Support Christians in Central Asia
Release has launched an appeal to help Christians in Central Asia who face persecution. Strict laws to curb religion mean churches can be raided and Christians arrested. In the past some believers have been tortured for their faith. Christians from a Muslim background face the harshest persecution.
In Central Asia, where Christians are under constant surveillance by the state, some have taken to using video cameras to protect their congregations. According to International Christian Concern, churches have been filming their services so they can keep a record of police raids.
It means they also have a recording of church members who attend, in case any are detained or go missing after the police have come.
The authorities can cancel church registrations or refuse permission for Christians to meet officially. This forces them to meet in homes, which is illegal. Sometimes those homes are subject to police raids.
Turning the tables
Muslims in countries in Central Asia faced persecution when they were under Russian communist control. That’s one reason why they have turned the tables today.
Pastor Batyr, one of the first Christians to come to faith in Turkmenistan, told Release: ‘The people were oppressed as Muslims. So when they gained independence, they wanted to build their identity as a Muslim nation.’
Many have gone on to reject Christianity as the religion of their former Russian masters. And growing nationalism in Central Asia has created a culture that considers it unpatriotic to have any faith other than Islam.
Christians are a persecuted minority in Central Asia. Uzbekistan, which has a population of more than 30 million, has just 350,000 Christians. In Kazakhstan, Christians make up a quarter of the population of 18 million. In Turkmenistan, however, there are only 70,000 Christians – fewer than 1 in 78 of the population.
Thin end of the wedge
Clamping down on freedom of religion and belief can be a slippery slope towards restrictions or many other freedoms, according to the UN.
Authoritarian governments know that freedom of belief leads to freedom of assembly, which could allow opponents to gather.
A former United Nations Special Rapporteur put it like this: ‘Freedom of religion or belief rightly has been termed a gateway to other freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
‘There can be no free religious community life without respect for those other freedoms, which are closely intertwined with the right to freedom of religion or belief itself.
‘This is exactly what worries authoritarian governments and often causes them to curb freedom of religion or belief.’ Heiner Bielefeldt, 2016 UN General Assembly report. Source: Forum 18.
Would your church survive?
How would your congregation fare in Kazakhstan?
Do you use Bibles?
Bibles have been confiscated and burnt on rubbish dumps.
Do you give away religious literature?
In 2017, 39 individuals and charities were prosecuted for offering religious literature.
Do you have a website?
Twelve people were prosecuted for posting religious materials online.
Do you ever share your faith?
Thirty people were prosecuted for sharing their beliefs with others.
Do you allow children to come to your meetings?
Seven religious leaders were prosecuted for allowing children to attend church meetings.
Punishments include fines, jail sentences and bans on activity, including worship meetings. The authorities have deported Christians and confiscated and destroyed religious literature.
Source: Forum 18.