offenders" with prison terms of between five and ten years. On 9 November at the end of his trial, Kabduakasov was sentenced to seven years' restricted freedom under Article 174, Part 1 (see F18News 9 November 2015

Judge Akmaral Isayeva's written court decision – handed down some days after the verdict was pronounced in court and seen by Forum 18 – orders Kabduakasov to pay 149,742.52 Tenge (17,000 Norwegian Kroner, 1,800 Euros or 2,000 US Dollars) in procedural costs.

The verdict also reveals that nine religious books held by Astana KNB after they seized them in August are to be destroyed. Also ordered destroyed were audio and video cassettes, CDs and computer technology, including computers and a video camera. The KNB secret police had seized the items from Kabduakasov's home, place of work and car, and other addresses.

Forum 18 was unable to reach Judge Isayeva to find out why she had ordered the religious books destroyed. On 24 November her assistant said he could not comment on her behalf. On all other occasions, the Judge's telephone went unanswered.

"We consider the destruction order absurd"

The books Judge Isayeva ordered destroyed were "Worthy Answers" (2 copies) and "Central Asia, Kazakhstan and the History of Christianity" in Kazakh, as well as "Worthy Answers", "The Call for the Great Commission" (2 copies), "Relatives, live in abundance!" and "Share your Faith with Muslims" (2 copies) in Russian.

None of these books is among the 661 items on the General Prosecutor's Office list of banned religious literature published on its website. (Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" is among the "religious" books listed as "extremist" and banned.)

"We consider the destruction order absurd," Adventist Pastor Teteryuk complained to Forum 18. "The books and other items don't belong to Yklas but to the Church and other Church members! We don't understand why they're preparing to destroy them."


KAZAKHSTAN: Two-month secret police detention – prosecution to follow?

Kazakhstan's KNB secret police arrested Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov on the evening of 14 August after searching his home in the capital Astana and confiscating religious books. Also searched the same day was the Adventist church where he worships. On 15 August an Astana court ordered he be held in two-month pre-trial detention at the secret police Investigation Prison, the court chancellery told Forum 18 News Service. Kabduakasov is challenging this detention at a hearing tomorrow morning (21 August), his lawyer Gulmira Shaldykova told Forum 18. The secret police claim he was spreading "religious discord" when discussing his faith with and offering Christian books to others. Secret police Investigator Diyar Idrishov refused to discuss Kabduakasov's case. "I was merely a witness to his arrest and am not involved in the investigation," he told Forum 18. He said Investigator Nurlan was leading the criminal case (with a possible five to ten year prison sentence), but the man who answered his phone repeatedly hung up when Forum 18 asked about the case.

Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov is to challenge a court decision to imprison him for two months' pre-trial detention, his lawyer Gulmira Shaldykova told Forum 18 News Service from Kazakhstan's capital Astana on 20 August. The challenge is due to be heard tomorrow morning (21 August) at Astana City Court. The 54-year-old Kabduakasov was arrested by the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police on the evening of 14 August and is being held at their Investigation Prison in the city. They claim he was spreading "religious discord" when discussing his faith with and offering Christian books to others.

Judge Nabi Pazylov of Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2 ordered Kabduakasov's two-month pre-trial detention at a hearing on Saturday 15 August, the court chancellery told Forum 18 on 20 August. "We consider such detention cases even on a Saturday or a Sunday," the official – who did not give his name - said. "It makes no difference what day it is." He said the detention suit had been brought by the KNB secret police investigator. The lawyer Shaldykova represented Kabduakasov at the hearing.

Kabduakasov's arrest was mentioned at the weekly service of his Adventist congregation in Astana on Saturday 15 August, a congregation member told Forum 18.


Kabduakasov, who works for an Astana-based building company Stroiinvest, was stopped by the traffic police in Astana on 14 August and taken back to his home in the city, those close to him told Forum 18 from Astana on 18 August. Once there, KNB secret police officers searched his home and confiscated several Christian books. At about 6 pm, at the end of the search, the KNB officers arrested him.

