Friday 24 December 1999

UZBEK POLICE TERRORISE BAPTIST PRESBYTER AFTER STUDENT LEAVES FOR FOREIGN STUDY by Felix Corley, Keston News Service A Baptist presbyter in the Uzbek capital Tashkent was detained and subjected to threats of violence last weekend after a member of the same church went to study at a religious college in the Moldovan capital Chisinau. However, in other Baptist news from Uzbekistan, the church in Akhangaran has succeeded in gaining registration while pressure from the government's Committee for Religious Affairs in Tashkent may succeed in overriding obstruction from the local authorities to registration of the Baptist church in Urgench. The Union of Evangelical Christians/Baptists of Central Asia told Keston News Service from Tashkent on 21 December that RINAT KHAIBULLIN, the presbyter of the Baptist church in the Yunusabad district of Tashkent, was detained by the militia (police) on 18 December and held at the Yunusabad district militia station, where he was subjected to `crude psychological pressure'. The Union reports that `militia officers subjected him to the most terrible punishments' because a member of the congregation - an ethnic Uzbek - had gone to study at the religious college in Chisinau. `They accused Khaibullin of organising the training of terrorists abroad.' The presbyter was subsequently released, but the investigation of his case is reportedly continuing. `It must be admitted,' the Union told Keston, `that under the cover of religion, young people from Uzbekistan are often sent abroad, where they are indeed trained for terrorist activity. But to lay such charges against members of Baptist communities is absurd.' The Union doubts that the militia is in a position to understand the differences between different religious groups. But the Union's main complaint against the militia in this case is the `unrestrained crudeness and lack of control, which is well-known to everyone and which arouses widespread indignation'. However, the Union reported progress in the registration of two of its local churches. The church in Akhangaran, a town south of Tashkent, received registration on 21 December after a long battle (see KNS 8 December 1999). It had submitted its latest registration application three months earlier. According to the registration regulations enacted in 1998, the Ministry of Justice should rule on registration applications within one month, although this can be extended to three months if `clarification' is needed. The church's pastor, RINAT FAZLIYEV, had previously received an administrative punishment for leading the church. `However, thanks be to God, all this is now in the past,' the Union declared. The Union is also hopeful of progress over the registration application submitted by its church in the town of Urgench in southwestern Uzbekistan, thanks to the positive intervention of the Committee for Religious Affairs in Tashkent. The Khorezm region Department of Justice in Urgench had refused to process the application and in early December had given the local Baptist church `a couple of days' to correct what they said were inadequacies in its registration application and resubmit the paperwork (see KNS 10 December 1999). The Department of Justice had demanded that the church find new premises to meet, declaring that its current meeting place was unacceptable. In the wake of the refusal, the Baptist Union leadership wrote to the Committee for Religious Affairs in Tashkent calling on it to take 'urgent and effective measures' to resolve the problems in Urgench. 'As a result, an official of the Committee for Religious Affairs, BEGZOD KADYROV, declared that the church's documents are to be returned again to the Department of Justice in Urgench,' the Union told Keston. 'He gave an assurance that the church will be registered.' The Urgench church, which is led by Pastor OLEG VADER, had submitted its latest application back in September. An official at the Department of Justice in Urgench had refused to discuss the case with Keston on 10 December, but Kadyrov had told Keston that his Committee was looking to resolve the problems. It is not clear if the Union's Bethany congregation recently formed in a suburb of Tashkent, which was raided by the law enforcement agencies on Sunday 5 December, has applied for registration. The church, which is led by Pastor NIKOLAI SHEVCHENKO, was banned by the local authorities from meeting. (END) All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright: (c) Keston Institute 1999 Reproduction for personal use only. Subscription payments directly help religious freedom as we cannot provide this material unless we have income. Accredited journalists may quote from KNS in non-electronic publications providing Keston Institute is acknowledged as the source. If you have colleagues and friends who you think would be interested in receiving KNS, please invite them to log on to our website http://www.keston.org/ which has details of some latest KNS stories with sample articles. It also has details of our magazine 'Frontier' and academic journal 'Religion, State & Society'. Subscription information is on the website and at the end of this message. 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