By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)-- Mourning Christians in several parts of Uzbekistan are wondering where they can bury their loved ones after authorities refused to allow funerals in state-owned cemeteries amid pressure from Muslim leaders, rights investigators say.
Advocacy group Forum 18 said there have been three known cases so far this year, including the family of Protestant Christian Gayrat Buriyev, who died last month.
Gayrat’s family, who live in a village near the capital Tashkent, was reportedly told by local authorities that while the "cemetery is state property" it is "under management of the local mosque" adding that "if the imam is against the burial then it will not take place."
The local imam reportedly prevented Christians from laying their loved ones to rest, saying he was acting in accordance with "Sharia", or Islamic, law, despite Uzbekistan officially being a secular state.
He was also said to have cursed the family for becoming Christians, calling them “unclean and defiled infidels”. Forum 18 said local officials have refused to intervene, siding with the imam.
The family eventually buried Gayrat in the village’s Russian Orthodox cemetery, following an advise from the District Administration.
Elsewhere, in the town of Muynak in Uzbekistan's Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic, a local imam reportedly blocked the burial in the state-owned cemetery of two Protestant Christian women who died in February.
Kudaybergen Uteniyazov, Head of Muynak District Administration, said in published remarks that, "Those who accepted other religions may not be buried in the same cemetery with Muslims."
The family of Aygul Khamidullayeva, who died of cancer aged 50 on February 18, wanted to bury her in the local cemetery alongside her relatives. They asked the chief of Muynak District Urban Development Department, which manages the town’s cemeteries, for a plot of land, Forum 18 said.
He allegedly refused amid pressure from the local imam, who had warned him that a Christian could not be buried at the cemetery.
Adding to the grieving family’s distress, the imam warned people not to participate in the burial and to boycott Christians and their families, saying that “there is no place among the Muslims for locals who became Christians," Forum 18 News Service reported.
Christians said Aygul’s family kept her body in their home for four days before till February 22 when local officials broke in and demanded that the burial take place in the Russian Orthodox cemetery.
The family of Bibiazhar Zhanabergenova, who died on February 28 aged 66, was also instructed to bury her in the Russian Orthodox graveyard, according to investigators familiar with the case.
Protestant Christians in Karakalpakstan had previously asked for their own plot of land for burials but received no response, Forum 18 said.
Since then, all Protestant churches in the region have lost their registration, Christians say, complicating efforts to seek an official plot. No non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox groups are allowed to gain state registration in Karakalpakstan, according to Forum 18 investigators.
Burial is an important matter in Central Asian culture, observers say. Families of those denied burial in the local cemetery or without wide community participation are treated as social outcasts.
Russian Orthodox graveyards are not considered suitable by ethnic Uzbeks and Karakalpaks who regard them as belonging to a foreign community.
Uzbekistan's human rights Ombudsperson's Office has declined to say whether it will support efforts to solve the burial problems.
Government officials did not comment on the cases.
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, who has dominated the leadership since 1989, has been under international pressure to improve political and religious rights.
Critics say Karimov takes a ruthlessly authoritarian approach to all forms of opposition in the Central Asian, former Soviet, nation. Karimov says he is tackling extremism, including from Islamic militants, but local Christians suggest his allies have extended that harsh policy to especially growing Christian groups and non-traditional churches.
(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since May 2004).
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