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UZBEKISTAN: CHRISTIANS SUFFER AS RESTRICTIONS TIGHTEN

July 13, 2005

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 335

Uzbekistan, a Central Asian former Soviet state, is over 90 percent
Muslim. It has a significant Islamic history and identity, and its
capital, Tashkent, is the Islamic stronghold of Central Asia. After
the break up of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)
Islamic groups, especially Saudis, poured into the newly
independent Central Asian republics to build mosques and madrassas
as well as flood them with Qurans and Wahhabi literature. Today the
fertile and well-populated Ferghana Valley is home to a growing
number of Wahhabi Islamists and militants. The Islamic Movement of
Uzbekistan (IMU) has close ties to al-Qaeda, and its stated aim is
to establish an Islamic state across Central Asia. Also Hizb ut-
Tahrir, which combines Wahhabi doctrine with Leninist strategy and
tactics, threatens to destabilise not only Uzbekistan but all
Central Asia.

Whilst Uzbekistan\'s government is \'democratic\', it still uses
Soviet-style corruption and repression to shore up elites and keep
its grip on power. The government has also adopted harsh measures
to counter the Islamist threat. Unfortunately these measures also
affect the Protestant Christian minority. Uzbekistan revised its
religion laws in 1998 and became one of the world\'s worst religious
liberty abusers. However in August 1999, Uzbekistan released
several Christian pastors imprisoned on false charges. This was due
to international pressure, in particular from the US through its
Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, which links aid and trade
to religious liberty. But after IMU insurgency in 2000, the
government further tightened the reins on unregistered religious
groups. Thousands of Muslims allegedly associated with Wahhabis,
IMU or Hizb ut-Tahrir and their off-shoots were subsequently
arrested, creating considerable distress, hardship and anger in
the community.

Two political ideologies are presently competing for the allegiance
of Uzbekistan\'s poor, struggling, nominal Muslims: (1) the Islamist
system; or (2) the current \'democratic\' yet repressive, Soviet-
style system - the miserable status-quo. The people of Uzbekistan
need what the Church offers: the gospel of redemption and the
Spirit who transforms. Yet the Church in Uzbekistan is small
(1.3%), repressed and persecuted. It is almost impossible for
churches to get government registration, even when they meet all
the requirements. Unregistered religious activity is illegal and
Protestant leaders are regularly harassed and fined by local
authorities. Christians who have converted out of Islam face
persecution from Muslim society. They are condemned and punished by
unofficial community courts, and receive no help or redress from
the authorities. All \'missionary work\' and Christian witness is
illegal.

Islamic terror and insurgency have escalated in Uzbekistan in
recent years. The first suicide bombings were in March 2004. As a
countermeasure, the government has intensified its repression of
religion. A violent religious crackdown started the day after the
12-13 May crisis in Andijan. But as authorities try to rid the land
of destabilising, politically activist Islamist literature, they
are also confiscating Bibles and other Christian literature. On 5
July, the last legal Protestant church in the autonomous
Karakalpakstan republic in north-western Uzbekistan, the Nukus-
based Emmanuel Full Gospel Church, lost its appeal against closure.
An official of Karakalpakstan\'s Religious Affairs Committee told
religious liberty monitors Forum 18, \'Cases have come to light
where Christians from this church have promoted their views outside
the premises occupied by the religious organisation. This is not
allowed under Uzbek law.\' The Justice Ministry said the closure
relates to a general meeting of church members held in a house
200km north of Nukus, which the church claims was legal.

Forum 18 also reports that Pastors Nikolai Shevchenko and Sergei
Khripunov of Bethany Protestant Church in Tashkent could face
prison after being charged again with illegal teaching of religion.
Kural Bekjanov (19) of Tashkent, arrested on 14 June, has been
tortured in prison on account of his Christian faith, by police,
prison guards and Wahhabis in his cell. His mother, Gulya, on
visiting the prison heard his screams and begged the officials to
stop. Her son was thin and frail, with broken ribs and bloodied
fingers and legs.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* Kural Bekjanov (19) being tortured in prison for his faith, that
God will intervene and protect him, heal and restore him,
strengthen his faith, preserve his heart, comfort his family, and
grant him justice.

\'The Lord looked and was displeased to find there was no justice.
He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed.
So he himself stepped in to save them with his mighty power and
justice.\' Isaiah 59:15b,16

* the pastors of unregistered (thus illegal) Christian
fellowships, that they will have great wisdom and courage as
they continue to preach, teach and lead the Church.

* Christian converts from Islam, that they will know the personal,
sustaining presence of their loving Saviour Redeemer in the
midst of rejection and persecution, and will be effective lights
of grace, love, peace and salvation to those around them.

* President Islam Karimov to pursue the political and economic
reforms needed to ease social tensions, increasing liberty,
prosperity and justice, and freeing up the Church to go out in
the power of the Spirit to be light and salt and yeast for all
Uzbekistan.

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE:
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CHRISTIANS IN UZBEKISTAN SUFFER AS RESTRICTIONS TIGHTEN

Uzbekistan, a Central Asian former Soviet state which is 90%
Muslim, has a serious problem with organised political and militant
Islam. Several Islamist groups aim to create an Islamic state
across Central Asia. When Islamic militancy escalated in the 1990s,
the government responded with more control and repression of
religion, without differentiating between political, militant Islam
and all other religion. Uzbekistan\'s tiny Christian minority (1.3%,
mostly Protestant) suffers as a result. Churches cannot register,
legal churches are harassed and closed, witness is banned, Bibles
are confiscated, pastors are charged with illegally teaching
religion, Christians are charged with illegally meeting together.
Torture is routine in Uzbek prisons. Christian converts from Islam
are persecuted by Muslim society. Please pray for political reform
and religious liberty in Uzbekistan and for Christ\'s suffering
Church there.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.
Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.