Uzbek official blames two Christian groups of illegal missionary activities

An Uzbek official on Monday accused two Christian denominations of illegal missionary activities in the tightly controlled, predominantly Muslim ex-Soviet republic. Bekhzod Kadyrov, of the State Committee on Religions, alleged in an article posted on the government-run Web site that followers of the Pentecostal Church and Jehovah's Witnesses were holding illegal gatherings and private religious lessons.

President Islam Karimov, who has ruled the nation of 25 million since before the 1991 Soviet collapse, tolerates no dissent and does not permit any religious activity, including Islam, outside state-controlled institutions. About 2,000 religious organizations of 16 creeds are registered in Uzbekistan, according to official figures. Kadyrov said that the Pentecostal Church missionaries held sermons in Uzbek and Tajik languages in order to convert local Muslims. He accused Jehovah's Witnesses of holding non-sanctioned religious gatherings to celebrate Christian holidays.

The article did not specify who was conducting the alleged missionary activity or where it was occurring and it was not possible to locate officials from either denomination for comment. Kadyrov also said that illegal imports of religious literature was on the rise in the Central Asian nation. Authorities last month seized 126 tapes and other video material with religious content from a Pentecostal Church follower who was heading to the western city of Nukus, he said.

According to rights groups, thousands of young men have been jailed in recent years as part of the government campaign against independent Muslims, which authorities say is aimed at stemming extremism. Three years ago, an Uzbek court convicted a Jehovah's Witness of inciting religious hatred and gave him a three-year suspended sentence. The case drew international condemnation as abuse of religious freedom, reports the AP.


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