Uzbekistan: Deportation, fines, Bible and Koran seizures
A Russian was deported with no court decision and home-owner fined after police raided a Tashkent Christian meeting, Christian Telegraph reports according to Forum18.
In early April, a Russian Protestant was deported back to Russia with no court decision to punish her for attending a Christian meeting in a flat in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. Police raided the meeting, seizing Christian books and other items, possibly with information from an informer. The home-owner was fined.
Police officers and customs officials frequently seize individuals' religious literature, claiming it is "illegal".
On 24 March seven officials, including three uniformed police officers, broke into the home of Yelena Potorochina, a Protestant in Tashkent's Yakkasaray District, Protestants who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 18 April. At the flat five Protestant women were meeting to discuss the Christian faith, led by a Russian citizen Tatyana Bezhenova. Potorochina's son was also in the flat during the raid.
The officials included the Head of Yakkasaray District Anti-Terrorism Police Azamat Nabirayev, and Yakkasary District Police Major Ramiz Fozilov with Police Inspectors Toirzhon Pakhruddinov and Zhamoliddin Karshibayev. They searched Potorochina's home and confiscated four Christian books including two New Testaments, 12 notebooks with personal notes written by the participants, a laptop computer, a desktop computer's hard disc, and a digital camera.
Raids on private homes to search for religious literature of all beliefs (including Muslim, Christian, Jehovah's Witness and Hare Krishna texts) are common in Uzbekistan. Any printed or electronic literature found is confiscated and those who possess the texts punished.
The officials also confiscated Bezhenova's Russian passport. On 30 March Bezhenova left written complaints at the Presidential Administration and Yakkasaray District Prosecutor's Office. When she also visited the Russian Embassy officials refused to help her and advised her to hire a lawyer.
Yakkasaray District Police Inspector Karshibayev did not want to discuss the case with Forum 18 on 11 May, and referred the inquiry to District Anti-Terrorism Police Head Nabirayev. Asked why police raided Potorochina's home and confiscated private property, he claimed to Forum 18 that "everything was returned to her".
Told that the Court ordered the computer to be destroyed, Inspector Karshibayev replied: "I am not going to discuss the case with you. You can send questions in writing." He then put the phone down.
On 3 April Judge Timur Kasymov of Yakkasaray District Criminal Court on 3 April found Potorochina guilty of violating Administrative Code Article 240, 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"). He fined her 7,488,750 Soms, or 50 times the minimum monthly wage. He also ordered the destruction of Potorochina's laptop computer.
However, on 17 April Tashkent City Appeal Court reduced Potorochina's fine to 748,875 Soms or five times the minimum monthly wage.
On 4 April the authorities deported Bezhenova back to Russia, but without a legally-required court order. She also received her passport back that day.
Asked on 12 May why he fined her and ordered her computer to be destroyed, when her "offence" was to exercise her freedom of religion and belief stated in the Constitution, Judge Kasymov told Forum 18: "I cannot discuss my decisions with third parties". He did not answer when Forum 18 asked why Bezhenova was deported without the legally-required court order