We frequently tell you that much of the persecution of believers is not published, not even in Christian news today. One such example is the plight of an Uzbek Baptist Christian named Tohar Haydarov.
Two years ago, Tohar was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking, which his church says is a false charge. In March 2010 he was accused of selling large quantities of narcotics or psychotropic substances. Seven weeks earlier, he was arrested, interrogated for hours and persuaded to recant his faith. But he stayed true to his convictions. The police then told him they had found a matchbox in his pocket containing drugs. He was arrested and then sentenced in a swift judicial move, which has left the Church confused and frustrated. Despite the gravity of the situation, Tohar’s story has not made much of a splash in Christian news today.
The Baptist Church insists that the charges were completely fabricated, stating that Tohar is “a man with a pure conscience and an honest Christian.” Mushfig Bayram, writing for Forum 18 News, says: “An initial appeal against the sentence was rejected in April, despite numerous violations of legal procedure in the original trial.” Even his neighbors, convinced of his innocence, gave written statements to the authorities to defend his case.
But none of the objections prevailed, and Haydarov was sentenced to prison as a drug trafficker, where he has now served two years of his sentence. Would there have been a different result if Tohar’s story had been widely publicized in Christian news today? This is something we will never know. In some instances in the past widely publicizing the plight of believers has caused more harm than good, which is one reason why some stories go untold in Christian news today. However, in this case, Tohar is in great need of our prayers.
In April 2012, a judge stood by the court’s ruling, saying: “The court correctly stated the criminal act of Tohar Haydarov, and the punishment was given in proportion to the act, taking into account the public danger of the act.”
Neither the Church nor the international community is convinced by the legality of the trial or by the length of the sentence. In an attempt to shout, and get Tohar’s story in Christian news today, Corey Bailey, ICC’s Regional Manager for Central Asia released a statement which said, “The circumstances surrounding Haydarov’s arrest and subsequent 10-year sentence are suspect at best and a typical form of Christian persecution for the region. We call for Tohar’s immediate release.”
The Church in Uzbekistan believes that Haydarov’s arrest, imprisonment and sentencing were a punishment for his Christian faith and retaliation to the fact that the Council of Baptist Churches, of which he was a new member, refuses to seek state registration for its religious activity.
Prison authorities recently showed Haydarov some of the many letters sent to him since his imprisonment, but he is not allowed to read them, because “there are too many citations from the Bible in them,” The Voice of the Martyrs says. Though Tohar’s story is not widely publicized in Christian news today, this is a beautiful way to let him know that he is not forgotten, and that believers around the world are praying for him.
Not an Isolated Case
Haydarov is one among many prisoners of conscience in Uzbekistan, where the authorities feel free to manufacture charges, flout the due legal process and imprison Christians, disregarding the legal, ethical and moral obligations of the state to protect the rights of its own citizens. For incidents of this nature, Uzbekistan was named as one of 14 Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, emphasizing that the government has systematically and egregiously violated freedom of religion or belief.
Authoritarian nations, like Uzbekistan, are notorious for employing registration laws to restrict and control religious activity in the country. According to these laws, all religious organizations and activity must be authorized by the state. But the laws are often used to provide legal grounds for the persecution of religious minorities, particularly Christians. They are often poorly worded and vulnerable to manipulation, so that even a family gathering to pray before a meal can be interpreted to be an “illegal religious activity.”
Uzbekistan remains unmoved by its violations of religious freedom. Neither the moral nor the legal factors seem to motivate the leadership to improve the state of religious freedom in the country. Pray for the believers in this country who suffer under rampant abuses of civil and religious freedom. As a point of action, pass around the story of Tohar so it can remain in Christian news today and so that he will be remembered in prayer. In the meantime, an innocent man lies in prison for his faith, waiting for justice to be served.