Across Central Asia, in sealed-off areas mostly comprised of former Soviet countries (today’s five “Stans”: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, as well as Azerbaijan), worship meetings like Pastor Shabanov’s are being shut down, Bibles are being confiscated and Christians are facing frequent acts of abuse and discrimination. The Central Asian republics—all but one (Kyrgyzstan) on the World Watch List—have become hotbeds of persecution.
Below, we share seven reasons why these republics are becoming increasingly hostile to Christians—and what you need to know to pray with knowledge and specificity for our brothers and sisters who are risking their livelihood and even lives to follow Jesus:
1. Owning and giving a Bible are punishable offenses against the state.
TReligious control laws heavily restrict freedom to own or distribute Bibles and Christian literature.
eligious liberty and expression are extremely restricted.
For example, aforces religious groups to provide information to the government about their leaders and followers, as well as granting authorities control over religious education. Some church leaders even report that surveillance cameras are being installed in their sanctuaries to monitor preaching.
And in Azerbaijan, the government
3. Christian converts from Islam are often facing severe persecution from their families and communities.
The Central Asian church is very young and inexperienced. Before the 1990s, hardly any indigenous Central Asians came to faith. How to stay strong and trust in God when life is difficult is one of the first things Central Asian believers should learn, says a Bible trainer on the frontlines.
Young believers like Sameda* are risking their lives and in Sameda’s case, the loss of their children to follow Christ. A former Muslim who met Jesus three years ago, Sameda has been kicked out of her home by her Muslim husband. Now he is threatening to divorce her and take their young daughter. In the next few months, Sameda must choose between being a Christian and her own daughter.
4. Government crackdowns on churches are intensifying, forcing the church underground.
Since the adoption of a new complicated Law on Religious Organizations and Religious Freedom in March 2016, Christianity in Turkmenistan requires all religious entities to re-register to operate legally. Under the law, unregistered religious organizations may not legally conduct religious activities, establish places of worship, or produce or disseminate religious materials. For any such activity, the organization will face fines ranging from 100 to 1,000 manat ($60 to $600), with higher fines for religious leaders and lower fines for members.The authorities in Uzbekistan’s southwestern Navoi [Navoiy] Region have been raiding and punishing local Baptists “to stop them from meeting for worship and peaceful religious activity,” according to statements issued by the Council of Churches. Baptists to Forum 18. All exercise of freedom of religion and belief without state permission is illegal, against Uzbekistan’s binding international human rights law obligations. However, the Council of Baptist Churches refuses on principle to register their congregations with the state, insisting in accordance with international law that registration is not necessary to meet for worship.