|2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000
During the period covered by this report, the Government's respect for religious freedom improved with regard to minority religions, including Christians; however, its respect for the rights of unauthorized Muslim groups worsened, as its harsh campaign against such groups, which it perceives as terrorist security threats, intensified. In August 1999, the Government made a concerted effort to improve respect for the religious freedom of Christians and members of other minority confessions. The President pardoned six Christians who had been imprisoned, some on fabricated narcotics charges, because of their religious activities. In addition, the Government registered 20 churches whose applications had been blocked by local officials.
The Government arrested hundreds of alleged members of unauthorized Islamic groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, and sentenced them to lengthy jail terms. It also imprisoned dozens of Muslims suspected of being "Wahabbist," a term used loosely to encompass both suspected terrorists and any former students of certain independent imams or foreign madrassas (Islamic schools). (As of mid-2000, certain Islamic extremist groups were conducting significant armed incursions in Uzbekistan and neighboring states. The publicly acknowledged aim of this campaign, which includes violent terrorist actions, bombings, and killings, is the overthrow of the Government of Uzbekistan by force.) The number of Muslim prisoners, the severity of court sentences, and the number of deaths from mistreatment in custody all increased. There are amicable relations among the various religious communities.
U.S. officials, both in Washington and in Tashkent, repeatedly urged the Government to improve respect for religious freedom. A series of visits by high-level State Department officials, including Secretary of State Albright in April 2000, emphasized this point to the Government. Other visitors during the period covered by this report included staff members of the U.S. Congress Helsinki Commission, the Secretary of State, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Robert Seiple, and other State Department officials. The Embassy conducted regular meetings of the U.S.-Uzbek Human Rights Working Group, which addressed questions of religious freedom. Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and for the principle of separation of church and state; however, in practice the Government only partially respects these rights. The Government perceives unofficial Islamic groups or mosques as extremist security threats and outlaws them. The Government permits persons affiliated with mainstream religions, including approved Muslim groups, Jewish groups, the Russian Orthodox Church, and various other denominations, such as Catholics and Lutherans, to worship freely and generally registers more recently arrived religions. However, the religion law forbids or severely restricts activities such as proselytizing and importing and disseminating religious literature.
The Government is secular and there is no official state religion. Although the laws treat all religious confessions equally, the Government shows its support for the country's Muslim heritage by funding an Islamic university and subsidizing citizens' participation in the Hajj. The Government promotes a moderate version of Islam through the control and financing of the Spiritual Directorate for Muslims (the Muftiate), which in turn controls the Islamic hierarchy, the content of imams' sermons, and the volume and substance of published Islamic materials.
In May 1998, the Parliament passed two laws that restrict religious activity. The Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations provides for freedom of worship, freedom from religious persecution, separation of church and state, and the right to establish schools and train clergy. However, the law also severely limits religious activity. It restricts religious rights that are judged to be in conflict with national security, prohibits proselytizing, bans religious subjects in schools, prohibits private teaching of religious principles, forbids the wearing of religious clothing in public by anyone other than clerics, and requires religious groups to obtain a license to publish or distribute materials.
The law also requires that all religious groups and congregations register and provides strict and burdensome criteria for their registration. In particular it stipulates that each group present a list of at least 100 Uzbek citizen members (compared with the previous minimum of 10) to the local branches of the Ministry of Justice. This provision enables the Government to ban any group simply by denying its registration petition. Government officials designed the law to target Muslims who worship outside the system of state-organized mosques. Although the Government has granted some exemptions to the 100-member requirement, there are no formal criteria for receiving exemptions. Instead, exemptions are granted arbitrarily. To register, groups must report in their charter a valid juridical address. Local officials on occasion have denied approval of a juridical address in order to prevent churches from registering.
As of May 1, 2000, the Government had registered 1,894 religious congregations and organizations, 1,724 of which were Muslim. An additional 335 applications were denied, 323 of which were from Muslim groups. The number of mosques has increased significantly from the 80 or so permitted during the Soviet era, but has decreased from the 4,000 or more that opened after the country gained independence and before registration procedures were in place. Some groups with too few members have reported that they prefer not to bring themselves to the attention of the authorities by submitting a registration application that does not, on its face, meet legal requirements.
A special commission created in August 1998 may grant exemptions to the religious law's strict requirements and register groups that have not been registered by local officials. The commission has granted exemptions to 51 such groups, including congregations with fewer than 100 Uzbek members. However, no formal procedures or criteria have been established to bring a case before this commission.
