Uzbekistan, a Muslim-majority country (around 93%) and officially a secular state, is in transition following the unexpected death of President Islam Karimov in 2016. The 78-year-old had been in power for 27 years. Under his leadership, Uzbekistan was one of the strictest Central Asian republics and a very harsh and difficult place for the country’s small Christian population. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who previously served as prime minister, was elected as Karimov’s successor.
After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Christianity enjoyed a brief period of growth and freedom in Uzbekistan. However, strict religion laws gradually introduced since 1998 have made it very difficult for churches to function. Churches are required to register with the authorities but the stringent registration requirements are impossible for some to meet. Raids on Christian meetings and homes, especially those involving unregistered church activity, are common. These often involve threats and physical violence; arrest and detention can follow. Protestant groups are often labelled as “extremists” by the government and converts from Islam regularly face pressure from their families and communities. All evangelism is banned. Persecution is especially severe in the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan where it is even illegal to own a Bible.
Christians accused of storing, importing or distributing Christian resources are fined heavily. In one case last year, Uzbek pastor, Latif, a father of four, was arrested after police raided his house. Five other Christian homes were also searched. Pastor Latif, who suffers from poor health, was detained for 16 days in a very cold room and beaten by police. He was fined 3,500,000 soms, around 25 times the minimum monthly wage. Christian materials are often confiscated and destroyed.
Lift up in prayer Christians in Uzbekistan who must tread very carefully because of their faith. Ask God to provide for all those who have been issued with heavy fines, and that those who have suffered physically and emotionally from threats, beatings and imprisonment will be healed. Pray for church leaders whose health suffers because of the pressures they face. Pray that President Mirziyoyev will ease restrictions on religious liberty.