The authorities in Uzbekistan have been raiding homes and confiscating religious texts such as the Koran and the Bible. The courts have levied fines worth in some cases more than a years minimum wages or pensions for possessing the religious texts in a private home.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has condemned the process as a gross violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief.
Forum 18 reports that “After coordinated police raids on four Protestant-owned homes in a village near Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent, two pensioners in their sixties and two other local Protestants had Christian and other literature seized from their homes… In late June, the four home-owners were fined a combined total of 230 times Uzbekistan’s official minimum monthly wage for having the Koran, Bibles, as well as other works including a non-religious book by American author Dale Carnegie.”
The cases represent the continuation of a censorship campaign and oppression which has been ongoing since the Soviet era.
Followers of various religions are warned that religious texts must be kept and read only in designated buildings. The raids are carried out on the basis of “expert analyses” – often very shrot statements produced very quickly – which are presented to the courts to justify the confiscation of any religious text which is said to be “extremist” or simply “promotes proselytism”. As well as being a weak legal rationalisation, officials often ignore other legal requirements in conducting raids, prosecutions and punishments against those keeping religious literature at home.
With some fines far in excess of a year’s minimum wage, the raids are putting pressure on individuals to hide or destroy their own copies of religious texts.
Some Muslims have also faced long jail sentences for the “offence” of praying together in a private home.
It is the act of sharing beliefs which is targeted in Uzbek law under Article 5 of the Religion Law forbids “Actions aimed at attracting believers of one confession to another (proselytism)” and “other missionary activity”; The Code of Administrative Offences’ Article 240 (“Violation of the Religion Law”) Part 2 bans “attracting believers of one confession to another (proselytism) and other missionary activity” with fines of between 50 and 100 times the minimum monthly salary, or administrative arrest for up to 15 days; and Article 216-2 of the Criminal Code stating similar prohibitions and adding “up to six months’ detention or up to three years in prison” for missionary activity.
IHEU President Sonja Eggerickx commented, “No genuine concern about fundamentalism or extremism can justify the perpetuation of this reactionary, Soviet-era suppression of religious practice, preaching and belief.
“The notion of allowing only state-approved religious practices is bad enough; to enforce restrictions through these punitive measures shows a complete disregard for international human rights obligations.
“The right to freedom of religion or belief belongs to individuals. It is not a right which confers on a state the capacity to impose any one religious order or to ban any religion. We call on the Uzbekistan government to fundamentally reform its approach to religion and belief in line with its obligations under international human rights law.”