Uzbekistan fines atheist couple for storing bibles

An atheist from Tashkent and his wife have been sentenced to a large fine for religious activities and storing bibles, which have been seized and destroyed.

In April 2011, a Tashkent-based couple – Vyacheslav Shinkin and Snezhana Galiaskarova – were given a fine of 110 minimum monthly wages, the Forum 18 news agency has reported.

They were found guilty of producing and spreading religious literature and conducting meetings and other illegal activities, despite the fact that Shinkin is an atheist while his wife inherited the books from her father.

In addition to a combined fine of 5.5 million sums ($2,000), the court ruled to destroy the literature confiscated from the couple, among them three rare publications of the Bible, children’s books on Christianity and literary works.

Shinkin’s father Vladimir spent one and a half years beating down the doors of state oversight bodies asking how his son as an atheist could be punished for religious activity and his spouse, who is not a practising Christian, for keeping the bibles that she had inherited from her father.

Corruption does wonders

President Islam Karimov’s regime has for many years fought against independent religious activity of citizens, convicting tens of thousands of people and reprising Muslims in the most brutal way.

Efforts the regime is making to root out religion from the hearts of citizens can only be compared to the scales of its corruption.

Sometimes these two interests come together and those who are out of favour of corrupt officials people are found “guilty” of religious extremism, missionary work and so on.

In the case of Shinkin and his wife too there were people interested in their conviction.

His father wrote a complaint to Uzbek Senator Svetlana Artykova, a former spokesperson for the Prosecutor General’s Office, that he was being revenged through his son for disclosing corruption in the administration of the Avloniy neighbourhood in the Gospitalnyy residential area in Tashkent.

The chairwoman of the neighbourhood, Gulbahor Mukimova, and other local officials were involved in embezzlement and forgery.

Shortly after his complaint, the Mirabad district police took an interest in violations in the neighbourhood while Shinkin became a witness in the embezzlement case.

During an interrogation, an investigator called Egamberdiyev warned him that he should quit his initial testimony or else his relatives would get in trouble.

Troubles started on 3 April 2011 at 6 o’clock in the morning when policemen stormed the flat of Shinkin’s son to search it and seized the books.

“They [policemen] staged a sham raid piling up literary books and topping them with children’s bible, the history of Jesus Christ and blank DVD-discs. Then they photographed and seized them after writing a record of evidence,” Vladimir Shinkin wrote.

The following day there was a trial. Mirabad district judge Begzot Ermatov ordered that all the confiscated books, magazines and computer discs be destroyed.

"This means that he is destroying Bibles which represent the sacred primary source of one of the world's major religions,” Vladimir Shinkin wrote in his complaint.

Fight against freedom

Felix Corley, an expert of the Forum 18 religious news agency, has said that the Uzbek authorities want to control all spheres of life - political, social, religious and leisure spheres - everything.

Pressure is put on all religious establishments, particularly on Muslim ones though they did go as far as destroying the Koran, Corley said.

But many Uzbek court decisions also ruled to destroy Islamic literature that had not been sanctioned by the authorities.

“It is nonsense that the Uzbek state TV reported in August that people could read only the books published by the Uzbek state,” Corley says.

This means that he is destroying Bibles which represent the sacred primary source of one of the world's major religions

Vladimir Shinkin

Or people are ordered to read religious books if they are members of certain registered organisation.

“And if a man is an atheist and simply wants to study religious books, it turns out that he does not have the right to do that,” Corley continues.

Among the items confiscated from a Christian, there was the Hollywood-made film The Passion of the Christ, which had been shown in cinemas in Tashkent.

The situation is ridiculous, but, as Corley puts it, it is not a laughing matter for him and many victims of the regime.

The Christian world is not responding to the destruction of the Bible in Uzbekistan, Corley believes, because they understand that the persecution of Christians is part of President Islam Karimov’s general policy against any manifestation of freedom in the country.