By Bob Allen
A Baptist in Uzbekistan was jailed 15 days in March and fined three years’ worth of the national minimum wage for giving a Christian leaflet to a passer-by he met while traveling by bicycle, according to a news service that monitors religious freedom violations abroad.
The Forum 18 News Service in Norway reports that Doniyor Akhmedov — a Baptist from Almalyk in the Tashkent Region of northeast Uzbekistan — set out early on the morning of March 16 for a 110-mile journey by bicycle to the Namangan Region farther east.
Police stopped him must north of Almalyk, after he gave a Christian leaflet to a passer-by, and arrested him for illegal missionary activity. A police official did not explain why he was caught so quickly.
Akhmedov is one of three Protestants known to have been imprisoned in Uzbekistan in March and April. Uzbekistan, ranked by the U.S. State Department as a country of “particular concern” for violation of religious freedom, frequently fines Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses and sometimes gives them short-term prison sentences. Muslims prisoners of conscience often face much harsher penalties, including long prison terms.
In 2011 Uzbekistan shut down a Baptist summer camp raided in 2009 after complaints children were involved in religious activities without their parents’ permission. Camp officials denied the charge, but a judge found three top Baptist leaders guilty in a high-profile trial that some criticized as a political sham intended to disrupt the minority Baptist community.
Baptist sources in Uzbekistan told Forum 18 Akhmedov does not intend to pay the fine, because “he does not consider that he violated the law.”
“He only exercised his fundamental human right,” Baptists said, and added that has already filed a complaint alleging illegal actions by authorities and protesting the fine.