President Flees Kyrgyzstan, Raising Hopes for Persecuted Christians

Friday, March 25, 2005

Thursday, March 24, 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center

BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Persecuted Evangelical Christians and missionary workers in Kyrgyzstan were awaiting a new dawn late Thursday, March 24, as lawmakers of this former Soviet republic appointed a new interim president, news reports suggested.

The move came after the Kyrgyz opposition assumed control of the government after pro-democracy protesters stormed government buildings and President Askar Akayev reportedly fled the country, following days of demonstrations against alleged election fraud.

Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, a communist lawmaker on the outs with Akayev, was chosen as interim president Thursday, Match 24, by the upper house of parliament. He had been disqualified from running in the disputed ballot, several news reports said.

The parliament also appointed opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev as acting prime minister and asked him to form an interim government. In addition pro-democracy demonstrators freed a jailed opposition leader, Felix Kulov, several media reported.

Analysts suggested the latest developments marked the "end of the Akayev regime", which had been criticized for an alleged crackdown on political dissent and some religious groups, including evangelical Christians and missionary workers.


Human rights watchers said Kyrgyz authorities recently stepped up efforts to control religious groups and foreign missionaries. Last year a diplomat of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told the news service of human rights watchdog Forum 18 News the government "might soon launch a campaign against Christian proselytism," fearing that the conversion of Muslims to Christianity and other faiths could lead to "social tension."

Similar arguments were also used against missionary workers, some of whom were threatened by the feared State Commission for Religious Affairs and expelled by religious police, human rights watchers said.

Last year the Kyrgyz government newspaper 'Vercherny Bishkek' reported said "four missionaries at the Evangelical Christian church in Bishkek - one Taiwanese citizen and three Russians - broke Kyrgyzstan's law on religion in the course of a church service, Forum 18 News Service (F18News) reported.


The newspaper claimed that "the preaching by these religious ministers" was in contravention of the presidential decree 'On measures to achieve the rights of citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic to freedom of conscience and belief'" and that unspecified "measures to be taken against the preachers are now being decided", F18News said.

In addition "The Church of Jesus Christ reported that a number of ongoing bureaucratic and legal problems remained unresolved," the United States State Department said last month in its annual 'Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.' It also reported that "police used beatings to extract confessions" and stressed "there were some credible reports that police mistreated human rights activists and demonstrators while in detention."

Orthodox and other Christians comprise roughly 25 percent of Kryrgysztan's five million strong population, according to estimates.


While it was unclear what immediate effect the latest developments would have on churches in the mainly Muslim nation, local commentators seem to suggest that calls for religious and political tolerance, which marked the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia are spreading throughout the former Soviet Union region.

As news emerged of the latest protests in Kyrgyzstan, already Azerbaijan's government for instance announced it was pardoning over one hundred political prisoners, who were reportedly jailed after election-related demonstrations in October 2003.

"The United States welcomes Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev's March 23rd decree pardoning 114 prisoners," US State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife.


"We applaud efforts to resolve the question of political prisoners in Azerbaijan...We urge Azerbaijan's government to build on this positive step by promoting democracy and stability through political dialogue, restoring freedom of assembly and freedom of the press, respecting human rights and conducting a transparent parliamentary election meeting international democratic standards," he added.

Not everyone seems impressed. The presidents of Belarus and Turkmenistan have made clear they are not planning to back down for any revolution. Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov, who is reportedly trying to force churches to worship his portrait and the country's flag and state emblem, reacted angry when asked this week about international human rights concerns.

"These are non-sense words," he told a reporter of Ukrainian television, according to a transcript distributed by News Central Asia. "Half-criminals write to you and you believe...For the last 15 years no person was arrested [for political reasons]. Some terrorists are imprisoned. They sit in the prisons freely...they voluntarily confessed to their crime, they write books about their terror [acts]. We have no problems with human rights," he reportedly said.

(With: Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent, BosNewsLife Research, reports from Kyrgyzstan and the United States).