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Special Report by ICC
12/7/2012 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Authorities in Uzbekistan are increasingly raiding homes of Christians, confiscating Christian literature, and imposing heavy fines on believers for meeting to worship or study the Bible.
Most recently, Tashkent Region’s Bostanlyk District Criminal Court ordered a Christian, identified as Vadim Shim who belongs to an unregistered Protestant church, to pay a fine of $4,000 (100 times the minimum monthly wage) for allegedly illegally distributing Christian literature, Norway-based Forum 18 reported on Nov. 29. The court also ordered that Christian literature – including three Bibles and 30 New Testaments – found with Shim be destroyed.
Similarly, three Protestant Christians in Samarkand Region were given one fine of 50 times the minimum monthly wage and two fines of 10 times the minimum monthly wage for allegedly distributing religious literature. The accused, however, said their real “offense” is to meet with others to read the Bible and pray, the news agency reported.
The government of the former Soviet nation appears to be aggressively targeting Protestant Christians. As if not satisfied with persecuting Christians living in the country, they sought to extradite a refugee, identified as Makset Djabbarbergenov, from Kazakhstan. He is a former Uzbek house church pastor and faced charges that carried a maximum 15-year jail term, according to Worthy News. The pastor fled to Kazakhstan in 2007 after police raided his home in the Uzbek city of Nukus for holding an “illegal religious meeting.” He was charged with forming a banned religious organization, Isa-Masih (Jesus Messiah). Djabbarbergenov was recently released and is now seeking asylum in Europe.
Uzbek authorities continue to deal with Christians ruthlessly. On Sept. 11, officials from Navoi Regional Court confiscated household items – dining table, refrigerator, piano and DVD disk player – from the house of a Christian couple, identified as Artur and Irina Alpayev. The couple, from a local unregistered Baptist Church, had refused to pay a fine imposed on them for “illegally” keeping Christian books in their private flat. The officials had been instructed by their seniors to “leave only one spoon, one mug and one mattress for each member of the family.” The couple have five children.
That same month, Police in the Almalyk area of Tashkent broke into the home of a 74-year-old disabled Protestant woman, identified as Nina Cashina, and confiscated 25 Christian books, including 7 Bibles and 3 Russian New Testaments. Officials then broke into a home of Cashina’s neighbor, identified only as Gulya, who is also disabled. Police handcuffed Gulya and dragged her to their car, and beat her. Officials took the two women to a police station, where Gulya suffered an epileptic attack. The officials didn’t allow doctors to take her to hospital.
Officials are showing zero tolerance to free expression of faith. Forum 18 reported in September that a Baptist Christian, identified as Viktor Kotov from Kuvasai in Fergana Region of eastern Uzbekistan, was fined for singing Christian songs. He was fined after police launched an “anti-terror” operation to raid his home on a Sunday morning, when he and his family and a friend were singing Christian songs. He was convicted of engaging in “illegal religious activity.”
In August, state-controlled television announced that only two publishers were allowed to publish religious books in the nation – without identifying the publishers or stating which religions the publishers cover.
Christians from registered churches are also being persecuted. On 28 August, Tashkent Region’s Bostanlyk District Criminal Court fined four members of an officially registered Baptist Church. The four were raided when they had gone to the village of Yangikurgan in Bostanlyk District with their families and other church members on a holiday. Officials confiscated their Christian song-books, personal notebooks and diaries.
While Uzbekistan’s 1998 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations is highly repressive, authorities often violate other laws and initiate arbitrary actions on mostly Christian groups they see as “illegal.”
Corey Bailey, Regional Manager for Asia at International Christian Concern said, “Uzbekistan has repeatedly shown intolerance for religious freedom within its borders. We rejoice that the Uzbek pastor, Makset Djabbarbergenov, was not extradited back to Uzbekistan. Had this occurred he would have undoubtedly had his rights violated in a country that has systematically violated the freedom of religion and belief of countless citizens.”