UZBEKISTAN: Minority Faiths Barred From Preaching in Uzbek.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 27 May 2002

"Actions have recently been resumed in Uzbekistan which could soon lead to a significant restriction on religious freedom in our country," complained an open letter from the press-officer of the Evangelical Christians/Baptists of Uzbekistan Dmitri Pitirimov, received by Keston News Service on 22 May. It cited a number of events in recent weeks: the Tashkent-based head of the Full Gospel church, Bishop Sergei Nechitailo, was summoned to the Committee for Religious Affairs, where the deputy chairman of the committee, Shoazim Minovarov, demanded that his denomination's churches stop preaching in Uzbek (the country's state language). Eighteen Christians, including two foreigners, were detained in the western Uzbek city of Nukus following an investigation into the sources of Christian literature in Central Asian languages. They were accused of holding a seminar unlawfully. Pravda Vostoka, an official state newspaper, published an article on 8 May based on an interview with Metropolitan Vladimir (Ikim), head of the Orthodox Church in Central Asia, who spoke out strongly against the spread of Protestantism in Uzbekistan. "The substance of this article demonstrates clearly that a course of action has been taken to toughen religious policy on the rapidly-growing Evangelical Christian movements," the Baptist press officer's letter declared. "Please give maximum publicity to these documents."

Speaking to Keston in Tashkent by telephone on 22 May, one Full Gospel church leader, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed Pitirimov's report, although he expressed dissatisfaction that "a representative of another confession should talk about the problems of our church".

Minovarov has made no attempt to deny his instruction. "I confirm the report that we advised Nechitailo to stop preaching in the Uzbek language, and also that we asked him not to distribute Uzbek-language religious literature from the Church of Christians of the Full Gospel," he told Keston by telephone on 22 May. "The fact is that there has been a large number of complaints about the Church of Christians of the Full Gospel of Uzbekistan from residents in the mahalla [city sector] where it is based. People have expressed concern that members of the church are trying to persuade Uzbeks to turn away from Islam and convert to their religion." Minovarov volunteered that a similar request was made to the Jehovah's Witnesses. "Members of the Jehovah's Witnesses have been going to people's homes, trying to preach their beliefs. You must understand that such behaviour is unthinkable according to Uzbek tradition. For example, an Uzbek cannot go even to his brother's house if there is no man in the household at the time."

Asked by Keston whether there is a law in Uzbekistan that forbids the preaching of Christianity in the Uzbek language, Minovarov replied: "According to the law on religion 'actions intended to convert believers of one confession to another (proselytism and also any other missionary activity)' are forbidden. The actions of the Christians of the Full Gospel and of the Jehovah's Witnesses constituted proselytism."

Minovarov added that he "knew nothing" about the incident in Nukus, although a duty officer at Nukus police station had confirmed to Keston on 14 May that a group of Protestants had been detained. However, he had declined to discuss the detentions in detail, adding only that they were "not citizens of Uzbekistan".

"We are very concerned about recent events," the chairman of the Tashkent-based Bible Society of Uzbekistan, Sergei Mitin, told Keston by telephone. "It is impossible to rule out the possibility that the authorities are beginning a campaign against Protestant communities in the republic." (END)