Four Uzbek Pentecostals from the Full Gospel Church in Uzbekistan face long prison terms if convicted of charges of using and distributing drugs. But the charges may be trumped up by authorities.

Pastor Rashid Turibayev, a church member known only as Parakat, and two other congregants are imprisoned in Nukus, capital of the Karakalpakstan autonomous republic in Uzbekistan.

Turibayev, the 24-year-old pastor of the church, and Parakat, who translated the Bible into the Karakalpak language, were arrested in February after a search allegedly found packets containing illegal drugs. The other two church members were arrested in early March.

The planting of drugs by police and state security agents is commonly used by the authoritarian Uzbek regime against dissident Muslims and human-rights activists. This is the first suspected use against Christians.

Turibayev has already suffered for his activity with the Nukus church, which has tried since 1995 to become registered legally with the government. After court proceedings were opened against him in 1996, Turibayev was forcibly detained for a month in a psychiatric hospital. There he was treated with powerful drugs that caused intense pain, and he was severely beaten. He also reportedly received death threats. He was sentenced in 1997 to two years of forced labor on charges of holding unsanctioned meetings. Al though released from prison and allowed to live at home, Turibayev was required to hand over 20 percent of his salary to local authorities as punishment and was not al lowed to leave town without permission. Since his release, the church has been put under round-the-clock surveillance by state security officers.

Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, enacted harsh controls on all religious groups through new legislation and amendments to the criminal code last May. The new laws made registration for religious communities difficult and also outlawed all religious activity by unregistered groups (CT, Oct. 5, 1998, p. 22).

Compass Direct News Service.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.