Date:  April 19, 2023

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 690 

by Elizabeth Kendal

On Resurrection Sunday, 9 April, police raided the Baptist church in Qarshi/Karshi, the capital of Uzbekistan’s southern Qashqadaryo/Kashkadarya Region.

Police raid Baptist church in Qarshi, 9 April 2023.  Photo credit: Baptist Council of Churches.

Baptists told Forum 18 (a Norwegian organisation that monitors religious freedom) that the police stormed the prayer house while a service was under way, damaging the front door in the process. They then used batons and electric shock prods to incapacitate believers, beating church member David Ibragimov until he collapsed to the ground. Ten believers, including youths, were taken to the police station where they were detained until 3pm. Baptist musicians from Germany were among those taking part in the Easter celebration. The police gave no explanation for the raid. However, officials from the mahalla (local district) committees, who called in the police, told church members they were acting on a circular from the Religious Affairs Committee and Culture Ministry saying the events involving the German Baptist musicians were not allowed.

Church members told Forum 18 that the raid followed the church’s attempts to rent 15 local halls where they planned to hold Gospel presentations with the German Baptist musicians, in celebration of Easter. Because all attempts to rent public halls were blocked, the Baptist churches decided to host the events on their own premises. On Monday 10 April, the German Baptist musicians were in Denov, the capital of neighbouring Surxondaryo/Surkhandarya Region, to participate in the Gospel presentation there. As in Qarshi, police raided the ‘illegal’ meeting and forcibly dispersed congregation. In Uzbekistan, only groups that have successfully registered with the government are permitted to gather for worship and churches belonging to the Baptist Council of Churches refuse to register on principle.

Uzbekistan’s Religion Law has its roots in the highly repressive Soviet era. Since former Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev was elected president in December 2016, the state has been pursuing transformative reforms. Until that time, Uzbekistan had been one of the world’s most severe religious liberty abusers, violently persecuting believers and handing out long prison terms with hard labour to Christian leaders they had first framed (often by planting drugs on them) and tortured. Along with restructuring the economy and tackling systemic corruption, President Mirziyoyev has been forging ties both within the region and with the West. To that end, in 2018 Mirziyoyev agreed to revise the country’s repressive religion law. [Background on Uzbekistan, see: RLM, 2 Sept 2020]. Sadly, though an improvement on the 1998 law, the new religion law – passed in July 2021 – retains many repressive elements including mandatory registration, censorship of religious materials, restrictions on religious education, and a ban on ‘missionary activity and proselytism’ and ‘activities which offend the religious feelings of believers’ [Forum 18 analysis, Nov 2021].

Map showing location of Qarshi.

Located in the heart of Central Asia, Uzbekistan has long been threatened by groups that promote Islamic revolution (e.g., Hizb ut-Tahrir) and jihadi terror (e.g., the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan). Furthermore, just over the southern border, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) is flexing its muscles. In March, ISKP assassinated the governor of northern Afghanistan’s Balkh Province (which borders southern Uzbekistan), forcing the Taliban to launch a counter-terror operation in Mazar-e Sharif. Among the dead ISKP jihadists were numerous Tajik and Uzbek fighters. That said, unlike revolutionary and pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, pro-Caliphate Islamists, peaceful Baptists – indeed, Christians in general – do not pose a risk to national security. And if the government wants to preserve ‘peaceful coexistence of confessions’, then, instead of repressing religious freedom, it should address the problem of Islamic intolerance.


  • raise up Christian leaders across ethnic and denominational lines – both inside Uzbekistan and internationally – who can articulate the Christian message to Uzbek authorities and make the case for religious liberty. May the Lord intervene to resolve the problem of continued religious repression in this former-Soviet, Muslim-majority state.
  • grace Uzbekistan's Baptist Council of Churches with great wisdom and clear guidance as it seeks to navigate its way through a difficult and complex religious situation. May the Baptists who were beaten and abused in Qarshi on Easter Sunday be assured of God’s love and sustaining grace.
  • use President Mirziyoyev as an instrument of HIS will to advance HIS purposes – even if he knows it not!

‘For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you [Cyrus] by your name, I name you [Cyrus], though you do not know me’ (from Isaiah 45:1-7 ESV). [Cyrus the Great, king of Persia ended the era of Babylonian Captivity, liberating the Jewish people and permitting their return to Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:1-4)]