Although authorities generally tolerate Christian groups, some churches found it difficult to obtain registration, especially before August 1999. In that month, the central Government undertook to register minority religious groups whose applications had been blocked by recalcitrant local officials. Twenty churches received their registration right away, and most new applications since that time have been approved. While there were several groups whose recent applications had not been approved by June 2000, only a Baptist congregation in Gazalkent claimed that officials were blocking its registration. The deputy mayor of Gazalkent allegedly told church leaders that its application might be approved if it removed from its membership list all names of ethnic Uzbek origin.
Some churches, particularly those with ethnic Uzbek members, have not submitted registration applications because they know they are unable to comply with the law's requirements. Although church leaders cite high registration fees and the 100-member rule as obstacles, the most frequent problem is the lack of an approved legal address, which is required in order to submit an application. Some groups have been reluctant to invest in the purchase of a property without assurance that the registration would be approved. Others claim that local officials arbitrarily withhold approval of the addresses because they oppose the existence of Christian churches with ethnic Uzbek members.
The Committee on Religious Affairs has approved the registration of 170 minority religious groups including 47 Korean Christian, 32 Russian Orthodox, 27 Pentecostal ("full gospel"), 23 Baptist, 10 Seventh-Day Adventist, 8 Jewish (1 Ashkenazy, 6 Bukharan, 1 mixed), 5 Baha'i, 4 Lutheran, 3 Roman Catholic, 2 Jehovah's Witnesses, and 2 Krishna Consciousness groups. Several of these congregations had fewer than the required 100 members but received exemptions from the requirement. Denis Podorozhny's Word of Faith Pentecostal Church near Tashkent, which lost its registration in 1998, was reregistered in September 1999. As of June 30, 2000, there was only one pending application by Jehovah's Witnesses. Government officials stated that many of the unregistered groups could not meet the requirement of 100 Uzbek members. Although another unregistered group, the Reformed Baptists, had refused to register as a matter of religious principle, the Committee on Religious Affairs subsequently took steps to ensure that such Baptist congregations meet undisturbed for worship. The second legislative change enacted in May 1998 consisted of a series of revisions to the Criminal and Civil codes that stiffened the penalties for violating the religion law and other statutes on religious activities. It provided for punishments for activities such as organizing a banned religious group, persuading others to join such a group, and drawing minors into a religious organization without the permission of their parents.
The Criminal Code was amended again in May 1999 with two changes that affected religious freedom. The changes draw a distinction between "illegal" groups, which are those that are not registered properly, and "prohibited" groups, which are banned altogether. The first measure makes it a criminal offense punishable by up to 5 years in prison to organize an illegal religious group or to resume the activities of such a group (presumably after being denied registration or ordered to disband). Furthermore, the measure punishes any participation in such a group by up to 3 years in prison. The second measure sets out stiff penalties of up to 20 years in prison and confiscation of property for "organizing or participating" in the activities of religious extremist, fundamentalist, separatist, or other prohibited groups. In practice, the courts ignore the theoretical distinction and frequently convict members of disapproved Muslim groups under both statutes.
Since 1991 when the country gained independence from the Soviet Union, there has been a resurgence, particularly in the Fergana valley, of the Sunni variety of Islam traditional in the region. There are no official statistics on membership in various faiths, but 80 to 85 percent of the population are nominally Muslim. Another 10 to 15 percent are nominally Russian Orthodox. Only a small portion of members of these two leading faiths actually practices, although the numbers who do so are growing. Because of the decades of Soviet rule, Islam was not previously an important factor in the lives of most citizens.
There are roughly 30,000 Ashkenazy and Bukharan Jews, concentrated in the main cities of Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand. Almost 70,000 have emigrated to Israel or the United States since independence. The remaining 5 to 10 percent of the population include small communities of Korean Christians, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Seventh-Day Adventists, evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, Buddhists, Baha'is, and Hare Krishnas.
Governmental Restrictions on Religious freedom
Although there were no new restrictive policies, there were serious governmental restrictions on religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Government deprived some politically oriented religious groups of their right to exist, restricted many religious practices and activities, and punished citizens for their religious beliefs. Russians, Jews, and foreigners generally enjoy greater religious freedom than traditionally Muslim ethnic groups, especially Uzbeks. Christian churches generally are tolerated as long as they do not attempt to win converts among ethnic Uzbeks. Christians who are ethnic Uzbeks are secretive about their faith and rarely attempt to register their organizations. Christian congregations that are of mixed ethnic background are reluctant to list their Uzbek members on registration lists for fear of incurring official displeasure.
