Why are republics becoming increasingly hostile to Christians? Firstly, let’s look at the legal and political framework of religion in Central Asia.
Despite the freedoms each Central Asian state announced following their respective declarations of independence in 1991, numerous legislative revisions have led to the restriction of religious freedom. Although significant differences persist between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, on one hand, and Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, on the other, all governments have become increasingly strict on religious matters.
Each Central Asian state has sought to put religious institutions into a legal framework by maintaining or restoring structures of control that were created under the Soviet system such as the Council for Religious Affairs and the Muslim Spiritual Board.
While nominally promoting dialogue between religion, political authorities, and society, these institutions are still largely supervised by the state, a situation that puts into question the principle of separation of state and religion, which is mentioned in the Central Asian constitutions.
This administrative supervision is indeed aimed at maintaining pressure on all religious communities and at controlling their activities through registration procedures, limitation of theological discourses, and restrictions on the distribution of religious books, teaching, and charitable activity all of which are what Christians would engage in.
Secondly, the registration formalities for Christian communities have become again, as during Soviet times, one of the primary tools of state pressure. Registration has been refused when groups could not fulfill the requirements, a situation that applied to most in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
The legislative framework was quickly exceeded, especially in other republics, where the law did not prove sufficient in putting an end to movements considered dangerous; some communities were not registered even though they had met all necessary requirements.
A special effort has been made against the movements considered foreign, accused of proselytism: especially Presbyterian churches, charismatic groups, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some groups have even been denied registration because their leader was foreign.