In Uzbekistan, the government is extending the surveillance of religious groups by adding cameras inside and outside of places of worship.
Since 2018, Mosques (which are state controlled) were ordered to install surveillance cameras. In early 2022, the Interior Ministry also ordered state-registered non-Muslim religious communities of a wide variety of beliefs to install them too. It is suspected that the secret police use these cameras to identify and track citizens with problematic religious beliefs.
The Council of Baptist Churches – who exercise their freedom of religion and belief without seeking state permission – have not been ordered to install surveillance cameras. However, surveillance cameras are either fixed pointing directly at church doors or gates.
A member of another religious community said that “the police can see who leads prayers, who preaches sermons, who is present at our meetings for worship, whether any under-18-year-olds and their parents are present.”
They commented that “this makes us very vulnerable, as police will be able to identify any of those people and punish them if they decide so.” Another community also noted that the police were particularly interested in whether under-18-year-olds participate in its meetings for worship. “The surveillance cameras make it easy to find the parents and to punish them,” they said.
“The police watch us like we are in the palm of their hands. This is disturbing because we are conscious that we are being watched while we are praying or speaking with others before or after praying.” They added that “we want to concentrate on our meetings for worship, and not be afraid”
A member of another community told Forum 18 that the local police claimed to them that they will not watch them online. However, the police also stated that they must be able to remotely access and control the surveillance cameras and recordings. Another community commented that “the police want to identify everyone who attends our place of worship, so that if they want to punish particular people who attend our meetings for worship they can.”
Uzbekistan is ranked at number 21 on the 2022 Open Doors World Watch List. It is largely Muslim, so any Christian who converts from Islam faces increased pressure from their family and community. Christians like these may be beaten or expelled from their communities. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to house arrest, which remains a common and socially accepted form of pressuring female converts. These girls and women also risk being kidnapped and married off to a Muslim – or, if she is already married, divorced and denied any possessions. As a result of all these risks, many converts from Islam are forced to hide their faith.
Though all Christians experience some level of persecution in Uzbekistan, Protestants are often the victims of the greatest pressure. Christians who are a part of these non-registered churches may be viewed as ‘extremists’, and the government believes church members are spies trying to destroy the government. Therefore, Christians and their churches are monitored, and unregistered churches may be the victims of police raids, arrests and fines.
Heavenly Father, we know that living as a Christian in Uzbekistan can carry enormous challenges and even danger. Encourage, equip and empower believers in the face of pressure and persecution, and may all hostility against them soften. Grant leaders wisdom and discernment as they navigate state restrictions, and keep them in good health and spirits. Keep and protect Your children. Amen.
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