While supportive of moderate Muslims, the Government is intolerant of Islamic groups that attempt to operate outside the state-run Muslim hierarchy. The Government controls the content of imams' sermons and the volume and substance of published Islamic materials. At the beginning of 1998, the Government ordered the removal of loudspeakers from mosques in order to prevent the amplified public announcement of calls to prayer. The Government permanently closed several hundred unauthorized mosques during 1998. Authorities suspect Muslims who meet privately to pray or study Islam of being extremists, and such believers are at risk of arrest.
The Government is determined to prevent the spread of ultraconservative or extremist varieties of Sunni Islam, which it labels "Wahabbism" and considers a security threat. President Islam Karimov frequently has declared the Government's intention to rid the country of Wahhabists and underground Islamic groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Government considers these groups to be political and security threats and represses them severely. Hizb ut-Tahrir members desire an Islamic government and the group's literature includes much anti-western, anti-Semetic, and anti-democratic rhetoric, but they deny that they advocate violence. Some independent Muslims deny that they are extremists and claim that they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.
There are numerous reports that Muslims in places of detention are punished severely if they are caught praying. The Koran reportedly is banned in most facilities.
The Government bans the teaching of religious subjects in schools, and also prohibits the private teaching of religious principles. Under the laws dealing with religion, only registered central offices of religious organizations are permitted to produce and distribute religious literature. Six such offices have been registered to date: a non-denominational Bible society, as well as Islamic, Russian Orthodox, Full Gospel, Baptist, and Roman Catholic offices. However, the Government discourages and occasionally has blocked even registered central offices from producing or importing Christian literature in the Uzbek language even though Bibles in many other languages are available in Tashkent bookstores.
Although authorities tolerate the existence of many Christian evangelical groups, they enforce the law's ban on proselytizing. The Government often monitors and harasses those that openly try to convert Muslims to Christianity. Members of Jehovah's Witnesses claim that they are subject routinely to police questioning, searches, and arbitrary fines. Several churches, including the Baptist church in Gazalkent, have reported that local officials did not accept membership lists that included Uzbek names.
In May 2000, authorities denied the Union of Baptists permission to hold a religious summer camp for the children of church members.
In 1999 the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch compiled a list of 28 confirmed cases from 1997 and 1998 in which university and secondary school students were expelled for wearing religious dress. (Only clerics may wear religious clothing in public.) Several of these students from Tashkent's Oriental Studies Institute brought suit in civil court to be reinstated but were unsuccessful.
Governmental Abuses of Religious Freedom
The Government continued to commit numerous serious abuses of religious freedom. The Government deprived some groups of their right to exist, restricted many religious practices and activities, and punished citizens for their religious beliefs. The Government's most serious abuses of the right to religious freedom were committed against Muslim believers. The Government's campaign against independent Muslim groups, begun in the early 1990's, resulted in numerous serious human rights abuses during the period covered by this report. The campaign has been directed at three types of Muslims: alleged Wahhabists, including those educated at madrassas (schools) abroad and followers of missing imams Nazarov of Tashkent and Mirzaev of Andijon; those suspected of being involved in the 1999 Tashkent bombings or of being involved with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, whose roots are in Namangan; and suspected members of Hizb ut-Tahrir throughout the country.
The line between the so-called Wahhabists and those suspected of being involved in the 1999 bombings is not always apparent, even to an unbiased observer, and the Government sees them as being closely connected even when they are not in a given case. Both stem from the growth of independent Islam that the Government has sought to suppress since the early 1990's. The distinction is that the Government considers the Wahhabists to be extremists and potential terrorists and those suspected of involvement in the bombings to be active terrorists.
The Government does not consider repression of these groups to be a matter of religious freedom, but instead to be directed against those who oppose the political order. However, authorities are highly suspicious of those who are more pious than is the norm, including frequent mosque attendees, bearded men, and veiled women. In practice this approach results in abuses against many devout Muslims for their religious beliefs.
