Wednesday, July 13, 2005

It's hard to 'stan' up when someone's pushing you down

Some of the worst government-sanctioned persecution of Christians has taken place in the former Soviet Islamic republics. Reports have come from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan (along with non-former-Soviet 'stans' Pakistan and Afghanistan).

Despite, in most cases, there being 'freedom of religion' in these countries, groups other than Muslim, or in some cases Orthodox churches, are required to register. Those who do not refuse to register on principal find themselves unable to register. In many cases, the State requires a minimum of people to be involved -- usually more than 100 (in Turkmenistan it requires more than 500 adult members (my home church wouldn't even qualify!)).

Since these groups are often basically just house churches, they don't meet this criteria and cannot be registered. If they continue to meet as unregistered churches, they face physical and legal harassment, including fines, arrest, loss of their employment or even the possibility of being beaten by officials (or non-officials) or having homes destroyed. The fines, in particular, may not seem very large by western standards (between US$25 and US$60 at street exchange rates -- more if the "official government rate" is used), but can constitute a week or month's salary. Average monthly wages in Turkmenistan, for instance, come in at around US$30.

Turkmenistan is actually a rather interesting case in its own right. Resistance to religion there is based in no small part on the leader of the country, President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov, who is known as the Turkmenbashi. The cult of personality the Turkmenbashi has created will be familiar to anyone even remotely familiar with Saddam-era Iraq. But Niyazov has taken it one step further. He built a gold statue of himself. Australia Broadcasting Network Foreign Correspondent Peter Lloyd describes it like this:

"A statue, which always rotates to face the sun. Ashgabat is little more than a dictator’s Disneyland. And what makes this city all the more surreal is the fact that so few people actually live in it, most of the four and a half million people live in rural Turkmenistan, beyond those hills. But it’s a select few who have the President’s permission to be seen and heard." (Read more here.)

And in addition, the President for Life, not content with the Bible or the Koran, has written his own "holy book" -- the Ruhknama. It is required reading for anyone in Turkmenistan's schools. Or anyone who wants a driver's license. And anyone else not in these categories.

Sadly, despite the obvious and less-obvious human rights violations in Turkmenistan, the American government's interest in Turkmenistan begins and ends with the oil and natural gas reserves under the country's deserts.

Please consider writing Ambassador Tracey Jacobson (address at bottom of page) about the treatment of Christians in Turkmenistan.

Particular note for today:


Uzbekistan, a Central Asian former Soviet state which is 90% Muslim, has a serious problem with organised political and militant Islam. Several Islamist groups aim to create an Islamic state across Central Asia. When Islamic militancy escalated in the 1990s, the government responded with more control and repression of religion, without differentiating between political, militant Islam and all other religion. Uzbekistan's tiny Christian minority (1.3%, mostly Protestant) suffers as a result. Churches cannot register, legal churches are harassed and closed, witness is banned, Bibles are confiscated, pastors are charged with illegally teaching religion, Christians are charged with illegally meeting together. Torture is routine in Uzbek prisons. Christian converts from Islam are persecuted by Muslim society. Please pray for political reform and religious liberty in Uzbekistan and for Christ's suffering Church there.

(Credit: Evangelical Alliance - Religious Liberty Commission)

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