On Easter Sunday, 9 April, police raided the Council of Churches Baptist congregation in Karshi in the southern Kashkadarya Region (about 150km southwest of the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand) during the morning worship meeting. Fellow Baptist musicians from Germany were among those taking part in the meeting.
Officials arrived during the service, refusing to say who they were except that they were from the mahalla (local district) committee. They said they were acting in accordance with a circular from the Religious Affairs Committee in Tashkent and the Culture Ministry in Tashkent saying events involving the musicians from Germany were not allowed. The officials then called in the police.
Video of the raid posted online show church members trying to prevent the police coming in from the yard, through a church door the police had broken down, while musicians carry on singing a Christian song at the front of the packed place of worship.
Further images show six or seven uniformed police walking through the congregation with the large letters “PPX” (which indicates police who patrol local areas) on the backs of their jackets.
Eye witnesses said, “Today police brutally beat David Ibragimov and a few more church members in front of our fellow believers. They also used electric shock prods and other implements to incapacitate the brothers and sisters. Church members cried and prayed during those difficult minutes.”
Local Baptists said ten church members, including young people, were taken to the police station. Video images show police officers holding church member Yokub Boboyev round the neck while he was on the ground and as they put him in a police van.
Police held all those they had detained until 3 pm. They threatened Yokub Boboyev with a criminal charge of injuring a police officer, accusations church members insist are false.
Church members say the raid followed the church’s attempts to rent 15 local halls for presentations of the Christian faith, including the visiting German musicians, to mark Easter. All the rental attempts were blocked.
No official from the police, the Kashkadarya Regional Interior Ministry (which oversees the police), or the district administration would answer Forum 18’s questions about the raid.
On 19 February, local government officials and police raided the church during its Sunday morning meeting and it was also raided in November 2021 during a special service to dedicate its new church building. On that occasion, police and local officials tried to halt the service but church members prevented them from entering. The church, which has existed for 30 years, has been raided on numerous previous occasions including in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2018 and church members have been fined on many occasions.
Another day, another raid
The day after the Easter Sunday raid in Karshi, police raided an Easter worship meeting of the Council of Churches Baptist congregation in Denov in Surkhandarya Region (32km from Karshi). They said the meeting was illegal and forcibly dispersed those present. The German Baptist musicians had travelled there from Karshi for the meeting. As in Karshi, the church had tried to rent a venue but members said, “Invitations had been handed out, but everywhere there was a ban on renting premises”.
Council of Churches Baptists fear that the authorities may disrupt further events in the tour of Uzbek cities by the visiting German Baptists. “We would like them to take part in several meetings for worship in various cities of Uzbekistan over the next three days but the authorities have promised to follow this group in all its meetings with local Baptists.”
Over a million ethnic Germans living in Russia were exiled to Siberia and Central Asia by Josef Stalin during the Second World War. For decades, there have been strong links between German Baptists and German-speaking Council of Churches Baptists in the Soviet Union and its successor states.
Council of Churches Baptists do not seek to register with the government nor seek state permission to exercise their freedom of religion or belief. This principle dates back many decades and led to great persecution of the denomination in Soviet times when many pastors and other members were imprisoned in labour camps across the Soviet Union.
Image Credits: Baptist Council of Churches