Makset Djabbarbergenov (Max to his friends) is an evangelical Christian pastor from Nukus, Uzbekistan. Makset and his parents became followers of Jesus Christ in the 1990s at their own volition.
Since 2007, Makset has lived in Kazakhstan, where he fled after suffering religious persecution in Uzbekistan. His family joined him in Kazakhstan in 2008. Makset and his wife have four children and are expecting a fifth in April 2013.
On December 27, 2006, the Nukus municipal court fined him 540,000 soum ($440) under the Administrative Code for pastoring an unregistered Christian church. The Administrative Code provides that various types of unauthorized religious activity are punishable by fines and imprisonment.
On August 9, 2007, Uzbek officials arrived at Makset’s home with a search warrant and confiscated religious materials, electronic equipment, and his passport. Soon thereafter, the prosecutor’s office filed charges against Makset accusing him of violating the law on religious organizations and of teaching religion illegally. The law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for each crime.
Makset went into hiding, and Uzbek authorities subsequently launched a nationwide search for him, posting “wanted” posters for him across Uzbekistan. As a result, he fled to Kazakhstan and was eventually joined by his family six months later.
Events in Kazakhstan
After arriving in Kazakhstan, Makset and his family obtained official refugee status from the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). However, on May 29, 2008, the Kazakhstani KNB secret police detained Makset in accordance with an Uzbek government request, which falsely claimed that he was an Islamic fundamentalist and terrorist. After the UNHCR intervened and determined that Makset was a refugee under international law, the Kazakh government released him at the request of the UNHCR.
In June 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted approval for Makset and his family to resettle in the United States. He did not continue to pursue resettlement in the U.S. at that time, however, because he was pursuing avenues to obtain Kazakhstani citizenship in order to remain in Kazakhstan to fulfill ongoing pastoral responsibilities.
While Makset continued seeking Kazakhstani citizenship through his wife’s Kazakh relatives and through his youngest young son, who was born in Kazakhstan, his UNHCR refugee status expired in February 2011. Makset subsequently reapplied for refugee status from the Kazakhstani government, to whom the UNHCR has delegated refugee status determinations due to a change in the law within Kazakhstan.
In March 2011, the Almaty City Migration Police denied Makset’s refugee status determination. Subsequent court decisions over the course of the past year have have upheld the Almaty Migration Police’s denial of Makset’s refugee status application. Although he has appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan, Makset feared that an unfavorable ruling will result in a forced deportation to Uzbekistan.
Such fears appear justified, as on September 5, 2012, Kazakhstani authorities detained Makset, despite the fact that his appeal in the Supreme Court is still pending. According to the religious liberty advocacy website Forum 18, on September 7, 2012, “[a] court ordered [that] Djabbarbergenov be held in detention until Kazakhstan’s General Prosecutor’s Office decides whether to send him back.” A UNHCR representative in Almaty has indicated to friends of Makset that he has 10 days to appeal the September 7, 2012, decision. Other reports have extended that to as long as two months.
The Kazakh government has deported some of Makset’s Christian Uzbek acquaintances back to Uzbekistan, and has also repatriated to Uzbekistan Muslim individuals wanted by the Uzbek government. If Makset is sent back to Uzbekistan, he is very likely to face religious persecution, as the Uzbek government has continually sought to apprehend him since August 2007, and he is still on an Uzbek government wanted list.
Makset is unable to return to Uzbekistan due to the certainty of imprisonment and possible torture. Although he and his family had hoped that they could remain in Kazakhstan, due to multiple detentions and the government’s repeated denial of his application for refugee status, he and his family are now seeking resettlement in the U.S.