12th December, 2011
Authorities in eastern Uzbekistan have warned local churches not to allow youngsters and children to attend their worship services and not to carry out missionary activities or "proselytism", the word for evangelism, local Christians and activists said.
The news emerged last week after Deputy Head of Administration Saidibrahim Saynazirov spoke with church leaders in the city of Angren, 110 kilometres east of Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent.
"All unregistered religious activity is a criminal offense, in defiance of the international human rights agreements Uzbekistan is a party to," explained Forum 18, an advocacy group.
He reportedly met with officials of the Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Presbyterian, Seventh-day Adventist and Baptist churches, but not with representatives of non-registered communities, observers said.
"All unregistered religious activity is a criminal offense, in defiance of the international human rights agreements Uzbekistan is a party to," explained Forum 18, an advocacy group with close knowledge about the situation.
Saynazirov allegedly also demanded that the different churches provide him with lists of their members, a move resembling the time when Uzbekistan was still part of the Soviet Union.
Church leaders apparently refused to hand over names, amid concerns authorities could pressure individuals.
In published remarks, Saynazirov denied he had "demanded" names, saying he only "asked" for them. "It's not in the law but we recommend that you do it," he was quoted as saying by Forum 18 News Service.
The latest developments came after Sergei Kozin, a Baptist Christian, was fined recently 80 times the minimum monthly wage after police broke up a meeting of Baptists who were on holiday together, Christians said.
Devoted Christians, including Baptists, were also targeted elsewhere including in Fergana the capital of Fergana Province, where five officials raided a home without a search warrant, Forum 18 reported this week.
Elsewhere, two schoolgirls stopped coming to a church after police allegedly threatened them that they "will be in police records and thrown out of school", Baptists said.
There was no immediate reaction from officials but the reported crackdown on groups seen as a threat to the establishment have been linked to long-term leader Islam Karimov who critics say tolerates no opposition.
Several political and rights activists have fled as he shows no signs of giving up power and has made clear he wants to tackle what he calls "religious extremism".
In May 2005, troops in the eastern city of Andijan opened fire on protesters demonstrating against the imprisonment of people charged with Islamic extremism. Witnesses reported a bloodbath with several hundred civilian deaths.
The Uzbek authorities claim fewer than 190 died.