By BosNewsLife News Center
TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- A Protestant Christian leader in Uzbekistan faces up to 15 years in prison on charges that include teaching religion without official approval and encouraging people to read "prohibited Christian literature," a major religious rights group said Monday, July 14.
Forum 18 said Aitmurat Khayburahmanov, a Protestant from the town of Nukus in the Karakalpakstan region, was to go on trial later this month, after spending weeks in prison where he was allegedly tortured.
"Protestants told Forum 18 that Khayburahmanov's body is "covered with bruises" from beatings administered in [an] isolation cell since his arrest," on June 14, the group said. Officials have reportedly accused Khayburahmanov of involvement in an illegal "religious extremist" organisation to carry out his Christian activities. The charges can carry between five and fifteen years imprisonment, officials said.
Prosecution investigator Bahadur Jakbaev reportedly said punishment was necessary as Khayburahmanov gathers people in his home to read "prohibited" Christian literature. He denied the Bible was banned, but apparently declined to specify what the prohibited books were.
It came as at the White House in Washington, United States President George W. Bush criticized Uzbekistan's religoous rights record. "We remember those seeking religious freedom in Uzbekistan, where in the past members of religious minorities have been beaten and jailed..." he said Monday, July 14, speaking at the Roosevelt Room for delegates. However he said, "recent agreements give us hope that these abuses will not be repeated in the future."
Yet news of the detained Protestant Christian was no isolated incidents, rights groups said. It came shortly after Uzbekistan's Bible Society said authorities of the former Soviet nation was holding up some 11,000 Bibles and Bible-related books in Uzbek, Karakalpak and Russian languages at customs in the capital Tashkent since May 19.
"This represents a ban on the import of Bibles into Uzbekistan," the Bible Society said in a statement, released this weekend.
Other religious groups, including Orthodox Jews, have also expressed concerns over what they view as a crackdown by the government. The head of Uzbekistan's Jewish community, Chief Rabbi Abe David Gurevich, left Uzbekistan last month after Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry apparently refused to renew his accreditation. His return to the country depends on whether or not he will get a visa from the Uzbek authorities, the Jewish community said.
Uzbekistan ranks nine on this year's World Watch List of Christian rights group Open Doors of the 50 countries with the "worst persecution" of Christians. Human rights groups say President Islam Abduganiyevich Karimov has been concerned about groups deemed dangerous to his rule and has government the country with an iron fist.
Karimov, who has dominated politics since 1989, gained another presidential term following elections in December 2007 which opponents dismissed as a sham. They say Karimov takes a ruthlessly authoritarian approach to all forms of opposition.
The few Western observers who monitored parliamentary elections in 2004 reportedly condemned them as having failed to meet international standards and pointed out that all the candidates supported the president.
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