Officers standing guard during church service in Uzbekistan (Voice of the Martyrs photo)

Authorities in Uzbekistan still are attacking Christians who participate in unregistered churches, in direct contradiction to the government’s official stance that “religious toleration” is part of its policy, according to new documentation from Voice of the Martyrs.

Even though the Uzbek government has a formal statement 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,” the VOM photographs prove police still are targeting and harassing Christians.

According to VOM, which works in support of persecuted Christians worldwide, the photographs come from an invasion of a church meeting by police officers only days ago. The officers burst into a church meeting in Qarshi, confiscated literature and demanded to know who was providing the funds for the meetings.

“Police also brought video cameras to videotape the worship service,” the report said. “When police started to film, Pastor Sergei Shandyyayey didn’t panic, but simply continued the worship service.”

“After the service finished, the officers shut the doors and began to question the believers gathered there, especially asking why they had become Christians,” the report said.

Police searching for Bibles and other Christian literature (Voice of the Martyrs photo)

Since, the church is not registered with the government, “the Christians expected to be summoned to court for a hearing,” the report said.

According to the U.S. State Department, Uzbekistan is a “country of particular concern” when it comes to religious freedoms. And while the government issues denials that there is a crackdown on Christians, the incident in Qarshi is just the latest to be reported in recent months.

Just a few weeks before Christmas, the Justice Department in the Tashkent region issued a formal warning to the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Yankgiyul to re-register within four weeks or be stripped of that registration. However, church leaders say the process of re-registration takes more time than that.

Uzbekistan police who raided a church (Voice of the Martyrs photo)

And a short time after that, 30 police officers raided a Pentecostal church in Tashkent, confiscating hundreds of video and audio recordings and a stack of books, including some Bibles. Several young people were taken by police to their headquarters to give a statement in that case, and one member, Risto Dyachkov, was convicted of violating Uzbekistan’s “religion law” and fined $62, reports said.

There also have been reports of 40 Protestants being interrogated over a period of 18 days because of their participation in a church, and of Christians who were in a caf? discussing their faith being ordered by police to state that they were not authorized to hold that religious 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.”

Begzot Kadyrov, a specialist at the government’s religious affairs committee in Tashkent, told the Forum 18 organization that there is a list of approved religious literature. “Naturally, that includes the New and Old Testaments,” he said.

However, the government’s chief of Religious Affairs Committee confirmed that “missionary work and the activity of unregistered religious communities are illegal.”

It was the government’s crackdown on Christians in Uzbekistan that prompted one of the more widely read e-mails on the Internet, a document that the Truth or Fiction site documents as coming from a pastor who admits writing it.

That’s the story of a pastor who attended a conference during the 2004 presidential campaign, and listened to a pastor from Uzbekistan who said Christians were persecuted worse when Bill Clinton was president than during George Bush’s tenure.

The e-mail was from Pastor James Lair of the Church of the Living Christ in Ojai, Calif., who told the site that debunks urban myths it’s true.

The Uzbekistan pastor had been introduced because he had traveled the farthest to attend. This is the report:

I don’t remember his name; and even if I did, I know I
couldn’t pronounce it. However, I do know this: I will never forget this man. … He talked about the church of a few hundred people that he pastors. He also shared how it is illegal in his country to be a Christian. … He talked about how the Christians
have been arrested and even killed in his country.

Then, as the interview was about to end, he began to speak very
urgently and passionately. He said something to this effect: ‘I would like all
of you to know that my church and the Christians in my country are praying
that President Bush will be re-elected.’ I was stunned. I knew that this
gathering had to include many pastors from all over the political
spectrum and I was certain this would not go over well. Immediately, there were
murmurings and rumblings throughout the audience and the MC seemed a
little uncertain about what to do next.

However, this pastor would not be denied. Grasping the microphone
firmly in his hand, he continued, ‘The officials in my country are afraid of
President Bush, so they don’t persecute Christians as much. Under
Clinton it was very bad for us. Many of us were arrested, put in jail, and some were killed. With Clinton, it was very bad. But under President Bush, it
has been so much better, so we are praying for him.’

The murmuring ended. It was suddenly very quiet. The MC paused.
Then he just asked us to stand and pray for this man and we did so with
great passion.

Lair went on to note that he then realized that America’s decisions – such as elections – are not just about the economy, “gay” marriage and the like, but also about the treatment of Christians by governments around the globe.

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.

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