There were credible reports that police mistreatment resulted in the deaths of persons in custody. Law enforcement officials regularly beat and torture suspects held in pretrial detention--including those accused of religious extremism--in order to extract confessions. Severe mistreatment of convicted prisoners is also common. According to human rights activists and other observers, many of those killed in custody were interned at a new prison near Jaslik in Karakalpakstan, where conditions are known to be extremely harsh. Nearly all the inmates of this facility, which opened in the spring of 1999, were accused of religious extremism. Although there is specific information available on only a handful of deaths from mistreatment in custody, human rights observers claim that the number of such cases throughout the country during the period covered by this report reached at least several dozen. Law enforcement officials have been known to threaten families not to talk about their relatives' deaths. Government officials acknowledge that some inmates of Jaslik died, but attribute the deaths to illness and the extremely hot climate rather than mistreatment.
According to a Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflet, on July 4, 1999, the parents of 23-year-old Ulugbek Anvarov buried their son, who authorities claimed had committed suicide in detention at the end of June. Anvarov was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir awaiting trial after his June 23, 1999, arrest for possessing leaflets. Witnesses to the burial claimed that, in addition to rope marks on his neck, his skull was crushed and his body showed clear signs of torture.
Azimboy Khodjaev died in the Jaslik prison in Karakalpakstan on July 2, 1999. Khodjaev allegedly was imprisoned for not revealing to police the whereabouts of his two sons, both sought as wahhabist extremists. According to eyewitnesses, Khodjaev's body showed signs of severe beatings, although the official cause of death was an unspecified stomach ailment. Khodjaev's son, Pavlanozar, later was arrested in Russia and extradited to Uzbekistan. He was sentenced to death in mid-May 2000 for his alleged involvement in an Islamist terrorist conspiracy.
On July 17, 1999, according to the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, Jurakhon Azimov died while serving a 16-year sentence at the Jaslik prison. Azimov's body allegedly was bruised badly and cut with razor blades, although officials claimed that he died of a heart attack. Azimov, a 34-year-old leader of the Birlik Democratic Movement, was arrested after police allegedly planted narcotics, bullets, and Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets on him.
Jaloliddin Sodiqjonov, a 45-year-old "Islamic missionary," allegedly died from mistreatment in jail on or about October 13, 1999, according to the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. Sodiqjonov had been arrested in March after police allegedly planted narcotics and a weapon in his pocket.
According to the World Organization Against Torture, Rustam Norbaev, a possible member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, was arrested on March 13, 2000, and died in pretrial detention in Yakkabaga on March 18, allegedly after being tortured. Officials claimed that Norbaev hanged himself.
Negmat Karimov, who was sentenced in July 1999 to 20 years in prison for alleged involvement in the terrorist conspiracy behind the 1999 Tashkent bombings, died in prison in Navoi on March 22, 2000. According to his parents, his body showed multiple signs of beating. Karimov also was convicted on charges related to religious extremism.
Shukhrat Parpiev, who was sentenced in December 1998 to 15 years in prison, died in the Jaslik prison on May 5, 2000. According to an acquaintance, Parpiev was not religious, but had been arrested because he was seen with a known religious figure suspected of extremism. Parpiev's body allegedly was bruised badly, and had a broken clavicle, crushed skull, and broken ribs.
There were no new reports of disappearances of religious leaders. It is now widely believed that Imam Sbidkhon Nazarov, who has been missing since March 5, 1998, fled the country to avoid arrest and was not abducted by security forces. There were no reported developments in the 1995 disappearance of Imam Abduvali Mirzaev, the 1997 disappearance of his assistant, Nematjon Parpiev, or the 1992 disappearance of Aboullah Utaev, leader of the Uzbekistan chapter of the outlawed Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). Most independent observers believe that the three missing Islamic activists are either dead or in custody.
On September 27, 1999, government agents abducted Kyrgyz citizen Uuldashbay Tursunbaev on Kyrgyz territory. They brought him to Tashkent, where he stood trial for being one of the leaders of the Wahhabist movement throughout the 1990's. He was sentenced in February 2000 to 20 years in prison.
The security services have arrested, detained, and harassed Muslim leaders for perceived acts of insubordination and independence. Although international observers are not permitted to inspect prisons, conditions are said to be inhuman for all varieties of prisoners. Arbitrary arrest and detention of Muslim believers is commonplace. Following both the December 1997 murder of police officials in Namangan and the February 1999 terrorist bombings in Tashkent, police detained hundreds and perhaps thousands of suspected Wahhabists. The majority of those detained were released after questioning and detention that lasted as long as 2 months. The police routinely planted narcotics, ammunition, and, beginning in 1999, religious leaflets, on citizens to justify their arrest. According to human rights activists, the police arrested scores of those whose religious piety, sometimes indicated by their dress or by wearing beards, made them suspect in the eye s of the security services.
