RELIGION IN UZBEKISTAN

RELIGION IN UZBEKISTAN

Religions: Muslim: 88 percent; Eastern Orthodox: 9 percent; other 3 percent. The great majority of Uzbeks are Sunnite Muslims of the Hanafi rite, a group noted for the acceptance of personal opinion (ra’y) in the absence of Muslim precedent. The Uzbeks, especially the urban Uzbeks, are considered to be the most religious Muslims of Central Asia. [Source: CIA World Factbook, britannica.com]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Local statistics indicate that approximately 93 percent is Muslim; approximately 1 percent is Shia, concentrated in the provinces of Bukhara and Samarkand. Approximately 4 percent of the population is Russian Orthodox, a number that is declining as ethnic Russians and other Slavs continue to emigrate.The remaining 3 percent includes small communities of Roman Catholics, ethnic Korean Christians, Baptists, Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, evangelicals, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Bahais, Hare Krishnas, and atheists. [Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *^*]

Religion remains much more alive in the villages than it is in the cities. The most conservative Muslims in Uzbekistan, some say, are found in the Fergana Valley. Traditionally Uzbeks have not been very tolerant of other religions or towards women rights. By contrast other Central Asians are regarded as "moderate, even lax” when it comes to practicing Islam. Religion was not practiced openly until 1991 when Uzbekistan gained independence from the Soviet Union. Most Uzbek Muslims practice a type of mystic Sufism that is Sunni, introspective, and distinctly nonpolitical. Islam is practiced in individualized forms and has experienced a rebirth and resurgence in the post-Soviet era.

Uzbeks can be superstitious. In markets, stations and parks, gypsy women and children sometimes come up to people an offer to rid them of curses and the evil eye by burning a special herb for some small change. The herb is called isriq. The smoke is also believed to prevent colds.

Christians and Jews in Uzbekistan

In the early 1990s, many of the Russians remaining in the republic (about 8 percent of the population) were Orthodox Christians. Orthodox Christians (Russians) now make up about four percent of the population — about of what they did in the Soviet Era. Other Christian groups include of Roman Catholics, ethnic Korean Christians, Baptists, Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, evangelicals, Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

An estimated 93,000 Jews lived in Uzbekistan when it became independent in 1991. Since then many of them have emigrated to Israel an elsewhere. An estimated 6,000 Ashkenazi and 2,000 Bukharan Jews remain concentrated in Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand, and the Fergana Valley; however, the Jewish population continues to decline due to emigration. Uzbekistan had between 15,000 and 20,000 Jews in the 2000s. See Jews and Bukhara Jews Under Minorities.

According to the U.S. Department of State: The Jewish community had no rabbinate because it did not have synagogues in eight different administrative units and therefore did not meet the requirements for a registered central office. The Ministry of Justice accredited a rabbi for the community in 2012, after a four-year gap, and has renewed his accreditation since.”

Shamanism and Fire Veneration in Uzbekistan

David Stern wrote in National Geographic: “Most shamans in Central Asian countries... where Islam predominates, regard themselves as devout Muslims, and their rites are infused with the mystic traditions of Sufism. Swathed in virginal white smocks, they conduct their rituals at Muslim holy sites, and every ceremony includes extensive prayers from the Koran.[Source: David Stern, National Geographic, December 2012]

On the veneration of fire and water in Boysun District, a Tajik area in Uzbekistan, Ravsan Rahmoni of Tajikistan State University wrote: “The veneration of earth, water and—— especially—— fire is very apparent throughout the region of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the other Central Asian republics. These ancestral spiritualities, which up until today inform the beliefs and taboos of the peoples of these lands, share common aspects but also exhibit differences in detail. The veneration of water and fire can be seen among the old of both sexes in all areas of Boysun: they insist, for instance, that (running) water is not to be dirtied, a bride and groom are to walk around a fire, and votive candles are to be lighted. The young, however, influenced by everyday modern culture, are gradually consigning these rituals to oblivion. [Source: “Traces of Ancient Iranian Culture in Boysun District, Uzbekistan” by Ravsan Rahmoni, Tajikistan State University, translated by J. R. Perry. This article was originally published in Mardumgiyoh 5(1-2): 154-63 (1997/1376), in Perso-Arabic and Cyrillic scripts. Mardumgiyoh (“mandrake”) is a journal of folklore published in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, founded and edited by Dr. Rahmoni <|>]

