OM (Returning citizens minorities - religion) Uzbekistan CG  UKAIT 00045
Date of hearing: 20 October 2006
Date Determination notified: 23 May 2007
|Secretary of State for the Home Department||RESPONDENT|
It has not been established that Uzbek citizens whose passports expire cannot obtain a renewal from Embassies abroad, or that returnees who have been abroad for longer than permitted by an exit visa, are at real risk of disproportionate punishment on return.
There is no satisfactory evidence that non-Uzbeks face discrimination of such a nature as to amount to persecution, or serious harm, or a breach of their article 3 rights.
Whilst followers of all religions, save for Muslims who attend registered Mosques, are subject to a degree of harassment it does not in general amount to persecution, serious harm or a breach of a worshippers' human rights. However, ministers of religion, those who practice religion in unregistered premises, particularly active members of evangelical Christian congregations, and proselytising or fundamentalist denominations of any religion may be at risk depending on the facts in every case.
In finding that the Immigration Judge had made an error of law the Tribunal said:
"The parties agreed that the Adjudicator had failed to take into account the issue of the excessive delay in deciding the application when assessing the Article 8 appeal.
We are also satisfied that the Adjudicator erred in law in her assessment of the asylum claim by failing to take into account the specific evidence adduced of the treatment of Christians in Uzbekistan as set out in grounds 7 b and c and ground 14 of the application for statutory review."
Grounds 7b and c (the Tribunal must have meant 8 b and c) refer to delay. Ground 14 refers to the treatment of Christians.
The Reconsideration Hearing
The Adjudicator's Findings and the Basis of the Appellant's Claim
"My findings are simply that she and her husband converted to Christianity and that his paternal family members were hostile to the marriage and the appellant but that his mother was instrumental in their conversion, having herself recently converted to Baptism (in the summer of 1995 ). I accept the police visited the appellant in October 1995, seeking out her husband who was, at that time, liable for military service. I find the appellant's mother-in-law tried her best to assist her son and the appellant to leave Uzbekistan in March 1996 and that she took some advice from David Smith and that consequently the couple came over with a group of students and did not apply for asylum immediately. I find the appellant herself has a real subjective fear of some harm if she returns but the question is of whether she is, in fact, a refugee."
The Appellant's Evidence
"9. Both my mother and my sister were told by the police, that she would be released only if they paid the sum of $1,000. My mother and sister told them they had no money. The police said they knew all about my sister, and that she had money.
10. They told my sister things they could only have learnt from her medical records at her doctor's surgery, and many other things that were entirely private. They said that they knew she went to church, and where the church met. They said they knew who her friends were, and where they lived."
The Appellant's Sister's Statement
Evidence of Craig Murray
Craig Murray -Oral Evidence
Objective Evidence - General
The Appellant's Objective Evidence
"The Government committed major violations of the rights to freedom of religion, expression, association, and assembly, and such abuses only increased after the May massacre. Uzbekistan has no independent judiciary, and torture is widespread in both pre-trial and post-conviction facilities. The Government continues its practice of controlling, intimidating, and arbitrarily suspending or interfering with the work of civil society groups, the media, human rights activists, and opposition political parties. In particular, repression against independent journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition members increased this year. Government declarations of human rights reform, such as an announcement that the Government will abolish the death penalty and the President's declaration of support for Habeas Corpus, had no practical impact."
Under the heading "Religious Persecution" Human Rights Watch said:-
"For years the Government has imprisoned on "fundamentalism" charges individuals whose peaceful Islamic beliefs, practices, and affiliations fell outside strict government controls. Approximately 7,000 people are believed to have been imprisoned since the Government's campaign against independent Islam began in the mid-1990s. The Government justifies this campaign by referring to the "war on terror," failing to distinguish between those who advocate violence and those who peacefully express their religious beliefs; it used the May 2005 events in Andijan to give new validation to the campaign. By November, Human Rights Watch had documented 194 religious believers convicted in 2005 with at least 69 more awaiting trial; the true numbers are believed to be much higher.