At least some family members learnt of Kabduakasov's arrest only in the early hours of 15 August. Later on 15 August, the KNB secret police Investigator summoned relatives to bring Kabduakasov something to eat in prison.

The church in Astana that Kabduakasov attends was also searched on 14 August, Forum 18 understands.


UZBEKISTAN: Large fine follows police bullying of children

Pastor Sergei Rychagov of Grace Presbyterian Church near Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent was heavily fined for violating the Religion Law, missionary activity, "illegal" religious teaching and violating the procedure for holding religious meetings. However, he learned of the fine only in June, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Police bullied children from a local orphanage who had been attending the church into writing statements against him, they added. The officer who brought the case insisted to Forum 18 that Rychagov had violated the law, while the judge who fined him refused to explain why he had done so. In Urgench, Anti-Terrorism Police accused a local Baptist of "teaching religion illegally". Police have already seized religious literature and the man's car. Asked by Forum 18 why other Baptists are being questioned to incriminate him, Anti-Terrorism Police Major Shavkat Bekchanov responded: "Who are you and why should I discuss the case with you over the phone?"

Police brought administrative charges against a Protestant pastor near Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent after forcing children from a local orphanage to write statements officers could use to bring the case, local Protestants complained to Forum 18 News Service. Although a court handed down a large fine in February, the pastor found out about it only in June.

Police bullying of children

Police bullied young people into writing statements against Pastor Sergei Rychagov of Grace Presbyterian Church, in the town of Dostabod in Tashkent Region's Kuyichirchik District. The five young people, all orphans between the ages of 15 and 18, live in Special Children's Boarding School No. 46, local Protestants who wish to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 4 August.

Then Headteacher Shakir Khalikulov gave permission in 2012 for the young people to start going on Saturdays to a private home next to the Church building, where they took baths, were fed, and also worked in the grounds of the Church. On Sundays they participated in the Church's meetings for worship. However, in late 2014 police pressured them into writing statements describing what went on at the church premises.

On the basis of these statements Captain Mirjasur Anvarov of Kuychirchik Police Station opened an administrative case against Pastor Rychagov.

Pastor Rychagov's Church was in 2012 raided and subjected to state-sponsored media attack, as well as he himself being fined (see F18News 18 September 2012


Police Captain Anvarov brought charges against Pastor Rychagov under four parts of the Code of Administrative Offences:

- Article 201, Part 2 ("Violation of the procedure for holding religious meetings, street processions, or other religious ceremonies");

- Article 240 (Violation of the Religion Law), Part 1 ("Carrying out of unauthorised religious activity, evasion by leaders of religious organisations of registration of the charter of the organisation, the unauthorised organisation and conduct of worship by religious ministers, and the organisation and conduct of special children's and youth meetings, as well as vocational, literature and other study groups not relating to worship"); 

- Article 240, Part 2 ("Attracting believers of one confession to another (proselytism) and other missionary activity");

- and Article 241, Part 1 ("Teaching religious beliefs without specialised religious education and without permission from the central organ of a [registered] religious organisation, as well as teaching religious beliefs privately").

Rychagov "violated the Religion Law", Captain Anvarov insisted to Forum 18 on 5 August. Asked why he opened a case against the Pastor for helping orphans, Anvarov responded: "I can't tell you about the case over the phone, you need to come to our office." When Forum 18 asked why Pastor Rychagov was charged under Article 241, even though he has religious education and is a Pastor of a state-registered Church, Anvarov put the phone down.

Massive fine in February, Pastor told of hearing and fine in June

Judge Khakim Malikov of Tashkent Region's Kuyichirchik District Criminal Court heard the case against Rychagov on 27 February – even though the Pastor had not been told of the hearing and so was not present and could not arrange to be defended. The Judge fined him 9,472,000 Soms (about 30,360 Norwegian Kroner, 3,380 Euros, or 3,675 US Dollars at the inflated official exchange rate).

