Vol. 5, No. 2, Spring 1997, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe
Violations of Religious Liberty in Uzbekistan
Mark Elliott, editor
Uzbekistan is among the 11 countries with the worst records of
discrimination and persecution against Christians worldwide, according
to research by Nina Shea of Freedom House (New York Times, 11
February 1997 editorial). While the 1992 Uzbek law on religion
forbids missionary activity (Article 3, Part 1), it does grant citizens
and religious organizations the right "to acquire and use religious
literature in their own language" (Article 21, Part 1); "to produce,
export, import, and use religious literature" Article 21, Part 3); and
"to confess any religion or to confess none" (Article 3, Part 1).
Nevertheless, Uzbek authorities are increasingly violating provisions
of the current Uzbek law on religion.
Sources: Karen Lord, "Commission Urges Uzbekistan to Protect Religious Liberty," CSCE Digest 19 (December 1996), 9; Barbara G. Baker, "Imprisoned Christians Released in Uzbekistan," Compass Direct,
6 December 1996; E-mail from Sergei Mitin, executive director of the
Uzbek Bible Society, to friends, 13 March 1997; Updates from Internet
missions news group (email@example.com), 6 December 1996 and
14 April 1997; E-mail information bulletins from Christians in
Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 1 April and 9 April 1997.
- After assisting tens of thousands of people, Mission of Mercy, a
Christian relief agency,was forced to suspend its activities in
December 1995 because of government pressure. The U.S.
Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe reports
Uzbek officials have threatened director Olga Avetisova with her life
if she persists in her religious and charitable work.
In June 1994 Uzbek authorities canceled the registration of the Word of
Faith Church in Tashkent, one of the largest Protestant congregations
in the country. Police arrested Pastor Dennis Podorozhny on
25 September 1996. For "teaching religious beliefs without a
government permit," this Uzbek citizen was fined three months'
salary. Continuing harassment of worshipers culminated in a
second arrest of Podorozhny and the arrest of 63 other members of his
congregation on 18 November 1996. All were released the same night
except Podorozhny and his assistant, Lev Folkovich, who were imprisoned
for 12 and 10 days each. Compass Direct
(6 December 1996) reported that "Secret police officials in Tashkent
have summoned other Christian workers in the city for interrogation,
threatening them with fines, imprisonment, and even death for trying to
do missionary work among the Uzbek population, who are traditional, if
On 25 January 1997 the Bible Society of Uzbekistan officially
registered in September 1994, received a shipment of 25,000 Uzbek New
Testaments from the Russian Bible Society (the publisher) and the
Turkish Bible Society (the printer). Uzbek customs officials
detained, and then on 28 February, confiscated the shipment, based on a
decision of the Uzbek Council of Religious Affairs that the delivery
constituted missionary activity. Several unconfirmed reports
have reached the East-West Church & Ministry Report that the government plans to destroy the Bibles.
Tashkent police and KGB broke up an unregistered Full Gospel Church
service on Budyonnogo Street on 2 March 1997; a second indigenous Uzbek
Full Gospel congregation has also been forcibly disbanded; and a Slavic
Evangelical Christian-Baptist church in Sergeli has been threatened
with deregistration for permitting unregistered Korean believers use of
The trial of 20-year-old Rashid Turibayev was under way in April 1997
in the Uzbek city of Nuksus, Karapalpak region, south of the Aral Sea,
for leading an "unsanctioned" Full Gospel congregation.
Authorities denied the church's application for registration in
December 1995, and a year later Turibayev endured a month's confinement
in a psychiatric hospital. Local minister of justice F. F. Pizanov
is reported to have vowed, "not a single Karakalpak church will ever
get registered." Serious harassment of Protestants also is
reported in the Karakalpak cities of Kungrad, Kegeili, and Karauzyak.
Uzbekistan is a party to the Helsinki Accords, which requires signatory
states to guarantee their citizens freedom of assembly and
worship. The Uzbek government currently is in violation not only
of the Helsinki agreements, but of its own law on religion. Two
open appeals to President Islam Karimov by Uzbek Christian leaders in
June 1994 and November 1996 have gone unanswered.
Letters of concern may be faxed to Tashkent to the office of the
president of Uzbekistan at 3712-39-53-04 and to the Uzbek Ministry of
Justice at 3712-33-64-42.
Mark Elliott, "Violations of Religious Liberty in Uzbekistan," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 5 (Spring 1997), 12.
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© 1997 Institute for East-West Christian Studies
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