Tajikistan Protestant Church Threatened With Destruction Amid Crackdown Across Former Soviet Union

Monday, June 30, 2008

By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos

DUSHANBE/TASHKENT/MINSK/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- In several former Soviet republics Christians were detained or facing their last worship service in their church building Sunday, June 29, as authorities stepped up a crackdown on mainly Protestant Christians, including believers involved in evangelism or unauthorized gatherings.

In Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe members of the Nani-Hayat, or 'Bread of Life', Protestant Church potentially faced their last worship service Sunday, June 29, after authorities reportedly told them to vacate the building before the beginning of July ahead of demolition. The warning came just days after authorities began bulldozing the country's only synagogue - in Dushanbe, forcing the Jewish community to halt worship and its food aid program, rights investigators said.

"We do not have a place to hold our worship," Chief Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhmov said in remarks published by the news service of rights group Forum 18. "We also have no place to feed the elderly and the poor." Rabbi Abdurakhmov said the Jewish community had requested that they be allowed to dismantle the building themselves as "every part of the building is sacred" so "it would be an abomination for the Jewish religion to bulldoze the synagogue."

However, "the Chief Engineer came to the site and showed his dissatisfaction with the speed of our work and had the remaining wall bulldozed." Yusuf Salimov of the Tajik Presidential Administration, from which the Jewish community wants to get compensation, reportedly said he was not aware of the problem and advised to “complain to the higher courts."


Elsewhere in the region, in Uzbekistan, several Protestant Christians spent Sunday, June 29, behind bars or in uncertainty as police are investigating "unauthorized" religious gathering, local Christians said. Among them is a Protestant from north-west Uzbekistan, Jandos Kuandikov, who was arrested June 14 "and is still in detention" before facing a criminal trial on trumped up terrorism charges, said Forum 18. Authorities earlier reportedly accused another Protestant of terrorism after he fled to neighboring Kazakhstan apparently because of religious persecution.

Other Protestants being targeted include four Baptists, identified as Natalya Ogai, Filipp Kim, Dmitri Kim and Nurlan Tolebaev from the region of Tashkent, who received 10 days of detention this month "because of their peaceful religious activity," carried out without official permission, according to rights investigators.

There have been some exceptions as a court in the capital Tashkent dropped charges against a Protestant, saying they had been "fabricated," and ordered police to be punished for this. But in general Protestants and religious sects, such as the Tashkent's Hare Krishna community, continue to be targeted, Forum 18 said.

Protestants are also fined in for instance Belarus, ruled by autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko. On Sunday, June 29, a Baptist Christian in Belarus, Vladimir Burshtyn, faced financial difficulties after a court reportedly imposed a fine of more than two months' average wages, about $330, on him because he "organised choir singing and conducted conversations on religious topics" outside a public market in the town of Ushachi.


The Baptists apparently wanted to evangelize on June 5 when many Christians in the former Soviet Union observe Ascension Day according to the Julian Calendar.

The reported crackdown in several former Soviet states has been linked by analysts to concerns among the region's autocratic governments about independent groups and the spread of un-Orthodox Christianity, which they see as threat to their powerbase. State-run media has in some cases been used to attack churches, Christians say.

In Uzbekistan, leaders 26 Protestant congregations have reportedly published an open letter rejecting state-controlled television stations' repeated broadcasts of a film, they say is encouraging “intolerance and hatred” of religious minorities. Protestant leaders reportedly also condemned "garbled facts, aggressive attacks, lies and slander" against named individuals.

In addition, state-controlled leaderships of schools and colleges allegedly encouraged students to watch the film, adding to intolerance among young people towards religious minorities, the churches said.

Copyright 2008 BosNewsLife. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without our prior written consent.