During August Barnabas Fund received reports from Uzbekistan indicating increasing persecution of Protestant church leaders and their families, many of whom have now gone into hiding. This follows a surge of anti-Christian activity in Uzbekistan over several months. It is believed that this is linked with the 15th anniversary of Uzbekistan's independence, today, 1st September.
A well-known church leader and evangelist, Sergey Hripunov, was given a week to leave the country with his wife and children. This is the second incident of deportation of a church leader from Uzbekistan in a month. The leader of a church started by Sergey Hripunov was given only 24 hours to leave the country with his wife and two children, the youngest of whom was only two weeks old. They were given no reason for the order, nor was there a court order accompanying it.
Around 24th August a group of Christians were arrested in the town of Termez by the Security Services. Some of the Christians, including women and children, were beaten. The following day some of the group were released, but six men were kept under arrest. Officials have as yet given no information as to why the Christians were arrested. One of the men detained was a Ukraine national, called Yuri Stefanko, visiting some friends in Uzbekistan.
In another incident in August a group of Uzbek Christians, mostly young men but also including a pregnant woman, were arrested in Surhandarya. The men were beaten and detained in jail.
Earlier in August the government introduced an increase to fines for unregistered religious activity. Anyone caught sharing their faith will now face fines between 200 and 600 times the minimum monthly salary. This is an increase on the current fines which stand at 50 to 70 times the minimum monthly salary. According to some reports their church minister will also face a fine. If a person continues to share their faith and is caught a second time they, and their church minister also, will face a prison sentence of three to eight years.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, comments:
"In the context of increasing general repression in Uzbekistan, Christian leaders and their families are being targeted as if they were violent criminals to be restrained in the run-up to independence celebrations. I ask Christians around the world to pray that the Uzbek authorities will recognise that the peaceable activities of Christian believers are no threat, but rather a source of positive help to society."