Uzbekistan tightens grip on unregistered churches with series of raids

By March 21, 2012

Uzbekistan (MNN) — Uzbekistan has earned its spot as 7th on the Open Doors World Watch List for the persecuted church and is proving its keep.

Basic religious rights have been defied multiple times in Uzbekistan over the last couple of months. According to Forum 18, last month police raided an unregistered church and confiscated literature, pianos, and church property. A week later, the church pastor was fined $3,421 — a cost of 100 times the minimum monthly wage.

Just a few days before the raid on the church, a woman's home was raided. She was fined 20 times the minimum monthly wage, and her Christian books were handed over to Samarakand Regional Muslim Board.

Just a couple of weeks later, a Baptist congregation in the southern town of Mubarek was raided and will be fined.

These types of raids are not new to Uzbek Christians, and especially not to members of unregistered churches. Alleged "expert analyses" are routinely used by authorities to confiscate religious material, Forum 18 reports.

The number of serious raids and fines that took place in recent weeks has some concerned. "It really does seem like Uzbekistan is beginning to step up its campaign against unregistered churches and groups of any kind," says Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association. "Of course we're watching to see what kind of trickle-down this has on even the registered churches."

Griffith agrees that raids like this could be indicators of worse persecution to come. Already, pastors have been arrested all across Central Asia.

The number of basic rights that have been denied is disconcerting. Uzbekistan and surrounding, oppressive nations continue to bring concern to human rights watch groups.

Despite the influx of persecution and more likely to come, the church is standing strong. SGA has to be discrete about what they've seen, as far as church growth is concerned. But Griffith does say this: "You could look on a global perspective: typically, the more they try to stamp the church out, the more it grows."

Pray for boldness for church members, especially those who are younger. Griffith says many older members of the church remember well what it was like to live under the oppressive Soviet regime, but younger Uzbeks don't. Pray for church growth despite persecution.

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