Rychagov found out about the hearing and fine only on 22 June, local Protestants who know him, and who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18.

Local Protestants told Forum 18 that the hearing and punishment of Pastor Rychagov were illegal. For example:

- none of the young people's statements were dated;

- the case was registered on 24 December 2014 but the hearing took place on 27 February 2015 – exceeding Administrative Code Article 36's two-month limit for bringing cases to court;

- there is no evidence in the case materials that Rychagov was notified in advance of the court hearing;

- and contrary to the charges under Article 241, Rychagov has a religious education, and his Church is officially registered with Tashkent Region's Justice Department.

Asked by Forum 18 on 5 August why he fined Pastor Rychagov in his absence and with violations of legal procedure, Judge Malikov refused to answer. He claimed instead that Rychagov "ran away and is being searched for". When Forum 18 repeated the earlier question and asked why Article 241 was used when it does not apply to an authorised person of a state-registered religious organisation, he replied "no comments over the phone" before refusing to discuss the case further.

Police still hunting woman, harassing and charging family

Police in Karshi in the south-eastern Kashkadarya Region are still hunting Guljahon Kuzebayeva, a local Protestant, local Protestants who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 31 July.

Kuzebayeva has been in hiding from police since July 2014, as they allege she talked to family members about her Christian faith. She fears torture during interrogation and possible short-term jailing, fellow Protestants have told Forum 18 (see F18News 14 April 2015

The use of informal physical violence and torture against women and men, or threats of this, by the authorities is widespread in Uzbekistan (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey

Between 7 and 23 May police harassed and raided Kuzebayeva's relatives and neighbour in repeated attempts to find her. They behaved insultingly, "like hooligans", local Protestants complained (see F18News 4 June 2015 In early July the raids and harassment continued (see F18News 24 July 2015

At lunchtime on 24 July, Ilhom Yakhshiyev, Fakhridddin Jurayev and Dilmurod Boboyev of Karshi Police came to Kuzebayeva's home. They told her family that her daughter-in-law Dilnora Boboyeva (no relation of Dilmurod Boboyev) allegedly claimed in May 2015 that Kuzebayeva abducted Boboyeva's son for three days. Local Protestants told Forum 18 that Boboyeva had voluntarily left the boy at Kuzebayeva's home. Police refused to provide the family with any documentation of their claims.

Police officer Yakhshiyev refused to tell Forum 18 on 5 August why police are harassing Kuzebayeva and her family. He then put the phone down.

Shahnoza Berdiyeva, Kuzebayeva's niece, was fined in mid-July "for not obeying police orders", officer Nodyr told Forum 18 on 5 August. Asked what charges were brought and where, he claimed that "I don't remember". Asked why police are harassing Kuzebayeva's family and what exactly she is accused of, officer Nodyr asked Forum 18 to call back in 20 minutes. He refused to answer and put the phone down when Forum 18 called back.

Home raided, car confiscated

Police in Urgench in the north-western Khorezm Region on 20 July raided the home of Stanislav Kim, a member of a local Council of Churches Baptist Church, as two other local Baptists – Mirzabek Kuranbayev and Dmitry Krasnokutsky – were with him, local Protestants told Forum 18 on 5 August.

"Police checked passports, and then claimed that a woman wrote a complaint that Kim gave two Christian books to her brother as a present," the Protestants told Forum 18. Kim had given the man the books at his request, they added. Police then searched Kim's home and car, and confiscated Kim's passport, several books and a notebook from the car, as well as the car itself. Kim's passport has been returned, but not his car.

The officials then brought all three Baptists to Urgench Police Station, and put Pastor Kim's car in the Police Station's pound for confiscated cars.

Detained, interrogated, pressured

The three Baptists were kept at the Police Station for questioning until 1 am the following morning, 21 July. After being released, Pastor Kim and Kuranbayev were that morning again summoned to the Police Station, where they were held for questioning all day. The 15-year-old Krasnokutsky was brought to the Police Station that evening.

