10/02/2006, 00.00
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Kyrgyzstan: anti-Christian violence becomes persecution

Crowds of extremist Muslims attack and threaten Protestant pastors and demand that they shut down their churches. The authorities fail to intervene and instead ask Christians to be "less active". Parliament is examining a bill of law to limit missionary activities.

Bishkek (AsiaNews/F18) – In Kyrgyzstan, anti-Christian violence is on the rise and is assuming proportions of real persecution, with parliament considering a law to limit missionary activity. This was denounced by the specialized news service, Forum 18.

On 28 July in the southern village of Karakulja, Osh region, more than 80 Muslims attacked the home of Protestant pastor, Zulumbek Sarygulov, beat him. They burned his books and vandalized the façade of his home, writing "house for sale". Three policemen witnessed what happened without lifting a finger to intervene. Sarygulov told Forum 18: "People from the mosque have already come back to my house and told me they will kill me if I do not leave the village. I fear for my life and that of my relatives."

The imam at the local mosque, Muratbek Zhumabayev, confirmed: "The believers are very unhappy that Sarygulov has opened a church in our village. Our village is purely Kyrgyz and we do not need any of these Christian churches. Many young Muslims are very aggressive and if Sarygulov does not leave the village, something irretrievable could happen."

The head of police in Karakulja, Abdysh Turdykulov, denied that Sarygulov had been beaten, despite the fact that he has a medical report from the city hospital in Osh, where he was treated. Even Shamsybek Zakirov, an adviser to the government's Religious Affairs Committee, said that "the medical report is not evidence" because "anything could have happened to Sarygulov on his way to Osh." He confirmed, however, that the Christian should leave the village and close the church "so as not to provoke the situation", adding: "Incidentally, Sarygulov is not a local man and was specifically sent to the village as a missionary."

Aleksandr Shumilin, leader of the country's Baptist Christians, confirmed that episodes of violence against Protestants were on the rise and that police were not doing anything about it. This was especially the case in southern Kyrgyzstan, in cities such as Tashkumur, Karakul, and Tereksu, and other areas not far from Jalal-Abad, where Muslims have insulted and threatened Baptists that they will burn their churches if they do not close them and leave town.

In northern and central Kyrgyzstan, the situation is generally better, but even here violent episodes have occurred. Many Christians say this new "persecution" of Christians is being fostered by officials from the Religious Affairs Committee. Janybek Zhakipov, pastor of the Jalal-Abad Protestant Church of Jesus Christ said an official from the Religious Affairs Committee showed him a petition with 500 signatures demanding the church's closure and threatened to remove its registered status.

In December 2005 Saktinbai Usmanov was killed in the village of Zhety-Oguz on the southern bank of Isyk-kul lake. The Kyrgyz man had converted to Christianity. According to Islamic law, a Muslim who converts to Christianity is an apostate punishable by death.

In these circumstances, MP Kamchybek Tashiev has proposed an amendment to the law on religion that is apparently aimed at limiting missionary activities.

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