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Uzbekistan restricts sale of religious literature

OSLO, Norway (BP) — Authorities in Uzbekistan continue their assault on religious freedom, restricting religious literature to state-approved entities.

Forum 18, a Norway-based religious freedom monitoring group, reported on a raid targeting the mainly ethnic Korean Baptist Church in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, in early February in which police confiscated church equipment, Christian books, audio tapes and DVDs.

Eight days after the Feb. 5 police action, Judge Muhammadali Nazarov found the church’s pastor, Vyacheslav Kim, guilty of violating Uzbekistan’s religious restrictions. The church was not registered with the government — a criminal offense — which meant it could also not legally possess religious literature.

The verdict against Kim in a local criminal court cited an “expert analysis” that determined the church literature could only be used internally “by religious organisations (sic) that have undergone state registration.”

Nazarov fined Kim, a 65-year-old pensioner, 100 times the minimum wage and ordered church property seized in the raid to be forfeited to the state.

Officials with the state Religious Affairs Committee — which ordered the analysis — would not discuss the matter with Forum 18, nor would they comment on a December 2011 “analysis” that declared confiscated Islamic literature illegal.

Uzbekistan places stifling religious restrictions on its 28 million people. Unregistered religious activity — including meeting in homes — is outlawed. Forum 18 says Uzbek authorities spy on religious organizations and assault, harass and even torture their members.

The verdict against Kim follows a Jan. 24 ruling in which Khursheda Telyayeva, a Protestant Christian in Samarkand., Uzbekistan’s second-argest city, was fined 20 times the monthly minimum wage for violating the country’s restrictions on religious literature. Forum 18 reported that police had raided her home 11 days earlier to “check up” on her, confiscating Christian books and CDs.

Criminal court Judge Nizamiddin Ernazarov, who levied the fine, ordered the confiscated literature — including a Bible, New Testament and separate books of the Old Testament — to be handed over to a regional department of Uzbekistan’s Muslim Board.

According to Forum 18, the judge was required to issue a verdict within three days of the hearing, but he did not give Telyayeva a written copy of the verdict until 21 days later. The delay prevented Telyayeva from appealing the punishment, as appeals must be filed within 10 days of the verdict being issued.

Ernazarov refused to comment to Forum 18 on the fine against Telyayeva.

His assistant, Shavkat (who would not give his last name), when asked why Telyayeva was hit with such a large fine for merely possessing Christian literature, gave Forum 18 a simple response.

“I am sure that the judge knows why,” he said.
Compiled by John Evans, a writer in Houston. For a Feb. 17 report in Baptist Press about earlier incidents of religious repression in Uzbekistan, go to http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=37209.

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