Authorities in Uzbekistan are searching private homes for what they consider incendiary material — Bibles.
Forum 18, an Oslo-based religious-freedom watchdog, says that Roman Nizamutdinov, a Baptist living in Navoi, was fined 2,516,800 Uzbek sums (a hefty amount, considering the monthly minimum wage in Uzbekistan is around 72,355) for “illegally” storing religious books in his private home.
The judge presiding over the case, Oltynbek Mansurov of Navoi Criminal Court, said the books were affiliated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group that only has official permission to exist in Tashkent Region, but presumably not Navoi. Forum 18 says the books were actually Protestant books, like “Evidence That Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell. Nizamutdinov says he will contest the fine.
In early August, in the Fergana Region, local Protestants told Forum 18 that police searched the home of a local Christian and confiscated “one Bible in Uzbek, one Bible in Russian, and a book by John Bunyan,” the 17th-century English preacher best known for his Christian allegory, “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” According to local residents, police said it is prohibited to keep “such books at home.”
While religious freedom is affirmed in the Uzbek constitution, religious groups are required to register with the government, and authorities tightly control the number of organizations they will register. Officially, there are 159 Christian organizations registered in Uzbekistan, but Christian religious leaders regularly complain that their places of worship are raided and religious materials confiscated. The Christian news website Persecution.com reported in April 2011 that a Baptist church in Tashkent was raided twice in the span of four days. Police and secret service officers confiscated thousands of religious books, printing equipment, and money from church members.
The US State Department’s 2011 International Religious Freedom Report points to Uzbekistan as one of the countries “of particular concern” for restrictions on religious freedom:
Uzbekistan requires religious groups to register and prohibits some activities, such as proselytizing, as well as publishing, importing, and distributing religious materials without a license. Most minority religious groups had difficulty meeting the government’s strict registration requirements. In some cases, members faced heavy fines and even jail terms for violations of the state’s religion laws. The government restricted religious activities that it proclaimed to be in conflict with national security and generally dealt harshly with Muslims who practice and discuss Islam outside of government-sanctioned mosques. Uzbek law prohibits religious groups from forming political parties and social movements, as well as the private teaching of religious principles.
Source: Eurasianet, International Christian Concern