Restrictions on religious freedom are being drawn more tightly than ever before both around the world and, some would say, here in the United States. Defamation of religion is an accusation that is used to squelch not only the freedom to worship and practice one’s faith freely, but to stop truth from being expressed. But that is the topic for another blog post.
Today there was actually good news on the religious freedom front. . . from Kazakhstan. A breaking story from Compass Direct News Service reports that Uzbek pastor Makset Djabbarbergenov has been released from prison in Almaty, Kazakhstan. According to the Norwegian religious freedom group Forum 18, house church pastor Djabbarbergenov was released from prison on December 4 and joined his pregnant wife, Aigul, and four young sons at the airport. With the help of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees they were able to fly to Frankfurt, and then on to another European country.
Things could have gone a lot differently for this young pastor. His home country of Uzbekistan had demanded that Kazakhstan extradite him there, where he faced as much as 15 years in prison for practicing religion outside of the state religion. Forum 18 says that Djabbarbergenov was charged under Uzbek Criminal Code Article 229-2 and Article 244-2.
Compass Direct reports that Djabbarbergenov “became a Christian in 2000 and soon became an active church leader in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, the autonomous republic of Uzbekistan. He was arrested six times and, following a police raid on his apartment in 2007, he and his family fled to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. He crossed into Kazakhstan the following month; his family followed a few months later.”
In Kazakhstan, Djabbarbergenov applied for asylum, but the Kazakh government ruled against him even though the U.N. had recognized him as a refugee. He was arrested in September and held in prison, on the extradition request from Uzbekistan until yesterday’s surprising release.
Djabbarbergenov’s friends and church members in Almaty told Forum 18 “we need to thank the Kazakh government – they did the right thing.” But Kazakhstan still needs to allow more religious freedom. Just last week IRD’s Religious Liberty Program signed on to a letter to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief expressing concern about the rising restrictions on religion in Kazakhstan and asking him to visit the country soon and assess the situation.
Kudos to Kazakhstan for finally treating Pastor Makset Djabbarbergenov with humanity and justice. Now let’s see more freedom of religion for all in Kazakhstan.