Radio Free China

Human Rights and Religious Freedom News

Protestants Face Guns Beatings, Fines and Deportation

Posted by radiofreechina on September 10, 2006

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By Jeremy Reynalds
Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
UZBEKISTAN (ANS) — Following a police raid on a Protestant summer camp near the southern town of Termez in Uzbekistan, about 20 church members were detained and many of them beaten.
Uzbekistan is located in Central Asia, north of Afghanistan (www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/uz.html).
Protestant sources speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals told Forum 18
News Service about the Aug. 24 raid.
One Protestant, Husan Primbetov, is still incarcerated, while more than a dozen others were freed within 24 hours. Five more individuals were freed on Sept. 4 after many were tortured.
A Ukrainian national, among those let go on Sept. 4, is awaiting deportation.
Deported in a separate case on Sept. 5 was the wife of the pastor of the Bethany Protestant church in the capital of Tashkent, which has long faced pressure from the authorities.
Forum 18 reported that the news service has been unable to find out from the government’s Religious Affairs Committee why Protestant churches and other religious minorities are being subjected to such pressure. Only the committee spokesperson Aziz Abidov is authorised to speak to the media on behalf of the committee, and Forum 18 reported that the news service has been unable to reach him at his office.
According to Forum 18’s sources, at 10 p.m. on Aug. 24, about 20 law enforcement officers, including some from the National Security Service secret police wearing bullet-proof vests and wielding automatic guns, burst into the Uztelekom holiday camp in the village of Uch-kizil in the Termez district, where 20 Protestants had gathered for a religious meeting. Police confiscated Bibles and New Testaments. Everyone present was taken to the police station in Termez, where the men were beaten.
“I was taken to a separate room and ordered to undress and kneel,” Forum 18 reported that Vitaly Suvorov, a Protestant from the Termez suburb of Jarkurgan, stated after his Aug. 25 release. “A gas mask was put on me and the air supply cut off. The police swore unrestrainedly at us and forced us to confess that we had been holding an unlawful meeting.”
Forum 18 reported he said police did not provide any food for those individuals detained. Following his “meeting” with the police, Tashkent’s accident and emergency hospital department found that Suvorov had been injured with “ two scratches on his left cheek, bruises to the top of his head, a scratch to his right elbow, abrasions to both calves, and concussion.”
Suvorov, Forum 18 reported, has been fined before for his religious activity.
Although the police released most of the church members on Aug. 25, Forum 18 reported that six of them remained under arrest. Five of these were freed on Sept.4, leaving Husan Primbetov, a Protestant from Kokand in the Fergana valley in eastern Uzbekistan, the last church member still in detention. Some of those freed were fined, while others still face charges under the Code of Administrative Offences. Protestant sources told Forum 18 that police stole valuable items including digital cameras and cell phones from some of those incarcerated.
One of those held on Aug. 24, Forum 18 reported, was a Ukrainian citizen from Kiev, Yuri Stefanko, who was held and beaten at the police station until Sept.4. The Uzbek authorities are now drawing up documentation for Stefanko’s deportation.
Meanwhile, Forum 18 reported, the authorities are stepping up enforcement action against the Bethany Baptist church in the Mirzo-Ulugbek district of Tashkent, which has long been denied official registration, and as a result the right to operate.
On Sept.5, church member Viktoria Khripunova – who has no citizenship – was deported. Her passport was stamped with the words, “Deported from Uzbekistan.”
“In fact the authorities wanted primarily to get rid of Viktoria’s husband, the Bethany church’s pastor Sergei Khripunov. But as Sergei is an Uzbek citizen they decided to deal with him through his wife,” a Tashkent Protestant, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, told Forum 18. “The authorities got what they wanted and Khripunov has left Uzbekistan with his wife.”
Khripunov is among many Bethany church members to have been fined in recent years for “unlawful” religious activity (see F18News www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=588). On June 25 this year his Daewoo Nexia car was taken by unidentified individuals and vandalized.
Khripunova’s deportation is the second of a Bethany church member in as many months. Ivan Bychkov, leader of the church’s youth group, was deported to Russia on Aug. 11. A Russian citizen, Bychkov was born and brought up in Tashkent, where his family still lives (see F18News www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=833).
Forum 18 commented it appears that deportation is becoming one the authorities’ favorite methods tactics in their battle with religious minorities. Jehovah’s Witness Yevgeny Li, a Ukrainian citizen who held a temporary residence permit in Tashkent, was deported from Uzbekistan over the border to Kazakhstan. Li’s home was in Tashkent and his elderly parents and wife – who are Uzbek citizens – remain in the capital. The Jehovah’s Witnesses fear that other residents of Uzbekistan who are not Uzbek citizens could also suffer deportation.
In May, Forum 18 reported, the Uzbek authorities deported Russian Jehovah’s Witness lawyer Kirill Kulikov, who was visiting the country to defend fellow believers who were being persecuted by the authorities. In April, three Turkmen Protestants were deported back to their homeland (see F18 News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=804).
Another Protestant pastor in Tashkent, who also preferred not to be named for fear of retaliation, told Forum 18 in late Aug. that in the previous week “all” church leaders were summoned to the secret police.
Pentecostals have also come under pressure, Forum 18 reported
A Tashkent source who preferred not to be identified told Forum 18 that in July the police blockaded a Pentecostal Full Gospel Church holiday camp in the village of Avangard in Yangiyul district (a Tashkent suburb). The police questioned all the church members present.
A local businessman and director of the Sion Trade company, A. Shishkin, who had been teaching the children, was sentenced in July to a fine of $38 U.S. by the Yangiyul District Court under Article 241 of the Code of Administrative Offences, which punishes “failing to observe the correct procedure for teaching religious beliefs.”
Forum 18 reported authorities contend that as Shishkin did not have a licence to teach religion, his teaching constituted a crime.
A hostile news article on the Full Gospel camp was published on July 24 by the local news agency gorizont.uz, and was widely reproduced by other web news agencies. Forum 18 reported that Uzbek Protestants described the article to the news service as “libelous.”
The Full Gospel camp faced problems as soon as it started in May, Forum 18 reported. Police raided the camp, beat the watchman and used force to take all those present to the local police station, where they were threatened about involvement in what officers claimed was an “illegal religious meeting”
(see F18News www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=803.


For more background, see Forum 18’s Uzbekistan religious freedom survey at
www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=777 .

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