By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife at BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- A devoted Christian in Uzbekistan’s second largest city faced more police interrogations Saturday, April 5, after security forces broke up a Christian home meeting, a well-informed rights group told BosNewsLife.
Barnabas Fund, which supports Christians facing difficulties in predominantly Muslin nations, said a group of believers in the city of Samarkand was arrested Thursday, April 3, while meeting in a believer’s home.
“The police confiscated all books, note-books and a laptop which they found in the house,” Barnabas Fund said.
“The Christians present were severely beaten and then all were released except one”, a Christian identified only as Bobur. “He is being held at the [local] police station while [they] are apparently trying to find evidence to incriminate him on charges of inciting religious hatred,” Barnabas Fund added.
"Until now, the police have not filed any formal charges against Bobur."
A person can only be held for three days without formal charges being made. Barnabas Fund said, adding that it had urged supporters to pray that Gid "will change the hearts" of authorities.
The latest incident has underscored international concerns about the a reported government-backed crackdown on churches, which have been growing in the central Asian nation of Uzbekistan. Apartments and churches have been raided more frequently by police and Christian literature is confiscated, according to local Christians.
Many Christians meet at home in underground ‘house churches’ as only three churches have in recent years reportedly received the required registration to officially operate in Uzbekistan. At the same time, in one year, more than 2,500 mosques gained registration, the US-based Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) reported;
"During the last years, we have big problems with our Christian freedom in Uzbekistan. Every time, government tries to push under pressure Christian churches and Christian leaders, and each year it's become more strong and heavy," said Baptist Pastor Ivan Bickkov in an interview with CBN.
Bickkov was reportedly expelled from Uzbekistan and sent to Russia on charges of terrorism, although fellow believers say the real reason was his Christian activities among children and church planting.
President Islam Abduganiyevich Karimov has defended his country’s religious and political situation, saying he wants to maintain stability and prevent "religious strife." Critics say that Karimov, who has dominated the leadership since 1989, misuses religious tensions to take a ruthlessly authoritarian approach to opposition.
A referendum held in 1995 extended his term until 2000 when he won the presidential elections unopposed. Another referendum in 2002 extended the presidential term from five to seven years, but the expiry of his term in January 2007 went largely unnoticed, observers have said.
The president gained another term in elections in December 2007, which opponents and the international community condemned as failing to meet international standards.
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