By BosNewsLife News Center
TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- There was mounting concern Wednesday, July 26, over a new crackdown on Christians in Uzbekistan after authorities closed down US-based aid group Central Asia Free Exchange (CAFE) on charges of "illegal religious activities," including preaching the Gospel.
Several other Non Governmental Organizations were closed for similar reasons. Local experts said they were not surprised that a court in Tashkent rejected an appeal against a previous decision to close CAFE, as courts are allegedly under supervision of the autocratic President Islam Karimov.
In a statement CAFE Chief Executive Officer, James Hall admitted that all the NGO workers were Christian, but described the charges of "illegal religious activities" as "complete nonsense."
"In our projects there is no religion of any kind and we do not seek to convert Uzbeks to Christianity," Catholic news agency AsiaNews quoted him as saying. He said CAFE employees were forbidden from attending large religious gatherings, and did not discuss religious matters to comply with local regulations.
However prosecutors have reportedly claimed that CAFE personnel distributed illegal religious material and resorted to intimidation to convert 20 people from the village of Komi Choâ€™li. Other alleged crimes of CAFE â€“ which is employed solely in technical projects like formation of health personnel, teaching English and reconstruction of orphanages â€“ included using a non-registered logo.
Some observers in Uzbekistan have suggested the CAFE case was politically motivated and the proselytism charge was part of attempts by Uzbekistanâ€™s government to close NGOâ€™s and diminish western religious, culture and democratic values in the country.
Uzbekistan government officials have suggested that the non-governmental organization's may try to organize an "orange" revolution as in Uzbekistan, a reference to the pro-democracy protests in Ukraine.
Earlier other groups were closed down including the Open Society Institute (Soros Foundation), Internews Network, IREX, Freedom House, Eurasia Foundation, ABA/CEELI, ACCELS, Counterpart International, Central Asian Free Exchange (CAFE), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Directorate of the UN Supreme Commissariat for Refugees, and most Uzbek non-governmental organizations.
In Uzbekistan, 90% of the population is Muslim, violations of religious freedom are rife, and the government aims to control every aspect of the life of society, human rights groups claim. Human rights group Forum 18 said that since last years Andijan uprising against the autocratic president, in which hundreds of people died, religious persecution increased. Both Christians and Muslims are among the targets.
"In the north-western autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan [Qoraqalpoghiston], all non-Orthodox and non state-controlled Muslim activity is forbidden. Earlier this month, one Protestant pastor, Sergei Lunkin was jailed for seven days and two others were given extremely large fines, solely for running an unregistered church," the group said.
In addition a court ordered the destruction of Christian material confiscated from Pastor Lunkin, consisting of 425 books, 60 CDs and 29 videotapes and audiotapes, Forum 18 reported. The material allegedly included 32 copies of the New Testament, which had been legally printed by and purchased from the Bible Society of Uzbekistan. Forum 18 warned the Bibles may be burnt by authorities, an apparently regular practice in the former Soviet republic. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Uzbekistan).
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