Uzbekistan Christians Forced Underground

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Thursday, March 13, 2003

As authorities crack down against non Muslim groups

By: Stefan J. Bos,
Eastern Europe Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

NUKUS, UZBEKISTAN (ANS) -- Presbyterian Christians are forced to meet secretly in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan as the authorities are increasing pressure on non Muslim groups, ASSIST News Service monitored Thursday March 13.

"The authorities say we have no right to hold meetings without registration," said Khym-Mun Kim, a leader of the Peace Presbyterian church in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, a region in north west Uzbekistan.

"In fact the police could descend on any of our services. But we believe that people do not have to register a community in order to pray to God," the Forum 18 News Service (F18News) quoted him as saying.

Kim added that since his over 100 member congregation known as the Peace church, has virtually had to go underground as it made three unsuccessful attempts to register since 2000.

"PRAY TO GOD"

"The authorities say we have no right to hold meetings without registration. And in fact the police could descend on any of our services. But we believe that people do not have to register a community in order to pray to God."

A religious affairs official of the Karakalpakstan cabinet, Khusneidin Khamidov told the church that "due to the lack of specialists in non-Muslim confessions in Karakalpakstan", it should apply directly to the national Committee for Religious Affairs in Tashkent, F18News said.

However the Committee and "Karakalpakstan's justice ministry refused to consider our documents without Khamidov's signature, but he had already said that we must apply direct to the Committee for Religious Affairs in Tashkent," Kim said. "We ended up in a vicious circle."

"SEVERE VIOLATORS"

Reports about the Presbyterian troubles came days after the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed disappointment the State Department did not include Uzbekistan and 5 other countries to its list of "severe violators of religious liberty in its latest report."

On March 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell designated the same six "countries of particular concern" as he had previously, but the Commission recommended six more governments for the list, the Baptist Press reported.

The repeat offenders are Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan. In a recent letter to Powell the USCIRF had recommended to add Uzbekistan along with India, Laos, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.

Human rights activists have often complained about attacks against especially Protestant Christians, who authorities often describe as "sects" who are not in line with Islam the main religion in the Central Asian country of about 24 million people.

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