Conditions in Uzbekistan's prisons are poor, and religious and political prisoners suffer particularly harsh treatment. According to testimony by relatives, prisoners are forced to sign statements begging President Islam Karimov for forgiveness, renouncing their faith, and incriminating themselves as terrorists. Prisoners who refuse are punished with beatings, time in punishment cells, and even new criminal prosecutions."
The report said that the Government has made no visible progress on ending the use of torture. Human Rights Watch received credible allegations of torture during investigations in pre-trial custody as well as in prisons and reports that police use torture and other illegal means to coerce statements and confessions from detainees. Defence lawyers are prevented from visiting clients, which would be a safeguard against torture in pre-trial detention. Courts ignore claims that confessions were obtained under torture and accept the confessions into evidence. In trials of religious believers, defendants are routinely sentenced to long prison terms based solely or predominantly on such confessions.
US Department of State, Country Reports of Human Rights Practises 2005: Uzbekistan (Published 8.3.2006)
"While the law provides for freedom of religion and separation of church and State, in practice the Government restricted religious activity. The law treats all religious groups equally; however, the Government supported the country's Muslim heritage by funding an Islamic university and providing logistical support for citizens' participation in the Hajj. The Government sought to promote what it considered a moderate version of Islam through the control and financing of the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan (the Muftiate), which in turn controls the Islamic hierarchy, the content of imams' sermons, and published Islamic materials. A small number of unofficial, independent mosques were allowed to operate under the watch of official imams.
The law requires all religious groups and congregations to register and provides strict and burdensome registration criteria, including a requirement that each group present a list of at least 100 national citizen members to the local branches of the Ministry of Justice. This and numerous other provisions, such as a requirement that a congregation already have a valid legal address, enabled the Government to find technical grounds for denying a group's registration petition, such as grammatical errors in a group's charter. This suppressed the activities of Muslims who sought to worship outside the system of State-sponsored mosques, as well as members of unregistered Christian churches and other groups.
Any religious service conducted by an unregistered religious organisation is illegal. Police occasionally broke up meetings of unregistered groups. Members of some Christian evangelical congregations were detained during the year and occasionally beaten by authorities. Religious groups are prohibited from forming political parties and social movements."
There was reference to 125 members of an unregistered Baptist church in Surkhandarya province being detained and questioned and to two Baptist pastors, and four church members, being arrested after a raid on their church in Tashkent in June 2005. On page 16 there is a paragraph setting out the difficulties in registration. It said the number of registered religious congregations increased by 32 to 2,201 of which 2,016 were Muslim (i.e. 185 were not). It said that local authorities continued to block the registration, or re-registration, of evangelical Christian congregations in six provinces and that registration was denied to the Pentecostal church in Chirchiq. The Emmanuel church in Nukus, the only registered Protestant church in the city, was deregistered. A Protestant non-denominational church ministering to the international community has been unable to obtain registration for several years, at least in part because it could not meet the legal requirement for a minimum of 100 members who are citizens of the country. Out of eleven Jehovah's Witnesses churches in the country, only two are registered. It is said that police routinely question, search and arbitrarily fine individual Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the country. Their meetings were disrupted during the year and 200 church members arrested, although most were released soon afterwards. The report says that the overwhelming majority of those arrested were suspected HT members [HT is a banned extremist Islamist political organisation called Hizb-ut-Tahrir] but the Government also arrested members of Tabligh, an Islamic group with origins in South Asia. Others arrested were those who the Government broadly labelled 'Wahhabi'. It reported that prisoners suspected of Islamic extremism are not allowed to practise their religion freely in prison, and not allowed a Koran.
US Department of State "International Religious Freedom Report 2006: Uzbekistan (Published 15.9.2006)
"The Government continued its campaign against unauthorized Islamic groups suspected of extremist sentiments or activities, arresting numerous alleged members of these groups and sentencing them to lengthy jail terms."
