Wednesday, January 19, 2011

091. Central Asia: legislation impacts religious liberty

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 091 | Wed 19 Jan 2011


By Anneta Vyssotskaia, a religious liberty advocate with a particular
concern for and involvement in Russia and the former USSR.

There have been many encouraging answers to prayer for the Church in Central Asia: the unity amongst the Protestant churches is growing; there are many testimonies about a growing interest in the Good News amongst Muslims in Central Asian countries; many churches have a missionary vision for reaching out to the neighbouring Muslim countries with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, the churches in Central Asia still need daily prayer support amidst continuing restrictions and persecution.


In 2010, the churches were raided by police, numerous Christians were detained and fined, while some were sentenced to short term imprisonment. Pentecostal pastor Dmitry Shestakov served his fourth year in prison and is due to be released this month. A Baptist believer, Tohar Haydarov, was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in a labour camp on fabricated drug charges in March 2010. The most restrictive situation remains in the Karakalpakastan region where none of the churches have been able to register. The authorities insist that individual believers must get permission even to have a Bible. A decision on new religious laws is possible in 2011, bringing even more restrictions on religious freedom in Uzbekistan.


Religious freedom is under the strict control of the authorities in Turkmenistan. Only a small number of churches are registered, while many others have been unsuccessfully trying to get registration for years. None of the ethnic Turkmen churches was registered. The unregistered churches meet secretly in homes, often changing meeting places. Police regularly raid the houses of believers, confiscating and destroying Christian literature. Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev was sentenced to four years in prison and forced medical treatment under a false accusation of drug addiction in October 2010 and is now in a labour camp that has extremely tough conditions. He has not been allowed to have a Bible since his arrest in August. He has diabetes and has been denied necessary medication. He was excluded from the recent prisoner amnesty.


Religious freedom has been steadily deteriorating in Azerbaijan over the last few years. Since changes to the Religious Law were adopted in May 2009 the churches have faced problems with re-registration. Many have been denied registration and unregistered religious activities are illegal. Believers have been interrogated and fined when their gatherings have been raided by police. In October 2010 police raided the house where 80 members of an unregistered Baptist church were celebrating Harvest Festival. Four of them were arrested and sentenced to five days in prison. On 11 December an Adventist church was raided by police and its members were interrogated and fined heavily. New amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences are expected to be discussed in the parliament and if approved would impose even heavier fines for unregistered religious activities.


In Kyrgyzstan 2010 was a year of political riots and ethnic clashes, which affected the church as well. The church leaders hope that the highly restrictive religious law brought in by the former president Bakiev will be radically changed under the new government and restored at least to the level the country had before Bakiev. The churches are actively participating in helping those who lost their homes and businesses as a result of ethnic clashes between Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks in Osh.


Kazakhstan currently chairs the OSCE and proclaims religious tolerance. The Christian community is concerned that after 2010 the legislation will be changed imposing more restrictions on religious activities. While the majority of religious groups worship without government interference, the activities of unregistered minority groups, including some evangelical churches, are considered illegal. Some pastors and church members were fined for unregistered 'missionary' activities. In March 2010 new missionary visa regulations came into force that caused growing difficulties for some religious communities.


Almost all registered churches in Tajikistan were able to re-register in accordance with the legal requirements. However, the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists was denied registration as a union of churches. That limits their rights, e.g. to open new churches. Also some smaller new churches faced problems with registration. The majority of the population continue to live in conditions of extreme poverty, unemployment and frequent electricity blackouts. Many labour migrants from Tajikistan and elsewhere in Central Asia live and work in Russia and become more open to the Gospel there than in their home countries. =


* the growing unity amongst the churches, the growing interest in the gospel amongst Muslims, and the missionary vision of the churches in Central Asia.


* God to sustain those who are in prison: Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev who was jailed for four years and forced to undergo anti-drug medical treatment, but denied his diabetes medication; Tohar Haydarov in Uzbekistan who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in March 2010; Pastor Dmitry Shestakov now due for release from his four-year imprisonment, and for his subsequent care and protection.

* positive changes in religious legislation in Central Asian countries.

* the churches in Central Asia to be filled with God's Spirit of power and wisdom to preach the Good News to local Muslims and to reach out to the neighbouring Muslim countries.

* labour migrants from Central Asia, that many of them will be saved where they go away to work and bring the gospel back to their home countries.



In 2010 the churches in Central Asia continued to experience harassment, religious restrictions and persecution. They request prayer for positive changes to legislation that will permit greater religious freedom in their countries. Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev was jailed for four years with forced
anti-drug medical treatment, and denied his diabetes medication. Tohar Haydarov was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Pastor Dmitry Shestakov is due to be released from his four-year imprisonment this month and will need subsequent care and protection. Meanwhile, labour migrants from Central Asia can hear the gospel where they go away to work and bring the
Good News back to their home countries. The Central Asia churches are experiencing greater unity and a desire to reach out to local and neighbouring Muslims. Please pray for religious freedom and outreach.