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Uzbekistan Christians “Increasingly Persecuted”, Report Claims

Bos News Life

“President [Islam] Karimov is very afraid of losing his job,” said Esther Amado, Open Doors coordinator for Central Asia . “For this reason, he deals harshly with everyone whom he considers a threat to his regime.” She said that “many congregations” have lost their registration while “worship services have more frequently been interrupted by the police. Not only church leaders, but everyone present in the meeting is taken to the police station to be interrogated.”

The interrogations have “a more aggressive character now than before the violent crushing of the demonstrations” in Andijan, Open Doors claimed. “Before this happened, Christians were put under pressure to stop attending church services. Now they are pushed to renounce their faith and to turn back to Islam…If a Christian does not give in, chances are high that he will lose his job,” Amando claimed.

The government pressure comes often “on top” of “pressure from relatives” who “ostracize a Christian family member” as “Uzbek should remain a Muslim,” she added.

“EXTREME PRESSURE”

Police officers “sometimes exert extreme pressure on Christians,” said Open Doors. Kural Bekjanov, 19, was held in prison “and tortured for one month this summer.” Fellow inmates allegedly “also beat him terribly when they found out about his Christian faith. Bekjanov’s physical and mental recovery may take years.”

His family “has serious financial difficulties” because they had to pay for Bekjanov’s food when he was detained and for medical treatment since his release, Open Doors claimed.

It is also increasingly difficult for journalists to report on religious persecution and other human rights abuses, suggested the United States this week. The US funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty network lost its accreditation after one of its correspondents, Nosir Zokir, was sentenced to six months in prison “for his reporting on events preceding the massacre,” the US Government said in an editorial on Voice Of America (VOA).

MEDIA BANNED

Other media organizations, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) were reportedly forced to close their bureaus because of harassment of staff members. The London-based Instituted for War and Peace Reporting’s Uzbek-language website was blocked and contributors were apparently forced to flee the country.

The Uzbek government has denied human rights abuses and also said its forces did not fire on unarmed demonstrators.

Amid the difficulties, Open Doors said is has been supporting Uzbek Christians with seminars called “Standing Strong Through the Storm” (SSTS). “During these seminars, participants study the biblical view on persecution and listen to testimonies of Christians who have remained faithful in spite of their hardships.”

PERSECUTION SEMINARS

The seminar also teaches Uzbek Christians to be prepared for interrogations. “We have added a juridical component to the seminars,” said Amado. “Many police officers ‘bought’ their job or got it because they knew the right people. They shout many threats and state that people have broken the law, but they can’t even indicate the article they refer to. That is why it is very useful if Christians know the law when they are under such pressure.”

Uzbeks still convert to Christianity despite the difficulties, but in fewer numbers than was previously the case, she claimed “We have had a time of great revival, but now the underground church is growing more slowly than before. Many Christians are keeping a low profile and evangelize less because of the higher risks. Muslims are also more cautious.before they contact Christians and inquire about their faith.”

An estimated 200 million Christians worldwide “suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ,” with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination and alienation, said. Open Doors, which this year celebrated 50 years of supporting persecuted Christians. (With BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos and Santosh Digal).