To determine whom to arrest, the Government used the local mahalla (neighborhood) committees as a source of information. Shortly after the February 1999 Tashkent bombings, President Karimov directed that each committee assign a "defender of the people," whose job it was to assure that young persons in the neighborhoods were not joining independent Islamic groups. The committees identified for police those residents who appeared suspicious. Human rights observers noted that in practice the committees often saw as suspicious those same individuals who already had been detained by the police in the wake of either the 1997 murders of officials in Namangan or the Tashkent bombings, and who subsequently had been released because there was no case against them. There were dozens of cases involving people who had previously been detained and released being retried during the period covered by this report.
The absence of a free press and the rarity of public trials make it impossible to determine how many persons have been incarcerated. Nonetheless, the Moscow human rights center, Memorial, has compiled a list of over 1,400 names of persons arrested and convicted for political and religious reasons from January 1999 to April 2000. The number of those in pretrial detention is unknown but is probably several hundred. Nearly all those listed were accused of being Muslim extremists. Some human rights groups have speculated that the total of those in custody is in the tens of thousands. By the end of June 2000, the Government had convicted 128 persons for direct involvement in the bombing plot. Of these, at least 18 received death sentences.
Although the Constitution provides for the presumption of innocence, the system of justice operates on the assumption that only the guilty are brought to trial. To bolster this claim, government officials point out that since the bombings, approximately 5,000 persons who were detained later were released. According to government officials, most of these were released after they renounced their allegiance to Islamist groups and pledged never again to engage in antistate activities, while others were released for lack of evidence.
The Government typically held unannounced trials of large groups of the alleged extremists, and rarely let international observers attend. Human rights observers contended these groupings of defendants were arbitrary, since the prosecution only occasionally argued that those on trial were actually connected to one another. Defendants often claimed that the confessions on which the prosecution typically based its cases were extracted by torture. Judges ignored these claims and invariably convicted the accused, handing down severe sentences--usually from 15 to 20 years imprisonment.
In one such trial that ended on April 14, 2000 in Tashkent, 12 defendants were convicted of antistate activity, belonging to illegal groups, and other charges. Two of the defendants were sentenced to 20 years, and eight more to 17 years. One defendant, Abdulaziz Mavlianov, an employee of the Tashkent office of the International Committee for the Red Cross, allegedly confessed only to having given about $15 (10,000 soum) and some publicly available information to the main defendant, alleged Islamist activist Toirjon Abdusamatov. At his trial, Mavlianov renounced even that confession, which he had never signed. Despite the nature of the alleged activities that led to his conviction, he was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Accused Hizb ut-Tahrir members also were tried in large groups, claimed mistreatment, and were sentenced to lengthy jail terms. In a closed April 2000 trial in Termez, 48 defendants were tried together. The defendants included both alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members and alleged Wahhabists. According to observers at the courthouse, the judge appointed the police investigator who developed the case against six of the defendants as their defense counsel. In a Tashkent trial of 10 alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members in April 2000, all were sentenced to 20 years in prison, although the prosecution asked for lighter sentences. Most accused Hizb ut-Tahrir members have acknowledged membership in the group but claim that they believe in peaceful change. Others appear not to be members of the group but to have been apprehended because of their religious piety or their possession of Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets. While the Government has not charged that Hizb ut-Tahrir was involved in the bombings, group members usually are accused of acting to overthrow the constitutional order and of belonging to a prohibited extremist group.
Abdurakhim Abdurakhmanov, an independent Tashkent imam and follower of Imam Nazarov, was arrested on or about April 27, 2000. The Government held him incommunicado and did not inform his family of his whereabouts. Abdurakhmanov had been fired from his job as leader of the Kokoldash Madrassa in 1996 and was arrested, severely beaten, and imprisoned briefly in 1998 after police claimed to have found narcotics and a false passport on him. After the recent arrest, officials questioned his wife and sister-in-law, accusing them of Wahhabism.
Authorities continued their persecution of relatives of Imam Abid Khon Nazarov. All of Nazarov's close male relatives have been imprisoned. His youngest brother, who has been imprisoned since 1998, was transferred to Jaslik prison during 1999. Relatives who have visited him there report that he was bruised and malnourished. Nazarov's brother, Umarkhon Nazarov, his uncle, Ahmadali Salomov, and his brother-in-law, Abdurashid Nasetdinov, remain in prison following their convictions in May 1999. On February 10 and February 17, 2000, Nazarov's wife and mother were forced to attend anti-Nazarov rallies staged by local (mahalla) authorities. Speakers from the procuracy, mayor's office (hokimiat), police, and the official Muftiate, addressed assemblies of up to 300 persons, calling Nazarov an enemy of the people. Police keep constant surveillance on the Nazarov household and have attempted to recruit dozens of neighbors as informants regarding the family's activities.
There were few reports of human rights abuses against members of minority religions during the period covered by this report. The major exception was the October 1999 incident in Karshi in which police beat and tortured several churchgoers.
An ethnic Korean Christian pastor, Stanislav Kim, who was jailed in February 1999, allegedly was beaten on one occasion during the period covered by this report. An acquaintance claimed that Kim was convicted on false charges of tax evasion and financial impropriety, in part because local officials believed that Kim's religious activities conflicted with his duties as director of a state concern. Prison officials said that Kim was considered a model prisoner, denied he was in any way mistreated, and suggested that he may have been beaten by other inmates.
The authorities have attempted to silence human rights activists who criticize government repression of religious Muslims and others. In a 3-hour trial on July 13, 1999, a Tashkent court sentenced Mahbuba Kasimova, a member of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan (IHROU) and of the Birlik Democratic Movement to 5 years in prison. On May 12, 1999, police had arrested her houseguest, Ravshan Hamidov, who was suspected of religious extremism. During their search of Hamidov's belongings in Kasimova's house, police allegedly planted narcotics, a grenade, and literature linking Hamidov to the Islom Lashkarlari religious extremist organization. Kasimova was convicted of harboring a criminal, despite the fact that her husband was the owner of the house and that Hamidov had not been accused of a crime prior to the search (and thus technically could not be considered a criminal). The prosecutor argued that Kasimova must have known that Hamidov was wanted by police, although his arrest was not based on a previous arrest warrant but on the discovery of contraband. Kasimova also was convicted of fraud, for not having repaid a debt to a neighbor, although the neighbor insisted in court that she did not want to press charges.
Kasimova was denied the right to hire her own counsel for the trial. Officials ignored the presumption of innocence in handling her case. Prior to the trial, investigators organized a citizens' assembly headed by the deputy hokim (mayor) of Tashkent, Shukrat Jalilov, at which Kasimova was accused falsely of supporting religious extremists and advocating the creation of an Islamic state. In front of relatives of victims of the February 1999 bombings, she was accused of moral complicity in the deaths of those victims.
Newspaper, television, and radio coverage of the event echoed the accusations. On August 17, after a 45-minute appeal hearing, the judge confirmed the original sentence.
On July 10, 1999, police took into custody IHROU member Ismail Adylov and held him incommunicado for 72 hours before confirming his whereabouts to his family. Police allegedly planted 100 Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets among his effects to justify the arrest, although Adylov is known not to be religious. On September 29, 1999, a remote regional court sentenced Adylov, who has a kidney ailment, to 6 years in prison for allegedly possessing incriminating papers. Reporters and the defendant's family were not allowed to attend the 2-day trial; his appeal was denied on October 26, 1999.
Despite repeated appeals, authorities did not return property, including a passport, seized from IHROU head Mikhail Ardzinov on June 25, 1999. Ardzinov has alleged that the police beat him twice during questioning on that date. Although the Government denies beating Ardzinov, a reliable medical expert confirmed that he was beaten severely.
The Government is suspicious of all religious literature that does not emanate from the Muftiate. Possession of tracts by authors deemed to be Wahhabist can lead to arrest and prosecution. Hundreds of Uzbeks have been imprisoned for possessing or distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets, which are both political and religious in content. Others have been imprisoned for possessing Islamic texts in Arabic. One ethnic Uzbek Christian was detained by police for 12 hours after they discovered a copy of the New Testament in the Uzbek language.
