Oppressive new laws in Azerbaijan and Tajikistan required religious communities to re-register with the government by January 1, 2010 or face illegal status. As of December 16, only about 100 of Azerbaijan’s 534 religious communities had been able to do so. Fewer than half of Tajikistan’s religious communities re-registered, reports MNN.
According to Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association, officials place obstructions in the paths of churches trying to re-register.
"They will find some technicality or basically any reason to deny registration. So even if some of the groups actually follow the law to the letter and meet the requirements, it just seems very arbitrary and capricious as to whether the officials will agree to register to not," he explained.
It’s unclear how strictly the governments of the two nations will enforce their laws.
"In the worst case scenario…they could basically close congregations down and impose pretty stiff penalties," Griffith said. "In the best case scenario…unless they agree to fully repeal these statues or amend these laws, I think we need to just hope and pray that even though they’re on the books, these things won’t be enforced."
That’s often the case in countries that have similar laws. The new laws include other burdensome requirements in addition to the re-registration mandate. Azerbaijan’s law requires religious communities to provide more information for registration and to obtain approval to build or rebuild places of worship. It also prohibits the sale of religious literature in unapproved locations and religious activity outside registered addresses.
Tajikistan’s religion law censors religious literature, bans state officials from founding religious communities, requires state approval to invite foreigners for religious visits or to travel abroad for religious events, and restricts children’s religious activity and education.
Christians in Azerbaijan are especially concerned about how courts might interpret unclear provisions in the law. They fear a loose interpretation could penalize "peaceful religious activity." Griffith quoted a passage from the law and explained the issue.
"‘The community formulates its relations with other religious confessions on the basis of religious toleration (tolerance), respect and the avoidance of conflict,’ and the community cannot use violence or the threat of violence in proclaiming its faith. Well, if you don’t define those terms, such as ‘respect and the avoidance of conflict’…you could almost say that Christian evangelism could even be illegal under a formulation like that."
Since Christians believe in only one means of salvation — Jesus Christ — it would be entirely possible for disagreement with other religious groups to be interpreted as "conflict." However, Christians are not the only people worried about the potential impact of the law.
"It’s not just Christians that are concerned; we’ve got Muslim groups that are concerned. These are largely Muslim nations," Griffith said. "I think there are a number of people that are concerned about what this will possibly do down the road."
No matter what does happen, the Christian church will remain committed to the Gospel.
"Regardless of what happens in these countries, the churches still have their marching orders from the Lord: to proclaim the Gospel," Griffith said. "And no matter what man does, they’re going to continue to proclaim the Gospel."
Christians in Tajikistan and Azerbaijan need the prayers and support of their fellow believers. SGA has been supporting churches in the former Soviet Union for 75 years, and it continues to support churches in these two countries.
"It’s important to help them take advantage of every open door they can find to share the Gospel," Griffith said. "It might be through supporting a church-planting missionary; it might be through providing Russian-language Bibles and literature; it may be through helping to support in-country training, and sometimes that training has to take place quietly…. But for churches here in the West that have the resources, it’s important to support our brothers and sisters there who don’t have the resources that we do."
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Hostilities evident in Muslim area where missionaries were slain.
NAIROBI, Kenya, June 26 (Compass Direct News) – When a young Muslim woman in northern Uganda heard about Jesus in February 2005 and began having dreams about the cross of Christ, it marked the beginning of a nightmare.
Between the dreams and otherwise sleepless nights, Aleti Samusa of Yumbe district soon converted to Christianity; her family immediately kicked her out of their home.
Economically devastated and deprived of that which is most valued in the communal culture, Samusa sought refuge in a local church in Lotongo village. There she found the man she would marry later that year, David Edema, who was raised a Christian but who began sharing in the sufferings of a convert from Islam by virtue of becoming one flesh with one.
