Orthodox Christian Natalya Pleshakova who is disabled from childhood and her mother have been severely beaten up and tried in Tashkent.
Pleshakova, 26, a disabled from childhood, will forever remember her day on 6 August.
At about 4 o’clock in the morning the gate of their house on Ok Yul Street in Tashkent was broken and six strong men with sticks and clubs stormed into their yard.
Natalya who is on the crutches walked towards them hardly managing to cover herself. When she asked “Who are you?” she received a first blow and she was dragged to the kitchen.
What did police look for?
What did six huge men who turned the house upside down need? One of them looked for house documents while others collected icons, bibles, religious calendars and prayer books.
All this happened under the very eyes of a beat officer who filmed everything on his mobile phone, trying to catch Natalya or her mother Valentina Semenovna avoid hits or answer curses and insults.
Natalya, in handcuffs, manages to sneak into her room to make calls to police and an orthodox church. When they saw her do that they seized her phone and beat her up again.
All this had lasted for four hours when a Damas minibus arrived with several officers with assault rifles in camouflage uniforms and balaclavas. Their leader said he was “Aziz from police”. The women decided they were saved but not yet.
They were beaten up in front of neighbours who were called up as witnesses to represent a neighbourhood committee.
Charges of missionary activities
The events unfolded in office 303 at Tashkent’s Mirabad district police department where Natalya and her mother were taken.
There Natalya was offered to convert to Islam for its allegedly being better than Christianity, since it allows a man to have four wives. The young woman refused.
She then was threatened and beaten. Frightened and exhausted, Natalya was then forced to write a tender saying that she had stored 125 religious books and items, and “Aziz from police” dictated her titles which she heard for the first time.
“Aziz from police” said that there was nothing wrong in writing that it all belonged to a dead grandmother, and the knackered women were set free at about two in the morning.
Natalya called ambulance and was taken to hospital where her injuries were documented.
The following day the women went to the district prosecutor’s office which refused to accept their complaint. Soon afterwards “Aziz from police” and the beat officer drove them to a court trial and the women were handed over to two officers.
Judge B Ermatov spent only five minutes on “hearing the case”, the women said, and ordered them to go home without even reading out his ruling. Only a week later did they receive the ruling.
The judge decided that the women had resisted police and had stored the banned religious literature at home and conducted missionary activities. He fined them 20 minimum monthly wages each.
Natalya’s father died in the 1990s, and her brother lost sanity after a traffic accident. Her mother Valentina, who worked as a cashier at a barber’s shop, had to deal with all this.
When her children got sick, Natalya could not help her mother or do housework, so Valentina had to give up her job to look after her children.
The family became impoverished, as Natalya’s disability allowance is only 100,000 sums or $35 a month.
This money is not enough for essentials, let alone medicines Natalya badly needs. Now she has problems with her kidneys.
The women started frequenting Tashkent’s Assumption cathedral, where Valentina tries to be useful.
She washes dead bodies and reads the psalms. When they run short of money, Valentina, 54, begs outside the cathedral.
What is behind this horror?
The women said that someone wanted to appropriate a plot of land on which their house stands.
They have another property which costs tens of thousands of dollars.
The women who has never seen such money fear their house will be seized, especially after sanitary inspectors came to inspect their houses for the first time in decades. They may face fines.
Why should they be charged with being part of a sect being, or forced to change their faith?
Orthodox Christians were never persecuted in Uzbekistan in the past. On the contrary, President Islam Karimov personally ordered the expansion of the Assumption cathedral.
The cathedral opened the country’s first seminary, and there are now more Orthodox parishes in Uzbekistan than in tsarist times.
The Tashkent and Uzbekistan eparchy is against sects, and its Zhivoye Slovo and Vostok Svyshe publications prove it.
The current metropolitan Vikentiy knows the women very well and allocated money for Natalya’s treatment. He also complained to the State Religious Affairs Committee about the incident.