During 2007 there were numerous reports of restriction and persecution of Christians in Central Asia. However, these may be only the tip of the iceberg of the real situation regarding persecution of the Christians living and worshipping God in the predominantly Islamic environment. Most of what would be considered persecution in Western countries is just part of daily life for every Christian there; persecution comes from family, neighbours, Muslim religious leaders and the government. Most of these cases may never become generally known. Religious legislation in these countries is undergoing changes that restrict worship and evangelism even more. Despite this, the number of Christians is constantly growing.
In AZERBAIJAN Christians are not allowed to worship together in unregistered churches; numbers of churches' attempts to get officially registered have been frustrated for years. A Baptist pastor, Zair Balayev, was arrested for illegal religious activities and 'resistance to police' during a home church service and sentenced to two years in prison. Other pastors are threatened with arrest. Any work with children and young people is strictly prohibited by the authorities. More changes in religious legislation are expected.
In KAZAKHSTAN the government proclaims freedom and its tolerance of all religion. However, in reality the preference is for traditional Sunni Islam, the Russian Orthodox Church and Judaism while other 'non-traditional' religious groups face difficulties and sometimes persecution. A large group of unregistered Baptist churches was harassed. Its members were fined and part of their property was confiscated as punishment for illegal church meetings. In August 2007 a large Presbyterian church was targeted by the National Security Committee police.
KYRGYZSTAN can be considered an oasis of religious tolerance in the Central Asian region. However, the government is becoming more and more aware of the growing intolerance among the local Muslim population towards Christian missionary activities. Converts are considered to be traitors to Islam and are threatened, excommunicated and sometimes severely persecuted by their families and neighbours. The government prefers not to interfere where possible and advises Christians not to provoke religious hatred.
In TAJIKISTAN the government insists on the secular nature of the state but Islamic traditions are very strong in the villages and there is a growing Islamic revival in the cities. Christianity is represented mainly by the Russian Orthodox Church and a small but growing number of Protestants. The local population reacts very negatively towards any missionary activities among Tajiks, with converts being considered traitors to the Islamic faith and are treated very badly. In some cases police threatened converts from Islam. Changes in legislation are bringing more restrictions on religious activities. Only groups with not less than 400 members (800 in the big cities) will be officially recognised, compared with the present 10. The religious education of children aged under seven will be prohibited. The Christian churches have developed their responses to the new law.
TURKMENISTAN became a police state with almost no freedom for its citizens during the rule of dictator Niyazov. After his death there were hopes of positive change but the situation with religious freedom only worsened. The Christians tell of a new wave of repression that especially affects churches consisting of ethnic Turkmen and other traditionally Islamic nationalities. The police raid the churches and the houses of believers, arresting church leaders, confiscating Christian literature and threatening the believers. Often the police collaborate with the local Islamic leaders.
In UZBEKISTAN the government seeks to prohibit any missionary or unregistered religious activities in the country. Christian literature is confiscated and Christians are fined. Changes in the existing religious legislation are expected which will make it even more repressive. At personal risk, Christian lawyers faithfully defend the rights of the persecuted Christians.
PLEASE PRAY ESPECIALLY -
* thanking God for his continued enabling of the Christians in Central Asia and continuing growth of the churches in that region.
* asking him to protect and strengthen all the Christians and especially the Christian leaders with their families and those Christians who are converts from Islam.
* thanking God for the Christian lawyers who defend the rights of the persecuted Christians, praying for their protection, wisdom and success in their work.
'Deliver me from my enemies, O my God, protect me from those who rise up against me, deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men. For, lo, they lie in wait for my life; fierce men band themselves against me.' (Psalm 59:1-3 RSV)