An Uzbek Baptist pastor, who is already serving at home a two-year sentence for having religious books, might now be facing criminal charges.
Police raided Pastor Stanislav Kim’s flat in Urgench, north-western Khorezm Region, twice last month, on Easter Sunday (8 April) and a week later (15 April), while the Baptist church was meeting at his home, reported regional news agency Forum 18.
Members of the police Department for the Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism confiscated Christian literature and arrested seven church members, including Kim, to interrogate them at the police station. According to Forum 18, they were also threatened with criminal charges.
As he has a previous conviction, Pastor Kim thinks the Urgench Prosecutor’s Office might be preparing a criminal case against him, he told the newsagency. This could involve a fine of between 100 and 200 times the minimum monthly wage, up to three years’ corrective labour, or a short-term prison sentence.
He was sentenced in September 2016 to two years’ “corrective labour” for unlawful possession of religious books at home. His sentence, which he is serving out at home, included losing 20 per cent of his salary.
In November last year police also raided his flat and confiscated religious literature and arrested nine of the ten adults present, including Kim.
Meanwhile the State Security Service (SSS) raided another Baptist church on 15 April, in Mubarek, in southern Kashkadarya Region. According to Forum 18 it is not the first time this has happened to the church.
Following the raid, two members were called to attend a court hearing of the Mubarek Administrative Court where they were fined five times the minimum monthly wage for “illegal religious meeting and having religious literature”.
On 22 May, police also set upon another Baptist church in the same region, in Karshi.
At the time the church was meeting in the home of Viktor Tashpulatov and police ordered him to bring two speech- and hearing-impaired church members to the police station for questioning.
Tashpulatov resisted and told the news agency he suspects the police wanted to pressure them into writing statements, incriminating themselves and other church members.
Congregations of the Baptist Council of Churches meet for worship without seeking state permission, as is their right under international human rights law. But Uzbekistan, against its international human rights obligations, bans any collective exercise of the freedom of religion and belief without state permission.
“Our Religion law demands that all exercise of freedom of religion and belief must be registered, and so we must carry on controlling all exercise of this freedom”, Major Khamro Masimov, Chief of Urgench Police’s Department for the Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism, told Forum 18.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have also been targeted with raids at homes in Samarkand and Fergana, and a double raid on a home in Karshi. According to Forum 18 the group has been allowed “to register only one congregation in the country, in Chirchik in Tashkent Region”.
Christian denominations, including Russian Orthodox, Catholics and Pentecostals, make up about ten per cent of Uzbekistan’s Muslim-majority population. The country is 16th on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.