Local Uzbek official says Baptist registration "undesirable"

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2 June 2000 (Newsroom) -- A local official in Uzbekistan has denied registration to a Baptist church and barred its denomination from using a collective farm to hold a summer camp, the Keston News Service reported.

Despite a Baptist presence in the town for over 100 years, a congregation in Gazalkent had its application for registration rejected as "undesirable" by the deputy head of the district of Bostanlyk near Tashkent, Keston said. On the same day, the official, Khudoybergen Mirzamuratov, also barred the Evangelical Christian/Baptist (ECB) Union from holding a children's summer camp on a collective farm, despite the denomination's agreement with the farm's owner.

The owner of Amir-Timur collective farm said at the conclusion of negotiations regarding the camp that because the Baptists are a religious organization he could not sign the rental contract without the agreement of the Bostanlyk district, the ECB Union told Keston from Tashkent on May 30.

Meanwhile, Keston said officials of Uzbekistan's central religious apparatus in Tashkent are investigating the rejection of the Baptist church in Gazalkent by local authorities. The church's denomination said the Gazalkent Baptist church met all the requirements for registration. In a letter explaining the rejection, Mirzamuratov said a Full Gospel Church that no longer exists allegedly caused disorder in some settlements of the Bostanlyk region. The Baptists pointed out that the district deputy did not explain how that related to their church.

Mirzamuratov suggested that the Baptists should attend the local Russian Orthodox church, stating that "we consider the registration of an additional church in the town of Gazalkent undesirable."

The Baptists contend that Mirzamuratov's actions violate Uzbek law. An official of the government's Committee of Religious Affairs in Tashkent told Keston on Friday that the committee had made an inquiry into the situation.

Keston notes that the Uzbek government reversed course last August and lifted the bar preventing dozens of religious minority communities from gaining registration. Since then the Committee of Religious Affairs in Tashkent has pressed reluctant local authorities to register some religious communities that had been denied official status.

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