Uzbekistan: Police Raid Christian Homes
Broadening their campaign to crackdown on unofficial religious activities, police in Uzbekistan have carried out surprise raids on unregistered Protestant churches and private homes in recent months, according to the Oslo-based religious freedom watchdog Forum 18.
Homes of Protestant Christians from various Churches across Uzbekistan were raided in February and March, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In at least two cases, courts subsequently handed down huge fines. After a late March raid and fine on a Protestant couple in the capital Tashkent, a Protestant who knows them complained that the raiding authorities produced no warrants, no trial was held and that the fines given were "unbelievably high". "The authorities know where believers live and know that they have Christian literature in their homes," the Protestant – who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals – told Forum 18. "By raiding their homes the authorities harass believers and are trying to wear them down by the fines."
Religious believers' homes are also known to have been raided in Samarkand in central Uzbekistan and in Nukus, capital of the north-western autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan. Courts in both cities fined the believers and confiscated their Christian literature and other materials.
All religious literature of any kind in Uzbekistan is under tight state censorship.
In one of the raids, in Tashkent on March 18, a local police officer and seven "officials in plain-clothes" raided an apartment where an ethnic Uzbek Protestant couple was living temporarily.
The couple and their babysitter were each fined the equivalent of 100 minimum monthly salaries (nearly 8 million sums, or $3,900 at the official exchange rate) for violating rules for conducting meetings and illegally producing, storing, importing and distributing religious materials, Forum 18 said.
The anonymous Protestant called the fine “unbelievable.”
"The babysitter was there only to take care of the children […] and she is not even a believer."
Uzbekistan has long clamped down on what it describes as religious extremism, targeting mostly Muslims practicing their faith outside officially sanctioned mosques.
According to Human Rights Watch, over 200 people were arrested and imprisoned on religious extremism charges in 2012 alone. The Tashkent-based Expert Working Group estimated that the number of people imprisoned for their religious beliefs in Uzbekistan stood at more than 7,000 in 2009.