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Christians Under Mounting Pressure

January 26, 2007

As religious liberty for churches in Central Asia deteriorates,
some common trends are evident. Governments are increasingly
negative about Christian outreach, especially amongst the Muslim
population, and want to control it more or stop it completely.
They fear tensions may escalate where the number of Christian
converts in the local population is growing. In other instances
governments legislate to control minority religious bodies due to
concerns about the activities of Islamic groups. However as
Christians are a religious minority throughout Central Asia they
are restricted by such laws along with these Islamic and other
minority religious groups. In addition local Muslim communities
regard Muslim converts to Christianity as \'traitors\' and enemies
and persecute them in various ways.

In Uzbekistan religious liberty and persecution of Christians
worsened significantly in 2006. Its laws ban missionary work and
any unregistered religious activities. As there are few registered
churches, many Christians have to meet secretly in homes under
constant threat of arrest for illegal religious activities. Police
raids are common and often lead to Christians being arrested,
beaten and even tortured, and their literature and other Christian
material destroyed. Uzbek believers are especially persecuted under
pressure to reconvert to Islam. The law prohibits having more than
one copy of a Christian book including the Bible. (That would
indicate an intention to distribute Christian literature, a
missionary activity.) After denying visas to many foreign
missionaries the authorities found ways to deport local Uzbek
believers during 2006. The situation for the Protestant Christians
is especially hard in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan
where all the Christian churches were closed except for one Russian
Orthodox church. The Russian Orthodox Church is very supportive of
the laws banning outreach. Another serious problem Christians face
in Uzbekistan is severe discrimination in employment. The US State
Department included Uzbekistan in its annual list of countries of
special concern.

Religious freedom is better in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. However in
2006 the authorities increased their pressure on the Protestant
churches who also suffered from negative media reports. Some
Islamic leaders stir up religious hatred amongst local Muslims
against Christians. In Oshskaya a group of local Muslims broke into
and searched the house of a Protestant pastor, burning his
Christian literature. They beat him severely and threatened to kill
him if he does not leave their village. The police were present
but did not intervene. Muslim families routinely persecute members
who convert to Christianity. In 2006, planned amendments to
Kyrgyzstan\'s law on religion were discussed which would restrict
outreach especially amongst Muslims.

In Tajikistan the law allows freedom of religion but Christian
converts from Islam face the same persecution from their family
members and the Tajik community. The government cannot guarantee
protection for the Christians if they are persecuted by the Islamic
population. Most of the people still live in tremendous poverty,
especially in the villages, but the community and family members
are normally very supportive of one another. However Christians are
excluded from both relief and community support.

In Azerbaijan a new bill on religion being drafted to go to the
parliament in February 2007 is expected to propose tougher
restrictions on missionary activities and evangelism. The new law
would also make registering religious organisations more difficult.

The churches in Kazakhstan have more freedom than in other Central
Asian countries but groups for whom registering is contrary to
their beliefs get arrested and fined because their religious
activities are considered illegal.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the Christian churches will stand firm with God\'s protection and
grow amidst the growing pressure and persecution from Islamic
communities and the authorities.

* God will give wisdom to the Christians as they witness to non-
believers.

* Central Asian governments will regard Christian churches
positively and that new laws will be based on international
norms of freedom of religion and conscience; may the authorities
protect them from the unlawful behaviour of Islamic extremists.

* Christian lawyers in these countries will co-operate and stand
together in helping the churches understand their rights and
behave wisely without violating laws.

\'Lord, may all of your enemies be destroyed. But may those who love
you be like the morning sun. May they be like the sun when it
shines the brightest.\' (Judges 5:31)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS UNDER MOUNTING PRESSURE IN CENTRAL ASIA

Religious liberty for the churches in Central Asia is worsening.
Governments are increasingly negative about outreach, especially
amongst the Muslim population, and want to control it more or stop
it completely. In some instances governments legislate to control
minority religious bodies due to concern about the activities of
Islamic groups. However Christians as a religious minority are
restricted by such laws along with these Islamic and other minority
religious groups. New or revised religion laws are being
introduced for tougher control of religious groups and their
outreach. Local Muslim communities regard Muslim converts to
Christianity as \'traitors\' and enemies and persecute them in
various ways. Please pray that Christians will stand firm amidst so
many pressures.

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Anneta Vyssotskaia is an RLP guest writer. The article was edited
for length. (Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and writer,
is on 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.