Local Muslims refused to allow Jyldyz to bury her elderly mother in the village cemetery, because her mother had left Islam to follow Christ. After authorities found another burial plot, Muslims, supported by police, dug up the body. Jyldyz, also a Christian, has been forced to leave the village because of aggression from her neighbours and does not know where her mother has been laid to rest. The denial of burials for converts from Islam and several religious minorities is a chronic problem in Kyrgyzstan, which is more than 80% Muslim.
The country was one of the freest of all the Central Asian republics, but the introduction of a strict Religion Law in 2009 heralded a clamp down on “unregistered” religious activity. Now every congregation must apply for registration, a laborious process which includes providing the passport details of 200 founding members. Many churches are refused approval or are simply too small to register, meaning that they find themselves functioning illegally. In 2014, the Kyrgyzstan Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for local authorities to require churches to list members for registration – in line with the Kyrgyz constitution which provides for religious freedom – although local officials have ignored the judgement in practice. Even registered groups are subject to intrusive government monitoring and children are not legally allowed to be involved in religious groups, and there are strict controls on the publication and distribution of Christian literature – all under the guise of preventing “extremism”.
Ethnic Kyrgyz who convert from Islam face fierce pressure from their families to deny their Christian faith, which is seen as betraying their Kyrgyz identity. New believers can experience violent opposition; at the recommendation of a local mullah one young woman was put into a psychiatric hospital by her parents for refusing to renounce Christianity.
Lift up in prayer believers in Kyrgyzstan as they seek to live out their faith under pressure from restrictive government regulations; give thanks that plans to further tighten restrictions on churches – which would have required them to provide 500 members to register – appear to have been shelved. Pray that believers, especially Kyrgyz converts, will know God’s strength and peace (Psalm 29:11).