By Worthy News Europe Bureau in Budapest
BUDAPEST/TASHKENT (Worthy News)-- An assistant pastor and two other members of one of Uzbekistan capital's largest Protestant churches began serving 15-day jail terms Wednesday, May 19, on charges that included "violating" strict religious regulations of the former Soviet nation, trial observers said.
Three other Protestants of the Church of Christ in Tashkent were each fined 80 times the minimum monthly wage, and two other Protestants were fined five times the minimum monthly salary, said well-informed advocacy group Forum 18.
Additionally, Judge S. Asharmatov at Tashkent's Mirzo-Ulugbek District Court ordered that six computers taken during this week's police raid on the church be given to the state while seized Christian literature must be destroyed, Christians explained.
"Everyone was shocked at the verdict because the defendants proved in court that they were innocent and there were so many violations of legal procedure," Forum 18 quoted one Protestant as saying.
Uzbek officials have refused to comment on the case.
"Unusually the court sat into the evening and the sentences were given at about 10.30 pm local time" on Tuesday, May 18, Forum 18 told Worthy News and its partner news agency BosNewsLife.
Among other recent punishments for "illegal" religious literature, one Baptist has been fined 20 times the monthly minimum wage and his religious literature - including the New Testament - was ordered to be destroyed, the group added.
Harshest treatment received the Church of Christ's Assistant Pastor, Artur Avanesyan, who was accused of violating several regulations such as "production, storage or distribution of works promoting national, ethnic, racial or religious hatred", said Forum 18.
The long list of other charges against him also included not adhering to police orders, organizing "unsanctioned gatherings" and "teaching religious beliefs without specialized religious education and without permission...," according to court documents cited by the advocacy group.
Two other men, Vyacheslav Dechkov and Bahodyr Adambaev were also given 15 day sentences on similar charges and detained immediately, observers said.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov has been accused of using the threat of Islamic militancy to justify his autocratic style of leadership and cracking down on religious groups deemed "dangerous" for the country, including active churches.