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Pastor faces 8 years in jail
Charged with leading unregistered church

WorldNetDaily | June 22, 2005

An Uzbekistan pastor facing up to eight years in prison for leading an unregistered church is asking for the prayers of fellow Christian believers in the West, says the Voice of the Martyrs, an organization fighting for the persecuted church around the world.

Two members of the Bethany Protestant Church in Tashkent have already been punished for "illegally" teaching their faith, while six others – including Pastor Nikolai Shevchenko – are due to face trial next month for leading an unregistered religious organization.

The church has repeatedly been denied registration in a district of the city where mosques are banned also.

On June 10, a criminal court sentenced Nail Kalinkin to 15 days in prison and fined his wife, Marina, the equivalent of $68. They were found guilty of expounding the meaning of biblical texts.

Uniformed and plain clothes police officers burst into the Bethany Church during the Sunday service June 12. The authorities cut short the service, saying that the church could not meet there any more. They demanded the pastors write statements explaining the reason for the meeting.

Shevchenko and five other church members were taken to the police station.

When interrogations began, Shevchenko asked for an attorney to be present.

"Those at the police station answered us that they required neither lawyer nor summons, because all they needed was to destroy us," he said.

He has been repeatedly fined since 2000 for leading an unregistered religious community. In 2001, he was accused of unlawful religious activity and faced criminal charges, but the case was closed after pressure from the international community.

Shevchenko has tried to register his church three times, but the authorities have refused him each time on various pretexts.

Asked what those in the West could do to help, Shevchenko solicited only prayers.

"We ask you to pray for us, because last Friday the hearing was rescheduled on July 7," he said. "In other words, they are giving us more time, so that we could gather, get caught and thus we would be made criminals. We pray for the Lord's protection, so that we could continue our activities, and so that the Lord will give us wisdom to know what to answer and how to act with the authorities. We kindly ask you to pray for us."

Bethany Church is attended by between 120 and 150 – all converts to Christianity.

"Our church has existed for eight years, and during that time it organized three affiliate churches," explained Shevchenko. "The church is working and it is visited by Russians, the Tatars and Uzbeks. The church's main activity is evangelism, and planting new groups and new churches. There are regular Bible study classes at the church. Besides gathering for services, the church is also divided into several groups. That means that even if we are arrested, the church is not going to stop, because the structure of the church is made so that we will be able to go on working. In general, the Bible studies are attended by the non-believers who are 20-25. There are no believers who have been in the faith for longer than eight years; most of the Christians have been believers for four or five years. Almost all members are newly converted, not children of believers. It is very pleasant to work with them, because they know that they are going to face and accept persecution with great joy."

If the court hearing goes badly next month, Shevchenko and four others face between three and eight years in prison.

"What for?" he asked rhetorically. "Only for gathering in a church, holding worship, or for believing in Jesus Christ, for our open confession of faith."

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