Jehovah’s Witness Delegation Visits Uzbekistan
A international delegation of representatives from the Jehovah’s Witness traveled to Uzbekistan in a unprecedented visit for a meeting with officials with the state religions agency.
As reported by the government’s own website, the delegation was led by Witnesses representatives Kenneth Flodin and Lorenzo Trapanese. They were accompanied by the head of the local chapter of the organization, Nikolai Korolev.
The event is, not to put too fine a point on it, stunning. Jehovah’s Witness has historically been one of the most intensely repressed religious groups in Uzbekistan. A search through leading Uzbek news website throws up a seemingly endless torrent of stories of arrests and busts for proselytizing. One typical news item on Podrobno.uz is unsubtly illustrated with a picture of a sign reading simply: “Beware of the Sect!”
Witnesses have been arrested up and down the country over the years and are popularly viewed with equal suspicion by Muslims and Christians alike. Detainees typically face charges of pursuing illegal missionary activities.
Dzhahongir, a Witness who agreed to be identified only by his first name, said he had been thrown into police cells on multiple occasions.
“They are very harsh with us, even worse than with members of the [banned Muslim group] Hizb ut-Tahrir. They always ask the same provocative question: Why have you, a Muslim and an Uzbek, become a member of this sect? Usually they fine us or let us go after we pay them a bribe,” Dzhahongir told EurasiaNet.org.
What appears to particularly irk the authorities is that the Witnesses have managed to draw so many adherents among Uzbek, and ethnic Tatar and Tajik communities. At funerals, Muslims clerics often refuse to perform burial rites when they learn the deceased was a Jehovah’s Witness.
One such instance is included in the Uzbekistan chapter of the 2016 report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“In July 2015, Jehovah’s Witnesses sought government approval to bury a relative in a local cemetery, but police and the local imam blocked the burial. At a Tashkent meeting of non-Muslim religious leaders, officials ‘suggested’ — but only to ethnic Uzbek non-Muslims — that their wills should specify burial wishes,” the report noted.
According to Justice Ministry figures, in addition to the more than 2,000 registered Islamic places of worship, 157 Christian churches and eight Judaic temples, there are also houses of worship for Bahá’í, Hare Krishna, Buddhists and members of the Bible Society of Uzbekistan. There is no mention of Jehovah’s Witness, however. Since 2007, the only remaining Witness community legally registered in Uzbekistan is the town of Chirchik, outside Tashkent.