RELIGIOUS freedom is a fleeting right in the country of Uzbekistan. According to Forum 18 News, Natalya Pitirimov, an accountant of the Bible Society of Uzbekistan, was fined for violating procedures over the import of two shipments of Bibles and Children’s Bibles in 2008 and 2010.
The State Religious Affairs Committee, which oversees the censorship of all religious literature, isn’t allowing the Bibles to be released, despite appeals from local churches. The judge in this case told Forum 18 that the churches didn’t present their request in time and now the Bibles need to be returned at the Bible Society’s expense.
Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association says this is just another attempt to restrict religious freedom. “This is pretty much just part and parcel for the steady increase of restrictions on evangelical churches and religious bodies in Uzbekistan. And it’s certainly very troubling to see this happen.”
Officials said they confiscated the Bibles because the Bible Society didn’t give shipment requests to the Religious Affairs Committee on time, and they also claimed there was no need to import Bibles into Uzbekistan because “there is an electronic version available on the Internet.”
Griffith says that’s hogwash. “Look at what happened in Egypt, in the way that they shut the internet down there. They say that you can get an electronic version on the internet, but how much internet access is there in those parts of the world? Even though you may be able to get in now, there are no guarantees you’ll be able to get access tomorrow.”
Since the average income in Uzbekistan is about $10 a day, internet access may not be very accessible to the average person.
Only registered churches may request permission to print or import material. Religious literature is often confiscated by police during raids and later destroyed.
According to Griffith, Uzbekistan is taking a hard-line approach on many religious groups.
“The government there is very concerned about religious extremism. And especially since this part of the former Soviet Union is heavily Muslim in makeup, they get very concerned about radicalism of any kind. They feel they have to put the screws on everybody.”
This makes evangelical Christian outreach difficult. Griffith says, “Anybody who’s doing ministry in that part of the world, and especially in places like Uzbekistan, they really need to operate as discretely as possible.”
Uzbekistan ranks number 11 on Open Doors World Watch list of country that allows persecution of Christians.
Griffith says this isn’t the first time Christians have been targeted. “There have been a few cases where some of our sponsored church planters and pastors have been receiving difficulties from police there.” MNN