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Uzbekistan tightens grip on Christians

By August 10, 2012

Uzbekistan (MNN) — Uzbekistan
appears to be taking the repression of Christians one step further.

Joel
Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association explains, "It seems the authorities are going into private homes
and actually confiscating religious books from these homes during the
raids they make; and they're also threatening fines."

The case stems from a series of recent
raids, as reported by Forum 18 News. Based on the details of the case, Forum 18 began questioning the
apparent violations of due legal process,
denials of legal representation, misrepresentation defendant pleas, untimely verdicts,
and so-called "expert analyses" that confused Protestant books with
Jehovah's Witness books.

Griffith notes, "Police
confiscated one Bible in the Uzbek language, and then there was a Bible in the
Russian language that was confiscated. Then, from one Protestant home, reportedly,
a book by John Bunyan was confiscated." It was during that raid, Griffith says, when "police
allegedly said that it's prohibited to have such books at home, that they
were going to be sent to the Religious Affairs Committee of the government, and that
the owner of the books would be fined."

Griffith goes on to say that the alarm bells
began ringing because "this latest report on the private homes being
raided and books being confiscated is certainly a step up from what they'd been
doing previously."

The alleged violations of due
process would seem to be unconstitutional, which is the same word used to
defend authorities' actions, according to Forum 18. The
judge in one of the cases claimed that the defendant was "engaged in
anti-constitutional activity and is a member of Jehovah's Witnesses, which was
confirmed by the literature confiscated from him."

Wrong on that last count, it turns
out. But Griffith says this is more
insidious. "Previously,
they had been raiding summer camps and trying to shut down churches here and
there and stopping public witnessing. But going into private homes is certainly
a new twist."

The Baptist in that case filed an
immediate appeal, which has yet to be heard.
"There
was a fine imposed for possessing religious literature. There was a Baptist
fined. He was given the equivalent of 40 times the minimum monthly salary. That's
about $1300."

Griffith says fear is initially what
led to these vaguely-worded criminal codes. "The secular governments of these countries had been concerned
about radical Islam. The thought was that if they're going to crack down on
radical Islam for the appearance of fairness then, they needed to crack down on
everybody."

However, as the countries in the
former Soviet Bloc became more Muslim, "No matter what a constitution will say
in a lot of these countries, the authorities pretty much end up doing what they
want,"says Griffith.

Meanwhile, police have continued
their raids and confiscations. "We
know that the churches there are going to continue to proclaim the Gospel, no
matter what the personal risk they have to themselves," says Griffith. The Body of Christ in places like Uzbekistan
need advocates. "Obviously, the western governments will continue
to protest and intervene in cases like these. But we as believers here in the West,
above all, need to pray for our brothers and sisters there and come alongside and
support them however we can."

Uzbekistan is #7 on the Open Doors World
Watch List of countries known for the persecution of Christians. Pray
for pastors trying to lead their churches with limited resources. Pray for courage for Muslim-background believers
who experience great pressure from family and society.

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