Keeping Religion Behind Closed Doors

by Nathan Hamm on 9/7/2006 · 4 comments

Partnership in Academics and Development is the latest NGO to be expelled from Uzbekistan after being accused of proselytizing. Actually, in the words of the Justice Ministry, they were “propagating the supremacy of Christianity over Islam.” Meanwhile, Uzbekistan’s Protestants are under intense pressure as well.

According to Forum 18’s sources, at 10pm on 24 August around 20 officers of the police and the National Security Service secret police wearing bullet-proof vests and wielding automatic guns burst into the Uztelekom holiday camp in the village of Uch-kizil in the Termez district, where 20 Protestants had gathered for a religious meeting. Police confiscated Bibles and New Testaments. All those present were taken to the police station in Termez, where the men were subjected to systematic beatings.

Forum 18’s story amply details pressure against other Protestant churches and believers in the country.

In another recent development, enormous fines and penalties have been proposed for sharing religious beliefs outside of places of worship. For a first offense, the penalty would be between 200 and 600 times the minimum monthly salary. Second offenses would be punishable by three to eight years in prison for both the person who shared their religious beliefs and the leader of their congregation.

Some of the public statements on the activities of non-traditional religions in Uzbekistan gives good reason to wonder if every aspect of the government’s motives are clear. Rather than either simply banning proselytization or displaying a general hostility to religion (which I think actually does exist to a degree), the Uzbek government, like the Kyrgyz, is playing favorites. Proselytization, especially when done by members of certain religions, is considered to be incitement of hatred. The Justice Ministry statement at the top of the post as well as a remark by Karimov in June reveal that perhaps there is an element of pandering to the public — painting the government as defenders of Uzbekistan’s traditions against dangerous invaders. But when “traditional religion” essentially means “submitted to the state,” it seems much more likely that the government is taking aggressive steps to utterly eliminate religion from the public sphere.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Brian II September 8, 2006 at 6:14 am

While the methods are clearly heavy handed, and the grounds for their expulsion may be specious, I offer for argument’s sake “What the response would be in the USA if, for example, a Muslim faith-based group were teaching Arabic by using the Koran as the main vehicle’. While I can’t imagine Rummy himself whipping out an Uzi and ‘clearing the field’, it certainly seems like it would precipitate a rather swift, and negative, response – both publicly (via Fox) and by the USG.

I am certainly not suggesting that the analogy is perfect – or that Christian faith-based assistance groups in UZ are trying to create the next generation of Crusaders. I’ve worked with a few faith-based groups in the Ferghana Valley in the past, and they were effective and serious organizations that were committed to helping the people.

Aas bad as the current Klan is, running UZ, it does seem a bit disingenuous for Westerners to argue that faith based groups – Christians – should be allowed to carry out activities that are not part of their official role in UZ. Anyone that has worked with/around Uzbekistan in the past 12-18 months know even a minor deviation would create a great opportunity for the power of the state to be exercised.

Nick September 8, 2006 at 8:06 am

Well, you can always argue that ‘the law’s the law’, but it’s being applied to organisations that, on the face of it, seem overwhelmingly to be staffed by Christians – which makes it a bit of a duckshoot for the government, frankly.

I’m pretty sure that all Western NGO workers are appraised of the situation before they arrive in country, and certainly faith-based organisations are urging their staff to go on easy on the tubthumping, but until the law changes evangelicals and the like are going to have a pretty hard time of it.

Mind you, even Zoroastrians would probably get a tough reception – and in their faith proselytization is practically infra dig. I’d have to agree with Nathan – state-sponsored religion seems the only acceptable form at the moment.

Jay September 9, 2006 at 2:10 pm

What planet is BrianII from? One of the greatest freedoms for all in the USA is the freedom to belong and participate in religion whether it be Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Jehovas Witnessnes, Buddhists ………. the list could go on and on. Saying that there would be a problem teaching Arabic using the Koran in the US is nonsense (actually Muslims might be more offended that you would think of desecrating their holy book with the suggested use). Brain please don’t resort to America bashing just because it feels good or seems popular – check your facts, examine history, visit mosques and talk to Muslims in the US (I have), etc. before making such inconsistent statements.

Azjon September 21, 2006 at 3:39 am

Nothing new! Karimov at his “best” as usual.

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