His bride’s family did not attend the couple’s wedding, Edema told Compass, and it wasn’t long before her relatives threatened to break up their marriage. With Samusa’s family threatening to forcibly take her from Edema, the couple fled Lotongo village to Yumbe town. Their troubles had just begun.
“The Muslims started sending people, saying that I am not wanted in Yumbe town and that I should leave the town,” Edema said.
Most houses in Yumbe are owned by Muslims, he said, and since 2006 the couple has been forced to move from one rented house to another without notice.
“The owner just wakes up one morning and gives us marching orders to vacate the house,” the 29-year-old Edema said. “Nowadays, the situation is getting worse. Muslims are openly saying even in their mosques that they plan to take unknown action against my family.”
One potential danger amounts to a death threat against his wife, now 24.
“The Muslims are saying that they are going to send some Jinns [evil spirits] to my wife because she forsook Islam, and that this spirit will kill her,” he said.
Asked what steps he has taken in the face of these threats, Edema was resigned.
“It will be pointless to take this matter to court, because the people who are to hear the case are Muslims,” he said. “I feel no justice will be done.”
Edema said he and his wife are hoping that God will open a door for them to move to another town.
“The sooner the better for us,” he said, “for we do not know what the Muslims are planning to do with us.”
Violence in Yumbe district is not without precedent. On March 18, 2004, seven suspected radical Islamists dressed in military fatigues murdered two African Inland Mission missionaries and a Ugandan student in an attack on a college run by local aid group Here is Life. Warren and Donna Pett, both 49 and agriculture experts from the U.S. state of Wisconsin, were teachers at the Evangelical School of Technology. The slain student was Isaac Juruga.
The murder case was dismissed in February by the state attorney, who claimed lack of evidence. A Here is Life official who requested anonymity, however, said not enough weight was given to evidence that included a mobile phone recovered from one of the suspected assailants.
“We feel that justice was not done in the ruling of the killing of the two missionaries,” he said.
In Yumbe, the administrative arm of the government as well as the judiciary is run by Muslims, said Edema, who added that the district is still not a safe place for Christians.
“Sometimes they even confront me that I should stop converting Muslims to Christianity – this is not true,” Edema said. “It is just a way of wanting to pick a quarrel with me.”
Edema, his wife and two children belong to Pilgrim Church. Christians and converts to Christianity are a tiny minority in the area, but about three kilometers from Yumbe town is the Church of Uganda in Eleke, with a congregation of about 100. This church has recently sounded alarms about Muslims making land-grabs of its property.
A church leader who requested anonymity said area Muslims have seized a substantial portion of the church’s land, but when the matter went to court, the case was dismissed due to lack of a title deed.
In addition, in May Muslim youths beat a female church worker who had taken a photo of a mosque that was under construction 100 meters from the church, he said.
“Rowdy Muslim youths removed the film after destroying the lid of the camera,” he said. “The militant youths started beating up the church worker as they dragged her to the police station in Yumbe, where she was interrogated for three hours before being released.”
Peter Manasseh, vicar of the Eleke Church of Uganda, said the church has filed a complaint with the local governing council, “but we do not expect any fairness to be done because the person handling this case is a Muslim and will be partisan.”
A journalist who works for a Christian radio station, however, decided to look into the case – and was himself beaten. Ronald Oguzu of Voice of Life radio in Arua town went to Yumbe yesterday to investigate, said a senior station official who requested anonymity.
“At the mosque site, the Muslims caught hold of Oguzu, beat him and he had his tooth broken,” the official said. “He was then hospitalized in Yumbe hospital and is still receiving some medication.”
He said a criminal case has been filed, but that chances for justice were not good.
“We know that this case will be thrown out of the window, just like that of the killing of the two missionaries,” he said. “To date no arrests have been made.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Christians in India are becoming more vocal and seeking government protection for religious minorities as extremist Hindu violence continues to spread and intensify across India.
In this video footage ‘Christians’ are marching through New Delhi calling for justice and peace.
In the video footage below there is a report from within India on the situation in Kandhamal.