"UZBEKISTAN: Police Disrupt Easter Gathering and Seize Passports
June 23, 2006
The Voice of the Martyrs
VOM staff in Uzbekistan report that on April 16th, police in the city of Nukus, just miles from the Turkmenistan border, burst into a private home of Christians celebrating Easter with friends. Their fellowship was broken us just as they began to drink their tea and open God's Word. Police searched the home and seized Christian materials. No receipts were given for the materials taken. The believers were forced to write statements explaining why they were having tea with the group and what they were talking about. This was done even though it is not illegal for friends and family to drink tea and read books in private. Police took the passports of Bakhtiyer Gazhayev, Mader Baltayev and Ikram Saburov, all from Turkmenistan, as well as the passport of the Uzbek woman who was hosting the gathering.
Two days after the police raid, less than 24 hours were left before the Turkmens' allowed stay in Uzbekistan would expire. Police had still not returned their passports. On this evening, a VOM worker visiting Nukus met with the three Turkmen Christians, who told him about the injustice taking place. He went straight to the local police chief to demand an explanation of why the passports were taken and when they would be returned. Initially, the chief indignantly refused to answer. The VOM worker warned him that in several minutes, the whole world would know about the persecution of Christians in Uzbekistan, and especially about its treatment of foreign Christians. The police chief relented and said the Turkmens' passports would be returned the next day. When the VOM worker insisted he would stay until he personally saw them returned, the chief exclaimed, "All right! We'll give them their passports back today.”
Whether police were stalling or getting advice from the Committee of National Security on how to proceed, several hours passed. The Christians waited patiently by the gates of the police station. With only 15 minutes left before the office closed for the day, the police called the three Turkmen Christians in one by one and gave them back their passports. The police chief told them, “We were going to give you your passports even earlier, but you brought this Voice of the Martyrs representative with you. It is because of him that such a delay with the passports happened.” The police chief still refused to disclose why the passports were confiscated in the first place. The following morning, Bakhtiyer, Mader and Ikram returned home to Turkmenistan.
Police seized the passports knowing the serious problems the Turkmen could run into without such documentation. If police refused to give back their passports after three days, the three would face serious punishment in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for breaking passport laws?as foreigners are forbidden to stay abroad without their cards. In the unlikely case they were able to return to their native country without them, they would have been imprisoned for their passport violations.
The Uzbek believer who hosted the Easter gathering did not receive her passport that day. A young police lieutenant explained, “You see, our civil workers have the passport of your Uzbek Christian.” The “civil workers” were plainclothes KGB officers.
The Voice of the Martyrs is thankful for the opportunity to be the voice of Christians who are oppressed by those hostile to the gospel."