UZBEKISTAN: No Progress on Re-opening Adventist Seminary.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 9 April 2001

There has been no progress on reopening a facility to train Adventist clergy in Uzbekistan closed down by the authorities at the end of last year, a leading Adventist pastor told Keston News Service. The Adventist college in the town of Navoi in central Uzbekistan was ordered to close by the local police and justice department officials last December when they raided the premises. `They said that as we had no registration as a religious centre we can't have a religious school,' Pastor Yakov Fries told Keston in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 12 March. He said that the school was forced to relocate out of the country.

Pastor Fries reported that the college opened in 1999, offering one-year courses to train pastors and other church workers. There were twelve students in its first year of operation who studied full-time. The students received free board and lodging, but were not given a grant. Pastor Fries declared that his Church would like to be able to educate its pastors within Uzbekistan.

The country's controversial 1998 religion law specifies in Article 9 that `central organs of administration of religious organisations have the right to found religious educational establishments to prepare clergy and religious personnel that they need'. Such educational establishments can only function once they are registered with the Ministry of Justice and receive a licence. Only citizens who have completed secondary education can study in such institutions. `Teaching religious beliefs on a private basis is banned,' Article 9 declares.

The restriction of the right to train religious personnel to groups which have a registered religious centre - in violation of Uzbekistan's international human rights commitments - means that only six religious communities have the right to educate their own personnel within Uzbekistan. These are the Muslim Board, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church, the Baptist Union, the Roman Catholic Church and the Bible Society. All other religious bodies - including the Adventists - are denied this right.

Having a facility to educate clergy and other religious personnel is vital, because the religion law also requires communities applying for registration to have religious leaders with `appropriate religious education'. Without facilities to train such leaders, groups could have increasing difficulty gaining registration if the state refuses to recognise religious education gained informally or outside the country. (END)