“In any case, we will give a few examples of behavior associated with the veneration of water and fire. In the village of Pasurxl, a young man suffered for months from depression and listlessness. His mother went to consult a soothsayer (fol-bin),who told her that her son might have urinated in running water. She and the other wise women deduced that the water fairies and sprites (jin~u pan) had afflicted him with this state. Accordingly they took the youth to the bank of the supposed stream, set alight some twisted cotton wicks, recited some prayers, and “burned” the evil spell, thus breaking it. I have actually witnessed several cases where the relatives of a sick (especially a mentally sick) person consulted the folk physicians, who immediately prescribed some medicinal use ot hre or water, as being sacred entities.” <|>

Solomon’s Lamp

Ravsan Rahmoni of Tajikistan State University wrote: “One ancient custom in which the sacred nature of water is paramount is known as “Solomon’s lamp” ( carogi Sulaymon). A brief description of this procedure is merited here. “Solomon’s lamp is applied to someone whose behavior has become erratic or who is in mental distress. In the form in which I observed and recorded it in Pasurxl village,an old woman (Noreul Qosimova by name, born 1922, illiterate) came to see the patient and asked the head of the household to bring a napkin and a water-jug, a branch of a fruit-tree bearing fruit, some [raw] cotton, seven strands [of straw or twigs] from a broom, three lengths of yarn colored yellow, red, and blue, three old rags colored white, blue and black, some flour, some rice, some sweets, a cup of water and a bowl of grease. [Source: “Traces of Ancient Iranian Culture in Boysun District, Uzbekistan” by Ravsan Rahmoni, Tajikistan State University, translated by J. R. Perry <|>]

“When I asked her, she told me the symbolic significance of each of these objects, as follows. The napkin represents a veil, personal honor, a full belly, well-being and fortune; the ewer represents King Solomon’s water, lest the patient has polluted any water; the branch bearing fruit symbolized progeny; the cotton is to make a wick with which to light the sacred fire, called the “lamp ; the seven strands from a broom symbolize pollution and disaster, around which is bound the cotton wick, so as to drive away with its flame the Ahrimanic powers [jin, pari, and dev). The three yellow, red, and blue threads represent the maleficent demons and sprites of those same colors; these threads are tied to the broom strands with the cotton. The three white, blue, and black rags are to arive away fear; flour symbolizes whiteness, i.e., purity; rice symbolizes infinity, i.e., eternal life; sweets represent a sweet life; the cup of water is to be poured over the ashes of the sacred fire, and the bowl of grease is to be rubbed on the seven tapers made from the strands of the broom. <|>

“Next the old woman (known as bibi-mullo,or in some villages qusnoc) prepared seven tapers. To three of these she tied a string twisted from the yellow, red, and blue threads. Two tapers were left white, and the remaining two she smeared with soot from the kettle. Next she covered the patient’s head with a white cloth. She passed the tapers three times over the patient’s head, his shoulders, the small of his back, and his knees, pronouncing forms of exorcism such as “O villain, o evil one, begone! Come forth! Depart!” to banish the evil powers. Then she greased the white, blue, and black rags that had been plaited together, picked them up with the tip of the fruit-bearing branch and set light to them; she waved them in a circle around the patient’s head and body, so as to burn and thus drive away the noxious powers that plagued him. When the rags had almost burned out, she poked the fruit- bearing branch into the spout of the ewer, picked up the smoldering rags with it, and placed beneath them the cup of water, so that the ashes of the sacred fire would fall into the water. With that, the ceremony ended. <|>

“The most important thing is not to let the remains of the “lamp” spill onto anywhere unclean, but rather to toss them into running water. Noteworthy, too, is that although these rites have nothing to do with Islam, the old women who perform them always recite a few verses of the Koran for good measure. I asked the old woman why they called this “Solomon’s lamp.” I was told, “Because these rites have come down to us from our forefathers; we use fire; fire is a powerful thing, it cleanses a person’s surroundings of calamities.I often heard people swearing by fire, as for instance “May the fire prove that I am innocent,” or “If I am lying, may I burn up in this fireplace”. <|>

