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Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 206 | Wed 17 Apr 2013
UZBEKISTAN: PROTESTANTS HARASSED AND BULLIED WITH IMPUNITY
by Elizabeth Kendal
Uzbekistan, a predominantly Muslim former Soviet Republic in Central Asia, has been ruled by Islam Karimov since 1989. Karimov continues to operate according to Communist Soviet paradigms and society is heavily regulated. The main threats to the State come from Hizb-ut-Tahrir revolutionaries and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) jihadists. IMU was a local body founded in 1996 with the specific aim of overthrowing the Karimov regime and establishing an Islamic state. However, in a February 2013 report for the Centre for International and Strategic Analysis, Dr Syed Manzar Abbas Zaidi explains that the IMU has 'morphed into a lethal non-Arab al-Qaeda entity'. By 1998 government crackdowns had forced the IMU to flee into northern Afghanistan where it set up military training camps in alliance with the Taliban. When US forces invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 the Uzbeks found sanctuary in Pakistan's tribal regions. Because most had university degrees and experience in the Soviet military they rose quickly as leaders. Today, Uzbeks comprise up to 90 percent of the many thousands of foreign fighters in Pakistan and hold some of the most significant leadership positions in the international jihadist movement. Aided by sympathetic Afghan and Pakistani officials, they travel the region freely, disguised as merchants. So the threat to the Uzbekistan regime is real and not a mere pretext for repression as the West often claims. Meanwhile the violent and indiscriminate nature of the regime's repression only encourages more Uzbeks to seek solutions in revolutionary and jihadist Islam.
Uzbekistan's religion laws mandate that all religious groups must be registered with the government. However, registration is exceedingly difficult to get, designed as it is to weed out small, non-traditional groups. Whilst the main targets of the laws are seditious Islamic cells, it suits the authorities that Protestant Christians are swept up in the same net. Though they are a totally peaceful tiny minority (0.3 percent), the authorities despise the Protestants, regarding them as a threat to social cohesion (due to conversions, particularly from Islam).
On 11 April Forum 18 reported that on 4 February the Tashkent Regional Court upheld a decision to levy massive fines against four Protestants: Gennady Chen, Vladimir Zhikhar, Aleksandr Lokshev and Gennady Timoyev. Each was fined 50 times the minimum monthly wage for leading unregistered worship. All religious literature is under tight state censorship and Protestant believers found in possession of Christian literature are routinely charged with illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious material. Fines are often exorbitant. On 10 February police raided the home of local Protestant Jamila Jurakulova. Found in possession of seven Christian books and ten DVDs, Jamila was fined 50 times the minimum monthly salary. Samarkand Regional Court recently upheld the decision. On 22 March a Criminal Court fined local Protestant couple Ashraf and Nargisa Ashurov 100 times the minimum monthly wage after officers from the Anti-Terrorism Division found religious literature stored in the house they had been renting from a foreign Christian. Their baby-sitter (not a believer) was present during the raid and was also fined.
Forum 18 also reported that on Sunday morning 24 March security officials raided a small Baptist fellowship in Mubarek, abusing worshippers as 'backward-looking fanatics who drag society down'. The eight adults and four children present in the home of local Baptist pastor Vladimir Khanyukov were photographed and are now awaiting decisions regarding their punishment. Rasulon Ahmedov, a member of a registered (legal) Baptist church in the Ferghana Valley, was recently fined 20 times the minimum monthly wage for discussing his religious beliefs with his neighbour. The court deemed that was 'missionary activity', which is illegal in Uzbekistan.
Many prosperous Western Christians might rather risk their lives and become martyrs for Christ than risk their life savings and become destitute for him. In Uzbekistan, witness, worship and possession of Christian literature can lead to impoverishment. It is a cruel and unjust strategy that in truth has nothing to do with security and everything to do with making Protestant Christianity undesirable, both to its members and to the masses. Despite this, Uzbekistan's Protestant and independent churches are growing - and 'God is not ashamed to be called their God' (from Hebrews 11:16 ESV).
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT -
* the Holy Spirit will forge unity and solidarity amongst believers so that in assisting one another their love will be a witness to others.
* Christ will build his Church, raising up leaders filled with the Spirit and marked by grace, maturity and wisdom to shepherd the flock through difficult days.
* God the Father will comfort and sustain Uzbek Christian prisoner Tohar Haydarov (30). [Reported to police after he left Islam, Tohar Haydarov was then framed and sentenced in March 2010 to ten years in prison on false drug trafficking charges.]
* God, who rules heaven and earth, will raise up political and civic leaders in Uzbekistan who will establish justice and liberty. [Karimov has poor health and the next elections are in 2015.]
SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
PROTESTANTS IN UZBEKISTAN HARASSED AND BULLIED
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov rules according to Communist Soviet methods, so society is heavily regulated. Revolutionary and jihadist Islam are real threats to his regime. Religious laws primarily targeting these Islamic groups are also used to persecute Protestant Christians whom the regime considers are threatening social cohesion. Small house churches are routinely raided by hostile security police. Protestants charged with breaching the religion law by possessing Christian literature, witnessing or worshipping without registration face exorbitant fines often 50 and 100 times the minimum monthly wage. These fines leave them destitute. This persecution has nothing to do with state security and everything to do with making Protestant Christianity undesirable to its members and to the masses. Despite this, Uzbekistan's Protestant and independent churches are growing. Please pray for them.
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This RLPB was written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (AEA RLC) by Elizabeth Kendal, an international religious liberty analyst and advocate, and a member of the AEA RLC team.
Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
'Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today' (Deror Books,
Dec. 2012) http://turnbackthebattle.com/thebook.html
Elizabeth is Adjunct Research Fellow in the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at the Melbourne School of Theology. She is Director of Advocacy for Christian Faith & Freedom based in Canberra, Australia.
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