Crisis in Uzbekistan

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May 30, 2010

For Immediate Release

The Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) express serious concern over the recent developments in Uzbekistan where a church was raided by police without a warrant, seizing property and detaining eight church members  and subsequently imposing jail terms and heavy fines on them.

On 16th May 2010, a Christian church in Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan, was raided by police, the secret police, tax inspectorate, fire Inspectors and the sanitary-epidemiological service. The 500 church members who were in the midst of the Sunday service as well as the Sunday school children were videotaped by the police. After a 5 hour search, which was carried out without a warrant, the police detained eight church members including the Assistant Pastor Artur Avanesyan. They were kept in detention for 24 hours without any food or water and were not allowed to contact their families.  Equipment including computers and printers as well as Christian literature was confiscated. Letters of permission given by parents of 392 children to attend Sunday school were among papers taken away by the police.

On May 18th the district court delivered sentenced three of the church members to 15 days imprisonment. Heavy fines were imposed on two members, equivalent of five times the minimum monthly salary (approximately US$ 110) and three members were fined almost eighty times the minimum monthly salary (approximately US$ 1,775). The church in Uzbekistan expressed shock and dismay at the harsh verdict.

Tashkent City Church of Christ is a registered church established in 1999 and was regularly scrutinized by the Tashkent Justice Department - as required by law. The church leaders expressed their concern that this incident is a clear sign that authorities are trying close down the church.

The raid on Tashkent City Church of Christ is the latest in a series of similar raids on Protestant congregations this year. There have also been several instances where Christian leaders have been convicted of various false charges.

The WEA RLC is deeply concerned about the recent raid and arrests of church members and the apparent deterioration of religious rights in Uzbekistan. We call upon the government of Uzbekistan to ensure the rights of all Uzbek citizens and call upon the world wide Christian community to stand in solidarity with the Uzbek church and pray for justice and equality for the church in Central Asia.

Godfrey Yogarajah
Executive Director - Religious Liberty Commission
World Evangleical Alliance