Fire Rituals in Boysun District

Ravsan Rahmoni of Tajikistan State University wrote: “The rites of Bibi Sesanbe (Lady Tuesday) and Bibi Muskilkuso (Lady Problem-solver) are still practiced today with faith and devotion in Bukhara, Samarkand, Dushanbe, Khujand, Tirmiz, Hisor, and many other places. These rituals, which are more closely related to Islam, will not be discussed here; but a common feature of their performance is the use of wicks or tapers (pilta, in some places called nuke a) ^ or candles, for the sacred fire. In the villages of Boysun district, the burning taper is placed upon the qayroqsang (a long, polished stone of about 20—30 centimeters, used as a whetstone) and care is taken not to let it go out before the end of the ceremony. [Source: “Traces of Ancient Iranian Culture in Boysun District, Uzbekistan” by Ravsan Rahmoni, Tajikistan State University, translated by J. R. Perry <|>]

“Twenty or twenty-five years ago, the villagers of Boysun district used to live in two seasonally specialized locations, one of which (called qisloq) was appropriate to late autumn, winter, and early spring, and the other (called bog) to late spring, summer, and early fall. At bog they would plow and sow and gather the harvest. At the end of fall they would load their essential possessions on donkeys and migrate to qisloq. Whenever they set off from one location to the other they would always light a handful of straw or a few sticks of firewood and drive the loaded donkeys over it. The transhumants would follow the animals across the fire, so that it would burn up harm and ill fortune and they would not be carrying it with them to their new home. Nowadays, with the increasing population, people live in one place. I have been told by people over fifty that fifty or sixty years ago fire was something holy that accompanied people at every significant juncture of their lives. <|>

“The custom of venerating fire can be seen today in the rituals of weddings, circumcisions, navruz [the Iranian New Year’s holiday at the vernal equinox, 21st March] and similar rites of passage. As in other parts of Central Asia, Iran, and Afghanistan, it is still alive among the Tajiks of Uzbekistan, including those of Boysun. In general there is no ceremony in Boysun at which traces of ancient culture are not evident. Even funerals, if examined carefully, exhibit some non-Islamic elements. For instance, in Pasurxl village, on the death of a close relative, the women of the bereaved household let down their hair, tie a kerchief around their waists, raise their arms high and clap their hands, lacerate their heads, faces, and bodies, and jump up and down singing a lament. Usually the mourning period (for women) lasts for one year, during which time they wear turquoise blue {kabud) clothing. At Pasurxl, the women’s mourning costume is actually sky-blue, or at least a blue floral print on a white field. <|>

“In Boysun district, wrestling, likewise an ancient custom, is still very popular. Even today, at a wrestling meet, they will sometimes light a small campfire and dance or play around it before the formal bouts. The wrestlers (pahlavon) after limbering up will stretch out their hands toward the fire and then rub its warmth over their faces, as if praying to the fire for victory. <|>

“In Ferdawsi,s immortal Sohnoma (Shahnama) we read the following verses, which show parallels to the above: “Down from the throne he came, lamenting/ Rending his body to pieces with his nails” Or again: “They dressed all in turquoise blue,/ Their eyes full of blood, their faces ashen.” According to Ferdawsi,our ancestors stayed in mourning for the departed for one year (a custom still observed among Tajiks everywhere, including those of Boysun): “They sat thus grieving for one year; The behest came from the Judge, the Creator.” Otherwise, a lamp is kept burning for forty days after a death in the house where the body lay (or if a lamp is not available, a candle or taper), as can also be seen in all parts of Central Asia. <|>

Religious Laws in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience to all and states everyone has the right to profess or not to profess any religion. The law provides for freedom of worship, freedom from religious persecution, separation of religion and state, and the right of religious groups to establish schools and train clergy. The government allows those who object to military service on the basis of their religious beliefs to perform alternate service. The law grants these rights, however, only to registered groups. [Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *^*]

