Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Authorities falsify 'tax evasion' charges against a church in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan (SGA/MNN) ― In Uzbekistan, it seems that the success of an earlier case is being used as a template for an attack on another church.
Joel Griffith with the Slavic Gospel Association explains that in 2009, "There was a problem a couple of years ago where one of the children's camps that SGA helps sponsor called ‘Camp Joy' had been raided by authorities as well. In the aftermath of that, the Uzbek authorities forced the leadership of the Uzbek Baptist Union to step down."
The recent case stems from a similar move against another church in Tashkent. According to Forum 18 reports, "One of the key Baptist Churches in the capital of Tashkent was raided in the spring. A couple of weeks ago, the Uzbek authorities issued an indictment against the pastor, Konstantin Malchikovsky."
The case was filed on July 15, and a local judge heard the case July 27. Griffith notes the similarities of the charges which both sets of church leaders confronted. "They're officially accusing him of 'not paying in monies from church offerings and book sales.' Baptist leaders say these charges are completely false and have been fabricated by the authorities, and the pastor could get up to two years in jail if he's convicted."
With a charge like tax evasion, "It seems like a similar situation to what they were charging Camp Joy with as well (in 2009). Baptist leaders there are denying that such a thing took place."
The raid on the Tashkent property yielded money and tens of thousands of Christian books, as well as printing equipment. At the time, Pastor Malchikovsky and three other church members were fined between 50 and 100 times the minimum monthly wage.
The actions of the Uzbek government have prompted protest by SGA and others. The government has typically responded with what sounds like a reasonable security concern. "Basically, they're concerned about religious extremism, and they seem to try to push back against all religious groups. We do know that other churches have received similar pressure."
However, Griffith says, "It really seems to us now that this is an increasing push against Christian churches. Whether it's motivated by Islam, or whether it's by a secular government trying to keep its thumb on all religions, it's really hard to say at this point. But it does seem like Christians are getting the brunt of it."
In the meantime, SGA contacted their Congressman's office and asked him to look into this situation. They've also asked Advocates International to investigate. It's unclear what good will come of the requests. "Uzbek authorities, thus far, seem to turn a deaf ear in the fact that when Western nations step up criticism, it also seems like Uzbek authorities step up their crackdowns."
Please join us in regular intercessory prayer for Pastor Malchikovsky and evangelical churches across Uzbekistan. The Christians in this area are bold. The stronger the crackdown, says Griffith, the more creative believers get in living the Gospel. He adds that "they will probably have to recommence some of the things that they did during the Soviet period, in terms of learning how to do things more quietly."
Griffith urges a solidarity stand. "Pray for great wisdom, not only for Uzbek churches, but also for western Christians and governments as they respond, that they would respond in the right way and in such a way that it would not put our brothers and sisters there at more risk."