UZBEKISTAN: Five years jail for defending Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief
By Mushfig Bayram
Forum18 (22.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/2YeT32O – After repeatedly defending Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief, including demonstrating outside President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s residence, Tulkun Astanov has been jailed for five years. A state report accused him of following “sources of biased news such as Radio Free Europe”, and publishing “unsubstantiated and exaggerated” information. Prisoner of conscience Astanov is being banned in jail from reading the Koran and praying the namaz.
After repeatedly defending the freedom of religion and belief of Muslims, including demonstrating outside President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s residence in the capital Tashkent, a city court has jailed 49-year-old Tulkun Astanov for five years. Tashkent City Criminal Court rejected his appeal on 5 January.
The jail sentence followed an October 2019 five-year suspended prison term for visiting the state-controlled Muslim Board to discuss restrictions on Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief. Deputy Chief Mufti Mansur accused Astanov of being a “hooligan”, and being disrespectful to the Muftiate’s “spiritual leadership”. Astanov was then jailed for 15 days but continued defending Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief (see below).
In November 2020 Astanov left the boundaries of the city of Tashkent, against the terms of his suspended sentence, to visit Muslims in Yangikurgan in Namangan Region and Chinaz in Tashkent Region “who asked him to represent them as a public defender before the authorities”, his lawyer Umid Davvlatov told Forum 18. “He did not agree with his punishment given to him for defending the freedom of religion and belief of Muslims” (see below).
The Agency of Information and Mass Communications under the Presidential Administration (AIMC) on 26 November 2020 produced a report based on social media activity claiming that prisoner of conscience Astanov follows “sources of biased news such as Radio Free Europe”, and published “unsubstantiated and exaggerated” information. No official was prepared to discuss the claims with Forum 18 (see below).
Judge Karimov on 21 January 2021 refused to tell Forum 18 why he imposed a jail term instead of a lesser punishment such as a warning. He was at first hesitant, and then told Forum 18: “Please, understand me correctly, I am not authorised to give you comments on the case. You need to write an official letter to us through the Supreme Court” (see below).
On 1 December prisoner of conscience Astanov was transferred to General Regime Prison No. 1, even though this legally can only follow an appeal hearing. “My client was taken to prison in violation of the law without waiting for the result of the appeal,” lawyer Davlatov told Forum 18 (see below)
Judge Karimov told Forum 18 that “based on the Law they should have waited for the appeal decision, but I do not know all the regulations for the Interior Ministry’s Chief Directorate for the Enforcement of Punishments” (see below).
Prisoner of conscience Astanov is not being allowed to read the Koran or pray the namaz (daily prayers). Such violations of a prisoner’s human rights are not permitted under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules), which the regime routinely ignores (see below).
Prison officials refused on 22 January to Forum 18 why they are violating prisoner of conscience Astanov’s freedom of religion and belief, and told Forum 18 that the head of the prison Farrukh Ismatov “does not want to talk to you” (see below).
Prisoner of conscience Astanov’s wife Mukhayyo Astanova told Forum 18 that “we have several minors in the family with some teenagers. I work as a doctor and take night shifts sometimes in the hospital because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is very difficult for me to deal with all the family problems alone.” She added that “this is so unfair to punish us for only trying to be good Muslims” (see below).
In another case, Doctor Alimardon Sultonov has unsuccessfully challenged a 14-month restricted freedom sentence. On 7 January judges refused his appeal, despite the prosecutor being described as “more emotional, yelling and behaving unprofessionally in a disrespectful manner to the Court and defendant” (see below).
During his restricted freedom sentence, Sultonov will live under restrictions, having to report regularly to Ellikala District Police and having to be at home from 10 pm to 6 am every day. He cannot leave the District without police permission. He will also be banned from using “means of communication”, including the internet. He also cannot participate in public events or festivities (see below).
Probation Officer Khujanazar told Sultonov on 12 January that among other places he cannot attend mosque for Friday prayers (though he is able to go at other times). Khujanazar told Sultonov that mosque prayers are a public event, and he cannot attend public events. Dr Sultonov can work on night shifts, as the Supreme Court of Karakalpakstan on 7 January provided him with a special written permit allowing him to do this (see below).
Probation Officer Khujanazar told Forum 18 on 22 January that he had not told Dr Sultonov that he cannot go to a mosque. “I have not said that to him. I told him that he can attend a mosque, but not a mass event on the street” (see below).
On 18 October 2019, Tashkent City Criminal Court gave human rights defender Tulkun Tashmuradovich Astanov (born 25 April 1971) a five-year suspended prison term for visiting the state-controlled Muslim Board to discuss restrictions on Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief. This followed Astanov’s observation of a trial where two Muslim women, Luiza Muminjanova and Nazimakhon Abdukakharova, tried unsuccessfully to challenge the ban on wearing the hijab (Muslim head covering.
At an 8 April 2019 meeting, Astanov asked Deputy Chief Mufti Abdulaziz Mansur among other things why the hijab is banned, why imams have to be appointed by the state and preach sermons prepared for them by the state, and why the Muftiate does not help Muslims when their freedom of religion and belief is violated. Deputy Chief Mufti Mansur accused Astanov of being a “hooligan”, and being disrespectful to the Muftiate’s alleged “spiritual leadership”. Police were called and later in the day officers arrested Astanov, who was then jailed for 15 days.
Continued defence of Muslim’s freedom of religion and belief
After being released at the end of his short-term jailing, Astanov continued to defend Muslim’s freedom of religion and belief, for example in cases where Muslims who discussed their faith with others were tortured and agent provocateurs used to bring false charges.
In November 2020, Astanov left the boundaries of the city of Tashkent to visit “Muslims in Yangikurgan in Namangan Region and Chinaz in Tashkent Region who asked him to represent them as a public defender before the authorities,” his lawyer Umid Davvlatov told Forum 18 on 20 January 2021. He said that Astanov “asked a probation officer for permission to visit those places, but they refused.”
Astanov still visited the Muslims who asked for his help, breaking the terms of his five-year suspended prison term, “as he did not agree with his punishment given to him for defending the freedom of religion and belief of Muslims.” Lawyer Davlatov said, however, that Astanov did “not violate the curfew hour and he returned home every day on time”.
Mukhayyo Astanova, Astanov’s wife, told Forum 18 on 20 January that the “Uchteppa Police knew of the cases, and Tulkun was officially summoned as a witness to Chinaz Administrative Court to a hearing. The case was brought against some local parents whose daughters attended the secondary schools in hijab.” Astanov and the parents were “successful in cancelling the fines”.
Astanova also told Forum 18 that her husband visited police and Prosecutor’s officials to ask why the parents and daughters were detained and questioned, and why their phones were confiscated, and whether any other cases were opened against them.(…)