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Central Asia: Growing Religious Oppression

January 9, 2008

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 460 | Wed 09 Jan 2008


By Anneta Vyssotskaia

During 2007 there were numerous reports of restriction and
persecution of Christians in Central Asia. However, these may be
only the tip of the iceberg of the real situation regarding
persecution of the Christians living and worshipping God in the
predominantly Islamic environment. Most of what would be considered
persecution in Western countries is just part of daily life for
every Christian there; persecution comes from family, neighbours,
Muslim religious leaders and the government. Most of these cases
may never become generally known. Religious legislation in these
countries is undergoing changes that restrict worship and
evangelism even more. Despite this, the number of Christians is
constantly growing.

In AZERBAIJAN Christians are not allowed to worship together in
unregistered churches; numbers of churches\' attempts to get
officially registered have been frustrated for years. A Baptist
pastor, Zair Balayev, was arrested for illegal religious activities
and \'resistance to police\' during a home church service and
sentenced to two years in prison. Other pastors are threatened with
arrest. Any work with children and young people is strictly
prohibited by the authorities. More changes in religious
legislation are expected.

In KAZAKHSTAN the government proclaims freedom and its tolerance of
all religion. However, in reality the preference is for traditional
Sunni Islam, the Russian Orthodox Church and Judaism while other
\'non-traditional\' religious groups face difficulties and sometimes
persecution. A large group of unregistered Baptist churches was
harassed. Its members were fined and part of their property was
confiscated as punishment for illegal church meetings. In August
2007 a large Presbyterian church was targeted by the National
Security Committee police.

KYRGYZSTAN can be considered an oasis of religious tolerance in the
Central Asian region. However, the government is becoming more and
more aware of the growing intolerance among the local Muslim
population towards Christian missionary activities. Converts are
considered to be traitors to Islam and are threatened,
excommunicated and sometimes severely persecuted by their families
and neighbours. The government prefers not to interfere where
possible and advises Christians not to provoke religious hatred.

In TAJIKISTAN the government insists on the secular nature of the
state but Islamic traditions are very strong in the villages and
there is a growing Islamic revival in the cities. Christianity is
represented mainly by the Russian Orthodox Church and a small but
growing number of Protestants. The local population reacts very
negatively towards any missionary activities among Tajiks, with
converts being considered traitors to the Islamic faith and are
treated very badly. In some cases police threatened converts from
Islam. Changes in legislation are bringing more restrictions on
religious activities. Only groups with not less than 400 members
(800 in the big cities) will be officially recognised, compared
with the present 10. The religious education of children aged under
seven will be prohibited. The Christian churches have developed
their responses to the new law.

TURKMENISTAN became a police state with almost no freedom for its
citizens during the rule of dictator Niyazov. After his death there
were hopes of positive change but the situation with religious
freedom only worsened. The Christians tell of a new wave of
repression that especially affects churches consisting of ethnic
Turkmen and other traditionally Islamic nationalities. The police
raid the churches and the houses of believers, arresting church
leaders, confiscating Christian literature and threatening the
believers. Often the police collaborate with the local Islamic
leaders.

In UZBEKISTAN the government seeks to prohibit any missionary or
unregistered religious activities in the country. Christian
literature is confiscated and Christians are fined. Changes in the
existing religious legislation are expected which will make it even
more repressive. At personal risk, Christian lawyers faithfully
defend the rights of the persecuted Christians.

PLEASE PRAY ESPECIALLY -

* thanking God for his continued enabling of the Christians in
Central Asia and continuing growth of the churches in that
region.

* asking him to protect and strengthen all the Christians and
especially the Christian leaders with their families and those
Christians who are converts from Islam.

* thanking God for the Christian lawyers who defend the rights of
the persecuted Christians, praying for their protection, wisdom
and success in their work.

\'Deliver me from my enemies, O my God, protect me from those who
rise up against me, deliver me from those who work evil, and save
me from bloodthirsty men. For, lo, they lie in wait for my life;
fierce men band themselves against me.\' (Psalm 59:1-3 RSV)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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GROWING RELIGIOUS OPPRESSION IN CENTRAL ASIA

Christians are experiencing growing persecution in the
predominantly Muslim Central Asian countries. The changing
religious legislation is bringing more restrictions on missionary
activities and church worship. Police raid the churches, detaining
and interrogating believers, confiscating Christian literature and
arresting and fining church leaders. Despite this, the number of
Christians is constantly growing. Christian lawyers faithfully
defend the believers\' rights under the threat of being persecuted
themselves. Please pray that God will protect and empower Central
Asian believers, their leaders and advocates, and that he will move
powerfully amongst their oppressors and the authorities.

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RLP guest writer Anneta Vyssotskaia serves on the WEA Religious
Liberty Commission. Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and
writer, is currently on annual leave.

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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.