Protestant Christians Detained in Uzbekistan

Saturday, August 10, 2002

By Stefan J. Bos
Eastern Europe Correspondent,
ASSIST News Service with Keston News Service

NUKUS / BUDAPEST, (ANS) -- A correspondent of the Keston News Service (KNS), which covers religious persecution, was harassed by the security service of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic in Uzbekistan, KNS reported Thursday, June 6.

It came as the reporter, who was not identified, investigated the persecution of Protestant Christians in the troubled region. "On May 31 two men entered the Keston correspondent’s hotel room in (the republic's capital) Nukus, saying they were employees of the Department of Visas and Registration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Karakalpakstan," KNS said.

"They told Keston that "a routine check on foreigners was under way". Several days earlier the hotel staff was apparently asked by "employees from the Department for Visas and Registration" which room Keston’s correspondent had used was located. "The hotel staff supposed that this information was needed in order to monitor the journalist’s telephone conversations," KNS said.


It was not clear what information was obtained by the feared security service of Karakalpakstan, where the authorities are reportedly trying to halt the spread of Christianity among the republic's native people, Uzbeks, Kazakhs and Karakalpaks, who are historically Muslims.

KNS reported wide spread fear among native Protestant Christians, after several of them were detained last month. Several of them were arrested in Nukus following a state sponsored investigation into the sources of Christian literature in Central Asian languages.

An unidentified Christian from the capital, told KNS that on May 13 members of the Protestant Church 'Novaya Zhizn' or 'New Life' held a meeting in a private home in Nukus. "There were 17 people at the meeting, among them two foreigners: a US citizen and a Russian citizen. Suddenly six policemen appeared at the meeting and proceeded to search all those present," KNS said quoting the Christian.


The policemen also searched the women, "which according to local custom is a grave insult," the news agency explained. All the participants in the meeting were taken to the city administration of internal affairs. Although the foreigners were released within an hour, and received an apology, local Christians were held for six hours, according to KNS.

"Moreover, the policemen threatened the Christians with physical reprisals, saying "the foreigners will leave, but you will stay with us," Christians said. They reportedly threatened to plant drugs on one of the detainees, although those claims could not be independently identified. However drugs were widely used to pressure dissidents and Christians under Communism throughout the Soviet Union.

On May 16 four of the participants at the meeting were apparently sentenced by the city court to fines of between $26 and $37, a huge amount in the impoverished region where average monthly wages are believed to be around $50 or less.


"The 'Novaya Zhizn' church has not been registered at the Ministry of Justice of Karakalpakstan, and therefore it has no right to hold religious meetings. The police actions were within the law," said Shamurat Sapartayev, head of the department for the fight against terrorism at the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Karakalpakstan.

"If the Protestants are unhappy, then they can appeal against the city court’s decision at the Supreme Court of the republic," KNS was was told by Aibek Tureyev, acting chairman of the city court. The latest crack down against Protestant Christians come at a time when human rights workers have expressed concern about what they see as growing pressure on active Christians throughout the former Soviet Union.