By BosNewsLife News Center
BUDAPEST/TASHKENT (BosNewsLife) -- Evangelical Christians in Uzbekistan faced another tense day Wednesday, December 6, amid an ongoing media campaign against them, police raids in churches and reports that Bibles and other literature are burnt by authorities.
"Today I write to ask that you pray for the whole nation of Uzbekistan. The Uzbek TV has been airing shows about Christians that are very distressing," an Uzbek believer said in a letter obtained by BosNewsLife.
"The Christian churches have been likened to terrorist groups and the country is being warned about these "dangerous people". They were even talking about some foreigners and labeling them as missionaries who gain a lot of money out of converting people to their religion," the Christian said on condition of anonymity.
The letter, which was distributed by advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs (VOM), Australia, alleged that the shows have "distressed the church all over Uzbekistan and many are praying for wisdom. The leaders do not yet know how to deal with this situation."
Protestant Christians involved in evangelizing have also been targeted by state-controlled media in Uzbekistan, a predominantly Muslim nation of over 27 million people, human rights workers say.
"A Protestant student in the capital Tashkent, Tahir Sharipov, was the subject of a highly ritical article in the Russian-language daily Narodnoe Slovo" in October "for holding religious eetings in his flat to attract young people â€“ particularly ethnic Uzbeks - to Christianity," said Forum 18, a human rights group investigating religious persecution.
In addition, six Baptists detained after a August 17 raid on their church in the Karshi area were given "massive fines" last month, the group claimed. "As is often happens, the court ordered Bibles and other literature to be burnt," added Forum 18, which has close knowledge about the situation in this former Soviet republic.
Elsewhere, "A Pentecostal church in Tashkent was raided by some 30 police officers November 13, with one of those detained subsequently fined," Forum 18 said in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife.
Despite the pressure, Christians in Uzbekistan say believers continue to meet including 18 leaders from "cell churches" across the country. "They would like to form a group so they are accountable to one another, to help one another stay away from heretical teachings, to teach each other how to be better leaders...," the Uzbek Christian said in her letter.
They have asked supporters "for prayer and support for traveling pastors, conferences, children's camps," she added. Reports of persecution comes amid United States concerns over the treatment of religious minorities in the country.
Last month, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry condemned the recent designation of Uzbekistan by the US State Department as a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC) for religious freedom violations.
Uzbekistan rights activists are also urging the European Union to increase its pressure on President Islam Karimov and expand the sanctions imposed on his government after last year's military crackdown in Andijan.
Hundreds of people are thought to have died when government forces shot at pro democracy demonstrators erupted in that Uzbek city in May 2005. Karimov, who became president in 1991 of independent Uzbekistan, hasd ben described as one of Central Asia's most autocratic leaders, running what human rights watchers describe as a "a repressive regime" which retains many aspects of its Soviet past. (With BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos and reports from the region).
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