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Baptist church in Uzbekistan contests officials’ closure

LONDON (BP)–A Baptist church continues to wait for a reply to a letter it sent to Uzbekistan’s justice ministry complaining about official claims that its registration in 1998 was only “temporary” and that it needs to be re-registered to be allowed to function.

The United Church of Evangelical Christians/Baptists in the Tashkent suburb of Chirchik “set out our views in a complaint to the justice ministry, but they simply haven’t responded” to the Nov. 20 letter, the church’s pastor, Stanislav Kim, told Keston News Service on Dec. 5. The pastor maintains that authorities are trying to close down the church on trumped-up grounds. Uzbekistan specifically criminalizes unregistered religious activity.

Kim reported that although the church was registered on Aug. 14, 1998 at the Tashkent-region justice administration, the government agency ordered a halt to the church’s activity in July of this year. The pastor said officials from the Chirchik internal affairs department on July 28 confiscated the seal, the stamp and the registration document issued in 1998.

Kim told Keston News Service that authorities launched a campaign against the church at the end of last year. On Nov. 16, 2001, the church’s leadership received a letter from the Tashkent-region justice administration stating that the church’s 1998 registration had been a “temporary measure” and that the church must cease its activity until it was re-registered. “This letter was a big surprise to believers at our church, because the law on religion and other laws and regulations say nothing about temporary registration,” Kim told Keston.

On March 24 of this year, two officials from the regional justice administration, Kamuluddin Kambarov and Khairullo Khaidarov, carried out an inspection of the church’s activity. The pastor said the church’s leaders addressed all the shortcomings in the church’s activities indicated in the administration’s report. However, on May 13, Kim recounted, the church received a second report about the inspection, also dated March 24, which pointed out completely different alleged shortcomings.

“How could it happen that on one and the same day, two inspections could have been carried out by the justice administration and two reports drawn up, indicating different shortcomings?” Kim asked. “I only saw the second report on the inspection on May 13, and my signature is not on it. The justice administration was simply looking for an excuse to close down our church, and when we addressed the shortcomings indicated in the inspection, they drew up another report on the inspection at a later date, in order to accuse us of failing to set the church’s activity to [the government’s regulations] and to find a reason to withdraw our registration.”

However, Khaidarov, leading adviser at the regional justice administration, rejected Kim’s scenario. “We are keeping strictly to the letter of the law,” he insisted to Keston on Dec. 10. “The United Church of Evangelical Christian/Baptists in the town of Chirchik has constantly flouted the laws of Uzbekistan and has not responded to our requests to bring the church’s documents and its activity into line with the laws of Uzbekistan.”

Khaidarov denied that the second report had been backdated, saying, “Of course there were no backdated reports.” He claimed that because Kim had not responded to the March 24 report, the justice administration had sent him a letter “in which we once again pointed out the shortcomings in the church’s activity, listing them in greater detail.”
Adapted from a report by Keston News Service. Rotar is a writer for Keston.

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  • Igor Rotar