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Uzbekistan

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A minaret in Uzbekistan, which is 93% Muslim
Nikolaus88 / CC BY-SA 3.0

All Christian activity is illegal for members of unregistered churches in Uzbekistan, and the official reprisals inflicted on them can be shattering. Sardorbek Nurmetov, who attends an unregistered church, was brutally beaten following his arrest in June 2013. A police officer beat him about the head and chest and kicked his legs. Christian literature and other materials were seized.

Officially a secular state, Uzbekistan has long been recognised as one of the most repressive regimes in Central Asia with respect to religious freedom, with the number of incidents against Christians increasing in recent years and extremely harsh religion laws severely limiting Christian activities. Churches are required to register with the authorities, but the stringent requirements are impossible for some to meet, and others are turned down for petty reasons such as minor grammatical errors or problems in certifying addresses. Children are discouraged from practising the Christian faith, and in 2013 the government raided a Christian children’s camp.

Christians from unregistered churches are vulnerable to police raids on their meetings and homes as well as to harassment and surveillance. During raids, threats and physical violence are common; arrest and detention can follow. Attending services, teaching the Bible to adults or children and training Christian leaders can result in fines of up to 200 to 300 times the monthly minimum wage for repeated violations. Even registered churches may be targeted. All evangelism is illegal, and Christians accused of illegally storing, importing or distributing Christian literature are subject to heavy fines. In the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan, where persecution is especially severe, it is even illegal to own a Bible. Members of churches that are considered “non-traditional” may be criticised in the media or suffer discrimination.

Uzbekistan has a strong Islamic heritage, as 80% of its population are Uzbek, a traditionally Sunni Muslim Turkic tribe, and 93% are nominally Muslim. Christianity in the area was almost entirely eradicated in 1300 AD under the Turkic military leader Tamerlane, who was renowned for his hatred of Christians and who is still celebrated as a hero in Uzbekistan. This legacy is very noticeable in the way Christian converts from Islam are often ostracised from their families and communities or threatened and beaten to force them to return to Islam. Churches with many Muslim-background believers frequently face harassment from the authorities as well as from local communities.

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