KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 9 November 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

KYRGYZSTAN: PROTESTANT CONVERTS PRESSURED TO
RENOUNCE NEW FAITH. The Church of Jesus, a Protestant church
which draws its members from the ethnic Kyrgyz population, has
complained that its new community in the village of Chon-Tash has
almost been destroyed under pressure from local people. The chief pastor
told Keston News Service that local villagers had isolated church
members and pressured them to return to Islam and that the village's
council of elders had �banned� Christianity. Other Protestant converts, as
well as Jehovah's Witnesses, have reported similar social pressure to
renounce their new faith, especially in villages in southern Kyrgyzstan.

KYRGYZSTAN: PROTESTANT CONVERTS PRESSURED TO
RENOUNCE NEW FAITH

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

A year and a half after first conducting missionary activity in the village
of Chon-Tash, 15 kilometres (10 miles) south of the capital Bishkek, a
Protestant church which draws its members from the ethnic Kyrgyz
population has complained that its new community in the village, which
once had 40 members, has almost been destroyed under pressure from
local people. Islambek Karatayev, the chief pastor of the Church of Jesus,
told Keston News Service on 5 November that local villagers had isolated
church members and pressured them to return to Islam and that the
village's council of elders had �banned� Christianity. A September
meeting the church hoped would lead to reconciliation ended amid further
condemnation of the Protestants. This is not the first instance when
converts from a Muslim background have faced heavy social pressure to
renounce their new faith. Other Protestants, as well as Jehovah's
Witnesses, have reported similar pressure, especially in villages in
southern Kyrgyzstan.

When a group of Church of Jesus members arrived in Chon-Tash on 6
May 2000 to preach, the villagers severely beat them. One church
member, Telega Isayeva, had two teeth knocked out. Karatayev told
Keston that not only had no criminal case been brought against the
offenders, but they were also still �persecuting� church members with
impunity.

The villagers have isolated the Protestants, refusing to bury their relatives
in the local cemetery and to invite them to community events, a great
insult in traditional Kyrgyz society. They tell other pupils not to talk to
the children of Syrga Sarukiyeva, the church's pastor in the village.
Karatayev told Keston that initially the Chon-Tash church had around 40
members, but because of the �persecution� practically all had renounced
the Christian faith. Under pressure from the villagers, one former church
member tore up a Bible in front of Sarukiyeva and threw it at her feet.

According to Karatayev, on 26 September the Church of Jesus made an
attempt at reconciliation, organising a meeting with the villagers. Among
those attending were the chief specialist of the Tash-Tyube village
council Mamakas Omurzakov (the village of Chon-Tash is within his
remit), the village's council of elders, representatives of the local mosque,
Kyrgyzstan's deputy mufti, Ilyas Haji, and members of the Church of
Jesus. According to Karatayev, the meeting turned into a kangaroo court
passing judgement on the Protestants. Ilyas Haji declared that a law
should be introduced forbidding Kyrgyz from adopting Christianity, and
he called the Protestants present at the meeting �dogs�. The council of
elders decided to ban Christianity in the village and warned the
Protestants that if they did not stop preaching they �would not escape the
people's wrath�. When the Protestant delegation left the village, the local
people pelted them with stones and apples.

�I'm not going to deny that the Protestants were insulted at the meeting on
26 September, and that the council of elders resolved that the preaching
of Christianity in the village of Chon-Tash was unacceptable,�
Omurzakov told Keston on 6 November in the nearby village of
Vorontsovka. �But the Protestants must understand that Chon-Tash is a
purely Kyrgyz village, where practically all the villagers are Muslims. It
is far from simple to preach Christianity in a place like that. We cannot
give police protection to every local Protestant. Moreover, if we start to
force local people to leave the Protestants alone, that could simply lead to
revolt. Let the Protestants go to a village where there are a lot of
Russians, and then their problems will vanish.� Omurzakov pointed out
that a Protestant church operated freely in Vorontsovka, which has a large
ethnic Russian population.

�I know all about the situation in Chon-Tash,� the head of the
Commission for Religious Affairs of Kyrgyzstan, Omurzak
Mamayusupov, told Keston in Bishkek on 7 November. �But you must
understand that religion is an extremely delicate issue, and legal decisions
that have not been thought through could lead to bloodshed.� He said his
commission therefore tried to act cautiously. �We must first do
preparatory work with the Chon-Tash villagers, and then Christians will
be able to preach their views freely.�

In another instance of pressure on Muslim converts to Christianity, on 29
December 2000 residents of Kuruk-Kul, a village in the Jalal-abad region
of southern Kyrgyzstan populated by ethnic Uzbeks, tried to condemn
their fellow-villagers who had converted to Christianity under Shariah
law. A crowd of several thousand demanded that the converts be
punished. The police only managed to save the Christians by means of
deceit, pretending that they were arresting them and removing them from
the angry crowd in a police van.

The Islamic clergy have virtually condoned such pressure on Muslim
converts to Christianity. Speaking to Keston in August in the town of
Jalal-abad, the mufti of the region Dilmurat Haji Orozov claimed that the
Kuruk-Kul villagers had not converted to Christianity for ideological
reasons, but because they had been seduced by money. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.