Tuesday, June 9, 2015

RLPB 313. Uzbekistan: no religion without permission

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 313 | Wed 10 Jun 2015

UZBEKISTAN: NO RELIGION WITHOUT PERMISSION
By Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge 
On the morning of 8 May, four Protestants from various churches were travelling together by car when they were stopped at the checkpoint between Samarkand Region and Navoi Region. It seems that Navoi police had been informed that the Protestants would be arriving in town that morning and were waiting for them. According to rights group Forum 18, the driver, Murot Turdiyev, who is known to police because of his Christian activities, is under constant police surveillance. The police inspected the men's documents, but found no fault. They then searched the car, but again, found no fault. When the police then demanded the men open their bags and pockets, Turdiyev called for two witnesses, fearing the police might be seeking to plant false evidence. The police then demanded the men write statements about their travels, detailing whom they have met and what they have discussed. The Christians refused. After more than three hours at the checkpoint, the men were put into a police car and taken to Karmana District Police Station where they were each interrogated, intimidated and threatened. Turdiyev, who seemed to be singled out for the harshest treatment, was punched in the abdomen and strangled by two officers until he lost consciousness. The four believers were released that night after almost ten hours of detention. Uzbek Protestants expressed concerns to Forum 18 that the Karmana Police may have prepared administrative cases against the four men. Whilst the police denied this, they confirmed that an investigation is under way.

Fearing police brutality, torture and detention, Guljahon Kuzebayeva, a Protestant who is wanted by police for talking to her family members about her Christian faith, remains in hiding almost a year after police raided her home. On 23 May police delivered an official summons to Kuzebayeva's house, ordering her to present herself to the Karshi Police. Protestants told Forum 18 they believe the police have opened a case against Kuzebayeva under Administrative Code Articles 240 and 241, which ban teaching religious beliefs without training or permission.

Whilst Protestants have long suffered harassment and intimidation in Uzbekistan, the situation has deteriorated since August 2014 when the state enacted the law on Prevention of Violations of the Law. The Prevention Law is aimed at preventing all exercise of religion without state permission. The law empowers state bodies, committees and local district councils (mahallas) to enforce religion laws, and requires them to report those they suspect might be guilty of religious crimes. These crimes include 'teaching' religion without training or permission, or storing or disseminating religious materials without permission. Furthermore, when a Christian is investigated for 'prevention measures', their employer or educational institution and mahalla are usually informed, inviting further persecution.

Forum 18 reports that on 10 February a Tashkent court fined Ilmira Ishanova and her two sons for 'illegally' storing Christian literature and materials in their flat.
500 cmy (som) note,
featuring Turko-Mongol Muslim
conqueror Timur (Tamerlane)
who is buried in Samarkand.
Timur decimated Christian
communities throughout
Central Asia and Mesopotamia
through the latter part of the14th C.
On 2 March another Tashkent court fined four members of the Yusupov family for 'illegally' storing Christian religious literature and materials in their home. On 23 March a court in Navoi Region fined Dmitri and Svetlana Butov for 'illegally' storing Christian literature in their home. Fines vary from painful to totally unaffordable. On 17 April police summonsed Murodjon Rakhimov to the local mahalla. When Rakhimov refused to write a statement against his church, he and his wife Gulchohra were summonsed to appear before the police who are now preparing a case against them. In March and April at least three Protestants were imprisoned for between 7 and 15 days for breaches of oppressive religion laws. One of them, Doniyor Akhedov, was arrested on 16 March almost immediately after he handed a gospel leaflet to a passer-by. Along with being detained for his 'illegal missionary activity', Akhedov was also issued a huge fine, which he is refusing to pay.

Uzbekistan is a secular state, but religion is tightly controlled. Christians are a mere 0.75 percent of Uzbekistan's population -- about half of them are Orthodox and the rest are predominantly Protestant. Whilst nearly 14 percent of Uzbek nationals identify as having 'no religion', some 85 percent are Muslim (predominantly Sunni). Following global trends, Uzbekistan's Muslims are being radicalised and as radicalisation advances, so too does Muslim intolerance of Christians, especially those who witness to Muslims. The Islamic revolutionary group Hizbut Tahrir is active in Uzbekistan. Additionally, hundreds of Uzbeks are fighting with the al-Qaeda affiliate Jaysh al-Fateh in Idlib, Syria. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU, based in Afghanistan) has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS). Uzbekistan clearly has grounds to be seriously concerned about 'extremism'. Instead of helping, the West's Cold War stance just ensures the authorities will view Protestant Christianity (which they regard as Western) with suspicion and hostility.

[Extra background: 'Why Andijan Changed Everything', by E. Kendal (for WEA RLC) 23 March 2007.]

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* give Uzbekistan's Christians, especially pastors and evangelists, great wisdom as they seek to navigate the increasingly hostile and difficult environment; may the Holy Spirit guide them as they strive to grow and witness whist being 'wise as serpents and innocent as doves'. 'Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.' (Jesus, in Matthew 10:16 ESV)

* forge solidarity between Orthodox and Protestant denominations, both locally and internationally, that believers will be a blessing to each other through testing times. 'Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.' (1 John 4:11 ESV)

* raise up workers with the necessary language and technical skills for Gospel radio, satellite and internet ministries for ministry in increasingly repressive Central Asia; may Jehovah-jireh, the Lord our provider, provide all their needs.

* work in mysterious ways to restore openness and bring relief to Uzbekistan's persecuted Protestants, praying for Uzbek President Islam Karimov, his regional ally Vladimir Putin and Uzbekistan's reform-minded Muslims and praying for improvements in human rights and international relations. May the Lord enable a breakthrough in Uzbekistan.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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NO RELIGION WITHOUT PERMISSION IN UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan has enacted a Prevention Law aimed at preventing all practice of religion without state permission. The law empowers state bodies, committees and district councils to enforce religion laws and requires them to report those they suspect might be guilty of  religious crimes, such as 'teaching' religion or storing religious materials without permission. Persecution against Protestants has escalated as police raids, administrative detentions and massive fines are issued to believers for simply sharing their faith or possessing Christian materials. Police brutality and torture are endemic. On 8 May Murot Turdiyev (a Protestant) was beaten and then strangled by police until he lost consciousness. Another Protestant, Guljahon Kuzebayeva, is so afraid that she has been in hiding since police raided her home 12 months ago. Please pray for Uzbekistan and its Christians.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).