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Pastor Dmitry Shestakov, sentenced to exile for leading Christians in Uzbekistan (Voice of the Martyrs photo)
A Christian leader under persecution for his faith has been ordered exiled by the Uzbekistan government, after prosecutors alleged he was preaching without government authorization, a new report from Voice of the Martyrs has revealed.
The organization, which advocates on behalf of persecuted Christians worldwide, said Pastor Dmitry Shestakov was sentenced at a court hearing just days ago to four years in exile.
“This is an example of what our Uzbek brothers and sisters face in their country,” said Todd Nettleton, director of media development for VOM. “This is a government that says they give their citizens religious freedom, but that is clearly not the case.”
The report follows by just a week a report of another instance of persecution in Uzbekistan, also documented by VOM. In that case, police officers were dispatched to break into the meeting of a church in Qarshi and confiscate literature. They also demanded to know who was providing funds for the meetings and why people chose to be Christian.
The Uzbek government has a formal policy that “religious toleration and forbearance have always been and remain to be the most important component of the state policy of the Republic of Uzbekistan.”
But the latest incidents, including the Shestakov decision, appear to disprove that.
“According to The Voice of the Martyrs contacts in Uzbekistan, the location to which he will be exiled has not been determined. It is not clear if his family will be able to go with him,” said the organization founded by a man who endured prison and punishment for his belief in Christ.
Pastor Shestakov had been arrested in a raid of his congregation in Andijan in January, officials said.
“Uzbekistan’s Religious Affairs Committee claims Shestakov, an evangelical pastor, is not an authorized leader of any officially recognized religious organization in Uzbekistan. They describe him as an ‘imposter’ leading an underground group identified as ‘charismatic Pentecostals’ engaged in proselytizing under Shestakov’s leadership,” VOM officials confirmed.
That conclusion was delivered by the government even though the church he works with is affiliated with the Full Gospel Church, which is documented as a registered church.
“Our prayers will continue to be with our brother as he faces this sentence, and we pray that the gospel work in Andijan will continue and grow,” Nettleton said.
Officers standing guard during church service in Uzbekistan (Voice of the Martyrs photo)
The organization said in the Qarshi case, police officers arrived with video cameras to record the service, but Pastor Sergei Shandyyayey didn’t panic and just continued the worship.
“After the service finished, the officers shut the doors and began to question the believers gathered there, especially asking why they had become Christians,” VOM said.
According to the U.S. State Department, Uzbekistan is a “country of particular concern” because of its persecution of Christians, including multiple raids that have been conducted in recent months.
In one case, officers raided a church in Tashkent, confiscating video and audio recordings as well as books and Bibles, and taking several young people to police headquarters. One member, Risto Dyachkov, was convicted of violating Uzbekistan’s “religion law” and fined, Voice of the Martyrs said.
In another case Christians who happened to be in a caf? and were discussing their faith were ordered to admit that they were not authorized to hold such a meeting.
Judges have concluded in their decisions that national law does not allow unregistered religious groups to operate, so any musical equipment, books, literature or other items that are confiscated are not returned. That, authorities concluded, was “material evidence.”
Voice of the Martyrs
is a non-profit, interdenominational ministry working worldwide to help Christians who are persecuted for their faith, and to educate the world about that persecution. Its headquarters are in Bartlesville, Okla., and it has 30 affiliated international offices.
It was launched by the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who started smuggling Russian Gospels into Russia in 1947, just months before Richard was abducted and imprisoned in Romania where he was tortured for his refusal to recant Christianity.
He eventually was released in 1964 and the next year he testified about the persecution of Christians before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to show the deep torture wound scars on his body.
The group that later was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs was organized in 1967, when his book, “Tortured for Christ,” was released.