UZBEKISTAN: Christians Forced Underground in Muinak.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 7 June 2002

The Christian community in the Uzbek town of Muinak has been forced to exist underground, a local Protestant who wished to remain anonymous told Keston News Service there on 30 May. Muinak, situated in the Uzbek autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, about 900 km north of Tashkent and 200 km north of the republic's capital Nukus, is a place of special significance in Central Asia - a symbol of one of the twentieth century's greatest ecological disasters. Thirty years ago it was a major port on the Aral Sea, but now as a result of the reduction of the water level it is over 100 km from the shore. Almost the entire population of the town was involved in the fishing industry and is now unemployed, due to the drying-up of the sea. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Muinak is one of the poorest places in Uzbekistan.

Keston has learnt that there is a Protestant congregation of about 50 people in Muinak. However, the Christians are today denied practically any opportunity to meet together. About two months ago the town's hakim (mayor), Jarylkan Tursunbekov, handed local Christian pastor Salavat Seregabaev an official written warning that the activity of an unregistered Christian congregation was not permitted. Tursunbekov believes that in view of the difficult social conditions in Muinak Christian activity is not acceptable. Pastor Seregabaev's home is under surveillance: the police and the national security service record who visits him. In effect the local Christians are forced to live like the first "catacomb" Christians in the Roman Empire. They have to conspire secretly to hold their services in the desert several miles from the town. Even so, no more than ten gather for a service since a large group of people leaving the town would arouse the suspicions of the authorities.

When Keston met Jarylkan Tursunbekov on 30 May he first of all denied that there were any Christians in the town. However, he was then forced to admit that there were some. "I will not allow any Christian agitation in Muinak," he told Keston.

Keston has noted that Christians are also being treated harshly by the authorities in the parts of Kazakhstan bordering on the Aral Sea, which have also become an ecological disaster area. In southern Kazakhstan last October, in the town of Kazalinsk in Kyzyl-Orda region close to the Aral Sea, policemen tied a local Protestant to a chair and threatened to cut out his tongue if he refused to deny Christ. Later he was sent for forced treatment in a psychiatric hospital and was released only after international protests (see KNS 13 November 2001) (END).