Christian Convert From Islam Is Released After Nearly 7 Years in Jail

Tohar Haydarov has been released early from his 10-year sentence.International Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians Baptists

A jailed Christian convert has been released six years into his 10-year sentence by Uzbek authorities.

According to World Watch Monitor, Tohar Haydarov, 33, was released on parole after serving six years and 10 months of his prison term. He has returned to his home in Gulistan, eastern Uzbekistan.

"God heard the prayers of many Christians," the Council of Churches Baptists told the Oslo-based Forum 18 News Service. "We are thankful to everybody who prayed for him and sent letters to him while in prison."

One member of the Baptist community, Gleb Serin, told Forum 18 that "Tohar was amnestied for his good behaviour, and because he had already served more than half of his prison term".

Uzbekistan is officially secular but religious freedom, especially of minority groups, is severely restricted.

Haydarov, a convert from Islam, was found guilty in March 2010 of drugs charges, which local Baptists insist were fabricated. According to the charity Release International, his arrest followed a request by some of his relatives that local police help them force Haydarov to return to Islam.

A spokesman for the Council of Baptist Churches told Forum 18 that Haydarov's release did not signal a change in government policy towards Protestants. He said the "attitude to Christians in Uzbekistan is as before. Therefore it is possible that Tohar will encounter problems. We continue praying for Tohar."

A spokesperson for the religious persecution charity Open Doors said that Haydarov's release was surprising because he had been denied amnesty while many other prisoners were granted it in May.

"We are very grateful Tohar has been granted parole: we have prayed for him for years and we need to continue our prayers. After six years in such difficult circumstances, he needs to be restored and re-establish his relationship with his loved ones. We know from other ex-prisoners that the process can be hard," the spokesperson said.

Uzbekistan is ranked 15th on the Open Doors 2016 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to be a Christian. It has one of the harshest dictatorships in Central Asia.