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Published on 18 December, 2012

Crackdown on religious freedom continues

Central Asia (MNN) — Like the steady drip of a leaky faucet, authorities are slowly but surely draining religious freedom from Central Asia.

According to Forum 18, Kyrgyzstan leaders flew under the public radar in recent days, adding new censorship amendments to the country's Religion Law.

While authorities were unable to tell Forum 18 what censorship categories like "extremism," "separatism" and "fundamentalism" meant under the new amendments, a political analyst said it could spell trouble for Protestant Christians.

"No one will check Muslim Board or Russian orthodox literature, but faiths deemed 'non-traditional' could face problems," the analyst said.

Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association says, "It's apparently going to increase state control over religious literature and other materials. It really remains to be seen, though, exactly how this is going to be implemented and carried out.

"This is all part and parcel of something larger that's actually been going on in the so-called 'Stan' countries for some time."

Central Asia consists of five countries that once belonged to the Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. While Kyrgyzstan is tightening the collar on its Religion Law, church registration is a challenge in Kazakhstan and having more than a Bible in Uzbekistan could send you directly to jail.

"The interesting thing is: in the former Soviet days, you had atheistic Communism that was against religion in general," Griffith states. "Nowadays what we're seeing, even though the governments of these nations are…considered secular: [Islam is becoming] predominant. Because of that, other religious groups tend to receive some pressure.

"But…and this is an interesting thing to watch," Griffith continues. "The governments are also concerned about Islamic extremism and terrorist activity."

He cites last year's attacks as an example.

"That had not happened in Kazakhstan before," Griffith explains. "Even though Islam is the predominant religion inside these Central Asian countries, you're going to have the secular government scrutinizing very closely what's going on."

Could the region possibly be returning to its atheistic Soviet roots?

"It really is a mixed bag of what governments are doing and the reasons they're giving for doing i. But in the sense of religious freedom in general, the trend is not promising, and we need to make that a matter of prayer," Griffith says.

Pray for wisdom and discernment for God's people in Central Asia.

"We need to pray that as [believers] share the Gospel, the Lord would grant them open doors to be able to do that," says Griffith. "We also need to remember that God is not stopped by human governments from accomplishing His purpose."

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