By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) — Six Christian men who were arrested in Uzbekistan amid a reported government-led crackdown on Christians and churches across the former Soviet republic have been released, their supporters told BosNewsLife Friday, September 8.
The men, including a Ukrainian national on holiday visiting Christian friends, had been detained around August 24, in the southern city of Termez near the border with Afghanistan said Barnabas Fund, an international religious rights group.
“[Our] Prayers have been answered for [the] six Christian men who were arrested last month,” added Barnabas Fund, which supports persecuted Christians in predominantly Muslim nations such as Uzbekistan. Their names were not immediately released apparently for security reasons.
Previously “other Christians arrested at the same time, including some women and children, had been beaten before they were released. Some of the women had been sexually abused, the first report of this in modern church history in Uzbekistan,” the group stressed.
Forum 18, another human rights watchdog, claimed the attacks included a “massive armed police and secret police raid on a Protestant summer camp near Termez.” It said “some 20 church members were detained and many of them systematically beaten,” before most of them were released.
The six detained men released last week were also beaten and not told of the reason for their arrest, added Barnabas Fund in remarks to BosNewsLife.
Barnabas Fund said that it had “received a report on September 6 that they had been released, after paying a fine of $400 each. Church leaders were forced to borrow money in order to pay the fines and also to cover the cost of necessary medical treatment for their Christian brothers.”
The men had allegedly been held for eight days without prosecution. “It is believed that they were held this long in order to give the bruises and wounds they sustained from being beaten time to heal before they could have a medical examination to see how they had been injured,” Barnabas Fund claimed.
“On their release two of the men were taken to hospital; one man had had his hands and feet held in buckets of quicklime, causing injury to his skin.”
There remained concern over the whereabouts of at least one Protestant Christian, identified as Husan Primbetov, while a Ukrainian visitor to the summer camp, Yuri Stefanko, was to be deported, Forum 18 explained. It was not clear if Stefanko was one of the six released men reported by Barnabas Fund.
In a separate case Viktoria Khripunova of Tashkent’s embattled Bethany Baptist church was deported Tuesday September 5, local sources said. Forum 18 quoted Uzbek Protestant Christians as saying they believe “the move was targeted at her husband, the church’s pastor and an Uzbek citizen, who left voluntarily with his wife.”
There have been at least seven deportations of foreigners from Uzbekistan in retaliation for religious activity this year, human rights watchers say. Officials have refused to comment on the latest developments.
It comes as Western diplomats are seeking ways to re-establish relations with Uzbekistan and its perceived autocratic President Islam Karimov who critics say does not allow “an independent religion” such as Christianity, apparently for fear it could undermine his powerbase in the Islamic nation.
Washington and Brussels suspended high-level contacts with Uzbekistan, accusing it of using indiscriminate force to quash a revolt in the town of Andizhan in May 2005, in which hundreds were killed. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Uzbekistan).
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