Thursday, 21 May 2009


Nurulla Zhamolov, the senior religious affairs official for the Karakalpakstan [Qoraqalpoghiston] Autonomous Republic of north-western Uzbekistan, has banned specific religious books and films confiscated from religious believers on at least three occasions known to Forum 18 News Service in 2009.

The confiscations happened during police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police raids. Among works Zhamolov has "banned for import, distribution or use in teaching on the territory of the Republic of Karakalpakstan" are the Bible, a hymn book, a Bible Encyclopaedia, a Bible dictionary, a children's Bible, and the 2004 film "The Passion of the Christ" by Mel Gibson, although this has legally been shown in cinemas in the capital Tashkent.
The bans were set out in "expert analyses" provided for court hearings of local Protestants, and revealed in court documents and a prosecutor's office letter seen by Forum 18. Forum 18 has been unable to obtain copies of Zhamolov's "expert analyses".
The authorities in Karakalpakstan routinely confiscate religious literature they find in the homes of religious believers during raids. It remains unclear what further activity the authorities will undertake in the wake of the bans on specific works.It also remains unclear whether Zhamolov's ban on the Bible includes a ban on the Russian-language Synodal version, a nineteenth-century translation widely used not only among Russian-speaking Protestants but by the Russian Orthodox for private reading outside church services (which are in Church Slavonic).
Forum 18 tried to find out from Zhamolov of the Religious Affairs Committee why peaceful religious communities have been raided, why peaceful religious believers have been detained and fined, why religious literature has been confiscated and why he has issued "expert analyses" banning the import, distribution and use of named religious books in Karakalpakstan. However, the man who answered his phone on 20 May told Forum 18 it was a wrong number.
Subsequent calls went unanswered.Officials in the Uzbek capital Tashkent were likewise unwilling to talk about the raids, the confiscation of religious literature or state censorship of religious literature. The official who answered the phone at the government's National Human Rights Centre of Uzbekistan told Forum 18 on 20 May that its director Akmal Saidov and deputy director Akhmat Ismailov were out of the office, while Ikrom Saipov, who heads the department dealing with citizens' complaints, was on leave.
Asked what the Human Rights Centre has done to defend the religious freedom of Uzbekistan's residents, the official – who would not give his name – responded: "I cannot provide any further information. Come to our Centre and you can read our last annual report in our library." Asked whether the report is available on the internet, he responded: "I'm afraid not."The official who answered the phone on 20 May of the government's Religious Affairs Committee in Tashkent – who gave his name as Murat – told Forum 18 he was a trainee and was unable to answer any questions. He said no other Committee official was in the office.