Published: 00:01 GMT Daylight Time - Friday 21 May 2010
Uzbekistan: Sunday worship service of large church raided by five government agencies simultaneously
A morning service at the Tashkent City Church of Christ, one of the largest and most active churches in the Uzbek capital, was raided by several government agencies during morning worship on Sunday 16 May. Eight members of the church were arrested and have been punished with a mixture of fines and short prison sentences, although they do not believe they have broken any law. Meanwhile Uzbekistan’s Christians fear that the real aim of the raid is to close down the church.
First the police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police, followed by the Tax Inspectorate, Fire Brigade, and Sanitary-Epidemiological Service, converged on the church and stayed for five hours. The police had arrived without a warrant, but filmed everyone who was present, including the children’s classes, and confiscated literature, computers and money from the offering. They took passport details and car number-plates of the 500 adults present as well as the names and addresses of the children.
After the raid the church was officially sealed by the police, preventing the congregation from having further access, and the Fire Brigade cut off the electricity.
The church has been legally registered since 1999, has carefully followed official procedures, and has never before been accused of breaching any regulations.
Eight members of the church were held overnight and then instructed to attend a court hearing. Three people, including the assistant pastor, Artur Avanesyan, were sentenced to 15 days imprisonment and immediately detained. The five others were fined between five and 80 times the minimum monthly wage. The judge also ordered that the computers confiscated from the church should be handed over to the state.
Christians could not believe the unjust verdicts and the way the trials were conducted, one observer stating, "Everyone was shocked at the verdict because the defendants proved in court that they were innocent and there were so many violations of legal procedure.”
Christians are planning to appeal to the President of Uzbekistan and other authorities. There is grave concern that the true aim of the raid is to close the church down completely. A Christian from an unregistered church in Tashkent commented to Barnabas Fund how shocked she was to hear of such an attack on a legally registered church: “If they do that to the Church of Christ, what will become of the rest of us?”
Growing persecution of Protestants
Uzbekistan has a small Christian minority with Muslims making up about 77% of the population. In recent years there has been growing persecution of Protestant Christians, with raids on church services, short jail sentences and huge fines becoming commonplace. In October 2009 Christian leaders in Tashkent were given heavy fines and prison sentences for running a Christian children’s camp. In February 2010 13 members of a small church in Tashkent were fined and literature, including Bibles, was confiscated. In March 2010 a birthday party in Tashkent was raided and 10 women from a registered church were given hefty fines. In April 2010, in the southern Surkhandarya Region, two Protestants were given short prison sentences for engaging in evangelism. On 10 April 2010 a Christian youth conference was raided and those attending were taken to the police station, where the police photographed them and took their fingerprints. On 12 April 2010 a church in Tashkent, whose members had been providing food for homeless people, was raided.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, comments:
“Christians in Uzbekistan are amongst the most courageous anywhere in the world, as they boldly continue with their ministry and witness despite growing pressure and persecution. We at Barnabas Fund are privileged to assist and strengthen them in a number of practical ways. Please remember them in your prayers, and give as the Lord leads you.”
Barnabas Fund helps Christians in Uzbekistan, including new believers, through income-generation projects, medical needs, wells, winter feeding programmes, orphan care, Christian training conferences and seminars, support for full-time Christian workers and in other ways.
If you can help to strengthen our faithful, persecuted brothers and sisters in Uzbekistan, please click to donate online using our secure server (Please quote project reference 57-776 Uzbekistan General Fund).
- Pray that the authorities will not try to close the Tashkent City Church of Christ but will let the church continue to function without further harassment.
- Pray for encouragement for the congregation of the church, especially the children, so that they will stay strong in their faith despite the pressure they are being placed under and the threats made against them.
- Pray for protection for the assistant pastor and two church members who are currently serving prison sentences.
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