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Fresh concerns about crackdown on Christian literature in Uzbekistan.

Fresh concerns about crackdown on Christian literature in Uzbekistan.



ASTANA/TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)-- Evangelical Christians in Central Asia remained concerned Tuesday, June 4, about the plight of Pastor Sharofat Allamova who was sentenced to 1.5 years "corrective labor" in Uzbekistan for distributing Christian literature while in neighboring Kazakhstan a pastor was detained after distributing red tea during communion, activists and missionaries said.

Allamova's conviction for the "illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious literature," followed two separate raids on her home in January, said advocacy group Forum 18.

Judge Makhmud Makhmudov — who also handed down the corrective labor sentence — ordered all religious materials seized during the raids to be confiscated from the Protestant pastor, trial observers said.

For her corrective labor, Allamova will be assigned a low-paying job and her salary will be further reduced to pay the state for the duration of her sentence, activists with close knowledge about the situation said. Typical corrective labor can include street cleaning and working in brickyards; anyone assigned such work cannot refuse it without facing jail.

Religious literature in Uzbekistan is under such strict state control. Even owning small quantities of Christian books can lead to charges of storage for use in "missionary activity" which is also illegal in Uzbekistan, Christians said.

PASTOR DETAINED

Another pastor in neighboring Kazakhstan remained behind bars Tuesday, June 4, for allegedly serving "hallucinogens to his congregation" while wielding "a powerful psychological influence over them," well-informed missionaries quoted authorities as saying.

"However, the "hallucinogens" Pastor Bahtzhan Kashkumbaev served proved to be just red tea — used as a non-alcoholic alternative for communion —and the only influence he wielded came from the pastor's prayers during worship service," said Wade Kusack, a representative of mission group Russian Ministries.

He said the sentence in the former Soviet republic underscores wider concerns over controversial new religious legislation.

"To date, there have been at least eight arrests" he said, adding that Kashkumbaev detention appeared to have been linked to his conversion from Islam and evangelism.

It was not immediately clear if and when the pastor would be released. Authorities were mot immediately available for comment.

MUSLIM "PUNISHMENT"

Christians in Kazakhstan have reportedly said that Kashkumbaev was "a punishment from Muslim officials for his evangelical activities."

"It is (a) punishment for him and a threat for all others not to change their religion. 'If you are Muslim, you should stay Muslim. If you are Christian, you should stay Christian'," Kusack added in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife.

Kashkumbaev's detention and the conviction of his colleague in Uzbekistan has raised concern among local Christians of that a return to the Soviet-era when believers were persecuted.

"If the church all over the world ignores this and there is no reaction from the West," warned Kusack, "I believe this type of persecution will continue."

It also comes amid concerns that Islamic extremism in Central Asia and the Caucasus will further increase in the next few years, according to a new report by Anna Münster, a Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at think-tank Chatham House.

US WITHDRAWAL  

She said that the American military withdrawal from nearby Afghanistan in 2014, and expected regime changes in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan threaten to destabilize the region, providing radicals with a platform from which to operate.

Münster accused the West of deliberately “closing of the eyes” to human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, including torture, as Western governments have vested interests in the country.

However the use of new technologies and events of the Arab Spring may present a stark warning to today’s repressive governments”, warns the report 'Growing Islamic Extremism in Central Asia and the Caucasus – Situation and Outlook'. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Joseph DeCaro and Stefan J. Bos).

(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004). 

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