UZBEKISTAN: Four Baptist Churches Face Registration Obstruction.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 26 March 2001

Four churches which belong to the Baptist Union have been obstructed in their registration applications despite meeting the provisions of the law, Union leader Pavel Peychev told Keston News Service in Tashkent on 16 March. In one instance - in the south eastern town of Andijon - the local police sealed the church last December when the local khokimiyat (administration) learnt that the church was preparing a registration application. `They were told they could only meet when they have registration,' Peychev reported, `but they have been refused.'

Keston has been unable to reach any relevant officials of Andijon khokimiyat by telephone to find out on what legal basis the church was sealed.

While the Andijon case is the most serious, as the police have banned the church from meeting, Pastor Peychev reports that two of the other three churches awaiting registration have also failed to secure the necessary approval for their registration applications from the relevant khokimiyats, while the last has failed to gain approval at the justice department.

Shoazim Minovarov, first deputy chairman of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs in Tashkent, told Keston by telephone on 22 March that `the Baptists have no problems here'. He denied all knowledge of the four churches' registration difficulties. `No-one has come to me about it.'

Despite submitting all the required documents in their registration application a year and a half ago, the Baptist church in Gazalkent in Tashkent region is still waiting for approval from the khokimiyat, without which they cannot take their application further. The church does still meet in the church building, despite the lack of registration. Also refusing permission is the khokimiyat in the town of Gulistan in Syr-Darya region 120 kms (75 miles) south west of Tashkent, where the local church meets in a private home.

Meanwhile, the church in the village of Novaya Zhizn in Tashkent region has gained the approval of the khokimiyat, but its application is being held up in the justice administration. The church has so far lodged its application twice, but with no success.

Keston has also been unable to reach any relevant officials of Tashkent or Syr-Darya regional khokimiyats by telephone to find out why the registration of the Baptist churches in both locations has been obstructed.

The Central Asian Baptist Union has 22 registered churches in Uzbekistan and is itself registered as a central religious body, allowing it to conduct religious education and (at least in theory) to produce and import religious literature. Registration of individual congregations - which requires 100 Uzbek citizens as founding members, as well as agreement from an array of state bodies including the khokimiyat, the fire service and the epidemiological service – is vital, as the law requires registration for any communal activity and criminalises unregistered religious activity. The Union is also preparing registration applications for a number of other congregations.

Meanwhile the Second Baptist Church in Tashkent has faced obstruction from the city khokimiyat to its plans to build a new church to replace the current building, which is old and too small to hold the more than 200 church members. `The government's Committee for Religious Affairs has already given its permission in writing, but the khokimiyat's permission is the most important,' Pastor Peychev told Keston. The church has been trying to gain permission to rebuild since the beginning of 2000. (END)