A Protestant pastor sentenced to three years in prison for “singing extremist songs in church and so inciting religious hatred” has been freed three months early (he was due to be freed in March 2020).
Bakhrom Kholmatov, 42, was sentenced in July 2017 and has served his term in a prison in Yavan, 360km from the northern Tajik city of Khujand, where his family live.
Kholmatov, who was the pastor of the Sunmin Sunbogym (Full Gospel), or Good News of Grace, Protestant Church was arrested by the National Security Committee (NSC, known also as the secret police), who brought his case to trial.
Members of the church claimed they were harassed and tortured by secret police after the arrest of their pastor.
Kholmatov, who – with wife Gulya – has three children, was arrested on unspecified charges during an April 2017 raid on his church. Affiliated churches in the Sogd region were also raided and closed down earlier that year.
Freed at 10am today, Kholmatov said “I’d like to express my huge gratitude to all the people who supported and prayed for me, my family and my church. All these three years I felt your prayers, they helped me to stand, they helped my precious wife and children, they helped the members of my church who were left without a pastor, then kicked by the authorities out of our building. Your prayers helped us to stand strong through all these difficulties, to grow spiritually and to transform into the nature of our Heavenly Lord! Thank you from all my heart! Glory to God!”