“Other laws and policies in Uzbekistan restrict religious freedom. The law restricts the religious freedom of unregistered groups, prohibits religious groups from forming political parties and social movements, and prohibits many activities. The law also restricts religious rights when the government deems such restrictions “necessary to maintain national security, social order, life, health, morality, and the rights of freedoms of other citizens,” although the law does not specify what such actions may be. The law prohibits proselytizing, requires religious groups to obtain a license to publish or distribute materials, and limits the operations of a registered group only to those areas where it is registered. Two new laws appeared to codify existing practice and provide a legal framework for further restricting unregistered religious activities and scrutinizing imported religious literature.” *^*

Religious Bureaucracy in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), a government agency accountable to the Cabinet of Ministers, must approve all religious literature. The Council for Confessions, under the CRA, includes representatives from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish groups, and discusses ways of ensuring compliance with the law, the rights of religious organizations and believers, and other issues related to religion. [Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *^*]

“The law requires all religious groups to register and provides stringent criteria for doing so. Among its requirements, the law stipulates each group must present a list of at least 100 citizens age 18 years or older and a charter with a legal address to the local branch of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). It also requires notarized documents regarding the religious education of founding members, sources of income, and a document showing CRA concurrence to registration. The law requires a “guarantee letter” from local government authorities stating that the legal and postal address of the organization conforms to all legal requirements (including statements from the main architectural division, sanitary-epidemiological services, fire services, and neighborhood committees). Any application may be reviewed within a timeline of one to three months. Based on a decision by an MOJ specialist, the registration may be approved, denied, or its review ceased without the issuance of a decision. *^*

“The CRA oversees registered religious activity. There are 2,236 registered religious groups representing 16 denominations. There are 2,051 Muslim groups (including mosques, educational institutions, and Islamic centers). Among the Muslim groups are several Shia congregations. Registered minority religious groups include the ethnic Korean Christian, Russian Orthodox, Baptist, Pentecostal (Full Gospel), Seventh-day Adventist, Jewish, Catholic, Bahai, Lutheran, New Apostolic, Armenian Apostolic, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Krishna Consciousness, Temple of Buddha, and Christian Voice of God Church communities, as well as one interconfessional Bible society. *^*

Restrictive Religious Laws in Uzbekistan

The Karimov regime's dominant rationalization for increased authoritarianism was that Islamic fundamentalism threatened to overthrow the secular state and establish an Islamic regime similar to that in Iran. The constitution ratified in December 1992 reaffirmed that Uzbekistan is a secular state.[Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “It is a criminal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of four million to eight million soum ($1,625-$3,251) to organize or participate in an illegal religious group.In addition, the law punishes proselytism with up to three years in prison. After an offender is punished for a violation under the administrative code, a repeat offense may be tried under the criminal code. In addition to prohibited activities that include organizing an illegal religious group, the law proscribes efforts to draw minors into religious organizations without the permission of their parents and persuading others to join illegal religious groups. Any religious service conducted by an unregistered religious organization is illegal. [Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *^*]

“The law restricts the activities of faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including prohibition of unspecified illegal religious activities, religious gatherings intended for children, and faith-based activity groups deemed to be unrelated to acts of worship. A law signed by President Karimov May 15 gives wide-ranging powers to state bodies, including neighborhood committees, and non-state and non-commercial public organizations to get further involved in combating suspected “antisocial activity” in cooperation with police. These include taking measures to prevent the activity of unregistered religious organizations, ensuring observance of rights of citizens to religious freedoms, prohibiting forced propagation of religious views, and considering other questions related to observance of the Religion Law.” *^*

“The government enforced the law banning unregistered religious groups from conducting religious services. Sources stated that by continuing to deny registration to some religious groups and punishing members for their activities, authorities effectively deprived individuals of the legal right to worship, as provided for in the constitution. The government blocked access to several websites that contained religious content, including Christian- and Islamic-related news. Members of registered minority religious communities often encountered difficulties when entering and leaving the country as authorities frequently seized religious literature for alleged customs violations.” *^*

Laws Against Proselytizing and Religion Literature in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The law punishes proselytism with up to three years in prison. The administrative code punishes “illegal production, storage, import, or distribution of materials of religious content” with a fine of 20 to 100 times the minimum monthly wage of 107,635 soum ($44) for individuals. The fine for government officials is 50 to 150 times the minimum monthly wage, together with confiscation of the materials and the “corresponding means of producing and distributing them.” The criminal code also imposes a fine of 100 to 200 times the minimum monthly wage or corrective labor of up to three years for these offenses. [Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *^*]