Major Shukhrat Masharipov and Shavkat Bekchanov of Urgench Anti-Terrorism Police demanded that Kuranbayev and Krasnokutsky state that Pastor Kim is "teaching religion illegally", local Protestants complained. Kuranbayev was questioned in Uzbek, a language he does not understand, then at 10 pm sent to a detention centre for minors. He was released the next day, 22 July.

Local Protestants fear that charges will be brought against Pastor Kim under Administrative Code Article 241, Part 1 ("Teaching religious beliefs without specialised religious education and without permission from the central organ of a [registered] religious organisation, as well as teaching religious beliefs privately").

No-one from Urgench Police was willing to discuss the case with Forum 18 on 5 August. Questioned by Forum 18 about the pressure exerted on two Baptists, including a minor, to incriminate Pastor Kim, Anti-Terrorism Police Major Bekchanov responded: "Who are you and why should I discuss the case with you over the phone?" 



RUSSIA: Jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief in public

Baptist pastor Pavel Pilipchuk completed a five-day prison term on 18 April, fellow Council of Churches Baptists told Forum 18 News Service from the Russian city of Orel on 1 May. He was punished by an Orel court for refusing to pay a fine he insists was unjustly imposed for allegedly organising an open-air meeting for worship without informing the city administration beforehand. He had been fined about two weeks' average wages in August 2014 – a fine later doubled for non-payment.

"Half the fine has now been removed from him, as if he had paid it," Baptists told Forum 18. "20,000 Roubles for five days' imprisonment! But the original 20,000 Roubles remains. He'll continue to appeal against this."
Exercising freedom of religion or belief in public spaces continues to attract hostile attention from law enforcement agencies, often leading to administrative prosecutions and five-figure fines. Legal amendments were introduced in October 2014 in an attempt to clarify where religious ceremonies may be freely held and to specify that not all events require prior notification of the authorities (see F18News 2 March 2015
Judging by court verdicts from early 2015, however, these changes have as yet had little apparent effect, Forum 18 has found. A total of 13 individuals – nine Jehovah's Witnesses and four Muslims – are known to have been fined since the beginning of 2015 for holding public religious events, Forum 18 notes. Unsuccessful attempts were made to punish three more – two Jehovah's Witnesses and one Protestant.

Hopes unfulfilled

It had also previously been hoped in Russia that the legal requirements for public events under the Code of Administrative Offences' Article 20.2 would be leniently interpreted, after a December 2012 Constitutional Court ruling responding to two complaints from Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 15 August 2013 But these hopes were not fulfilled as prosecutions and convictions continued (see eg. F18News 2 December 2013
Religious communities whose beliefs require them to share their beliefs in public, beyond the confines of a place of worship, are particularly vulnerable to prosecution under Administrative Code Article 20.2. The majority of cases which reach court target Jehovah's Witnesses, although, as Pilipchuk's case shows, Baptists and Evangelical Protestants have also been charged (see F18News 2 March 2015

Article 20.2

Administrative Code Article 20.2 is linked to the 2004 Demonstrations Law and punishes the "violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket". Its eight parts cover a variety of "offences", but only Parts 1, 2, and 5 are known by Forum 18 to have been used against people who exercise freedom of religion or belief (see eg. F18News 13 September 2012
Between the beginning of 2015 and late April, Forum 18 knows of 10 such cases involving people who exercise freedom of religion or belief (see below).
In June 2012 penalties under Article 20.2 for violating the Demonstrations Law were massively increased (see Forum 18's general Russia religious freedom survey 
Article 20.2 Parts 1 and 5 cover general violations of the "established order" of public events and complement each other, the former focusing on organisers, the latter on other participants. Conviction under Parts 1 and 5 brings a fine of 10,000 to 20,000 Roubles or compulsory labour for up to forty hours. Officials of organisations may also receive a fine of 15,000 to 30,000 Roubles under Part 1, and organisations themselves may be fined 50,000 to 100,000 Roubles.
Part 2 specifically targets the holding of events without formally notifying the authorities in advance. For individuals, this carries a fine of 20,000 to 30,000 Roubles, compulsory labour of up to forty hours, or detention for up to ten days. Officials may be fined 20,000 to 40,000 Roubles, and organisations 70,000 to 100,000 Roubles.
These are substantial fines when compared with the current average wage in Russia (42,136 Roubles per month in December 2014, 30,929 Roubles per month in January 2015) and especially with the average pension (10,029 Roubles per month in 2014). Those prosecuted under Article 20.2 are often elderly Jehovah's Witnesses. Judges sometimes acknowledge this by reducing fines for pensioners.
Penalties incurred under Article 20.2 can present "serious financial difficulties" for pensioners and the poor, Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Ivan Belenko told Forum 18 on 29 April. He added that other Jehovah's Witnesses usually step in to help.

