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Pastor released from prison in Uzbekistan

A Christian pastor released from prison in Uzbekistan on Friday has thanked Barnabas Fund supporters for their prayers, which he says helped sustain him throughout his four year ordeal.

David (Dmitri) Shestakov was arrested because of his Christian activities in January 2007 and later sentenced to four years in a labour camp, where he has endured harsh conditions and suffered severe health problems.

Barnabas Fund called for his release through a letter-writing campaign, and supported David and his family financially and in prayer throughout his jail term. To the great relief of his wife, Marina, and their three daughters, David was set free on Friday.

Barnabas Fund’s co-ordinator for the Former Soviet Union spoke to David shortly after his release. He said:

He sends lots of greetings and thanks for support, prayers and gifts. He told me that he always felt our prayer support and it gave him power to stay faithful.

Prior to his arrest, which took place during a Sunday service at his church, David had been very active in outreach to Muslims in his community. Local believers think this made him a target to the authorities, who regularly carry out raids on Christian gatherings. The Uzbek government places severe restrictions on all religious activities, making Uzbekistan one of the worst countries in Central Asia for religious freedom.

David was charged with offences relating to his Christian activities. During his trial the government appeared to be conducting a smear campaign, posting false information about him on the Internet.

Though sentenced to serve his time in an open labour camp near the capital, Tashkent, he was transferred to a harsher, remote labour camp around 350 miles from his home and family in Andijan. This move came after David withdrew his appeal against the sentence, in an unexpected move that led fellow believers to suspect that he had come under pressure from the authorities.

Despite suffering serious health problems due to the lack of food and extreme temperatures, David had to continue with his normal prison work for some time. He refused to renounce his faith, despite coming under pressure to do so.

Source: Barnabas Fund