Eight Christians in Uzbekistan have been punished in recent months for having religious literature at home, according to Forum 18. Seven were heavily fined for the “Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons”. The other was sentenced to two years’ corrective labour for committing this offence twice within the space of a year. In all of the cases Christian resources have been confiscated and in some cases destroyed.
In May Aleksandr Ko from Tashkent, the country’s capital, was fined following a raid on his house during which Christian books and materials were confiscated. He is currently undergoing a separate trial for “illegally using computers and the internet” (his computer and other electronic devices were also confiscated during the raid).
Last month four Christians – Bakhtiyor Odinayev, Andrei Serin, Mahmud Hakimjanov and Shamsiddin Begmatov – were fined after a house they were gathered at in Denau, in the southern tip of Uzbekistan, was raided. Bibles, Christian books and CDs were seized. These materials – including one book called Proverbs of Solomon which is banned in the country because it could be used for “missionary purposes” – have since been destroyed. They were also told that the Baptist denomination they represent is banned in the region because it does not have state registration.
Also in September, Pastor Dmitri Butov and his wife Svetlana Butova, who live in Zarafshan in the country’s central region, were fined after their house was raided. The judge ordered the confiscation of two Bibles and two songbooks which were to be given to a registered religious organisation. The couple, who have four children, were also told to hand over their computer to the state.
In the above cases, fines ranged from 911,860 soms (around £235, $300 or €270) to 2,604,800 soms (£670, $855 or €765). The minimum monthly wage in Uzbekistan is about 125,000 soms (around £32, $41, €37).
In the final case, Stanislav Kim, a Christian living in the western city of Ugrench, was sentenced in August to two years’ corrective labour because it is the second time in a year he has been convicted of the same offence (the other being in August 2015). Corrective labour will involve living at home under restrictions and 20% of his wages going to the state. The judge ordered the destruction of one Christian book called Alone to Mecca, the biography of a convert to Christianity; Bibles and other confiscated Christian books were to be given to the state-sponsored Muslim board.
Following this second conviction, Stanislav Kim said, “I know that under Religion Law you must get permission from the authorities for each separate religious book, but two years’ of paying fines to the state [by giving them 20% of his wages] is too harsh punishment simply for keeping my Christian books at home.”
Uzbekistan is currently experiencing a period of transition following the unexpected death of its president, Islam Karimov, at the end of August. The 78-year-old had been in power for 27 years. Under his leadership, Uzbekistan was one of the strictest Central Asian republics and a very harsh and difficult place for Christians. Since his death the early indications are that the repression of Christians has increased.