Baptist pastor imprisoned

On 13 April, Judge Inna Maltseva at Magistrates' Court No. 2 in the Northern District of Orel sentenced Baptist pastor Pilipchuk to five days' administrative arrest. Earlier that day, he had again refused to pay the fine imposed by the city's Soviet District Court eight months before, maintaining his innocence of the original "offence". After sentencing, Pilipchuk was immediately taken into custody at a police detention centre.
Judge Maltseva had already doubled Pilipchuk's fine to 40,000 Roubles on 22 December 2014 for reasons of non-payment.
A spokeswoman for Magistrates' Court No. 2 told Forum 18 on 29 April that Pilipchuk had still not paid the fine.
Soviet District Court had fined Pilipchuk 20,000 Roubles on 11 August 2014 for allegedly organising an open-air worship service without notifying the authorities. Orel Regional Court rejected his appeal on 29 September 2014 (see F18News 2 March 2015
Pilipchuk was charged as responsible for a group of Orel Baptists who marked Palm Sunday (23 March) 2014 by gathering outdoors to sing hymns and hand out Christian literature: "The evangelism went well, people listened attentively, nobody interfered, and the police were not present".
Baptists claim that Pilipchuk was not present at the event and was not responsible for it. In court, however, witness statements from members of the congregation were disregarded as they were judged to be "interested parties".
According to the court verdict, seen by Forum 18, the outdoor meeting for worship presented "the possibility of danger to public order, morality and health, both to the participants of the religious event themselves, and to third parties, which requires public authorities to take measures to ensure public order and the security and peace of citizens". The verdict also indicated that police officers testified that members of the public had called and expressed their "negative reaction" to the event and their intention to prevent it, "including by active intervention".
The verdict was reached despite a 2007 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg in a similar case. The ECtHR unanimously ruled that the Russian authorities are obliged to uphold religious communities' right to hold such public meetings, even if there is opposition from some. The case was brought by Protestant Pastor Petr Barankevich of the Christ's Grace Evangelical Church after his Church was banned from meeting for worship in a public park (see F18News 1 August 2007
The telephone at the Orel regional Prosecutor's Office chancellery (responsible for the documentation of cases) went unanswered whenever Forum 18 called on 28 and 29 April.


UZBEKISTAN: Short-term jailings, fines and harassment

Three Protestants are known to have been jailed in different parts of Uzbekistan in March and April for between seven and 15 days to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief, local Protestants have told Forum 18 News Service. A Tashkent Region court also fined one of the prisoners of conscience - Council of Churches Baptist Doniyor Akhmedov - more than three years' official minimum wage after his release from 15 days in jail.

The two other prisoners of conscience known to have jailed for short periods in March and April for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief were: a Protestant in Bukhara who received seven days' imprisonment for "illegal" religious activity; and another Protestant elsewhere in Uzbekistan who received 10 days' imprisonment for "teaching religion illegally", fellow Protestants who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. They declined to reveal the identity of those short-term prisoners for fear they might suffer further state reprisals.

