Imagine being in the middle of a lesson at school, or a lecture at college or uni, and the police appear at the door. They ask the teacher or lecturer to stop teaching, and then tell each student to unlock their phones and hand them over to be searched. How would you feel? They could look at your photos, your apps, emails, texts, social media and web browsing history. They could check who you’d been calling and listen to your voice notes or voicemails. They could learn a lot about you, right?
It’s a pretty daunting prospect – being asked to reveal your digital identity when you haven’t committed any crime. But it’s a situation that some students at several high schools in Uzbekistan experienced last week.
Image: A photo taken by one brave student showing the police searching the phones of young people…
Last Thursday a local source reported that policemen and people in plain clothes went to into schools and took phones from students to check for religious content. This would have meant a Bible app or even a daily devotional app, like Lectio365 – or even a visit to this website!
Many parents were outraged by the actions of law enforcement agencies and were concerned that the police were interfering in the privacy of their children without the consent. It shows that the police in Uzbekistan are becoming more active in trying to find and control ‘illegal’ religious content and materials.
Earlier that day, at 5am, police officers also broke into the home of a local church leader to search his house. Again, they were looking for materials of a religious nature. They also searched the homes of several of the house church believers.
There are 33.2 million people living in Muslim-majority Uzbekistan. Only around 345,000 are Christian. Converts from Muslim backgrounds face the brunt of persecution in Uzbekistan. They face considerable pressure from family, friends and communities, who see them as traitors. No religious activities beyond state-run and state-controlled institutions are allowed, and Christians who are members of unregistered churches are viewed as a threat to the government.
Believers may have their meetings raided and be arrested or fined for taking part in ‘illegal’ religious activities. Church leaders are especially targeted because the authorities want to cause a ripple effect of fear and anxiety in their congregations. Sharing faith remains banned, whilst state permission is required for religious activities and teaching.
As we start looking forward to Christmas, could you send hope to young Christians facing persecution?
1. Write a message of hope to a few different young people and let them know that you’re praying for them.
2. Lose something from your Christmas list, and ask for a donation to Open Doors instead…
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.