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UZBEKISTAN: Religious freedom survey, August 2013
ICC Note:
Uzbekistan is notorious for restricting the religious freedom of its citizens.  Censorship of religious material, unfair trials, raiding with impunity, violating the right to the freedom of thought and government control of religious organizations is just a small portion of what goes on in this country. Read on to find out more.
By Mushfig Bayram and John Kinahan
8/8/2013 Uzbekistan (Forum 18)- In Uzbekistan all exercise of freedom of religion or belief with others without state permission is illegal, Forum 18 News Service’s religious freedom survey notes, including sharing any beliefs with anyone and meeting with others for worship or the study of sacred texts in private homes. State officials frequently violate freedom of thought, conscience and belief and interlinked rights such as the freedoms of expression and association – even though the state has made solemn binding commitments to uphold and protect the exercise of human rights.
People of all faiths meeting together to exercise freedom of religion or belief are raided with impunity by “law enforcement” officials. Those taking part in such meetings are very often threatened, detained, subjected to violent physical assault and torture, given large fines, and have religious literature – including the Bible and Islamic texts – confiscated and destroyed. A severe censorship regime is imposed upon all religious literature. Muslims meeting to study the Koran and learn how to pray at home are likely, if found, to be jailed for long periods. Strict restrictions are imposed both on observing Ramadan and on going on the haj pilgrimage.
Physical violence and torture, or threats of this, appears to be a normal experience for anyone subjected to official hostility – it is “routine” as the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture found. But it is for very good reason rare for people to publicly document such experiences, for fear of state reprisals.
Uzbekistan is not a rule of law state, and those subjected to violations of their internationally recognised human rights frequently complain that trials are conducted unfairly, law seemingly being used to provide officials with excuses to engage in oppression. Officials do not appear to see law as imposing restraints on their actions. Indeed, the interlocking nature of violations of freedom of religion or belief and inseparably linked human rights appear designed to impose total state control on all of society.

State control
The state seeks to control every aspect of society, including people exercising freedom of religion or belief alone or with other people. This is why every religious community – with no exceptions – faces freedom of religion or belief violations.

The experience of many communities, registered or unregistered, is that repression can occur at any time, with no regard for whether or not a community is registered. For example, police and NSS secret police raids, or expulsions of Muslim, Protestant and Hare Krishna university students affect followers of registered or unregistered communities.
If communities are registered, they are subject to extra-legal demands from the authorities. A three page April 2007 document from Andijan [Andijon] regional Hokimat, seen by Forum 18, revealed the extent to which state officials expect religious communities to obey them. Amongst other directives, a Protestant pastor was ordered to draw up a plan with the state Religious Affairs Committee “to prevent missionary activity.” Regional representatives of the Muftiate and of the state Religious Affairs Committee are ordered to “to bring under constant close observation all officially registered religious organisations” and “to strengthen the struggle with people conducting illegal religious education and organising small religious gatherings.” Officials refused to discuss with Forum 18 why, although religion and state are formally separate, officials issue orders to religious communities. Echoing Soviet times, officials see no reason not to interfere in the internal life of religious communities, and expect that their orders will be obeyed.
Communities like the Council of Churches Baptists who – as is their right in international law – refuse to be registered with the state are targeted for raids and large fines. They refuse on principle to register, as they have found that registration leads to unwarranted state interference in normal religious activities.

Religious communities – whether Muslim or of other faiths – are not able to buy, build or open places of worship freely. Some places of worship have been confiscated. Currently, the state is moving to deprive the registered Baptist Union of the “Joy” Summer Camp it owns in Tashkent Region’s Bostanlyk District. Raids on Christian children’s camps took place this summer and also in the past. Raids in 2009 on the “Joy” summer camp were associated with a state-imposed forcible change of leadership of the Baptist Union; it remains unclear why this change was imposed.
Ways used to isolate religious communities from their co-religionists abroad include refusals to renew visas – used in 2008 against Uzbekistan’s Chief Rabbi – and expulsions – used against Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Two long-term residents of Uzbekistan born in the country but who held foreign passports – Jehovah’s Witnesses Yelena Tsyngalova and Oksana Shcherbeneva – were deported in summer 2012 to punish them for discussing their faith with others.
Even those who flee the country face Uzbek government attempts to have them sent back for trial. Recent cases include a Protestant, Makset Djabbarbergenov, who gained UN High Commissioner for Refugees refugee status in Kazakhstan, and imam Khabibullo Sulaimanov who fled to Kyrgyzstan. Both were claimed to be Islamist terrorists.
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