Muslim-majority Uzbekistan is the largest Central Asian state by population, with Christians representing less than 12% of its 31.1 million people.
Officially secular, Uzbekistan was at one time the harshest Central Asian country in its treatment of the small Christian community. Although President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, elected 2016, has shown a more tolerant attitude, a revised Religion Law passed in 2021 maintained many earlier restrictions.
A ban on religious teaching without state permission was retained. A registered religious community must still submit reasons for any event, the address, date and time, number of attendees, sources of finance, and copies of any literature or audio-visual material to be used. Details of any foreign citizens attending must also be supplied. Christian evangelism or missionary work is effectively banned.
However, the number of adult members required for a church to apply for official registration (so that its activities are legal) has been reduced from 100 to 50 – but an additional restriction requires all founders (church members at time of registration) to be resident in the same city or district.
Despite this, a historic breakthrough in 2019 saw several churches registered, including one in the notoriously strict, autonomous region of Karakalpakstan. At least a further eight churches were registered in 2020 and three more in 2022.
The main obstacle to registration is that church ministers are required to have university-level qualifications, and congregations must have their own buildings. Sometimes churches can worship legally by sharing a registered building.
Evangelical churches are growing, with many converts from Islam who face increasing ostracism and pressure from Muslim relatives. Thankfully, however, hostility towards Muslim-background believers from the state is lessening, and in mid-2022 it was reported that house meetings for converts from Islam were no longer being targeted by the authorities.
Give thanks that more churches have been registered and Christian meetings in homes are no longer being raided by the police. Ask that other restrictions will be lifted or eased. Pray that converts who face hostility and pressure to return to Islam will remain firm in their Christian faith.