Police in Uzbekistan arrested 43 converts to Christianity from Islam, including a number of teenagers, and later tried to get them to appear in court in front of TV cameras in an apparent show trial.
The converts were arrested at the beginning of October while they met at a camp around 50 miles from the capital Tashkent. They were held for between eight to nine hours, until 2 a.m., and then released.
The police opened investigations against all of the adult converts. The twelve teenagers were not charged.
Police put considerable pressure on a number of the arrested converts, even attempting to recruit some to work for the police as informers. Several were forced into giving incriminating written statements against the organisers and leaders of the gathering. The converts face charges of “illegal assembly” and potential fines of up to the equivalent of $2,500 (£1,900) if found guilty.
The first court hearing was arranged for 18 October, but was postponed by the judge. At the re-arranged hearing on 23 October many of the Christians facing charges refused to enter the courtroom because there were cameramen and TV journalists present, and they did not wish to be part of a show trial. The judge again postponed the hearing, which was eventually held on 30 October.
Ahead of the trial, a Christian pastor contacted Barnabas and asked for prayer for the converts, “that Jesus would give them wisdom and courage and the right words at the trial.”
The presiding judge ordered the TV journalists not to film the trial proceedings, but they were permitted to film the verdicts. All the Christians charged were found guilty, but only received minimum fines, equivalent to between $75 – $500 (£57 – £380). Police subsequently promised to reduce the fine for any of the converts who agreed to be interviewed for TV.
Barnabas Fund, barnabasfund.org