Uzbekistan: Hot Winter for Christians

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Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 462 | Wed 23 Jan 2008

A Christian lawyer in Uzbekistan recently wrote: 'This winter is
very cold in Uzbekistan: snow and frosts -- in some areas of the
country it is -25C. But for us Christians the beginning of the year
has been very hot. We are people who are running in order to

Among the former Soviet countries of the Central Asian region,
Uzbekistan is a persecution hotspot for evangelical Christians and
other religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim country. The
Uzbek authorities pursue a policy of continuing restrictions and
persecution aimed at eliminating any missionary activity in the
country. They want to keep all the religious life of their citizens
under their control.

The Constitution of Uzbekistan proclaims separation of religious
organisations from the state and their equality before the law.
However, the Law on Religion prohibits holding any religious
activities beyond the premises of registered religious
organisations, with strict Criminal Code penalties. Pastors of
Protestant churches are officially obliged to report their plans to
the State Religious Committee. The situation is even harder for
unregistered religious groups. All their activities like prayer
meetings or Bible study groups are automatically 'illegal' and
strictly suppressed with the people involved in them --
particularly the church leaders -- considered to be criminals.
These churches continue to apply for registration but without

For Christians this means police regularly raid church services,
Christian literature is confiscated, they are fined and, in the
worst instances, imprisoned. The presence of the secret service
agents at the services as well as videotaping and listening bugs
are common phenomena inherited from the Soviet era. The officials
want Christians to live in constant fear and avoid sharing their
faith with others.

Of the five people serving long-term prison sentences in 2007 for
illegal religious activities, two (Baptist Christians) were freed
under an amnesty in December. Among those still imprisoned is a
Pentecostal Pastor Dmitrii Shestakov who received a four-year
sentence for 'religious extremism' and 'forming an illegal
religious organisation'. Some Christians were sentenced to shorter
terms or suspended sentences. With such rare exceptions most
'official' persecution remains unknown to the rest of the world.
However, the Christians continue to worship God and be his
witnesses in a hostile society.

In Tashkent, a big Grace Presbyterian centre with many members was
recently closed. The church building was confiscated and criminal
cases were started against the pastor and other church leaders.
Straight after that an article appeared in both Russian and Uzbek --
'Beware of Religious Narcotic: Whose Brains is "Grace" Poisoning?'
The article is full of religious hatred and propaganda against
Protestant Christians. The Christians see in this situation a
calculated thrust that spells danger for other registered churches
with property the government could confiscate. The people who are
greedy to get hold of church buildings may have a personal interest
in campaigns against Christians.

Changes in the Law on Religion are expected soon, perhaps bringing
even more restrictions and persecution to Christians and other
minority religious groups. The positive side is that the solidarity
of Protestant churches is growing under persecution and Christians
are learning more about their legal rights and how to defend them.

To the Christians in Uzbekistan every day may seem like a survival
marathon but they know that at the end of the race there is a great
reward. In the midst of the persecution from the earthly
authorities and many dangers they continue to be the faithful
servants of their King and to fulfil his Great Commandment.


* thanking God for the commitment and faithfulness of the
Christians in Uzbekistan who constantly live with the danger of
persecution and imprisonment for their faithfulness, asking him
to continue to strengthen them and to protect their families.

* that the Uzbekistan government will stop its policy of
persecuting the religious minorities and will allow religious
freedom as stated in the Constitution of Uzbekistan.

* with thanksgiving for the growing solidarity of Protestant
churches and for the Christian lawyers who help to defend the
rights of the Christians.

* that there will be freedom to share the Gospel in Uzbekistan and
that the people in Central Asia may know Jesus Christ as their
personal Saviour.

'That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without
rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom
ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life;
that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in
vain, neither laboured in vain' (Phil 2:15,16 KJV)




Predominantly Muslim Uzbekistan is a persecution hotspot for its
Protestant Christians and other religious minorities. The Uzbek
authorities' continuing restrictions are aimed at keeping
Christians living in constant fear and stopping internal outreach.
Any religious activity not held on the premises of a registered
religious organisation is 'illegal'. Thus it is even harder for
religious groups who are unable to get registered as all their
activities are strictly suppressed as illegal and the participants
treated as criminals. Police regularly raid church services,
Christian literature is destroyed and believers are fined and even
imprisoned. Church buildings are being confiscated. Even more
restrictive laws are expected soon. However the solidarity of
Protestant churches is growing under persecution. Please pray that
God will strengthen and protect Christians in Uzbekistan.


RLP guest writer Anneta Vyssotskaia serves on the WEA Religious
Liberty Commission. Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and
writer, is currently on annual leave.

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