Tuesday, September 1, 2009

020. Uzbekistan: imprisonment after church service raided

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 020 | Tue 01 Sep 2009

UZBEKISTAN: IMPRISONMENT AFTER CHURCH SERVICE RAIDED

(By Anneta Vyssotskaia)

As Uzbekistan authorities are preparing for the celebration of Independence Day and the 220th anniversary of the capital city Tashkent on 1 September, they want to ensure everything is 'in proper order'. The city is checked for homeless people, street kids and people without local registration, who are temporarily removed from the city. Hundreds of policemen are mopping up in search of 'unwanted elements' as part of a preventative anti-terror operation 'Tozalash-Antiterror'. The families of political prisoners and religious groups are under special surveillance. Although this control never stops, it increases significantly before various important events.

Possibly as part of this pre-festive clean-up, some 20 anti-terror police raided the registered Donam Protestant church in Tashkent on 23 August during the regular Sunday service, claiming it was an 'unauthorised' religious meeting. Threatened by the police officers the church members, including pregnant women, children, elderly and sick people were not allowed to leave the church grounds for several hours. They were forced to give their names and addresses, which created confusion and panic. A few hours later, the church pastor, Vladimir Tyo, and several other church members were arrested and Christian literature and videos were confiscated. Although the church leaders presented all the necessary documents proving the church's registered status this fact was ignored by the police. The next day the court sentenced the pastor and three other church workers to 15 days' imprisonment as well as destruction of the confiscated materials. Although police raids on churches are common in Uzbekistan, this was the first case of a raid on a registered church during worship and the arrest of its leaders -- an unprecedented violation of human rights. Twenty-eight church members signed a letter of protest about the unlawful actions of the authorities to Uzbekistan's Interior Minister, the Tashkent Justice Department and President Islam Karimov.

Uzbekistan is tenth on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries that are the worst persecutors of Christians. Earlier this year a deacon of a registered Baptist church in Tashkent, Pavel Nenno, was sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment for his ministry to street kids -- he gave food and taught Bible to them. Pentecostal pastor Dmitry Shestakov is serving his third year of a four-year imprisonment sentence for illegal religious activities. The authorities give amnesty twice a year when hundreds of criminals are released from prison: before Independence Day and Constitution Day. Shestakov's friends asked for amnesty for him in 2007 but their request was refused. Numerous Christians in Uzbekistan are sentenced to pay huge fines for being God's witnesses, worshipping God together or having Christian literature. Christians in Uzbekistan live under constant threat of persecution.

As fire melts pieces of gold together so persecution brings churches to greater unity. Living under persecution, the Christians in Uzbekistan receive many important lessons from the Lord and are growing in faith and God's discipline. The church leaders regularly come together for prayer and fasting. The churches are also learning about their rights and how to stand up for them together, which results in the growth of unity.

Read more about the raid on the Donam church on http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1341 .

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY:

* that God will change the attitude of the Uzbekistan Government to Protestant churches so it will stop seeing Christians as enemies and persecuting them.

* for all the Christians in Uzbekistan to be bold and courageous despite persecution and to continue being faithful witnesses of Christ to the community.

* for those who are in prison, especially for Pastor Dmitry Shestakov and believers from the Donam church, along with their families and churches.

* that God will turn the situation in the Donam church for his glory and the church members will not be fearful of this situation but feel blessed to be persecuted for Christ.

'Many are those who are my vigorous enemies; those who hate me without reason are numerous. Those who repay my good with evil slander me when I pursue what is good. O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Saviour. (Psalm 38:19-22, NIV)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IMPRISONMENT AFTER CHURCH SERVICE RAIDED IN UZBEKISTAN

On 23 August some 20 anti-terror police officers raided the registered Donam Protestant church in Tashkent during their regular Sunday service, claiming it was 'unauthorised'. The church members were threatened and not allowed to leave for several hours and forced to give their names and addresses. The pastor and three church workers were sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment and confiscated Christian literature was destroyed. The church members wrote a letter of protest to Uzbekistan's Interior Minister, the Tashkent Justice Department and President Islam Karimov. The pastor of another church, Dmitry Shestakov, is serving the third year of a four-year imprisonment for illegal religious activities. Please pray for Christians in Uzbekistan who live under constant threat of persecution. Persecution results in more unity amongst Christian churches as they learn to stand together in fellowship.