Pastor Boris* from Uzbekistan was on his way to visit believers in a sister church when he was stopped at a police checkpoint. Officers searched his vehicle and belongings; on his smartphone they found Christian material as well as the contact numbers of many believers in country. Pastor Boris was then charged for “Keeping religious materials for further distribution”. Open Doors experts believe he will be tried and then sentenced to pay a fine.
The next day secret police raided the house of Alfia*, one of the members of Boris’s underground church; they had discovered her name among the contacts on Boris’s phone. In Alfia’s house they discovered many Christian books and Christian video and audio materials, including movies, music and sermons on DVD.
Since then Alfia has changed her phone number, so Open Doors representatives are struggling to contact her.
The church in the ‘stans’, as the Central Asian republics are known, face some very difficult circumstances. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are both in the top 20 of the 2015 World Watch List, while Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan are all in the top 50.
In Uzbekistan, the government restricts faith groups and no religious activity is allowed, outside of state-run and controlled institutions. Churches require registration, but no permits have been issued since 1999. Christian homes are bugged, phones tapped and groups infiltrated to monitor unregistered house churches, who are in constant danger of being raided.
A service at an evangelical church in Kazakhstan was recently stopped by representatives of the local government who demanded that all attendees show their ID cards. When the pastor and members of the church opposed this, the government officials said that the church was unregistered, which was untrue. All of them were told to report to the Office of Religion and write an explanation regarding their participation in the non-registered religious organisation. The church leadership have sought legal advice, but, understandably, the event has left the congregation scared and anxious.
*Names changed for security reasons
Source: Open Doors
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