Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion'
Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Freedom of religion is too rarely seen as a basic human right. In the twentieth century millions were persecuted and repressed for their beliefs. 'Late at night police with dogs seized a Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral&ldots; a priest was beaten up and women were thrown onto the streets' Noginsk, near Moscow. `They banned me from preaching and giving out Bibles. I said that Article 11 of Turkmenistan's new constitution guarantees religious freedom' Pyotr Kashin, a Russian Baptist minister. 'I was beaten on the head and sustained damage to my eyes, and they beat my legs with sticks' 'Why would anyone want to close down the Salvation Army? Because they feed the homeless? I'm ashamed that this is happening in my country.' Vladimir Ryakhovsky, defence lawyer for the Moscow Salvation Army.
Keston's correspondents travel widely through the former Soviet Union and beyond, gathering the latest news on religious freedom from an extensive network of contacts. Keston News Service, their frequent reports distributed on e-mail, is an invaluable resource for media, governments, churches and many interested individuals. The free weekly e-mail Keston News Service Summary, available in the Latest News section of the website, is proving increasingly popular.
The former Soviet republics of Central Asia feature all too prominently in their reports. State control of religious activity is on the increase in this region. Members of unregistered faiths, in particular Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and minority Muslim groups, face harassment, fines, imprisonment and physical abuse. Turkmen members of minority faiths are imprisoned for refusing to take part in the compulsory national service and they too face beatings and abuse. Uzbekistan has been using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to crack down on all independent Muslims.
'You must investigate cases of religious liberty violations, ringing up officials and writing up articles so that they know the outside world knows.'
'We need glasnost - people need to know what is going on here.'
anonymous Uzbek sources
We are becoming involved in reporting on events in China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. Although the issue of human rights in China has been highlighted by the publicity given to the Falun Gong movement and by the choice of Beijing as host to the 2008 Olympic Games, the extent of religious persecution remains largely unpublicised. The non-officially-recognised Chinese Catholic and Protestant churches are repressed and their leaders imprisoned on trumped-up charges, sometimes facing the death-penalty. For Lao Christians the situation is grimmer still; the Lao government has begun a systematic campaign to eradicate the 'Jesus religion' completely, forcing church leaders to recant their faith at gunpoint and under torture.
Accurate evaluation of events is impossible without a broad understanding of their context, and Keston has always been engaged in detailed research into religious life in the geographical area we cover. We examine historical and theological contexts of current religious affairs in Religion, State and Society, our quarterly scholarly journal. A bi-monthly illustrated magazine, Frontier, contains articles and recent news on all aspects of religious life in communist and former communist states.
They say we have freedom of religion, but why do this to a church? Where's the freedom?'
member of unregistered Protestant church, Wenzhou province, China, demolished 2000
Keston's work does make a difference. In 2001 the Estonian parliament adopted a new law on religion which would ban foreign-led religious communities. A Keston News Service report published protests from various religious groups and was read by the Estonian Council of Churches as well as by the office of the Estonian president. As a result, the president refused to sign the law and bring it into force.
A pastor of an unregistered Baptist church in Uzbekistan and nine of his congregation faced charges because of their church's 'illegal' activity. Again, a few days after Keston contacted the local Uzbek authorities, the charges were dropped, first against the nine laymen and shortly afterwards against the pastor himself.
Even a telephone call from Keston is sometimes enough to stop hostile authorities in their tracks.
Over 30 years Keston has amassed a unique archive of tens of thousands of documents of vital historical importance to the citizens of nations whose regimes distorted and denied the truth for decades. A special feature of the collection is the large amount of samizdat, or underground material, produced in secret by believers and smuggled out. In some cases Keston holds the only copies of these important works. The collection is supplemented by a specialist library of over 5 000 books and periodicals, and is the focus of frequent enquiries and visits from all over the world.
Today Keston Institute is a bridge linking different confessions'
Vladimir Popov, Keston scholar
Keston's mission is to make known the needs of all religious believers and to uphold religious freedom in every case. We rely solely on the donations of individual supporters, churches and trusts to sustain our work: we do not accept any government funding. Thirty years after Keston's foundation, however, limited resources mean that we still have such basic needs as the completion of cataloguing for our library and archive. In addition, we now have correspondents reporting on Central Asia and other former Soviet republics as well as Russia itself. Your support - whether donation, legacy, subscription to a publication or prayer - will enable us to maintain the high standards of our unique and vital work and to continue to be a voice for the voiceless.
'Despite recent pro-western turns in China's and Russia's foreign policies, their domestic policies have failed to improve in areas such as freedom of the press. Western governments should pay equal attention to religious freedom - not as a special favour to religious minorities or to western missionaries, but as a key test of post-communist leaders' commitment to the rule of law.'
Keston's Director, Lawrence Uzzell
Keston Institute, 38 St Aldates, Oxford, OX1 1BN, UK
Tel.: + 44 (0)1865/79 29 29
Fax: + 44 (0)1865/24 00 42
Keston Institute is a registered charity: no. 314103
Please note that Keston Institute has no formal connection with Oxford University