By Worthy News Europe Bureau in Budapest
TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (Worthy News)-- Police in Uzbekistan broke up a Protestant youth conference, detaining dozens of Christians, and separately raiided and Protestant church feeding homeless people for allegedly violating local regulations, a religious rights group said Wednesday, April 21.
Forum 18 said many of the 70 young people attending the conference were playing football and basketball when Uzbek security forces entered the premises in the village of Baraj in Tashkent Region
Some "43 were taken to a police station where they were fingerprinted and photographed" during the April 10 raid, said Forum 18, which has close contacts with the Christians.
"Two leaders are under investigation for "violation of the procedure for holding mass events" and "violation of the law on religious organizations," the group added.
Two days after that raid, police, tax inspectors and local officials also reportedly raided the Eternal Life Protestant Church, detaining several church members in the capital Tashkent.
"At the time of the raid, church members were feeding homeless people," Forum 18 said.
Local authorities have reportedly defended the raid as feeding the hungry was "not according to their [registered] charter".
Police reportedly said that the NSS secret police had led the raid following information from an alleged "Anti-terror" raid on a birthday party where ten Pentecostals - eight of them pensioners - were apparently fined 100 times the minimum monthly salary in
Tashkent's Sergeli District on March 12.
They were not the only Christians receiving fines. Thirteen members of the Council of Churches Baptist congregation in the Almalyk area of Tashkent Region reportedly failed in their appeal against heavy fines imposed on them in February for religious literature "offenses".
Most of them will have to pay 100 times the average minimum wage. Only three of the Baptists - Tatyana Shopova, Olga Brislavskaya and Rita Struchaeva - were ordered to pay half of that amount due to their "family and social position and age" in an April 12 court decision, Forum 18 said.
They are each now due to pay fines of 50 times the minimum monthly wage, 3,884,000 Soms (about $1,218) at the inflated official exchange, Forum 18 said.
It comes at a time when the Soviet republic's perceived autocratic president, Islam Karimov, is under international intpressure to
allow more political and religious freedoms.
The few Western observers who monitored parliamentary elections in 2004 condemned them as having failed to meet international standards and said all the candidates supported the president.
Karimov has defended his actions saying he is cracking down on religious extremists threatening the nation.