OXFORD, England (BP)–Keston News Service, the flagship of the famous Keston Institute that reports about religious persecution, has ceased its operations amid financial troubles and staff changes, an official told ASSIST News Service Jan. 28.
KNS director Lawrence Uzzell has become editor of Chechnya Weekly and has been joined by several Keston staffers, said Malcolm Walker, the Keston librarian responsible for the archives at the Oxford-based institute.
As of Dec. 18, Walker said, “… we were no longer able to produce Keston News Service and our website has not been updated since November.”
It is one of the most serious crises to face the Keston Institute since its founding in 1970, with the purpose “to make known the needs of all religious believers and to uphold religious freedom in every case,” according to its website. The institute operates on donations from churches and other institutions.
News about Keston’s troubles comes as Christians continue to suffer throughout the former Soviet Union. “We have received this morning the text of an open letter to [Georgia’s President] Eduard Shevardnadze from Christian leaders in Tbilisi in which they protest about the violent attack on the service of prayer for Christian unity,” Walker said of the Jan. 24 service at Central Baptist Church. And on Jan. 28, Walker said Keston had received “a communication about pressure on a Baptist pastor, Sergei Kuleshov, in Khabarovsk, who has being trying for four years to obtain permission to build a church in that city.”
Without KNS, an important tool for political pressure and valuable information will be lost. Pressure from Keston, which also cooperated with media outlets such as ASSIST and Baptist Press, led to worldwide actions for suffering Christians and, at times, prompted governments to change laws or free prisoners.
“The former Soviet republics of Central Asia feature all too prominently in [KNS] reports,” the Keston Institute said in a statement. “State control of religious activity is on the increase in this region. Members of unregistered faiths, in particular Protestant Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and minority Muslim groups, face harassment, fines, imprisonment and physical abuse.”
In addition, “Turkmen members of minority faiths are imprisoned for refusing to take part in the compulsory national service and they too face beatings and abuse. Uzbekistan has been using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to crack down on all independent Muslims.”
KNS also had begun to report on events in China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea as “non-officially-recognized Chinese Catholic and Protestant churches are repressed and their leaders imprisoned on trumped-up charges, sometimes facing the death penalty,” the institute said.
“For Lao Christians,” the Keston statement continued, “the situation is grimmer still; the Lao government has begun a systematic campaign to eradicate the ‘Jesus religion’ completely, forcing church leaders to recant their faith at gunpoint and under torture.”
Walker told ASSIST News Service that a delayed Keston annual general meeting is scheduled Feb. 1 to discuss the institute’s financial problems, as well as the appointment of a new chairman of its council of management.
Adapted from a report by Stefan Bos, an Eastern Europe correspondent for ASSIST News Service.