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Christians blocked from burying dead in state cemeteries in Uzbekistan

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Christians blocked from burying dead in state cemeteries in Uzbekistan

Country/Region: Central Asia, Uzbekistan

Christian families in Uzbekistan are being blocked from burying their loved ones in state-owned cemeteries as local officials bow to pressure from Muslim leaders.

There have been three known cases so far this year. The family of Gayrat Buriyev, who died on 9 April, was told by officials:

The cemetery is state property, but is under the management of the local mosque, and if the imam is against the burial then it will not take place.

A cemetery in Uzbekistan
A cemetery in Uzbekistan
Sludge G / CC BY-SA 2.0

Gayrat’s family, who live in a village near the capital, Tashkent, wanted to bury him in the local cemetery where other relatives had been laid to rest. The local imam prevented them from doing so, saying that he was acting in accordance with sharia law, despite Uzbekistan’s officially being a secular state. He was also said to have cursed the family for becoming Christians, calling them “unclean and defiled infidels”.

They took the matter to the local authorities, but officials refused to intervene, siding with the imam. The family felt they had little choice but to bury Gayrat in the village’s Russian Orthodox cemetery, as per the Head of the District Administration’s advice.

Elsewhere, in Muynak in the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic, a local imam blocked the burial in the state-owned cemetery of two Christian women who died in February.

Kudaybergen Uteniyazov, Head of Muynak District Administration, said, “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 18 February, 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. Under pressure from the local imam, who had warned him that a Christian could not be buried at the cemetery, he refused.

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”.

Aygul’s family kept her body in their home for four days before, on 22 February, local officials broke in and demanded that the burial take place in the Russian Orthodox cemetery.

The family of Bibiazhar Zhanabergenova, who died on 28 February, was also instructed to bury her in the Russian Orthodox graveyard.

Protestant Christians in Karakalpakstan had previously asked for their own plot of land for burials but received no response. Since then, all Protestant churches in the region have lost their registration, so it is not possible for them to seek an official plot now. No non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox groups are allowed to gain state registration in Karakalpakstan.     

Burial is an important matter in Central Asian culture; 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.

Source: Forum 18

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