The law limits the right to publish, import, and distribute religious literature solely to registered central offices of religious groups. These are the Bible Society of Uzbekistan (BSU), the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan, Tashkent Islamic University, Tashkent Islamic Institute, and the offices of the Russian Orthodox, Full Gospel, Baptist, and Roman Catholic Churches. A Cabinet of Ministers decree, adopted January 20, further states that all “religious materials” imported into, produced, and distributed in Uzbekistan must first be subject to a state theological review. The decree defines religious materials as books, magazines, newspapers, brochures, leaflets, audiovisual items (including animated material), CDs, DVDs, and materials posted to the internet “describing the origins, history, ideology, teachings, commentaries, and rituals of various religions of the world.” *^*

“The decree outlines the procedures for carrying out the mandatory theological review and tasks the CRA with producing an “expert opinion” within a 10-day period upon receipt of religious materials; it also requires the CRA to compile an annual list of religious materials banned for import, production, or distribution. The decree instructs the State Customs Committee and the State Border Protection Committee to deliver all seized religious materials to the CRA and mandates that religious material may only be sold in “stationary trade outlets” equipped with cash registers. *^*

Religion and Human Rights Issues in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: There were reports of deaths in custody, beatings, mistreatment, and denial of the right to practice one’s religion, and other harsh treatment of prisoners whom the government considered religious extremists. The government continued to imprison individuals on charges of extremism, raid religious and social gatherings of unregistered and registered religious communities, confiscate and destroy religious literature, and discourage minors from practicing their faith. There were also reports that police beat members of unregistered religions. [Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *^*]

“Members of registered and unregistered minority religious groups faced jail terms, heavy fines, and confiscation and destruction of religious literature. The government continued to deal harshly with believers who discussed religious issues outside of sanctioned religious organizations. It was generally more permissive toward the activities of worshippers at sanctioned mosques and permitted the regular activities of religious groups historically present in the country, but less tolerant of the activities of other groups. There were reports of raids on the homes of private worshipers and interference with the activities of even registered groups if conducted away from the formal premises at which they were registered to operate. A law signed by President Karimov May 15 gives wide-ranging powers (including preventing activities of unregistered religious organizations or propagation of religious views) to state bodies, including neighborhood committees, and non-state and non-commercial public organizations to further involve themselves in combating suspected “antisocial activity” in cooperation with police.” *^*

“A number of governmental and nongovernmental media published articles critical of proselytism and of believers who belonged to minority religious groups deemed by media outlets to be “non-traditional.” Although the government did not prohibit persons from changing religions, there were reports of social pressure, particularly among the majority Muslim population, not to do so. Some evangelical, Baptist, and Pentecostal Christian churches and churches with ethnic Uzbek converts reportedly encountered discrimination, and there were reports that ethnic Uzbeks who converted to Christianity faced discrimination and harassment. *^*

Independent human rights groups estimate that somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 individuals were imprisoned on charges related to religious extremism or membership in an illegal religious group. The government has not disclosed relevant data or provided access to the prisoners to independent observers. In 2004, the last year the government released data on individuals incarcerated on such charges, the government reported that the total number was 2,800 individuals. Independent groups were aware of approximately 200 individuals annually sentenced on such charges, but acknowledge the challenges in obtaining complete information.”

“Although the government did not prohibit persons from changing religions, there was social pressure, particularly among the majority Muslim population, not to do so. Ethnic Russians, Jews, and non-Muslim foreigners reportedly felt less societal pressure against choosing and changing their religion than did members of traditionally Muslim ethnic groups, particularly ethnic Uzbeks.” *^*

