A Sunday worship service led by Baptists in a retirement home in Uzbekistan’s Tashkent Region was raided by police and district administration officials.
Uzbekistan is a country in Central Asia, formerly part of the Soviet Union.
According to a story by Mushfig Bayram for Forum 18 News Service, police claimed that on the March 13 raid they were on an “anti-terror operation,” and are preparing a criminal and administrative case against the Baptists.
It was the Sakhovat (Kindness) home for seniors in Ohangaron that was raided by the Tashkent Region’s Ohangaron District Police.
“Police unexpectedly broke into the foyer of the nursing home during the service, and halted it, saying that they were carrying out an anti-terror operation,” local Baptists told Forum 18.
Forum 18 said the raid was led by Bakhtiyar Salibayev, Head of Ohangaron District Administration, and Major Sofar Fayziyev, Deputy Head of the District Police, accompanied by District Police criminal investigators.
Six Baptists – Igor Voloshin, Larisa Lankina, Irina Abdurahimova, Lidiya Guseva, Tatyana Balantayeva and Elvira Khabibulina – were leading the service. When they told officials that they had verbal agreement from the District Administration for the services, Forum 18 said police insisted the meeting was unauthorized.
The six are members of the congregation in the capital Tashkent of the Council of Churches Baptists, who refuse on principle to register their congregations with the state.
During the next four hours at the home, police officers insulted the Baptists and threatened them with punishment, Forum 18 reported Baptists said.
Forum 18 said such insults usually consist of accusations of being “traitors” and “spies.” The insults are often accompanied by cursing.
Forum 18 said the officials filmed everybody present with cameras and cell phones, despite their objections. Police then searched the Baptists and their car, and confiscated Christian cassette-tapes, CD’s, song books, notebooks, leaflets, a digital camera, a personal Bible and money. The police did not give the Baptists a copy of the confiscation records.
Each church member was then separately photographed, and their personal data recorded. They were finally put in the police car and taken to Ohangaron City Police. The elderly residents of the nursing home accompanied the six Baptists to the door “with tears in their eyes,” the Baptists told Forum 18.
At the police station, Forum 18 said, the Baptists were asked to write statements, which they refused to do.
Police charged the six under Criminal Code Article 195 (“Resisting the orders of police officers”) and Article 201 of the Code of Administrative Offences (“Violation of the procedure for organizing and conducting meetings, street processions or demonstrations,”) Baptists told Forum 18.
The Baptists were not released until after midnight, and given a written summons to return during the day on March 14. When they returned as instructed, they were detained for the entire day. Police only released them after taking Voloshin’s fingerprints, and returning some of the personal items confiscated the previous day.
Police told the Baptists that there would be a trial in a few days.
“I don’t know”
Salibayev of Ohangaron District Administration refused to discuss the raid and prosecutions, saying he was newly appointed to his position and “just familiarizing” himself with the area.
“I don’t know if they (the Baptists) had agreement with the Administration, and I don’t know what charges the (state) agencies will bring,” was all he told Forum 18.
Police Major Fayziyev was also reluctant to talk. “We don’t know whether we will open a criminal or an administrative case yet,” he told Forum 18.
He added, “It will all depend on the results of the expert analysis of the literature we confiscated from them.”
Asked why the authorities stopped the service and harassed participants, Forum 18 said he responded, “They could not produce any proof that they had authorization for their activity.”
When Forum 18 repeated the question he said, “Look, I don’t know you, and I already gave enough information.” He then hung up the phone.
Forum 18 was unable to ask why an “anti-terror operation” had been launched against a religious service in a home for seniors.
For more information about Forum 18 go to www.forum18.org