Uzbekistan

Last Updated 21 September 2020

In 1991, Uzbekistan emerged as a sovereign country after more than a century of Russian rule. A former Communist, Islam Karimov, emerged as President. He ruled the country as dictator until his death in 2016, during which time he exercised a ruthlessly authoritarian approach to all forms of opposition, using the danger of Islamic militancy to justify the absence of civil rights. His successor, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has implemented a number of liberalizing economic reforms and released dozens of political prisoners. However, generally speaking, progress in the field of human rights has been slow. The State retains vast powers to harass and detain perceived critics and thousands of peaceful religious believers remain arbitrarily imprisoned on vague charges of spreading extremism.1https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/07/charting-progress-mirziyoyevs-uzbekistan Media freedoms have improved slightly under Mirziyoyev but censorship and surveillance are still rife.2https://rsf.org/en/uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is a member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

 
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Constitution and government

Uzbekistan is an avowedly secular state. Article 31 of the Constitution states:

“Freedom of conscience is guaranteed to all. Everyone shall have the right to profess or not to profess any religion. Any compulsory imposition of religion shall be impermissible.”3https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/3ae6b60c0.pdf

The 1998 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations (“1998 Religion Law”) contains several restrictions on the exercise of the right of freedom of religion or belief. All religious groups are required to register with the Ministry of Justice, otherwise their communal activities may be met with criminal sanction. Minority groups in particular have struggled to meet the burdensome registration requirements, which include having a permanent representation in eight of the country’s thirteen provinces for central registration or at least 100 members applying for registration in a specific locality.4https://www.ohchr.org/ru/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22224&LangID=r

The 1998 Religion Law also prohibits proselytizing, bans religious subjects in public schools, prohibits the private teaching of religious principles, and requires religious groups to obtain a license to publish or distribute religious publications. People who ‘illegally’ distribute leaflets or literature via social networks have been subject to criminal prosecution and have faced jail terms ranging from 5 to 20 years, for spreading extremist ideology.5https://www.ohchr.org/ru/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22224&LangID=r

The UN Special Rapporteur on Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, conducted a country visit to Uzbekistan in October 2017, as a result of which a religious “roadmap” was approved by the parliament in 2018 to implement 12 recommendations proposed by the Special Rapporteur.

Education and children’s’ rights

The education system in Uzbekistan is strictly secular, with even private religious instruction being prohibited. There are some officially sanctioned religious schools with state-approved instructors. Only registered religious groups are allowed to set up schools.6https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/uzbekistan/ There are reportedly at present 11 specifically Islamic educational institutions in Uzbekistan.7https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-hopes-islamic-education-is-the-antidote-to-extremism

As the UN Special Rapporteur states in his report:

“The State discourages children under age sixteen from practicing religion or visiting places of worship in Uzbekistan as they think children must complete their compulsory education and make an informed choice later if they wish to practise religion.”8https://www.ohchr.org/ru/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22224&LangID=r

Family, community and society

Monitoring and suppression of religious groups

Laws against religious ‘extremism’ have been criticized for being overly broad and failing to distinguish between nonviolent religious beliefs and ideologies supporting violence.9https://uz.usembassy.gov/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom-uzbekistan/ Devout Muslims are common targets of these laws, particularly if they outwardly express their belief by growing beards or wearing hijabs. In August 2019, police detained dozens of men at a local market in Tashkent and forced them to shave their beards.10https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-men-reportedly-detained-forced-to-shave-beards/30129899.html There are also reports of teachers being instructed to stand outside schools to demand female students remove their head scarves before entering the building.11https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-teachers-get-tough-assignment-remove-their-hijabs-but-don-t-hurt-their-feelings-/30208276.html

There are reports of individuals being randomly arrested by secret police at gatherings in tea houses or on the streets for discussing aspects of their faith in public, which invites charges under Criminal Code Articles 244-2, Part 1 (“Creation, leadership or participation in religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organisations”) or 155-3, Part 1 (“Terrorism”).12http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2586 Between August and September 2018, at least four bloggers were arrested for covering religious issues in their writing, advocating for Islam to play a greater role in society and criticising the ban on hijabs.13https://cpj.org/2018/09/uzbekistan-arrests-at-least-four-bloggers-over-pos/#:~:text=Under%20the%20rule%20of%20the,outside%20the%20state%2Dcontrolled%20mosques.&text=Police%20on%20August%2028%20detained,independent%20Uzbek%20news%20site%2C%20Kun.

