Monday, August 13, 2012

Uzbekistan tightens grip on Christians

Uzbek man (File footage courtesy of Open Doors USA)

Uzbekistan (MNN) ―Uzbekistan appears to be taking the repression of Christians one step further.

Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association explains, "It seems the authorities are going into private homes and actually confiscating religious books from these homes during the raids they make; and they're also threatening fines."

The case stems from a series of recent raids, as reported by Forum 18 News. Based on the details of the case, Forum 18 began questioning the apparent violations of due legal process, denials of legal representation, misrepresentation defendant pleas, untimely verdicts, and so-called "expert analyses" that confused Protestant books with Jehovah's Witness books.

Griffith notes, "Police confiscated one Bible in the Uzbek language, and then there was a Bible in the Russian language that was confiscated. Then, from one Protestant home, reportedly, a book by John Bunyan was confiscated." It was during that raid, Griffith says, when "police allegedly said that it's prohibited to have such books at home, that they were going to be sent to the Religious Affairs Committee of the government, and that the owner of the books would be fined."

Griffith goes on to say that the alarm bells began ringing because "this latest report on the private homes being raided and books being confiscated is certainly a step up from what they'd been doing previously."

The alleged violations of due process would seem to be unconstitutional, which is the same word used to defend authorities' actions, according to Forum 18. The judge in one of the cases claimed that the defendant was "engaged in anti-constitutional activity and is a member of Jehovah's Witnesses, which was confirmed by the literature confiscated from him."

Wrong on that last count, it turns out. But Griffith says this is more insidious. "Previously, they had been raiding summer camps and trying to shut down churches here and there and stopping public witnessing. But going into private homes is certainly a new twist."

The Baptist in that case filed an immediate appeal, which has yet to be heard. "There was a fine imposed for possessing religious literature. There was a Baptist fined. He was given the equivalent of 40 times the minimum monthly salary. That's about $1300."

Griffith says fear is initially what led to these vaguely-worded criminal codes. "The secular governments of these countries had been concerned about radical Islam. The thought was that if they're going to crack down on radical Islam for the appearance of fairness then, they needed to crack down on everybody."

However, as the countries in the former Soviet Bloc became more Muslim, "No matter what a constitution will say in a lot of these countries, the authorities pretty much end up doing what they want,"says Griffith.

Meanwhile, police have continued their raids and confiscations. "We know that the churches there are going to continue to proclaim the Gospel, no matter what the personal risk they have to themselves," says Griffith. The Body of Christ in places like Uzbekistan need advocates. "Obviously, the western governments will continue to protest and intervene in cases like these. 

But we as believers here in the West, above all, need to pray for our brothers and sisters there and come alongside and support them however we can."

Uzbekistan is #7 on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries known for the persecution of Christians. Pray for pastors trying to lead their churches with limited resources. Pray for courage for Muslim-background believers who experience great pressure from family and society.

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