Published: 10:00 GMT Standard Time - Wednesday 09 January 2013
Police arrest 80 church leaders in raid on meeting in Uzbekistan
Country/Region: Uzbekistan, Central Asia
Police detained 80 church leaders in a raid on a ministry training gathering in Uzbekistan; they confiscated Bibles and Christian books, which were later destroyed by a court order.
The raid took place at a centre in the village of Sailyk, outside the capital Tashkent, on 1 December. Officers insulted those present and took their fingerprints. Police said that people must worship “only in registered places specifically set up for religious purposes”.
Four leaders were charged with offences under the country’s harsh laws regarding religious practice, including violating the procedure for holding religious meetings, carrying out unauthorised religious activity and teaching religious beliefs without permission.
They were each fined more than a year’s salary in Uzbekistan and are appealing against the ruling.
On 24 December, a court ordered that Bibles confiscated during the raid must be destroyed, despite the fact that the Committee on the Religious Affairs of Uzbekistan officially recognises the Bible as a legitimate text.
A church leader from Tashkent told Barnabas Aid that the persecution and arrest of Christians has been on the rise since September, peaking over the Christmas season. He said that even registered churches have faced harassment and a number of pastors have been fined substantial sums.
In one incident, an unregistered house church gathering in Tuiteppa was raided on 18 November. Timur and Irina Kholmatov, the couple who live there, and another woman, Marina Khvan, were fined between 20 and 100 times the minimum monthly wage for meeting together, reading their Bibles, singing Christian songs, praying and possessing religious books without state permission.
A large amount of Christian media, including Bibles, books, leaflets and cassettes, was confiscated; a court subsequently ordered that the books and Bibles be destroyed.
Uzbekistan is officially a secular state, but a strict religion law severely limits all religious activities, making it one of the most restrictive countries for religious freedom in Central Asia. Police frequently raid all types of Christian gatherings.