Uzbekistan Secret Police Detains Protestant Pastor

Friday, January 26, 2007

By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest

TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- Uzbekistan's secret police detained Protestant Pastor Dmitry Shestakov at his church in the city of Andijan last weekend, after a regional prosecutor had accused him of "committing high treason," a Christian news agency reported Thursday, January 25.

Compass Direct News said the 37-year-old pastor is apparently accused of "incitement of national, racial and religious enmity," under the Soviet republic's penal code.

If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison. Authorities began to "harass him" in May 2006, apparently in reaction to the conversion to Christianity of some ethnic Uzbeks, Compass Direct News added.

“Uzbeks started coming to faith [in his church], and this was not good news to the authorities,” one Tashkent who knows him was quoted as saying.

Shestakov, his wife and three daughters apparently went into hiding in June 2006 after regional prosecutor Kamolitdin Zulfiev accused the pastor of committing treason. Police reportedly also raided the pastor’s house, temporarily detaining Shestakov and confiscating videos of his sermons.


Although the pastor was ordered to list all of his church members, he refused to do so. "It was clear that the National State Security were going to find something to charge me with and remove me from my position as a Christian pastor," Shestakov said in an interview.

Authorities also searched Shestakov’s Andijan church, confiscating religious CDs and videos and pressuring members of the congregation to testify against their pastor, Compass Direct News said.

Human rights groups say Uzbekistan's legal infrastructure violate internationally recognized norms of religious freedom. Local prosecutors frequently file "falsified charges" in order to obtain arrest orders against religious leaders perceived to be a threat against "national security," local Christians and outside observers say.

Shestakov and his family initially fled Andijan, located in eastern Uzbekistan ’s Ferghana Valley , to avoid arrest. But after several months they returned to a nearby city, continuing covert contact with their Andijan congregation.


"Yes, I do get depressed [and] it is hard to be joyful," Shestakov commented in an interview, as "I am no hero." After pastoring for 13 years, Sheshtakov said he did not believe it would be right to leave his country and abandon the church that he started four years ago in Andijan. Seeking asylum abroad was not an option for him, he said, although he wants to clear his name in his homeland.

"I am called by God to be a pastor to the people in Uzbekistan ," the pastor said. "I am on a pilgrimage without a home, a church or status – but with God," Compass Direct News quoted him as saying.

Church observers say religious restrictions increased in Andijan after government troops reportedly killed at least hundreds of protestors in a May 2005 uprising, causing an international outcry.

The Uzbek government has reportedly said that the Akramia group at the center of the uprising is an Islamic terrorist organization, while Akramia leaders insist it is a peaceful religious group. Christian pastors in the area are also accused of being "extremists" on what rights watchers describe as "far-fetched" court charges.

In November US Ambassador for Religious Freedom John Hanford announced the addition of Uzbekistan to Washington’s annual list of Countries of Particular Concern for its "abysmal record on religious freedom and other human rights," urging the Uzbek government to "rethink its policies and undertake the necessary reforms." (With reports from the region).

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