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Tohar Haydarov - released
Tohar Haydarov

Uzbek authorities have released a Christian convert nearly seven years into his ten-year jail sentence. Tohar Haydarov, 33, was released on parole on November 8th after serving six years and ten months of his prison term. The previous day, a judge had ruled that he was eligible for parole.

"God heard the prayers of many Christians," fellow Uzbek believers told the Christian news service Forum 18. "We are thankful to everybody who prayed for him and sent letters to him while (he was) in prison."

Though the former Soviet republic is officially secular, human rights organizations say the state severely restricts religious freedom and freedom of expression, especially members of religious organizations not affiliated with state-controlled Islamic or Russian Orthodox institutions.

Tohar was found guilty in March 2010 of drug charges, which his fellow believers insist were fabricated. According to Release International, his arrest followed a request made by some of his relatives that local police help them force Tohar to return to Islam.

A spokesperson for Open Doors stated that his 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."