F18News Summary: Armenia; Russia; Uzbekistan


The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief


19 April 2004

With 24 Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison for refusing military service on
grounds of conscience, another fined and a further three awaiting trial,
Council of Europe officials have been unable to explain to Forum 18 News
Service what punishment Armenia faces – if any – for violating its
commitments to the organisation. The commitments required Armenia to have
freed all imprisoned conscientious objectors and introduced alternative
service by January 2004, but it failed on both counts. One outsider
involved in the issue at the Council of Europe, who preferred not to be
identified, told Forum 18 that the Armenian government had deployed “an
especially successful lobbying campaign” to have the issue buried. The
Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of Armenia’s largest religious minorities, appear
no nearer to receiving state registration.

21 April 2004

Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad within Russia less
enthusiastic about a proposed merger with the Moscow Patriarchate have
faced obstruction from the state authorities, Forum 18 News Service has
learnt. When 50 clergy and lay members held a diocesan assembly in Tula
region in February, officers of the police and FSB (former KGB) questioned
their legal right to meet, while elsewhere local authorities have failed to
register parishes, obstruct those that meet in privately-owned buildings
and even threatened to confiscate churches built with parishioners’ funds.
Without state registration, parishes cannot produce publications or conduct
missionary activity, but some clergy argue it is better not to have
registration. “It is easier for state officials to apply pressure to a
community with legal status by finding fault with its documentation,” one
priest told Forum 18.

22 April 2004

A Korean Methodist church in northern Moscow appears to have fought off an
attempt by a commercial firm to steal their church building. A district
court ruled against the Moscow justice department on 26 March after the
church challenged the justice department’s acceptance of fraudulent
documents which claimed to have transferred the church to the company.
Galina Skakun of the justice department admitted in court the Methodists’
claim to the building, and tried to defend her department even though it
failed to verify the authenticity of the documents. Church administrator
Svetlana Kim said the Methodists believe that coverage of their case by
both Forum 18 News Service and Russian news agencies “really helped us”.

21 April 2004

Amid a major crackdown, eleven Protestants in Nukus were questioned at the
public prosecutor’s office and pressured to convert to Islam. They were
also threatened with being shot, though the city prosecutor, M. Arzymbetov,
subsequently denied this to Forum 18 News Service. The prosecutor also
tried to have a Protestant, Iklas Aldungarov, expelled from his university
medical course, but the university rector, Oral Ataniyazova, has resisted
the pressure. “How and what Aldungarov believes is his own personal
business, and we do not have the right to interfere with it,” she told
Forum 18. She added that a very large number of young people in the region
are becoming Christians. “Evidently, the Christian churches have managed to
set up a competent, well conceived operation here. I do not think that is a
bad thing. Let’s see the mosques here work as well as the Christian
churches.” Pressure on Protestants elsewhere in Uzbekistan is also
* See full article below. *

21 April 2004

By Igor Rotar, Central Asia Correspondent, Forum 18 News Service

Amid a major crackdown on a group of Protestants in Nukus, the capital of
the Karakalpakstan [Qoraqalpoghiston] autonomous republic in north-western
Uzbekistan, eleven members of a local congregation, the Church of Christ,
have been summoned for questioning at the public prosecutor’s office, where
they were pressured to renounce their faith and convert to Islam. They now
face fines in court. “All of them are members of an unregistered religious
organisation,” Nukus city prosecutor M. Arzymbetov told Forum 18 News
Service on 19 April. “The activity of unregistered organisations is
forbidden by law.” He denied reports Forum 18 had received that the
Protestants had been coarsely insulted and threatened with being shot. “It
wasn’t I who spoke to the Protestants, but my assistant Kasym
Davletmuradov. He is a very bright man and he is not capable of such a
thing.” Arzymbetov also tried to have church member Iklas Aldungarov
expelled from his university in retaliation for his participation in the
church, though so far Aldungarov has held onto his place.

The crackdown began on 1 April, when Arzymbetov wrote to the rector of the
Medical University, Oral Ataniyazova, to inform her that Aldungarov, a
final year student, was taking part in “an illegal religious sect”, the
Church of Christ. The letter, of which Forum 18 has a copy, told her that
the public prosecutor had evidence that Aldungarov had violated Article 240
part 1 (breaking the law on religious organisations) and Article 241
(breaking the law on giving religious instruction) of the code of
administrative offences and that the case had already been passed to the
court. Describing “attracting people to other religious confessions”,
distributing religious literature and organising meetings as “a crude
violation of the law” impermissible among students, the prosecutor called
for Aldungarov to be removed from the university and to confirm that this
had been done by 10 April.

Sources told Forum 18 that Aldungarov had never had any problems before,
has never been detained or had literature confiscated.

