A pastor in Tajikistan has been released from prison over two-and-a-half years after authorities raided his church, according to advocacy organizations.
Tajik Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov of the Good News of Grace Protestant Church in Khujand was sentenced in July 2017 and accused of “singing extremist songs” in church and “inciting religious hatred.”
Police raided Kholmatov’s church and harassed the congregation in April 2017.
The Ireland-based persecution advocacy group Church in Chains reports that in the wake of the raid, several church members lost their jobs or faced repercussions.
The organization reports that the 43-year-old pastor was arrested and later charged for possessing a book of worship songs and Josh McDowell’s book More Than a Carpenter.
Kholmatov, who has a wife and three children, was released about three months before his sentence was set to expire.
“I’d like to express my huge gratitude to all the people who supported and prayed for me, my family and my church,” Kholmatov said in a statement shared by Church in Chains. “All these three years I felt your prayers, they helped me to stand, they helped my precious wife and children, they helped the members of my church who were left without a pastor, then kicked by the authorities out of our building.”
According to Church in Chains, Kholmatov served most of his sentence in Yavan Prison, over 200 miles away from his home.
Tajikistan has for years been listed by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” that has engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.” Tajikistan’s CPC designation was renewed by the State Department on Friday.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith