Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov
Detained Since: April 10, 2017.
Charges: Singing extremist songs in church and so inciting religious hatred.
Sentence: Three years in prison.
Biography: Bakhrom Kholmatov is a Tajik pastor at the Sunmin Sunbogym (Full Gospel) Protestant Church in Khujand, Tajikistan. He is 42 years old and is married with three children.
Pastor Kholmatov was jailed on April 10, 2017 for allegedly "singing extremist songs in church and so inciting religious hatred". The charges were brought against him after one of the churches he pastored was raided in February by Tajikistan’s National Security Committee (NSC) secret police, together with the State Committee for Religious Affairs (SCRA) and other law enforcement agencies who harassed and beat members of the church. The NSC secret police claimed that songs based on Biblical passages, such as "Praise God, Oh the Godless Country,” "God's Army is Marching,” and "Our Fight is Not Against Flesh and Blood" are "extremist and call on people to overthrow the government". The NSC also claimed that the book, "More Than a Carpenter" written by American Protestant author Josh McDowell, is "extremist".
The Tajik authorities also raided other affiliated congregations in the Sogd Region led by Pastor Kholmatov, and forcibly closed the congregation in the town of Konibodom in March after interrogating and torturing members of the church. In addition, these law enforcement agencies pressured churches in the region to fire church members from their jobs.
The authorities have threatened family members, friends, and church members with reprisals if they share any details of the imprisonment, case, or trial with anyone. In July 2017 Pastor Kholmatov was sentenced to three years in prison.
Advocate: Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)
Advocacy Partner: International Religious Freedom Roundtable