The law treats prayer meetings or services by unregistered groups as a criminal activity. On October 10, 1999, the police raided the annual harvest celebration at a Baptist church in the city of Karshi. (The church is one of several Baptist congregations that, as a matter of religious conviction, had not attempted to register.) The police detained and beat many of the participants. Authorities sentenced two of the group's organizers to 10 days' incarceration and demanded that they pay fines. The Government investigated the incident and some officials acknowledged that the Karshi police acted improperly; however, no disciplinary action was taken against the officers involved. On May 14, 2000, police detained 10 Baptists who were meeting for prayer in a private home in Tashkent. The pastor of the unregistered group was forced to pay a fine of $26 (18,500 sum).
Improvements in Respect for Religious Freedom
Beginning in August 1999, the Government made a concerted effort to improve respect for the religious freedom of Christians and members of other minority confessions. The President pardoned six Christians who had been imprisoned, some on fabricated narcotics charges, because of their religious activities. These were: Pastor Ibrahim Yusupov of Tashkent, Sergei Brazgin of Uchkuduk, Na'il Asanov of Bukhara, Pastor Rashid Turibayev of the unregistered Karakalpak Full Gospel Christian Church in Nukus and Turibayev's associates, Farkhad Yangibayev, and Yasif Tarashev.
In addition, the Ministry of Justice summarily approved the registration applications of 20 minority religion congregations that were having trouble registering. Since August 1999, the Committee on Religious Affairs has assisted several additional congregations with problematic registration applications, and the Ministry of Justice has been relatively tolerant in approving applications. After the October 1999 incident in Karshi, the Committee on Religious Affairs took steps to ensure that police allow such Baptist congregations, which consider registration to be inconsistent with their religious beliefs, to meet undisturbed for worship.
In a February 2000 roundtable on religious freedom, officials called for clarifications that would bring religion law and practice into line with the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights, and on May 25, 2000, President Karimov suggested that the Parliament consider improvements to the religion law.
Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. citizens
There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section II. Societal Attitudes
There are amicable relations among the various religious communities. There is no pattern of discrimination against Jews. Synagogues function openly; Hebrew education (long banned in the Soviet Union), Jewish cultural events, and the publication of a community newspaper take place undisturbed. However, many Jews are emigrating because of the perception of bleak economic prospects in Uzbekistan and their connection to families abroad.
Members of ethnic groups that traditionally are associated with Islam who convert to Christianity sometimes encounter particular societal and low-level governmental hostility.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy is engaged actively in monitoring religious freedom issues and problems and maintains contact with both government and religious leaders.
The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and other U.S. officials met with the Uzbek Ambassador to the United States in July, August, and November 1999 and June 2000 to encourage improvement in his country's respect for religious freedom.
The chief of staff of the Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe of the U.S. Congress, along with several staff members, held a series of meetings in Tashkent with government officials in December 1999. Issues of religious freedom were a prominent part of the agenda in these discussions.
In February 2000, the assistant to the Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for the Newly Independent States gave a major address on religious freedom at the Tashkent University for World Economy and Diplomacy. Together with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, he also discussed the country's religion law, and issues of religious freedom with government officials, religious leaders, and human rights activists. The Deputy Assistant Secretary held additional separate meetings on these topics with both officials and activists.
The U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan delivered a speech calling for improved respect for religious freedom at the Ombudsman's February 29, 2000, Roundtable on Amending the Religion Law.
The Secretary of State met with President Karimov in Tashkent in April 2000, and raised U.S. concerns on these issues, in particular calling for amendments to the religion law. During her visit the Secretary also visited Muslim and Jewish places of worship.
The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor returned to Uzbekistan with the Secretary's party in April to follow up on his previous meetings, and held a separate series of discussions with government officials. He also met with the families of victims of government repression against independent Muslims, as well as with human rights activists.
The Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and staff visited Uzbekistan and met with foreign ministry and other officials in May, 2000, to press for progress in amending the religion law, improved treatment of imprisoned Muslims, and permission for missionary activity. He also met with religious leaders of minority confessions, including the Russian Orthodox Church, with the families of victims of government repression against independent Muslims, and with human rights activists.
The U.S. Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission raised issues of religious freedom on at least 10 occasions in meetings with the Foreign Minister and other officials, as well as in the context of the U.S.-Uzbek human rights working group.
The Embassy's human rights officer regularly discussed religious freedom with the deputy director of the Committee on Religious Affairs in the Cabinet of Ministers. The Embassy's human rights officer maintains regular contact with religious leaders and human rights activists on these and other issues.
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