Uzbek Baptist Pastor Imprisoned

Also: UK Home Office has “policy to remove political dissidents to Uzbekistan”

From Forum 18:

A Baptist has been sentenced to two years correctional labour, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Nikolai Zulfikarov was yesterday (29 November) sentenced under Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code for “teaching religious doctrines without special religious education and without permission from a central organ of administration of a religious organisation, as well as teaching religion privately”. Zulfikarov, who led the five member Khalkabad unregistered Baptist church, was also sentenced to pay the state 20 per cent of his earnings over the next two years…

The persecution of religious minorities in Uzbekistan is a subject which Forum 18 has covered in length over the past few years.; it’s a sorry tale of harassment and persecution.

One question follows: if an obscure and harmless Baptist leader has to endure persecution like this, how will the Uzbek regime treat a political dissident? We can easily guess: June 2005 saw a massacre of protestors, and two months ago a young critical Uzbek journalist named Alisher Saipov was murdered in Kyrgyzstan after being harassed by Uzbek agents (although Kyrgyzstan now claims Hizb ut-Tahrir did the deed). Most notoriously, an Uzbek member of Hizb ut-Tahrir named Muzafar Avozov was boiled to death in 2002, and his mother sentenced to six years hard labour when she made a fuss (the sentence was commuted to save embarrassment for Donald Rumsfeld when he made a visit).

Given all this, it is very shocking to read about the ongoing threats by the British government to deport a political dissident named Jahongir Sidikov, and a Home Office statement confirming that

…it is Home Office policy to remove political dissidents to Uzbekistan, if the independent judiciary has deemed an asylum claim to have no basis.

Sidikov is an activist for secular Democratic ERK Party of Uzbekistan, which is led by Muhammed Salih (a man with an interesting taste in music, if his website is anything to go by). Sidikov was very close to being deported last week; it seems that this was postponed at the last minute, but since then there has been no word.