Crackdown on registered churches

By August 19, 2009

Kyrgyzstan
(MNN) — Authorities are cracking down on religious minorities. They say churches must collect signatures
from 200 members in order to register, and even if churches are registered,
they may only gather in the city of their registration. 

"Before
this last presidential election in 2005, when the current president came to
power, churches in Kyrgyzstan seemed to have very little difficulty," said Joel
Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association. "They
seemed to be able to meet for worship, and maybe hold children's ministries
without too much difficulty.  But in the
last couple of years after this election took place, we began to see the
authorities take a much tougher line."

Some
churches have convictions against registration in the first place. If they do try to register, the process can
be nearly impossible. The government
requires them to collect 200 signatures from adult citizen members — an
insurmountable requirement for churches that are not even allowed to meet. 

"They're purposely wanting to make it
very difficult for new places of worship to be registered," Griffith said. "So if they institute an impossible
requirement like that, then they effectively have been able to put their thumb
down on any new group of believers that would want to come together and form a
church."

Griffith
said Forum 18 asked one official for an explanation of the signature
policy. The official's response, he
explained, is an example of the "game-playing" government officials are doing.

"One
of the state agency officials said, ‘Why should religious communities such as
the Presbyterians try to open a branch in every corner of the country? Why
can't they come together in one place, where they would not have a problem
gathering 200 people?'" Griffith recounted. "Now of course, logic says if you have a
group that lives in one part of the country, how in the world could you try to
bring somebody from the other side of the country to gather in one place to try
to worship!"

There's
still hope, however, that Parliament could change parts of the new religion
law, "especially
controversial parts of that law, such as the restriction on sharing literature. Then regarding this high threshold, apparently there is still some argument going on
within the Kyrgyz Parliament about whether to amend this," Griffith said. 

SGA
partners with the 64 registered Baptist churches in Kyrgyzstan, which have a
membership of over 3,000 people. 
According to the CIA, about 5.4 million people live in the country, and
75 percent of them are Muslim. Most of
the rest are Russian Orthodox. 

Griffith
urged Christians to pray that God will protect Christians, soften the hearts of the
officials and open doors to continue spreading the Gospel. 

"When you look back over history,
the more pressure they try to apply on the churches, the more the churches grow," Griffith said. "We have hope and trust that
the Lord's going to continue to build His church in those countries and that they
are going to continue to see growth, even if they have to function underground,
as many of them do. They're going to
continue proclaiming the Gospel and worshipping the Lord no matter what." 

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