UZBEKISTAN: Trial to Follow Raid On Protestant Church.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 30 May 2002

A court hearing against members of a Protestant church in the western Uzbek town of Nukus, due to have begun yesterday afternoon (29 May), was postponed, Keston News Service learnt in the town. It is not yet known when the case against members of the "Mir" ("Peace") church, which followed a police raid on a service on 25 May, will reach court. However, it seems inevitable that those who attended the service will be fined. The authorities argue that since the church was deprived of registration in 2000, all its services are illegal.

Christians have had a difficult time in recent years in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan south of the Aral Sea, as well as elsewhere in Karakalpakstan. No Christian churches (or indeed any non-Muslim groups) are currently registered in the autonomous republic.

The church's pastor, Khym-Moon Kim, told Keston in Nukus that officers from the Karakalpakstan Interior Ministry entered the church during a service on 25 May and ordered that it be halted. They demanded that participants from local nationalities (Karakalpaks, Kazakhs and Uzbeks) should write statements explaining what had prompted them to attend a Christian service. Cases were then instituted against the participants.

The church's difficulties began in August 2000, when the authorities cancelled their registration (see KNS 24 November 2000). "The reason given for cancelling our registration was the fact that we had organised a summer camp for children from poor families," Pastor Kim told Keston. "We simply wanted to help the children to relax in the summer, and teach them about what is good." He said the authorities regarded the church's charitable gesture as "missionary work", which is forbidden by Uzbekistan's law on religion, because among the children at the camp there were Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Karakalpaks, nations which have historically professed Islam.

Pastor Kim complained that, since the cancellation of its registration, the church has been forced to exist essentially as an underground organisation. "The authorities believe that we do not have the right to hold meetings without registration. Effectively, the police could descend on any of our services. But we believe people do not need to register a community in order to pray to God."

Pastor Kim says his church is trying for a third time to register at Karakalpakstan's Ministry of Justice, so far without success. "More than a month has gone by since we submitted our registration documents," the church's lawyer Rem Yugai told Keston in Nukus on 27 May. "But the authorities have not responded to our letter, even though under Uzbek law citizens' applications must be considered within 10 days." (END)