There are 33.2 million people living in Muslim-majority Uzbekistan. Only around 345,000 are Christian.
Christians from Muslim backgrounds face the brunt of persecution in Uzbekistan. They face considerable pressure from family, friends and communities, who see them as traitors.
The risk is heightened for many women who, given societal expectations around submission, are effectively not allowed to choose their own religion. Repercussions can include house arrest, abduction, divorce or physical abuse.
No religious activities beyond state-run and state-controlled institutions are allowed, and Christians who are members of unregistered churches are viewed as a threat to the government. Believers may have their meetings raided and be arrested or fined for taking part in ‘illegal’ religious activities.
Church leaders are especially targeted because the authorities want to cause a ripple effect of fear and anxiety in their congregations.
Russian Orthodox churches are least susceptible to pressure and persecution because most of their members are Russian and tend not to try to reach out to the Uzbek population.
In 2021, President Shavkat Mirziyoev signed a new Religion Law. Despite recommendations from leading international organisations – and an earlier promise from the president to ease the registration process for religious groups – little seems to have changed. Sharing faith remains banned, whilst state permission is required for religious activities and teaching.
“After my conversion to Christianity, my brother wanted to have nothing to do with me.” Aziz
Aziz – whose name we’ve change to protect his identity – is a believer from a Muslim background in Uzbekistan. His brother was extremely angry when Aziz came to faith, and once drove into his house with a small truck. He also threatened to burn Aziz’s house down.
“After my conversion to Christianity, my brother wanted to have nothing to do with me,” says Aziz. “My father, sister and other family members lived in the same village. When I visited them, I tried to visit my brother. Again and again, he became very angry as soon as he saw me, and said: ‘Go away, what are you doing here? I don’t want anything to do with you!’ For 20 years we did not have contact with each other.”
When Aziz’s nephew became a Christian, his father beat him up. He had to be hospitalised. In 2019, Aziz’s brother became seriously sick. He reached out to Aziz who prayed for him and shared the gospel with him. “The heart of my oldest brother is becoming softer and softer,” Aziz says.
Although Uzbekistan has dropped three places, life as a Christian in the country remains hugely challenging. Believers continue to face enormous pressure from families and communities, and imposing government restrictions greatly affect church life and witness. However, there were fewer reports of violent incidents compared with last year.
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Uzbekistan. Your gifts and prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Open Doors strengthens persecuted Christians in Central Asia by providing Bibles and Christian literature, training, socio-economic projects and practical aid.
Heavenly Father, we are acutely aware that to live as a Christian in Uzbekistan can carry enormous challenges and even danger. Encourage, equip and empower believers in the face of pressure and persecution, and may all hostility against them soften. Grant leaders wisdom and discernment as they navigate state restrictions, and keep them in good health and spirits. Keep and protect Your children. Amen.
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