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 Uzbekistan: Persecution produces opportunities

Three Christians have each been sentenced to 15 days in prison in the Andijan region of eastern Uzbekistan after police raided a home. Uzbekistan is located in Central Asia, north of Afghanistan.
Three additional Protestants at the house were detained in a homeless center for between four and eleven days, for not having their identification documents with them.

In a separate case, a Baptist in the capital city of Tashkent was given a ten-day prison sentence after approximately 20 officials from various state agencies – including the Presidential Administration – raided a prayer meeting in a registered church. Officials told church members that they need special permission for any services aside from those on Sundays, though Forum 18 said the news service can’t find any legal requirement for this alleged regulation.

Vice President of Russian Ministries Sergey Rakhuba says they have work in the region, and he confirms that attacks against Christians are on the increase. “It looks like officials are targeting everybody who is talking about their faith, claiming that they are there to destroy their country.”

Rakhuba says these aren’t isolated cases of oppression. He says it’s happening all over the country. “People we work with are sending us messages saying that this is the beginning of another wave of very intense and very serious persecution.”

Ironically this has nothing to do with a new religion law in Uzbekistan, according to Rakhuba. “The believers were in their homes. They were in their churches. They were doing what their constitution allows. They were praying and reading the Bible. But government officials arrested them under their terrorist act or regulation, implying that they’re trying to [create an uprising] against their country, which it totally not true.”

Rakhuba says authorities are even trying to fabricate violations of the religion law. “They will stop somebody in the car, or arrest somebody on the streets, and then they plant New Testaments or Bibles or other literature, claiming that they were trying to distribute it on the streets, when they’re not trying to do that.”
He says even the long time Russian Baptist are having difficulties in the country.

Because the government’s taking such a hard stand on evangelical Christians, the church has gone underground. “That’s really who they are after. The more pressure they create, the more success we see in the underground movement, just like any other place on earth.”

Rakhuba reports that the underground church movement is growing like wildfire. Russian Ministries’ Schools Without Walls program has been created to work well in underground situations – training the next generation church leaders. “You don’t have to have schools or classrooms or schedules or approvals. You just have to have a leader” who’s willing to go and train.

That’s why Russian Ministries needs your support during this crisis. “Everybody’s talking about crisis today. But God is faithful. And we need support more than ever before.”

[b]Praying for Nations and National Leadership

Country profile: Uzbekistan[/b]

In 1991 Uzbekistan emerged as a sovereign country after more than a century of Russian rule - first as part of the Russian empire and then as a component of the Soviet Union.
Positioned on the ancient Great Silk Road between Europe and Asia, majestic cities such as Bukhara and Samarkand, famed for their architectural opulence, once flourished as trade and cultural centres.

Uzbekistan is one of the world’s biggest producers of cotton and is rich in natural resources, including oil, gas and gold. However, rigid political control is mirrored in the tightly centralised planning of the economy. Economic reform has been painfully slow and poverty and unemployment are widespread.

The World Bank announced in early 2006 that it would make no new loans to Uzbekistan for the foreseeable future. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced in 2004 that it was slashing aid to Uzbekistan because of the country’s failure to reform and its poor human rights record.

Following the 11 September attacks on the US, Uzbekistan won favour with Washington by allowing its forces a base in Uzbekistan, affording ready access across the Afghan border. US aid increased for a time. But human rights observers said the international community was failing to respond adequately to the many reported cases of abuse and torture.

The country has faced sporadic bombings and shootings in recent years. The authorities have been quick to blame Islamic extremists for the dozens of deaths caused.

The most recent violence came in the eastern city of Andijan in May 2005 when troops opened fire on protesters against the jailing of people charged with Islamic extremism. Witnesses reported a bloodbath with several hundred civilian deaths. The Uzbek authorities put the overall toll at less than 190.

The EU imposed sanctions when the authorities rejected calls for an international inquiry and the US threatened to withold aid. Soon afterwards parliament voted to demand that US forces leave their base in the south of the country.

Opponents of President Karimov blamed the authorities’ brutal determination to crush all dissent. The president blamed fundamentalists seeking the overthrow of constitutional order and the establishment of a Muslim caliphate in Central Asia.

At what many outside observers described as a show trial, 15 people were later convicted of organising the unrest and jailed for between 14 and 20 years. Dozens of others were also jailed for lengthy terms.

The president’s uncompromising policies have at times created friction between Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries and Uzbekistan has been wary of moves towards closer political integration.

President Karimov describes Russia as Tashkent’s “most reliable partner and ally”. In November 2005 the two countries signed an agreement paving the way for much closer military co-operation.

Population: 27.8 million (UN, 2008)
Capital: Tashkent
Area: 447,400 sq km (172,700 sq miles)
Major language: Uzbek, Russian, Tajik
Major religion: Islam
Life expectancy: 64 years (men), 70 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Uzbek som = 100 tiyins
Main exports: Cotton, gold, natural gas, mineral fertilizers, ferrous metals, textiles, motor vehicles

Profile: Islam Karimov
Islam Karimov has dominated the leadership since 1989 when he rose to be Communist Party leader in then Soviet Uzbekistan. The following year he became Uzbek president and continued in the post after independence.

A referendum held in 1995 extended his term until 2000 when he won the presidential elections unopposed. A further referendum in 2002 extended the presidential term from five to seven years, but the expiry of his term in January 2007 went largely unnoticed. He gained another term following elections in December 2007 which opponents dismissed as a sham.

Mr Karimov takes a ruthlessly authoritarian approach to all forms of opposition. The few Western observers who monitored parliamentary elections in 2004 condemned them as having failed to meet international standards and pointed out that all the candidates supported the president.

Mr Karimov has been accused of using the perceived threat of Islamic militancy to justify his style of leadership. Observers say the combination of ruthless repression and poor living standards provides fertile breeding ground for violent resistance in a volatile region.

Mr Karimov was born in 1938 in the central town of Samarkand and is an economist by profession. He held various senior posts in Soviet Uzbekistan, including finance minister and first secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party Central Committee.

[i]From the Intercessors Network[/i]

 2009/4/2 10:51

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