By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- An evangelical pastor remained behind bars in Uzbekistan Monday, February 5, more than two weeks after he was detained by secret police on charges of "incitement to hatred on national, racial or religious grounds."
Dmitry Shestakov, 37, was captured Sunday, January 21, by secret police who visited him in his Full Gospel Church in the tense town of Andijan, fellow Christians said.
Adijan was also the scene of heavy fighting in May 2005 when Uzbek troops fired into a crowd of protesters in an attempt to quell anti-government protests in the eastern city. At least hundreds and possibly up to 1,000 people were killed, human rights groups estimate. Government officials have denied these figures.
If proven, Pastor Shestakov could face five years imprisonment, experts said. His supporters have linked the detention to his involvement in distributing Christian literature and concerns among authorities about the "many people" who become Christians in his Adijan church. His wife and three daughters have reportedly fled their home and are in hiding.
Christianity is apparently seen as a threat to the powerbase of authoritarian President Islam Abduganiyevich Karimov who has ruled this predominantly Muslim nation since 1990. Already in June last year Shestakov along with his wife and three daughters were forced to go into hiding after a prosecutor reportedly accused him of "treason."
They fled after the pastor was apparently ordered to list all of his church members, which he refused to do so. "It was clear that the National State Security were going to find something to charge me with and remove me from my position as a Christian pastor," Shestakov said in an interview.
Forum 18, an international religious rights group, said there was hope that Shestakov would be freed under an Amnesty Law. "Yet prosecutors refused to release him as they claim he is a member of a "banned religious organization", despite the fact that the Full Gospel Church has written a declaration that he is one of their officially-accredited pastors and is part of a registered congregation," Forum 18 noted.
Shestakov has in the past refused to leave Uzbekistan, saying he wants to continue with the church he began four years ago. It was not immediately clear when a trial would begin, as prosecutors have so far refused to mention a date. His case has underscored international concerns about a reported crackdown on Christians and other religious minorities. (BosNewsife Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar contributed to this story. www.bosnewslife.com)
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