Raids, fines, literature censorship

Another Protestant from Namangan, Murodjon Rakhimov, was summoned on 17 April by the City Police and compelled to write a statement against his Church. He was released the same day but officers are thought to be preparing administrative charges against him for violating the Religion Law, local Protestants told Forum 18 (see below).

Raids and fines on members of various religious communities continue. Three courts across Uzbekistan between February and March punished nine members of three different families, who are members of various Protestant Churches. All were fined under Administrative Code Article 184-2 for "illegally storing" Christian literature and materials in their flats. All three families' homes were raided by police and various Christian books and DVD and CD disks were confiscated from them, members of those Churches told Forum 18 (see below).

Fines under Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons") are between 20 and 100 times the minimum monthly wage for individuals not holding official positions. But courts have in some cases have given much smaller fines, applying other Administrative Code Articles for mitigating factors.

Uzbekistan, against its international human rights obligations, imposes strict censorship on all religious publications and all aspects of their distribution (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey

Detained for 15 days – but under what law?

On 16 March Akhmedov set off very early from his home in Almalyk in Tashkent Region by bicycle on the 175 km (110 mile) journey to Namangan Region's Pap District. Police stopped him in Ahangaran District, just north of Almalyk, after he gave a Christian leaflet to a passer-by, Baptists told Forum 18 on 20 April. Akhmedov's relatives found out about this only on 17 March. Only after several enquiries by relatives and Church members did Ahangaran Police claim to them on 19 March that Akhmedov was being held in custody for "illegal missionary activity".

Police Inspector Batyr (last name not known) of Ahangaran Police told church members that Akhmedov "illegally" gave a leaflet to a passer-by on the street. "When the Inspector was asked whether there was a court order for his arrest, Inspector Batyr claimed that Doniyor had not obeyed police orders, and that is why he was detained." The Baptists told Forum 18 that while in detention Akhmedov did "not sign any statements or reports, which police prepared and asked him to sign." 

Akhmedov was held at Ahangaran Police Station for 10 days. On 26 March, he was moved to a Detention Centre in Tashkent Region, where he was held for an additional five days, Baptists told Forum 18. Akhmedov was "slapped on the face and pushed around a few times the very first day" after his 16 March detention. However, police "left Doniyor in peace, and did not beat or verbally abuse him later," they added. He was fed normally three times a day at the Police Station, and slept on a hard couch.

However, conditions in the Detention Centre were worse, church members complained. "He was held in a small cell with more than 10 people, where they were squeezed in and there was barely space to sleep on the floor." Akhmedov was freed on 31 March.

Fined over three years' official minimum wage after release

On 1 April, the day after his release from custody, Ahangaran Police summoned Akhmedov and brought him before Ahangaran District Criminal Court. Judge Akmal Pirnazarov fined him 40 times the minimum monthly wage, under Administrative Code Article 184-2. "It is unjust that our brother was deprived of his liberty for 15 days and then given a huge fine, simply for giving out a leaflet on the street," Baptists complained to Forum 18.

Inspector Batyr (who refused to give his name) claimed to Forum 18 on 21 April that Akhmedov had been detained and fined for "illegal missionary activity". The same claim was made to relatives and fellow Church members. Told that Akhmedov was fined not for "missionary activity" but "illegal distribution" of religious literature, the Inspector paused before responding: "Anyway, he violated the law."

Inspector Batyr did not explain how police had discovered so quickly that Akhmedov had offered a religious leaflet to a passer-by.

Asked why Akhmedov had to be held in custody and why such harsh measures were taken against him, Inspector Batyr claimed: "It's all in accordance with the law." Asked what law and what exactly necessitated Akhmedov's arrest, the Inspector asked Forum 18 to come to Tashkent for more details of the case. He then put the phone down.

Laziz Kurbonov, Deputy Chief of Ahangaran Police, also refused to comment on 21 April on Akhmedov's detention. "You need to come to Ahangaran so we can discuss the case," he told Forum 18. When Forum 18 insisted and asked why Akhmedov was deprived of his liberty for 15 days as well as being given a huge fine for giving out a Christian leaflet on the street, he brushed it off. "I have hundreds of cases, I don't want to talk about this over the phone." He then put the phone down.