Arzymbetov confirmed that he had written to the university about
Aldungarov, but denied that he had ordered that he be expelled. “I simply
recommended that the rector should keep an eye on her students,” he claimed
to Forum 18. “The question of Aldungarov’s expulsion did not arise and he
remains a student there.”

Yet university rector Ataniyazova confirmed that the public prosecutor’s
letter had recommended that Aldungarov be excluded but insisted she had
rejected such pressure. “We replied to the prosecutor that Aldungarov’s
religious beliefs do not have any bearing on his studies, and therefore we
consider it simply unethical to consider such a letter,” she told Forum 18
from Nukus on 16 April. “How and what Aldungarov believes is his own
personal business, and we do not have the right to interfere with it.” She
said that a very large number of young people in Karakalpakstan are
converting to Christianity. “Evidently, the Christian churches have managed
to set up a competent, well conceived operation here. I do not think that
is a bad thing. Let’s see the mosques here work as well as the Christian

At the same time she claimed that Aldungarov was a very poor student.
“Every session he fails two or three exams. But I want to stress that we
are not going to make a connection between Aldungarov’s progress and his
religious convictions.”

In the wake of the attempt to oust Aldungarov from the university, the
National Security Service (former KGB) secret police and the public
prosecutor’s office then widened their crackdown, beginning on 9 March to
summon other church members for questioning.

Protestant sources told Forum 18 that Arzymbetov, his assistant M.
Utemuratov, and investigator Davletmuratov tried to force those summoned to
sign statements admitting that they had participated in “illegal” religious
meetings and training. When one church member Mahset Jabbabergenov refused
to sign the documents, Arzymbetov reportedly began swearing at him and
threatening to imprison if he did not sign. When the threats had no impact,
he reportedly declared: “You Christians should all be shot!” Officials from
the public prosecutor’s office also insisted that Jabbabergenov, Aldungarov
and the other Protestants – Arzubay Abenov, Bahadir Joushimov, Kolbuy
Joushimov, Timur Uralbaev, Miruert Muratova, Abbat Allamuratov, Aygul
Allamuratova and Muhamed Saitov – should give up their Christian faith and
become Muslims. Other local Protestants were later summoned for

“Although the authorities had no facts to prove the accusation they kept
inviting everybody who had any connection with Christianity and questioning
them,” one Protestant source who preferred not to be identified told Forum
18. “If during the questioning they heard any names they summoned those
people to the office.”

Meanwhile, pressure has continued on Protestants in other parts of the
country. On 10 March the criminal court for Yakkasaroy district of the
capital Tashkent fined six Protestants – Salimjon Babakulov, Mardjon
Nurulov, Olim Mamurov, Nadira Tadjikulova, Nargiza Tadjikulova and Jamilya
Makhmudova. They were punished for holding religious meetings in private
apartments under Article 240 and Article 241 of the administrative code.

In another incident in Tashkent, on 9 March police raided and cut short a
meeting being held by around 10 Protestants on the premises of the Harvest
company. Uzbek citizens present were each fined five times the minimum
wage, or 27,200 soms (183 Norwegian kroner, 22 Euros or 27 US dollars). The
South Korean citizens who were present at the meeting were “recommended” to
leave the country for engaging in “unlawful religious activity”.

Meanwhile on 23 March the deputy head of the justice department for
Tashkent region, Sh. Khaknazarov, ordered a founding group that was seeking
registration for a Protestant church on Friendship collective farm near
Tashkent to revise its registration application, claiming it contained
“grammatical errors”. “Every time, the justice administration deliberately
concentrates in its letters only on some inaccuracies, so that next time
they can once again refuse registration supposedly for objective reasons,”
one Protestant who preferred not to be named told Forum 18. “In fact,
officials are simply dragging their feet so that the church cannot
function.” (See also F18News 18 March 2004

Elsewhere, Baptists of the Council of Churches who refuse on principle to
register with the authorities told Forum 18 on 10 April that Viktor
Otmakhov, whose home in the town of Angren near Tashkent is used for
services, was summoned to the town’s public prosecutor’s office on 1 April
and questioned for five hours. Deputy public prosecutor Nurlan Bainazarov
demanded that he name all those who attend services and give their home
addresses, but Otmakhov refused. Bainazarov then threatened to start a
criminal case against him. He was given a written warning that if he does
not stop services in his home, arrests, fines and other unspecified
punishments will follow.

These incidents are the latest in a continuing series of attacks on
Protestants across Uzbekistan (eg. see F18News 4 March 2004
) and take place in the
context of the current post-terrorist bombing crackdown against people of
all faiths (see F18 News 13 April

For more background, see Forum 18’s latest religious freedom survey at

A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at

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