Jail sentences for alleged membership of banned organizations have been imposed without evidence. In Tashkent, a Muslim father and son who taught the Koran to school-aged children were charged with: “Teaching religious beliefs without specialized religious education and without permission from the central organ of a [registered] religious organization, as well as teaching religious beliefs privately.” They face up to three years in prison.14rferl.org/content/uzbek-propagating-islam/25175284.html

Moreover, while President Mirziyoyev has issued a decree prohibiting the use of torture to extract confessions and the admission of such confessions as evidence in court proceedings, human rights groups report that it remains routine for Uzbek security forces to use torture to extract forced confessions from people accused of extremism.15https://freedomhouse.org/article/has-mirziyoyev-really-brought-religious-liberty-uzbekistan

Christian groups are targeted as well. Several devout Christians had their homes searched and religious literature, including the Bible, seized. Fines for possession of such materials have become increasingly harsh. The extent of the attack on human rights is summed up by the following quote:

“Citizens are arrested on arbitrary charges, denied due process, and tortured during interrogation and in prison. Since the events in Andijon in May 2005, when government forces opened fire on a crowd of protesters, including women and children, Uzbekistan’s regime has become increasingly insular, opposing foreign efforts to monitor or intervene in domestic political affairs and rejecting cooperation with international organizations.”

— Nations in Transit 2014 – Uzbekistan, Freedom House

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of the media

Uzbekistan’s media outlook has seen some modest improvement in recent years, with access to some long-banned sites being lifted (including Voice of America, Amerika ovozi, BBC Uzbek, Deutsche Welle, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Eurasianet.org and Uzmetronom16https://iwpr.net/global-voices/uzbekistan-small-dose-media-freedom) and journalists venturing to cover more politically-sensitive subjects.17https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/03/29/you-cant-see-them-theyre-always-there/censorship-and-freedom-media-uzbekistan

However, authorities continue to selectively prosecute and harass journalists, writers and bloggers for expressing critical views, on matters such as advocating for greater religious freedoms to spreading ‘false information’ on COVID-19.18https://cpj.org/europe/uzbekistan/

Highlighted cases

Atheists are not immune from surveillance. In April 2011, a Tashkent-based couple Vyacheslav Shinkin and Snezhana Galiaskarova were found guilty of producing and spreading religious literature and conducting meetings and other illegal activities, despite the fact that Shinkin is an atheist while his wife inherited the books from her father. They were given a combined fine of 5.5 million uzbecks ($2,000), equivalent to 110 minimum monthly wages. In addition, the court ruled to destroy the literature confiscated from the couple, among them three rare publications of the Bible, children’s books on Christianity, and literary works.19uznews.net/en/human-rights/20889-uzbekistan-fines-atheist-couple-for-storing-bibles

References

1 https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/07/charting-progress-mirziyoyevs-uzbekistan
2 https://rsf.org/en/uzbekistan
3 https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/3ae6b60c0.pdf
4, 5, 8 https://www.ohchr.org/ru/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22224&LangID=r
6 https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/uzbekistan/
7 https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-hopes-islamic-education-is-the-antidote-to-extremism
9 https://uz.usembassy.gov/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom-uzbekistan/
10 https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-men-reportedly-detained-forced-to-shave-beards/30129899.html
11 https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-teachers-get-tough-assignment-remove-their-hijabs-but-don-t-hurt-their-feelings-/30208276.html
12 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2586
13 https://cpj.org/2018/09/uzbekistan-arrests-at-least-four-bloggers-over-pos/#:~:text=Under%20the%20rule%20of%20the,outside%20the%20state%2Dcontrolled%20mosques.&text=Police%20on%20August%2028%20detained,independent%20Uzbek%20news%20site%2C%20Kun.
14 rferl.org/content/uzbek-propagating-islam/25175284.html
15 https://freedomhouse.org/article/has-mirziyoyev-really-brought-religious-liberty-uzbekistan
16 https://iwpr.net/global-voices/uzbekistan-small-dose-media-freedom
17 https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/03/29/you-cant-see-them-theyre-always-there/censorship-and-freedom-media-uzbekistan
18 https://cpj.org/europe/uzbekistan/
19 uznews.net/en/human-rights/20889-uzbekistan-fines-atheist-couple-for-storing-bibles

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