Uzbek Jehovah’s Witness facing criminal charges released from custody

Associated Press, Nov. 21, 2002
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TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) — A Jehovah’s Witness being tried in Uzbekistan on charges of inciting ethnic and religious hatred was released from custody on Thursday.

Arli Chimirov, a lawyer for Marat Mudarisov, said the defense team was unexpectedly called to court Thursday afternoon to hear that their plea to release their client from custody had been upheld.

An earlier request to release Mudarisov from custody was turned down.

Mudarisov, 26, was arrested July 19 and faces up to five years in prison for charges including incitement, membership in an unregistered religious organization, and disseminating views insulting to Uzbeks’ national and religious feelings.

This is the first case of a Jehovah’s Witness’ being accused of a criminal offense in predominantly Muslim Uzbekistan.

Prosecutors at the trial, which began Oct. 16, have focused their case on an Uzbek-language pamphlet allegedly found in Mudarisov’s possession that argues of the superiority of the Bible over the Quran.

However, Mudarisov’s mother, Nuria, said her son, an ethnic Tatar, doesn’t speak Uzbek and his defense argues that the pamphlet, titled “Truth, The Only Truth,” was planted on their client.

Uzbekistan has been internationally criticized as persecuting some Muslim factions in its quest to stem extremism. Human rights groups hope Mudarisov’s case will be thrown out, setting a precedent for the handling of other religious rights cases.

Chimirov said the court might hand down its verdict at the next hearing scheduled for Friday.

There are more than 3,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the former Soviet Central Asian republic, group members say. They have been allowed to register in two cities, but have failed to get registration in the capital Tashkent.

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