Uzbekistan Christian Villagers Beaten and Expelled From Homes


Monday, October 21, 2005
By BosNewsLife Center in Budapest

TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Former Muslim residents in a remote village of the ex-Soviet union republic of are being beaten, publicly humiliated and forced from their homes and jobs for converting to Christianity, a news agency investigation religious persecution said Friday, October 21.

Compass Direct quoted Kaldibek Primbetov, leader of the beleaguered Protestant Christians in Janbashkala village, near Turtkul in southwestern Uzbekistan, as saying that “there is no place here for Christians.”

He said villagers who “abandoned the Muslim of their parents” are punished by local forces, including the secret police, civic officials, the prosecutor’s office, and Muslim clerics controlled by a wealthy village “strongman”, Tokhtabay Sadikov.

“Our whole population here is Muslim,” Compass Direct quoted village strongman Tokhtabay Sadikov as allegedly telling families who had converted to Christianity. “So you’d better go to Kazakhstan or Russia, if you want to be Christians.”

TENSIONS RISE

The tensions in the village underscored United States concerns over what it described as the “curtailment of and democratization” and activities of Islamic militants in the predominantly Muslim nation of nearly 27 million people.

Over half of Janbashkala’s families have fled Janbashkala, located in the Uzbekistan’s autonomous region of Karakalpakstan, sources say. Only 20 of the remaining 100 church members reportedly dare to meet for worship with Primbetov, who was the first man in the village to become a Christian five years ago, Compass Direct said.

Sadikov’s anti-Christian campaign reportedly began in early 2004 when he ordered Christian villagers to attend a meeting with local community officials and Muslim mullahs.

He allegedly first targeted pastor Primbetov’s wife, Kurbangul, shouting insults against her and vowing to break her leg or arm if she did not return to , Compass Direct claimed. When she refused, he reportedly railed against her for an hour, trying to “humiliate her” before the other Christians and community leaders.

BABY GIRL

Kurbangul Primbetov finally asked her accuser to stop so she could change and breastfeed her baby girl, whom she held in her arms as she stood encircled by the crowd. “Both Sadikov and Sapargul Fazilova, leader of the local district committee, scoffed at the mother, declaring they didn’t care if her baby died. But when she still refused to recant her Christian faith, they finally let her go,” Compass Direct said.

Sadikov also targeted a successful businessman, an owner of two drug stores in the village who he apparently dragged before a crowd to force him to abandon his Christian faith. Since he refused, the drug store owner lost all his customers while his medicines and supplies were confiscated, forcing him to close both his shops, Compass Direct said.

Sadikov also forced 200 villagers to sign a written appeal accusing local Christians of plotting to blow up a local school and generally opposing the government. Finally several families decided to leave, most selling their homes and fled to Kazakhstan.

But as leader of the shrinking Protestant congregation, Primbetov felt compelled to stay, despite ongoing persecution, Compass Direct reported.

MOVED FROM HOME

In one late-night attack, Sadikov’s son Makset allegedly came to pastor’s house with an angry mob, thrashing Primbetov and his brother in a drunken rage and breaking their windows. Producing a 20-liter can of gas, the attackers allegedly shouted: “Accept Islam right now or we will set your house on fire.”

“We prayed hard,” Primbetov was quoted as saying. “God saved us. Makset was drunk, and he started fighting with his friends, so they left the house and forgot about us.”

Last December Primbetov was reportedly again beaten by some of Sadikov’s relatives when alone at his home. The attackers forced him out as he bled profusely and the house is now occupied by Sadikov’s son, forcing Primbetov and his family to move in with his wife’s parents.

This past June, Sadikov ordered village authorities to turn off water services to all known Christians in the village. “Our children have to drink dirty ditch water,” Primbetov said, “so they all get sick.” Despite pleas to the water company and local doctors, no one has dared to oppose Sadikov’s orders, Compass Direct reported.

FINES AND PRISON?

Both Primbetov and the drug stores owner have been ordered by a local court to pay fines of $75, equivalent to 15 months’ minimum salary each, allegedly for participating in “illegal religious activities” and distributing Christian literature.

Neither of the men have funds to pay the fine, so both have appealed the decision to a higher court in Nukus, capital of the Karakalpakstan region, Compass Direct reported.

Subsequently, the owner of the drug stores has been accused of “speaking disrespectfully” to the prosecutor in the case, for which he faces a possible fine of 50 months’ the minimum salary and four months in jail.

Government officials who reportedly visited the village were allegedly bribed by the village chief to stop the procedures. Uzbekistan’s repressive law bans all unregistered religious activity and none of the 20 Protestant churches and dozens of groups in the autonomous Karakalpakstan region have legal status, human rights watchers say.

SEEKING TO SURVIVE

Fired from his administrative job in a local school because of his faith, Primbetov is now farming, raising rice, while his wife, an accomplished seamstress, attempts to supplement their income by sewing clothes for their neighbors, Compass Direct reported.

During his first three years as a Christian, Primbetov said, he and “the growing number of his relatives and neighbors who became Christians and quietly met for worship were never disturbed by other” villagers.

“The source of our persecution for the past two years is this one man,” Primbetov said, noting that fellow villagers tell him privately that no one objects to their house church meetings. “They say if Tokhtabay is made to stop, then our problems will stop. We have nothing to lose to tell the world about this.” (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Uzbekistan).

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