Wednesday, March 17, 2010

047. Uzbekistan: pastor jailed for 10 years; persecution escalates.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 047 | Wed 17 Mar 2010


On 18 January Uzbek police arrested Baptist pastor Tohar Haydarov (27), took him to a local police station and allegedly pressured him to renounce his faith. When he refused, they reportedly planted drugs in his pocket. The police took Haydarov's keys, searched his home and reportedly found more drugs. Pastor Haydarov was subsequently detained for three days during which it is believed he was beaten and forced to sign papers. Baptists were not permitted to testify at Haydarov's trial on 4 March. On 5 March Haydarov's father (who lived with Haydarov) was found dead in their home. According to the official report, he died as a result of accidental electrocution. On 9 March Guliston City Criminal Court sentenced Pastor Tohar Haydarov to 10 years in prison on charges of drugs possession and trafficking. Not only are local Baptists adamant that Haydarov is 'a man with a pure conscience and an honest Christian', but several of Haydarov's neighbours have issued written statements testifying to his good character.

Those who have followed religious liberty in Uzbekistan for more than a decade will recognise this scenario with a profound sense of déjà vu. In 1997 after a surge of Wahhabist activity and terrorism in the volatile Fergana Valley, Uzbek authorities instigated a crackdown on 'non-traditional' and 'foreign' religious movements. In May 1998 the parliament passed a number of repressive laws on religion, complete with harsh penalties. The provision that a group must have 100 adult members before it can be registered (i.e. legalised) put registration out of the reach of most Protestant fellowships. And that was only the start of their problems.

In July1998 Protestant pastor Sergei Brazgin was fined for illegal missionary activity. In February 1999 he was charged with illegal religious activity and sentenced to two years in prison. In March 1999 Uzbek authorities arrested Pastor Rashid Turibayev (22) of the unregistered Karakalpak Full Gospel Christian Church along with two of his associates, Farkhad Yangibayev and Yasif Tarashev. To justify the arrests, the police planted narcotics on them. All three were convicted of drug charges, with Turibayev being sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labour, while his associates were sentenced to 10 years each. In May 1999 Pastor Na'il Asanov (27) was arrested. Like Turibayev, he had been seeking registration for his church. Asanov was beaten and drugs were planted on him. The regional court in Bukhara sentenced him to five years' imprisonment on charges of possessing drugs and spreading extremist ideas. On 24 June 1999 Pastor Ibrahim Yusupov of an unregistered Tashkent Christian church was sentenced to one year in prison for proselytising.

Then on 20 August 1999 President Karimov pardoned Brazgin, Turibayev, Yangibayev, Tarashev, Asanov and Yusupov and ordered their release. So what changed? The US was about to issue its first International Religious Freedom Report under the US International Freedom from Religious Persecution (IFRP) Act of October 1998 which ties US foreign policy to religious freedom. After talks with US officials, Uzbekistan (which is 83 percent Muslim) released its religious prisoners to avoid US sanctions. Whilst harassment continued, religious liberty did improve. Then in May 2005 the US hastily chastised and sanctioned Uzbekistan after it put down a violent attempted Islamist coup in Andijan in the Fergana Valley. With the US no longer considered an ally, persecution of Protestants (considered to be lackeys of the West) began to escalate. Persecution has escalated further since the global financial crisis of August 2008, an event which has largely stripped the US IFRP Act of its economic leverage.

Endemic systematic corruption threatens the state by fuelling the mass disaffection which is driving impoverished and abused Muslims into the arms of dangerous Islamists. As Uzbekistan struggles against jihadist and revolutionary Islam, it seems to be quite pleased that the global financial collapse of August 2008 has largely destroyed the US economic leverage that powered the IFRP Act, and Muslim-appeasing persecution of 'provocative' Protestants can resume with impunity.

'About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.' (Acts 12:1-3a ESV)


* intervene in Uzbekistan to defend his fledgling harassed, persecuted and besieged Church, frustrating the schemes of the wicked (Psalm 146:9) and building his Church, just as he has promised (Matthew 16:18).

* bless and multiply every 'provocative' word and deed of gospel witness so that nothing said or done for the Lord's glory will have been in vain. 'Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.' (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV)

* bless and protect Pastor Tohar Haydarov (27), now sentenced to ten years prison for a crime he did not commit; and Pastor Dmitry Shestakov (40) of the Full Gospel Church in Andijan, who was sentenced to four years prison in March 2007 for his religious activity. May they be used for God's glory, being assured of Christ's everlasting love and eternal presence (Matthew 28:20) and knowing his sustaining and all-sufficient grace (Isaiah 40:29-31; 2 Corinthians 12:9).



Baptist pastor Tohar Haydarov (27) received a ten-year jail sentence on 9 March for possessing drugs that police reportedly planted on him. Nobody who knows Haydarov doubts the charges are bogus and he is being persecuted for his witness. Back in 1999 several Protestant pastors seeking to register their churches were given long prison sentences after police reportedly 'found' drugs in their possession. Then later in 1999 Uzbekistan released these religious prisoners to avoid being sanctioned under the US International Freedom from Religious Persecution (IFRP) Act of October 1998. However, the global financial crisis has now largely destroyed the US economic leverage that powered the IFRP Act. Therefore renewed persecution is escalating against 'provocative' Protestants caught amidst Uzbekistan's struggle with jihadist and revolutionary Islam. Please pray.