KYRGYZSTAN: Why did government newspaper attack missionaries?
A Kyrgyz government newspaper in the capital, 'Vercherny Bishkek', has greatly exaggerated a minor failure to register with the authorities by Taiwanese and Russian missionaries at an Evangelical Christian Church in the capital Bishkek, and has announced that unspecified "measures" "are now being decided" by the government. Natalya Shadrova, a state religious affairs official, denied the newspaper's claims to Forum 18 News Service and described them as "ill-considered" and creating "a false impression of freedom of conscience in Kyrgyzstan." Her concern was echoed by the church's leader, Sergei Bachkala, who told Forum 18 that "such articles give our church a negative image in the republic." The newspaper denied that the article was published on government instructions, describing it as "restrained" and in neutral tones".
In January 2004, an OSCE diplomat told Forum 18 of suggestions that the government might soon launch a campaign against Christian proselytism, fearing that the conversion of Muslims to Christianity and other faiths could lead to social tension (see F18News 7 January 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=222).
The Taiwanese and Russians were all guest preachers of the Bishkek church, which describes itself as "simply Protestant", without having any specific denominational affiliation. It is a member of the Association of Evangelical Christian Churches in Kyrgyzstan, whose head, Sergei Bachkala, told Forum 18 News Service on 17 August that "we simply forgot to warn the missionaries about the need to register, and once they had registered, the problem was resolved." He was, however, concerned that "such an insignificant incident" was reported in the government newspaper as unresolved when the incident had been resolved.
Natalya Shadrova, deputy head of the state committee for religious affairs, told Forum 18 on 17 August that, according to the 1996 presidential decree, "we do not have the right to stop them preaching, but they have to give us their details." Commenting on her committee's attendance at the service, which Bachkala told Forum 18 that he had no problem with, Shadrova said that "staff from our committee went to see them at a service and reminded them of the requirement to register. The Protestants apologised to us and said that they had simply forgotten to register." Disputing 'Vecherny Bishkek''s claim of "measures" "being decided", Shadrova said that "We quickly registered them and the problem was resolved. Absolutely no-one intended to deport them."
Shadrova saw the 'Vecherny Bishkek' report "as an ill-considered step that has created a false impression of freedom of conscience in Kyrgyzstan," a concern shared by Bachkala, who told Forum 18 that "such articles give our church a negative image in the republic."
On 19 August, Forum 18 spoke to the acting head of the news department at 'Vecherny Bishkek', Vyacheslav Anikin, as Yevgeni Denisenko, who authorised publication of the article, was on leave. Anikin categorically denied that the article had been published on the instructions of the authorities, with the aim of creating a negative image of Protestants. He told Forum 18 that "We simply felt that this news was of interest. The report was restrained and in neutral tones, and I do not understand why the Protestants feel that we are trying to harm their image."
For background information see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom
survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=222
A printer-friendly map of Kyrgyzstan is available at
23 June 2004
Khabibulo Khadmarov, a devout Muslim from the Fergana [Farghona] Valley, has been sentenced to six years in jail. The main accusation was that he was a member of Tabligh and that a manuscript found on him contained "extremist" sentiments. However, one human rights activist, Akhmajon Madmarov, described it to Forum 18 News Service as "a standard work of theology". The staff of the local university philosophy department, who analysed the manuscript, were described to Forum 18 by Madmarov as "the same as those who worked there in Soviet times. In other words, the people who are today acting as experts on Islam are the same as those who previously used to demonstrate the harmfulness and anti-scientific nature of religion." Tabligh members in Central Asia insist on their commitment to the group's original avowedly apolitical foundation.
10 June 2004
Islamic religious extremism in Uzbekistan – which threatens to spread in Central Asia and elsewhere - is largely the result of government repression and lack of democracy, Azerbaijani scholar and translator of the Koran Nariman Gasimoglu, head of the Center for Religion and Democracy http://addm.az.iatp.net/ana.html in Baku and a former Georgetown University (USA) visiting scholar, argues in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. Extremist Islamist groups, like the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir party, which do not yet enjoy widespread support, have been strengthened by repression while moderate Muslims, Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses have suffered. The best, if not the only way to counter religious extremism, Gasimoglu maintains, is to open up society to religious freedom for all, democracy, and free discussion – even including Islamist groups. This is the only way, he argues, of depriving Islamic extremism of support by revealing the reality of what extremism in power would mean.
17 May 2004
State officials have told local Ahmadis and Forum 18 News Service that a government resolution against "religious extremism", which specifically mentioned the Ahmadis, will not lead to a crackdown on their activity, saying that "if the Ahmadiyya community was included in the list of extremist groups, then that was done purely by mistake." Few in Kyrgyzstan have seen the text, and many are inclined to downplay the significance of it for the Ahmadiyya community. It is believed that the resolution was part of the Kyrgyz reaction to the terrorist attacks in neighbouring Uzbekistan.