By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Europe Bureau Chief
TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (Worthy News)-- An influential evangelical organization, which claims to represent over 400 million Christians worldwide, expressed concerns Tuesday, June 1, about police raids on Protestant congregations in Uzbekistan and the detention of several Christians in the former Soviet republic.
The Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the World Evangelical Alliance said it was especially concerned about a recent police raid on one of the largest Protestant churches in the capital Tashkent where police "without a warrant" detained eight church members and seized properties.
Three other church members of the Church of Christ in Tashkent eventually received 15 days imprisonment May 18 on charges that include "violating" strict religious regulations of the former Soviet nation, reported Worthy News earlier.
Five other church members received heavy fines with three of them forced to pay $ 1,775 -- about eighty times the average monthly minimum wage in the impoverished nation -- while two others were fined five $110 each, the RLC said.
The troubles began during a May 16 Sunday worship service, attended by some 500 people, which was interrupted by "police, the secret police, tax inspectorate, fire Inspectors and the sanitary-epidemiological service," explained RLC. "Sunday school children were videotaped by the police. After a 5 hour search, which was carried out without a warrant, the police detained eight church members including the Assistant Pastor Artur Avanesyan."
"NO FOOD, WATER"
The group claimed they were kept in detention for 24 hours without any food or water and were not allowed to contact their families. "Equipment including computers and printers as well as Christian literature was confiscated. Letters of permission given by parents of 392 children to attend Sunday school were among papers taken away by the police."
The raid on the Church of Christ was "the latest in a series of similar raids on Protestant congregations this year," said RLC Executive Director Godfrey Yogarajah in a statement to Worthy News and its news partner BosNewsLife. "There have also been several instances where Christian leaders have been convicted of various false charges," he added.
"[We are] deeply concerned about the recent raid and arrests of church members and the apparent deterioration of religious rights in Uzbekistan." He said his group had urged the government of Uzbekistan "to ensure the rights of all Uzbek citizens". His organization has also urged Christians worldwide "to stand in solidarity with the Uzbek church and pray for justice and equality for the church in Central Asia."
Uzbek President Islam Karimov has been accused of using the threat of Islamic militancy to justify his autocratic style of leadership and cracking down on religious groups deemed "dangerous" for the country, including active churches. Uzbek officials have refused to comment on the Church for Christ case.