Judge Pirnazarov and other Court officials also refused to comment on the case to Forum 18 on 21 April. Judge Pirnazarov's Assistant (who did not give her name) took Forum 18's question why Akhmedov was given such a huge fine for giving out a leaflet on the street and why he was held in custody for 15 days. She asked Forum 18 to wait on the line, but a few minutes later she said that the "Judge cannot answer the question at the moment since he is hearing a case." She asked Forum 18 to call back half an hour later. Called back the same day, Judge Pirnazarov's number went unanswered. Other Court officials on 21 April (no names were given) also refused to comment on the case, referring Forum 18 to Judge Pirnazarov.

"Akhmedov is not intending to pay the fine since he does not consider that he violated the Law," Baptists told Forum 18. "He only exercised his fundamental human right." They added that he has already filed a complaint against the "illegal actions of the authorities and the fine".

Raids, fines

Police have continued raiding homes of various Protestants hunting for and seizing religious books and materials, with courts fining them for the confiscated religious materials. On 10 February a Tashkent court fined Ilmira Ishanova and her two sons, Vagiz and Rustam Ziganshin, for "illegally" storing Christian literature and materials in their flat. They were each fined 10 times the minimum monthly wage or 1,184,000 Soms. Tashkent City Criminal court in an appeal case on 20 March upheld the fines on the three.

On 2 March another Tashkent court fined four members of one family, Ibrohimjon and Yulduz Yusupov, a married couple, as well as their daughters Inobad and Inoyat Yusupova. They were fined up to five times the minimum monthly wage or 592,000 Soms for "illegally" storing Christian religious literature and materials in their home.

On 23 March a court in Navoi Region fined Dmitri and Svetlana Butov, a married couple who are members of the local officially registered Baptist Church, for "illegally storing" Christian literature in their private home. They were each fined one month's minimum wage or 118,400 Soms.

Police harassment of another Protestant 

On the afternoon of 17 April, police in Namangan summoned Murodjon Rakhimov by phone to the local Mahalla Committee (local residential administration) for "urgent issues", local Protestants who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 20 April. Rakhimov is a member of a local unregistered Protestant Church.

Major Umidjon Jalilov and Lieutenant Madamin Siddikov from the Namangan Criminal Police were waiting for Rakhimov at the Mahalla Committee. "They demanded that Rakhimov write a statement explaining why he attends his Church, exactly what Christian books he is reading in the Church, and whether anyone forced him to become a Christian."

When Rakhimov refused to write a statement, police officers "twisted his left arm, and threatened that they will take him to the Police Station unless he cooperated," Protestants complained to Forum 18. Officers also threatened to open a criminal case against him and keep him in custody. Despite the threats and physical violence, Rakhimov refused to write a statement or sign the police reports.

The use of physical violence and torture, or threats of this, by the authorities is widespread in Uzbekistan. Most victims are, for extremely good reasons, unwilling to publicly discuss their experiences (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey

"Seeing that the threats didn't work, Major Jalilov prepared summonses for Rakhimov and his wife Gulchohra Abdurakhmanova to appear before the police, and handed over the summonses to them," Protestants told Forum 18. They said that they think that the police are preparing a case against Rakhimov under Administrative Code Article 240.

Article 240 punishes "violation of the Religion Law", including by holding unregistered religious meetings or sharing one's faith with others. Punishments are arrest for up to 15 days or a fine of up to 100 times the minimum monthly wage.

Major Jalilov adamantly denied to Forum 18 on 21 April that he or Lieutenant Siddikov abused Rakhimov. asked why police are targeting Rakhimov for attending a church or becoming Christian, he responded: "We're not concerned with whether he should be Muslim or Christian, but that he obeys the Law." Asked why police summoned Rakhimov and what specific charges are being prepared, Jalilov did not say. He refused to talk to Forum 18 further.