Uzbek court convicts Jehovah’s Witness of criminal incitement

Associated Press, Nov. 29, 2002
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TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) — An Uzbek court on Friday convicted a Jehovah’s Witness for inciting hatred in the first criminal proceeding against the Christian group in this Central Asian nation.

Marat Mudarisov, a road worker, was given a three-year suspended sentence by Judge Sherzod Usmonov at the trial in an Uzbek neighborhood court. Mudarisov, who has maintained his innocence, said he would appeal.

Human rights advocates fear that the trial heralds a crackdown on Christian groups. Previously, the Uzbek government has targeted independent Muslims in a harsh campaign to stem extremism, drawing international criticism.

“It’s ‘open season’ on Jehovah’s Witnesses and like-minded Christian minorities in Uzbekistan,” said John Burns, a Canadian lawyer working on Mudarisov’s defense team. “One can reasonably expect a wave of religious persecution of Christian minorities.”

Burns said similar prosecutions against Jehovah’s Witnesses are in progress in at least two other cities in Uzbekistan. The group says it has at least 3,000 members in this former Soviet republic.

Much of the case against Mudarisov revolved around allegations that at the time of his arrest he had a pamphlet titled, “Truth, The Only Truth,” that argues of the superiority of the Bible over the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

Defense attorneys maintained the pamphlet was planted on their client, pointing to the fact that it was in the Uzbek language and had also notes written in Uzbek — a language that Mudarisov, an ethnic Tatar, doesn’t speak. The defense also argued that even if Mudarisov had the pamphlet, possession itself wasn’t proof it was being used to incite hatred.

Mudarisov was arrested July 19 after his mother brought him to a police station because she said authorities had threatened to arrest him. He had been jailed until last week.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday November 30, 2002.
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