|World Watch List Rank||18|
|World Watch List Score||73/100|
|Leader||President Shavkat Mirziyoyev|
|Population||32.8 million I 349,000|
|Government||Authoritarian Presidential Republic|
|WWL Rank in 2019||17|
|Persecution Level||Very High Persecution|
The church in Uzbekistan faces immense pressure from a paranoid government. A believer can be fined for having a Christian song on their phone. In some areas, it’s even illegal to own a Bible.
Christians are constantly monitored by the authorities. Phones are often tapped and spies try to infiltrate gatherings. House churches are frequently raided and those present can be interrogated, detained and fined. It’s common for Christians to be held by police for up to 15 days.
Christians living in rural villages are often part of close-knit communities. Anyone who leaves Islam is seen as dishonouring the family and community. Instances of physical violence and attacks on Christian-owned businesses are common. If the convert is a man, the entire family may be persecuted.
Despite this, many believers are standing firm in their faith and are continuing to share the gospel.
Askar* has been in prison twice - the first time for ten days, the second time for fifteen days. He is a house church leader. "They accused me of having a connection with extremist groups and the distribution of illegal literature. My Bible is seen as illegal and I take it everywhere I go," he says. When he was interrogated, he was told his next prison sentence would be much longer. "Why can I not freely practise my faith in Uzbekistan?" he asks.
The government of Uzbekistan's former president, Islam Karimov, and the country's recently-elected president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, is keeping a tight grip on faith groups in Uzbekistan. No religious activity outside of state-run and controlled institutions is allowed. Although expatriate Christians are allowed to meet together and the Russian Orthodox Church is left relatively undisturbed, other Protestant groups such as Baptists or Pentecostals are frequently branded as 'extremists'. All such groups must be controlled by the government or eradicated.
Churches require registration, but no permits have been issued since 1999 and some churches have had their permits and buildings confiscated. Homes are bugged, phones tapped and groups infiltrated to monitor unregistered churches, and they are in constant danger of being raided. Christians face oppressively high fines if they are caught possessing Christians materials or conducting services that aren't state sanctioned.Christians who have converted from Islam face the greatest danger, and often keep their new faith a secret. Some believers from a Muslim background have been locked up for long periods and beaten, and some are eventually banished from their communities.
But incredibly, many Uzbeki Christians are choosing to face the risks and remain in Uzbekistan to serve God and His people. Askar says: "God asked me a question: 'Askar, if not you, who will worship and serve me in Uzbekistan?' I will serve God here with my family, no matter what the future brings."
Open Doors provides immediate aid to Central Asian believers when they are placed in prison, excluded them from families and communities, and deprived of livelihood and employment because of their faith in Christ. We also strengthen the persecuted church in Central Asia through: