Russian Orthodox St.Alexey cathedral in Samarkand. (Pjoto: World Watch Monitor)
St. Alexey Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Samarkand, Uzbekistan (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The Uzbek regime continues to hold its citizens, including Christians, “in constant fear”, subjecting them to surveillance, threats, raids, fines and short-term imprisonments, according to regional news agency Forum 18’s analysis of religious freedom in Uzbekistan.

In a comprehensive overview, Forum 18 highlights a number of incidents, including two in July when a Russian Orthodox priest was forced to attend a ‘show trial’ for the prosecution of two Baptists, and the police raided a meeting of 27 Protestants where some female members of the congregation were assaulted. According to Forum 18, the women were forcibly undressed, down to their underwear, during the arrests, interrogation, and literature-confiscations which followed.

The two Baptists were on trial for meeting for worship without permission. The priest told Forum 18 that he did not want to attend the trial, which was to be shown on state-controlled television, but “the Judge [Azamat Khushvakhtov] called me and told me I must participate. When I tried to resist the invitation, he put pressure on me, saying that if I do not come it will not be good for the Church”.

In the end, the two Baptists were each given five-day prison terms, while three more were fined.

Forum 18 describes how state permission is required for all religious meetings or for any planned evangelistic activities.

Raids and arrests take place on a regular basis, and often lead to arrests and beatings.

Uzbekistan regards Christianity as alien and destabilising: its authorities closely monitor religious groups. The country was ranked 16th on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.