President Shavkat Mirziyoyev
Christians from Muslim backgrounds face the brunt of persecution in Uzbekistan. They face considerable pressure from family, friends and communities, who see them as traitors, particularly outside of urban areas.
No religious activities beyond state-run and state-controlled institutions are allowed, and Christians who are members of unregistered churches are viewed as a threat to the government. Believers may have their meetings raided and be arrested or fined for taking part in “illegal” religious activities.
Church leaders are especially targeted because the authorities want to cause a ripple effect of fear and anxiety in their congregations.
Russian Orthodox churches are least susceptible to pressure and persecution because most of their members are Russian and tend not to try to reach out to the Uzbek population.
“After my conversion to Christianity, my brother wanted to have nothing to do with me. My father, sister and other family members lived in the same village. When I visited them, I tried to visit my brother. Again and again, he became very angry as soon as he saw me, and said: ‘Go away, what are you doing here? I don’t want anything to do with you!’ For 20 years we did not have contact with each other.”
Although Uzbekistan has dropped three places from last year’s World Watch List ranking, life as a Christian in the country remains hugely challenging. Believers continue to face enormous pressure from families and communities, and imposing government restrictions greatly affect church life and witness. However, there were fewer reports of violent incidents compared with last year.
It is unclear yet whether President Mirziyoyev, who came to power in 2016 after the death of long-time leader Islam Karimov, will bring in any policy changes that will affect Christians.
The decision to leave Islam and follow Jesus can be an enormously costly one, paving the way for harassment and intimidation from family, friends and the local community. The risk is heightened for many women who, given societal expectations around submission, are effectively not allowed to choose their own religion. Church leaders are also targeted for persecution; they can be fined, detained or put under house arrest for their involvement in Christian activities.
Open Doors strengthens the persecuted church in Central Asia with Christian literature, biblical and vocational training, and socio-economic development projects. We also provide immediate aid to Central Asian believers when they are placed in prison, excluded from families and communities, and deprived of livelihood and employment because of their faith in Christ.