It also said,
"The Government generally did not interfere with worshippers attending sanctioned mosques and granted approvals for new Islamic print, audio, and video materials. A small but growing number of underground mosques operated under the close scrutiny of religious authorities and the security services."
The report said,
"The generally tolerant relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom; however, neighbours, family, and employers often continued to pressure ethnic Uzbek Christians, especially recent converts and residents of smaller communities."
Under the heading "Status of Religious Freedom" there was reference to the legal equality of religious denominations and the Government's support for the country's Muslim heritage, as was referred to in the main US State Department report. There was reference to the two new legal provisions, to which Mr Murray referred, and the requirement for registration and a minimum number of citizen members. The report said that, at 30 June 2006, there were 182 registered minority religious groups, which included 59 Korean Christians, 36 Russian Orthodox, 23 Baptist, 21 Pentecostal ("Full Gospel"), 10 Seventh Day Adventist, 8 Jewish, 5 Roman Catholic, 6 Baha'i, 3 Lutheran, 4 "New Apostolic", 2 Jehovah's Witnesses, 1 Krishna Consciousness group, 1 Temple of Buddah, 1 Christian "Voice of God" church and 1 Armenian Apostolic.
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
"As in previous years, minority religious communities faced repression such as raids, interrogation and fines and some reports indicated the situation worsened in the aftermath of the Andijan events. Among others, Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses communities reported growing harassment during the second half of the year."
There was reference to three Jehovah's Witnesses being convicted and heavily fined. They were found guilty of attending meetings at an unregistered religious organisation. The section also indicated that the Government is continuing a long-standing campaign against independent Muslims and has imprisoned thousands of Muslims who practise their faith outside State-controlled institutions. It said that the Government does not make any distinction between those who advocate violent methods, and those who peacefully express their views.
Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, May 2006
"As with Muslims, members of Protestant and other minority religious groups have been arrested, sometimes on spurious drug or other charges."
There was reference to the Government modifying the country's criminal and administrative codes to introduce heavier fines for repeated violations of rules on religious meetings in December 2005. The Commission recommended that Uzbekistan be named as 'a country of particular concern' because of its severe violations of religious freedom which were described as systematic, ongoing and egregious. The previous year Uzbekistan was only on a watch list. The recommendation that Uzbekistan be regarded as of particular concern ties in with the Keston Institute submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (undated). The Keston Institute, based in Oxford, was founded to defend religious liberty in post-Communist and Communist countries. In its submission it referred to a number of case histories. The first has already been referred to earlier. The pastor of the Full Gospel Church in Nukus was arrested in 1999; books were confiscated. He was arrested with two church colleagues and all were arrested, tied up, beaten on the soles of their feet and deprived of food for three days. On an earlier occasion he had been forcibly detained in a psychiatric hospital, in 1997. He was reportedly in receipt of death threats and, in September 1997, sentenced to two years forced labour for holding unsanctioned meetings (but in fact was allowed to live at home). Second the pastor of the Full Gospel Church in Bukhara was arrested in 1999 and sentenced to five years in prison on drugs charges and for spreading extremist propaganda. He claims the drugs were planted on him. Third, the pastor of the Full Gospel Church in Tashkent was arrested and sentenced in 1999 by a district court to one year in prison on charges of missionary activity. The report notes his church has repeatedly been denied official registration. Fourth, the police raided an unregistered church, the Baptist congregation in Karshi, where they detained, beat and imprisoned many of the congregants including women and teenagers. Maltreatment was reported.
International Christian Concern Country Report, July 2003
Christian Science Monitor
Stop Violence Against Women, 28 January 2004
Worldnet Daily, July 1 2005
Assist News Service, Tuesday December 30 2005
Human Rights Without Frontiers
Ferghana.ru Information Agency Article, 30 August 2006
The Barnabas Fund
Bosnews Life 3 September 2006
"It comes as Western diplomats are seeking to re-establish relations with Uzbekistan and its perceived autocratic President Islam Karimof, whom critics say does not allow "an independent religion" such as Christianity, apparently for fear it could undermine his powerbase in the Islamic nation."
