Baptists in Uzbekistan lose camp

Property seizures are common for minority religions in the predominantly Muslim nation labeled one of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world.

By Bob Allen

A court in Uzbekistan has ordered confiscation of property purchased 13 years ago by Uzbekistan's Baptist Union for use as a summer camp, according to a report by Forum 18, a global news service that monitors abuse of religious liberty based in Norway.

A court in Uzbekistan's capital of Tashkent reportedly voided the sale of 2 ½ acres that Baptist purchased at auction from a restaurant chain in 2000 and ordered its return to its “lawful owner,” meaning the state. The Baptist union lodged an appeal.

Forum 18 said religious communities, whether registered or not, have long faced insecurity over ownership of property in Uzbekistan. In July, court bailiffs seized the piano, pulpit, carpet, refrigerator and benches from a Baptist congregation in Karshi in southern Uzbekistan.

camp4joyIn a July court document Baptists argued that "the future of Uzbekistan cannot be built on the plundering of religious organizations.”

In 2009 authorities raided the summer retreat spot called Camp Joy, accusing Baptists of involving children in religious activities without their parents' permission. Baptist leaders said parents who send their children to Camp Joy know it is a Baptist camp. Children who arrive and say they don't want to participate in religious activities are routinely driven home, but that didn’t prevent the conviction of three Baptist leaders in a high-profile trial.

Baptists, a small ethnic minority in Muslim-majority Uzbekistan, have had a series of run-ins with the law. A delegation from the Baptist World Alliance and the European Baptist Federation conducted a joint human-rights visit to Uzbekistan to promote religious freedom and strengthen the relationship with the Baptist union in 2011.

The U.S. State Department lists Uzbekistan as a country of “particular concern,” a designation reserved for the worst offenders in violations of religious liberty.