For many years officially secular Uzbekistan, whose population is mainly Muslim, was the harshest Central Asian country in its treatment of Christians. But President Mirziyoyev, elected in December 2016, has shown a more tolerant attitude.
In 2019, a historic breakthrough saw several churches registered, including one in the notoriously strict, autonomous region of Karakalpakstan, and at least a further eight churches were registered in 2020. Church registration had previously been very difficult to obtain.
The year 2019 also saw an end to raids on activities by unregistered churches. However, Christians were disappointed in August 2020 when the government unveiled its draft new Religion Law. Virtually all the oppressive measures integral to the 1998 law were retained in the 2020 draft.
All religious activity outside state-approved, registered organisations, and without permission from the authorities, remains “illegal”. But the number of adult members required for a church to apply for official registration (so its activities are legal) has been reduced from the current 100 to 50. The draft text upholds the compulsory prior censorship of religious literature and article 11 bans “any forms of missionary activity and proselytism capable of destroying inter-religious accord and religious tolerance in society”. There is a new requirement for church leaders to receive theological training.
Uzbekistan recognises the Russian Orthodox Church, but discriminates against other Christian denominations. Evangelical churches are growing, with many converts from Islam who face ostracism and pressure from their Muslim relatives and harassment by the authorities and Islamist extremists.
Christianity in Uzbekistan was nearly eradicated under the Turkic military leader Tamerlane (1336-1405). Known for his hatred of Christians, he is still celebrated as a hero by Uzbeks. Tamerlane made his capital in the city of Samarkand, using wealth from his conquests to construct grand mosques.
Praise God that the Church in Uzbekistan is growing, despite persecution. Ask that the government will continue to progress in its tolerance towards evangelical Christians and lift all restrictions on religious freedom.
The above content can also be found in the Praying for the Persecuted Church (2021-2022) booklet