Wednesday, October 25, 2017

RLPB 429. Uzbekistan: Christians persecuted and churches tightly controlled

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 429 | Wed 25 Oct 2017

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International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
Sunday 5 or 12 November, 2017
See: Critical Prayer Requests
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by Anneta Vyssotskaia

UZBEKISTAN: CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED SEVERELY AND CHURCHES TIGHTLY CONTROLLED

Uzbekistan is a country located in the central part of Central Asia with an ancient history and a rich culture -- the famous Great Silk Road goes through its territory. Uzbekistan was once a republic of the Soviet Union, but in 1991 it declared its independence. During the Soviet period, atheism was part of the state policy and all religions were severely persecuted. Islam quickly became the dominant religion (93%) in Uzbekistan, while Christians only make up to 5% of the population. Russian Orthodox Christians make up about 4% and their number is constantly decreasing with the emigration of the Russian population. Protestant Christians are less than 1% and are represented by various evangelical churches. The number of the Uzbek Christians from a Muslim background is unknown but is constantly growing.

For many years Uzbekistan has been the country where Christians experience the severest persecution compared with other Central Asian countries. It is ranked 16th in the World Watch List 2017 of 50 countries where Christians experience persecution for their faith. The most persecuted group are Christians with a Muslim background as they are considered traitors bringing shame on  their Muslim families. All forms of pressure are used to make them turn back to Islam, from persuasion to home detention and beatings. Christian women from Muslim background are especially vulnerable as they are expected to submit totally to their parents and husbands. They are persecuted severely by their family if their Christian faith becomes known. Persecution is worst in rural areas. Christians with a Muslim background usually worship in house churches, often changing meeting places because of the danger of police raids. Sometimes they have to meet just one to one.

Registered churches and especially their leaders also experience a lot of pressure and are under unceasing state control. Churches can be infiltrated by spies and church services are kept under surveillance. Police raids on believers' homes, confiscation of literature and digital devices, detention, interrogation and fines are commonplace. Christian education is restricted. There is only one registered Protestant seminary in Uzbekistan, located in the capital city, Tashkent, with a very small number of students. Christians can lose their jobs or businesses can be closed if their faith becomes known. There are reports of police torture when Christians are detained and interrogated.

Following the death of the former President Islam Karimov in September 2016, Shavkat Mirziyoyev became the new President. There were expectations that the new President might bring more religious freedom. The government tries to give the impression of a positive change. In June 2017 there was an official presentation of the Uzbek translation of the Bible, attended by representatives of the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches. At a high level meeting of the Central Asia-UN Dialogue in Asghabat in June 2017, Uzbekistan's Minister of Foreign Affairs said: 'In Uzbekistan the concept of religious tolerance has grown into the atmosphere of religious harmony and openness. In other words, our unity is in diversity.' Unfortunately, in reality no religious tolerance and harmony is observable and the situation with persecution remains very much the same.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will enable all Christians to stay strong and continue spreading the Gospel.

* Christians with a Muslim background will be protected and strengthened by the Lord.

* the State authorities will show more real tolerance and human rights will prevail.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS SEVERELY PRESECUTED AND CHURCHES TIGHTLY CONTROLLED IN UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan, formerly a republic of the Soviet Union, is in the middle of Central Asia. During the Soviet era, atheism was state policy and religion was severely persecuted. Islam is 93% of the population and Christians just 5%. Compared with other Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan is  where Christians are most severely persecuted. Those suffering most are Christians from a Muslim background. Churches are infiltrated by spies and police raid believers' homes.  There is only one small Protestant seminary in Uzbekistan. Christians can lose their livelihood if their faith becomes known. The new government tries to give the impression of positive change, claiming there is an atmosphere of religious harmony and openness. Unfortunately, in reality this is not observable and persecution remains much the same. Please pray for Uzbekistan and its Christians.

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Anneta Vyssotskaia, a Russian who is a religious liberty expert on Russia and Central Asia, is the guest contributor to the RLPB ministry with this and the next bulletin, filling for Elizabeth Kendal while she is on leave.