A member of a Pentecostal church in the Uzbekistan capital of Tashkent has been tortured while in police custody since his June 14 arrest.
Uzbekistan is in Central Asia, north of Afghanistan.
According to Forum 18 News Service, sources said other church members have been “summoned and threatened.”
Forum 18 reported those sources told the news service that Kural Bekjanov,19, has been tortured both by police officers and cell mates in an attempt to pressure him to abandon his Christian faith. When his mother, Gulya, was finally allowed to see him at Tashkent city police station June 26, he had lost weight, had difficulty walking and his fingers and legs were covered in blood.
“Yesterday, police threatened to put him on a chair wired up to the electricity – believe me, all this is happening,” a church member told Forum 18.
The news service reported Protestants have complained of a widespread crackdown affecting churches across Uzbekistan, except in Andijan, where an uprising against the government was brutally suppressed in May.
After being arrested at his Tashkent home, Bekjanov was taken to the city’s Mirobad district police station. He was initially accused of involvement in the murder of a 65-year-old U.S. citizen of Korean origin, Kim Khen Pen Khin, who had worked with Pentecostal churches in Tashkent.
Her body was found in central Tashkent on June 11, Forum 18 reported. She had been assaulted and strangled. Although the accusations against Bekjanov of involvement in the murder were dropped two days after his arrest, church members told Forum 18 that when the police found out he was a Christian they started to beat him.
“His mother heard the cries of her own son and begged them to stop beating him,” one church member told Forum 18. “They told her it wasn’t her son’s cries, but she said she knew the sound of her own son’s voice.”
Bekjanov was then transferred to the main city police station where “the worst things of all began,” a church member told Forum 18.
He was put in a cell with alleged Wahhabis and Akramia members, who said they had been seized by police in Andijan in the wake of the suppression of the uprising in May (in other cases in Uzbekistan, police have planted informers in cells who pretend to be prisoners).
“These prisoners asked him if he was a Christian, and when he replied ‘Yes,’ they beat him brutally,” a church member told Forum 18. “Police officers saw this but made no effort to intervene.”
Sources told Forum 18 that police “brutally tortured” Bekjanov every night for the next 12 days, inserting needles under his fingernails (a form of torture reported by other former prisoners in Uzbekistan). His ribs were broken.
“Every Christian in Tashkent was shocked when they found out that the aim of the torture was to get him to renounce his faith in Christ,” a source told Forum 18.
Bekjanov was not the only Full Gospel church member interrogated in the wake of the discovery of Kim’s body, the news service reported. Sources said the police were less interested in investigating the murder than in questioning church members about their beliefs.
“In the last two weeks, two church members were brutally beaten – one of them a pastor who is now recuperating after suffering concussion and seven other injuries, which were recorded at Tashkent’s 16th hospital,” a church member said. “In addition, 17 church members – among them four church workers – were questioned for maybe eight to 14 hours at a time. They were insulted, humiliated and threatened. Police spoke to them in the way you would not even speak to animals. Each day it is getting worse and worse.”
Another church member indicated he had been summoned by an investigator named Murad in the early morning hours of June 17 to the 27th office of Mirobad police station. Murad beat him so hard that he fell over and cried out.
“He swore at me using all kinds of terrible expressions,” the church member told Forum 18. “He then ordered me to go down on my knees and bow down to him. When I refused, he beat me and kicked me in the stomach.”
The church member reportedly was finally freed at 7 p.m. He complained to the Tashkent city prosecutor and other agencies.
“Lieutenant-Colonel Davron from the 34th office of Mirobad police station told one of our people that all Christians are animals who have sold themselves to America and should be shot as this is a Muslim state,” another church member said. “The investigator … told some of our female church members that he is fed up with these Christians, and they should all be locked up.”
Other Protestant sources reported the widespread crackdown on Protestants began the day after the Andijan uprising was crushed. Presbyterian churches were closed down in Yangiyul and Angren, towns near Tashkent, as well as one in the small town of Farhad in Syrdarya region south of Tashkent, whose pastor spent a week in prison.
In Termez on the southern border with Afghanistan, police took the pastor to the police station where he was beaten and held in handcuffs. According to Forum 18, the entire congregation – including 10 children age 6 months to 14 years – were held by police for 24 hours in the place where the church met for services.
“They were given no food or water,” one Protestant told the news service. “Police then took the church members to the police station to see the detained pastor and warned them they, too, would suffer the same treatment.”
Police also raided a Protestant church in the western town of Urgench during the Sunday worship service June 26.
Some of the 60 church members present were detained briefly for questioning, while others were questioned in the church. The congregation — whose pastor was fired from his job in a factory several weeks ago — has been unsuccessfully attempting to register for the last two years, but local agencies that need to approve the application have refused to consider it. In the week before the raid, the pastor had discussed a new registration application with officials.
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Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter.