By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
BUDAPEST/TASHKENT (BosNewsLife)– Police in Uzbekistan have raided a group of about 80 Protestant Christians who were on on a holiday together to learn more about their Christian faith, after an earlier crackdown on an evangelical church, religious rights activists said Monday, December 17.
Advocacy group Forum 18, which is in close contact with local believers, said authorities charged four members of the holiday makers for involvement in an unauthorized Christian gathering at the Simurg (Phoenix) resort, located in Bostanlyk District of Tashkent Region around capital Tashkent.
Local police defended the December 1 raid, saying in published remarks that people must worship “only in registered places specifically set up for religious purposes.”
Forum 18 said Christians Gennady Chen, Vladimir Zhikhar, Aleksandr Lokshev and Gennady Timoyev were charged under six articles of the Code of Administrative Offenses while they “were meeting together discussing their faith and singing Christian songs.”
Security forces also “confiscated three Bibles and 100 Christian songbooks, insulted the group, and took their fingerprints of all present,” Forum 18 said.
It was not immediately clear what more punishment was expected, but Forum 18 suggested they can face at least huge fines.
Last month three members of the unregistered Full Gospel Protestant Church in the Tuiteppa area of Tashkent Region were told to pay sums of between 100 and 20 times the minimum monthly wage.
The fines arrived after police broke into the private home of Timur and Irina Kholmatov when the couple together with four friends were reading their Bibles, singing Christian songs and praying, Christians said.
After the November 18 raid, they were charged for “meeting together reading their Bibles, singing Christian songs, praying, and possessing religious books – all without state permission,” Forum 18 explained.
Police also “confiscated 159 Christian books [including] 35 in English, 34 in Korean, 5 in Uzbek [and] 85 in Russian as well as 20 booklets, 31 notebooks with personal notes, 55 slides, 500 leaflets, 315 audio-cassette tapes, and 54 video-cassette tapes,” Forum 18 said, citing local Christians.
The books reportedly included three Children’s Bibles.
Additionally, police confiscated a Toshiba laptop computer, four memory sticks, four guitars, an acoustic speaker, two sound boosters, and an over-head projector, Christians and rights activists said.
The books, including Bibles, were reportedly ordered to be destroyed.
Forum 18 said that besides Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses are under pressure in the former Soviet republic, with at least one Jehovah’s Witness being fined this month 10 times the minimum monthly wage for possessing religious books.
Uzbekistan is ruled by President Islam Karimov who has dominated the leadership since 1989 when he rose to be Communist Party leader in then Soviet Uzbekistan.
He soon became president and continued in the post after independence. His critics claim Larimov takes “a ruthlessly authoritarian approach to all forms of opposition”, including apparently non traditional Christian churches and groups.
The few Western observers who observed parliamentary elections in 2004 condemned them as having failed to meet international standards and said all candidates backed the president.