Christians on trial in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan remains on the list of “Countries of Particular Concern” issued by the the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In the 1880′s, Mennonites fled the Russian empire to this region in search of religious liberty. Below is an interesting religious freedom case in the country today:
A report from the Associated Baptist Press:
Baptists in Uzbekistan stand trial
By Bob Allen
Published: October 12, 2009
PHILADELPHIA (ABP) — A trial
for three Baptist officials in Uzbekistan charged with tax evasion and illegally teaching children religion was scheduled to enter its third week Oct 12. If convicted, Pavel Peychev, president of the Baptist Union of Uzbekistan; Yelena Kurbatova, the union’s accountant; and Dimitry Pitirimov, director of a Baptist-sponsored youth camp, face up the three years in prison.

[Photo: Dmitry Pitirimov with his daughter in Tashkent. From baptist.org.ru]

Supporters of the three Baptists have been denied access to parts of the trial and have accused the prosecutor of falsifying documents. They say it is part of a tightening noose around the necks of Baptist, Pentecostal and Presbyterian minority groups resulting from two widespread beliefs that the national identity is tied in with Islam, and that the Russian Orthodox Church is the only acceptable “Russian” denomination for Uzbekistan’s Christian minority.

Pitirimov, the camp director, said there were children of Uzbek nationality at the camp, but he always asked newcomers if they are Muslims. Those who said they are Muslim or didn’t want to hear Christian teaching were driven home. He said there were between five and 10 such cases in 2008.

The three Baptists were arrested in July after a government-sponsored news agency ran articles that included charges of illegal activity. The defendants deny doing anything wrong. Last year Camp Joy had 538 campers. The camp lasts eight days and features rock-climbing, hiking and other recreation.

Uzbekistan’s constitution provides for freedom of religion and for the principle of separation of church and state, but a religion law passed in 1998 restricts many rights only to registered religious groups and limits which groups may register.