OSLO, Norway (ABP) — Authorities in Uzbekistan continue to repress worship in unregistered churches, according to a new report by an international news service that monitors religious freedom.
Police in the Mirzo-Ulugbek District of the capital province of Tashkent raided a group of Baptists from an unregistered church gathered at a home July 28 to celebrate the "spiritual birthday" of a member of the congregation, Norwegian-based Forum 18 reported Aug. 5.
Twenty-three people — some of them young children — were taken to district police headquarters and detained. Ten were released the following evening, nearly 24 hours after the 9 p.m. raid.
Yuriy Garmashev, whose home was used for the meeting, was sentenced to five days in jail. Nine others received three-day sentences. The other three received fines equivalent of $1,860 in U.S. dollars, 80 times the minimum monthly salary in Uzbekistan.
The Baptists were charged with "failure to carry out the lawful demands of a police officer or other persons carrying out duties to guard public order" and "violation of the procedure for organizing and conducting meetings, street processions or demonstrations."
The Baptists claimed they were drinking tea and singing spiritual songs and doing nothing illegal. Their church belongs to the Council of Churches Baptists, which refuses on principle to seek state registration, and regard themselves as "prisoners of conscience."
They said officers treated members of the group rudely and pushed them roughly into cars waiting outside. Some reportedly were kicked and hit as they were dragged out of the house. One of those grabbed and pushed was a 10-year-old girl.
A Baptist told Forum 18 that police also raided worship services of the same church Aug. 4. "Police this time were more reserved while talking to the leaders of the church, but — after writing down the leaders' names — warned them that they would not leave the church alone," the Baptist was quoted as saying.
Baptists and other religious minorities Uzbekistan, including unregistered Muslims, have had a series of run-ins with the law in recent months. Last year a judge removed three leaders of the Baptist Union of Uzbekistan, which is registered, after they were convicted of illegal religious instruction at a summer youth camp. Their defense was that the camp had been held several years without interruption and parents knew they were sending their children to a Christian camp.
In July a judge in the western Uzbek region of Khorezm ordered that Christian literature confiscated in a June 9 raid of the home of a member of an unregistered Baptist church be destroyed. Zoya Varakina, the individual found possessing 14 Christian books and 64 leaflets, was convicted of "illegal storage, production, import, distribution of religious materials." One of the confiscated books was a Uzbek translation of the New Testament.
–Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.