We observe that it does not refer to the fact that many of the laws were aimed at the Muslim religion.
The Respondent's Objective Evidence
"The Government's repression of members of the political opposition and of Muslims not affiliated with state-sanctioned religious institutions intensified following a series of deadly bombings in Tashkent in February 1999."
The same report refers to the aftermath of the violence in Andijan in May 2005, when the BBC closed its bureau in Tashkent. That followed continued Government harassment since reporting the violence. There was also mention of the deportation of Igor Rotar, from Forum 18, in August. A correspondent from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was sentenced to six months for slandering a State official. The report went on to say:-
"The Government permits the existence of certain mainstream religions, including approved Muslim and Jewish communities, as well as the Russian Orthodox church and some other Christian denominations. However, the activities of other congregations are restricted through legislation that requires all religious groups to comply with burdensome state-registration criteria. Involvement in religious activities carried out by unregistered groups is punishable by fines or imprisonment, and meetings held by such groups have been raided and participants interrogated and arrested. The 1998 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations prohibits activities including proselytising and private religious instruction, and requires groups to obtain a licence to publish or distribute materials.
The Government exercises strict control over Islamic worship, including the content of imams' sermons, and is suspicious and intolerant of followers of Muslim organisations not sanctioned by the state. Many members of such groups have been arrested or imprisoned on charges of anti-constitutional activities, often under the pretext of the Government's fight against militant Islamists. Muslim prisoners are frequently tortured for their religious convictions or to compel them to renounce their beliefs. . According to Forum 18 the authorities followed the wave of 2004 suicide bomb attacks with a new crackdown against religious Muslims, as well as believers of other faiths, including Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses. This policy of repression accelerated after the May 2005 killings in Andijan; Human Rights Watch documented 190 religious believers convicted by November 2005."
There is mention of the Makhalla Committees referred to by Mr Murray. It said:-
"Open and free private discussion is limited by the Makhalla Committees, traditional neighbourhood organisations that the Government has turned into an official system for public surveillance and control. According to Human Rights Watch, Makhalla Committee members went door-to-door to tell all residents not to speak with journalists or foreigners about the 2005 Andijan killings."
There was evidence that the judiciary is subservient to the President who appoints all judges and can remove them from office at any time. There was also evidence that police routinely physically abuse and torture suspects to extract confessions which are accepted by judges as evidence, and often serve as the basis for convictions. There was reference to law enforcement authorities, reportedly often, planting narcotics, weapons and banned religious literature on suspected members of Islamic groups, or political opponents, to justify their arrest. There was reference to racial and ethnic discrimination being prohibited by law but the belief that senior positions in Government and business are reserved for ethnic Uzbeks being widespread. The report referred to the Government severely limiting freedom of residence and movement within the country and across borders. It said that there are restrictions on foreign travel, including the use of a system of exit visas, which are often issued selectively. It said that permission is required from local authorities to move to a new city, and permission is rarely granted for people wishing to move to Tashkent.
"The Government required citizens to obtain exit visas for foreign travel or emigration, and while it generally granted these routinely, local officials often demanded a small bribe. In the past, authorities did not require an exit visa for travel to most countries of the former Soviet Union; however, during the year the Government introduced a new registration system requiring citizens to obtain a special stamp from local authorities in their place of residence in order to leave the country. Citizens continued generally to be able to travel to neighbouring states, and the new stamp requirement was not uniformly enforced."
There was reference to travel to Afghanistan and events following Andijan. The section concluded:-
"Emigration and repatriation were restricted in that the law does not provide for dual citizenship. In practice, returning Uzbek citizens had to prove to authorities that they did not acquire foreign citizenship while abroad, or face prosecution. However in practice, Uzbek citizens often possessed dual citizenship and travelled without issue."
Assessment of the Expert and Objective Evidence
The Appellant's Own Claim
The Appellant's Claim Article 8 ECHR
The appellant is not entitled to humanitarian protection.
Senior Immigration Judge Mather