Pastor Makset Djabbarbergenov has been released from his months-long detention in a Kazakhstan prison and has received asylum in an undisclosed European country, according to Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors USA.
Djabbarbergenov's release marks a victory for those battling religious persecution throughout the world, and as Open Doors USA told The Christian Post, special homage should be paid to the United Nations for its active role in the "miraculous" release of this Uzbek house pastor.
"Djabbarbergenov's release is a huge accomplishment because often when Christians are imprisoned, they are not released for a very long time," Lindsay Vessey, advocacy director of Open Doors USA, told CP on Wednesday.
Vessey went on to say that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) played a critical role in the pastor's release, with representatives meeting him at the prison in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he was held. U.N. Representatives also accompanied Djabbarbergenov to the airport, and ushered him through security to ensure there were no last minute problems.
"This is very important because [the UNHCR] does not have a good track record for taking Christian persecution seriously. That is huge," Vessey told CP.
Vessey contends that one of the main reasons the UNHCR has previously been inactive in preventing Christian persecution is because many UNHCR offices around the world are staffed by local Muslim employees, and therefore issues of Christian persecution are often not addressed.
In addition to the help of the UNHCR, Vessey believes international pressure, international media attention, and international aid campaigns are what forced Kazakhstani authorities to release Djabbarbergenov.
For example, Open Doors USA garnered 3,800 emails in support of Djabbarbergenov through an online advocacy campaign.
Djabbarbergenov converted to Christianity in 2000 and has since become a house pastor in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan. The pastor has been arrested six times since 2000 because the Protestant Church is not officially recognized by the local Karakalpakstan government and is therefore considered illegal.
After facing a police raid on his home in 2007, Djabbarbergenov fled to Kazakhstan, where he sought religious asylum. His wife and four children followed shortly after.
The house pastor was then arrested in September of this year by the Kazakhstan government on behalf of Uzbekistan, and was awaiting deportation when he was released.
Uzbekistan is ranked number 7 on Open Doors' 2012 World Watch List as the worst persecutor of Christians.
Correction: Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012
An article published Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, incorrectly reported that Pastor Makset Djabbarbergenov had been released from detention in Kazakhstan and returned to Uzbekistan. Djabbarbergenov was actually granted asylum in an undisclosed European country.