Police Raid Protestant Pastor Home

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Christians in capital city also arrested – while visiting children’s hospital.

May 2 (Compass Direct) -- Police officers from Uzbekistan's criminal investigation department burst into the home of a Protestant pastor in northwest Uzbekistan last week, disrupting 12 people as they were having lunch together. The pastor and another believer were charged with "breaking the laws on teaching religion."

The April 24 raid in Urgench, a city in the Khorezm region near the Turkmen border, targeted the house of Pastor Lunkin Sergey of the Union of Independent Churches (UIC).

Police confiscated the pastor’s computer and all his Christian literature, including 32 New Testaments legally printed by and purchased from the Bible Society of Uzbekistan. Chursin Vasily, another UIC member present, was detained and his digital camera and laptop computer confiscated.

Legal charges were lodged against both Sergey and Vasily under Article 241 of the Administrative Code of Uzbekistan for “breaking the laws on teaching religion.” A court decision on the case is expected soon, after which the defendants have the right to appeal within 10 days.

According to a lawyer pursuing the incident, the intruding police officers at Pastor Sergey’s home were guilty of 16 violations of Uzbek law, all of which he has spelled out in written complaints to the concerned departments.

Three Turkmen citizens at the luncheon were deported back to Turkmenistan, reportedly with black stamps in their passports prohibiting them from re-entering Uzbekistan again. Under Uzbek visa regulations, Turkmen citizens are allowed to cross the border into Uzbekistan for a few days, but their travels are restricted to the city of Urgench, 30 miles from the border.

Hospital Arrests

In a separate incident, three Protestant church members in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent were arrested on April 21 while visiting and helping feed patients at a tuberculosis hospital for children.

Through a Tashkent lawyer’s assistance, two of the detained Christians were released. A third Protestant was formally charged with violating administrative laws against teaching religion.

During the past 12 months, Uzbekistan’s police and judicial authorities have stepped up pressures against Protestant Christians, particularly ethnic Uzbeks who have converted to Christianity. According to local church leaders, even the small number of government-registered churches are under heightened scrutiny by the authoritarian regime.

During the past 15 years, at least 25,000 ethnic Uzbeks have converted to Christianity, joining established local churches or forming their own house church fellowships.

Despite constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, the Uzbek government has in practice denied legal registration to all new religious congregations. Since instituting a repressive religious law in 1998, the regime has maintained a legal pretext to criminalize all unregistered religious activity.

Three Christian non-governmental organizations have been forced to close down their activities this year, with at least a dozen expatriate Christians refused renewal of their residence permits and ordered to leave the country in the past five months.

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