A Christian leader in western Uzbekistan's autonomous Karakalpakstan region has been jailed since July 25, accused by local police of illegal drug possession. Nicholai Rudinsky was arrested just a few hours after Nukus police had closed down a church youth camp he helped organize. The officials claimed that the local church had "no right to operate a religious camp."The camp was the second of two youth camps held during July in a camping facility near Nukus and sponsored by the local Mir Presbyterian Church. Some 50 children had attended the first camp session without incident. Nukus city authorities reportedly did not send the children home from the camp facility but replaced the church's camp staff with their own secular personnel.According to a local source, Rudinsky had come from a nearby city to visit the Mir church on July 25 when word came that the police were closing down the children's camp. As one of the camp organizers, Rudinsky promptly went to the facility, where he told the authorities that the camp was sponsored by a registered church and was legally funded.But after Rudinsky returned to the church, the source said, police put him under arrest and took him in for interrogation, which lasted four hours.Security police investigators told Rudinsky he could be imprisoned "for the rest of his life" if he did not cooperate with their investigation. To date, however, he has apparently refused to answer some of their questions concerning the organizers and sponsors of the camp.When the police searched him during the interrogations, the source said, "they claimed to have found 0.2 grams of opium in his pocket."Although the jailed Christian leader has been able to consult local lawyers, so far they have been unable to confirm if any official charges have been filed against him."Nicholai was beaten many times," one of his friends told Compass today. "He is very sick and needs medical help." At Nukus Prison, he is being allowed only one visit a month with his wife.No further actions have been reported against the pastor or other members of the Mir church, although the congregation has not been allowed to meet since Rudinsky's arrest. In a similar incident, Keston News Service reported earlier this summer that Uzbek authorities near the capital of Tashkent had refused permission in May for a children's summer camp to be sponsored by the Evangelical Christian/Baptist Union of Churches. The cancelled church camp was to have been held on a collective farm in Bostanlyk district.Last year, four Uzbek Christian leaders were arrested and given prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years on trumped-up drug charges. Three of them, including one pastor, were from Nukus. After months in jail, all were released in a surprise order issued by Uzbek President Islam Karimov on August 19, 1999.Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct.

Related Elsewhere

The State Department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, released this week, has more information on religious freedom in Uzbekistan.Visit the Embassy of Uzbekistan Homepage.Listings of Uzbek news sites in Russian and English are available here, as well as a current news log.Previous Christianity Today articles about Uzbekistan include:Turkmenistan Refuses to Register Bible Church | Government confiscating Turkmen, Russian Scriptures. (March 16, 2000) Christian Uzbek Pastor Marks One Year in Prison | Jailers reportedly beating pastor for witnessing. (March 7, 2000) Religion Law Jeopardizes Evangelism | Uzbekistan bans 'unregistered' religions (Oct. 5, 1998)Other media news about Uzbekistan is available from:Uzbekistan to discuss terrorism during President Karimov's visit | Asia Times Online (April 28, 2000) Uzbekistan Pres. Karimov to Visit Korea Monday | Korea Times (Oct. 1, 1999)