Restrictions and Harassment of Christians in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “A number of governmental and nongovernmental media published articles critical of proselytism and of believers who belonged to minority religious groups deemed by media outlets to be “non-traditional.” According to Forum 18, on August 26, Judge Oltinbek Mansurov of Navoi City Criminal Court published an article in the Russian-language newspaper Znamya Druzhby (Banner of Friendship), sponsored by Navoi Regional Administration, in which he called the Council of Baptist Churches a “destructive sect,” and urged people to “be careful” and “remember that the activity of non-traditional religions is destructive.” On November 13, the online media outlet 12news.uz published four different articles attacking Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses for exercising freedom of religion or belief, stating that people mentioned in the articles were “making zombies out of children.” Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish leaders reported high levels of acceptance in society, while smaller minority groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and unregistered Protestant groups reported isolated instances of intolerance. [Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *^*]

“Some evangelical, Baptist, and Pentecostal Christian churches and churches with ethnic Uzbek converts encountered discrimination. There were persistent reports that ethnic Uzbeks who converted to Christianity faced discrimination and harassment. Sources reported that religious organizations that were perceived to proselytize faced greater social scrutiny, causing community members to occasionally call the police. This resulted in raids against the religious organizations. Forum 18 reported three cases in which local officials backed imams who refused to allow non-Muslims to be buried in state-owned cemeteries. On April 9, the local imam, with the support of the local administration, blocked the burial of Protestant Gayrat Buriyev at a Muslim cemetery and “cursed his relatives.” In another two cases in Karakalpakstan, officials forced relatives to bury the deceased in a Russian Orthodox cemetery rather than the main cemetery despite state ownership of all cemeteries. *^*

Minority religious groups continued to experience difficulties registering. Despite renewed efforts to engage with the government and address its concerns, no Jehovah’s Witnesses groups succeeded in registering, beyond one group previously registered in Chirchik. *^*

“According to available reports, churches that remained unregistered after unsuccessful past attempts included Bethany Baptist Church in the Mirzo-Ulugbek District of Tashkent; the Pentecostal church in Chirchik; Roman Catholic churches in Navoi and Angren; Emmanuel Church and Mir (Peace) Church of Nukus, Karakalpakstan; Hushkhabar Church in Gulistan; the Pentecostal church in Andijon; and the Adventist church, Greater Grace Christian Church, Central Protestant Church, and Miral Protestant Church, all in Samarkand. Religious activity remained particularly difficult in Karakalpakstan, as all non-Muslim and non-Orthodox religious communities lacked legal status. *^*

“Some churches, particularly evangelical churches with ethnic Uzbek members, did not apply or reapply for registration because they expected local officials would not register them. Other groups, including those with too few members, reported they preferred to avoid bringing themselves to the attention of authorities by submitting a registration application that obviously would not meet legal requirements. Some groups did not want to give the authorities a list of members’ names, especially ethnic Uzbek members, as they had been harassed during previous attempts to register. A few groups refused on principle to seek registration because they challenged the government’s right to require it. *^*

“As in previous years, the MOJ cited the requirement for a religious group to report a valid legal address, or concurrence of all local authorities in explaining decisions to deny registration. Some groups were reluctant to purchase property without assurance their registration would be approved. Others stated local officials arbitrarily withheld approval of the addresses because they opposed the existence of Christian churches with ethnic Uzbek members.” *^*

Crackdowns on Christians in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “State-controlled and state-influenced media at times accused missionaries of posing a danger to society and sowing civil discord. Government-affiliated press criticized missionaries for proselytizing, labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses a “totalitarian sect,” and stated it was the “duty” of all citizens to prevent the supposed deleterious effects of such groups. The government enforced the law against the private teaching of religious principles. In January Forum 18 reported that three Protestant women in the Fergana Region received fines for discussing their faith with each other as they allegedly “illegally taught the Christian religion to each other.” [Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *^*]

“Courts sentenced members of minority religious groups to administrative detention following searches, oftentimes without valid search warrants, of homes and offices. For example, Forum 18 reported that Igor Kulyada, a Baptist from Tashkent, was jailed for three days July 3-6. His offense was distribution of public leaflets containing Bible verses. Some of his personal items were ordered to be destroyed, including digital media and leaflets with religious content, and he was also fined. *^*

“There were numerous reported instances that armed law enforcement officers raided meetings of unregistered groups and detained their members. In July Forum 18 reported that officers of the Namangan Regional Police raided an unregistered Jehovah’s Witnesses community in Namangan. Authorities detained 19 Jehovah’s Witnesses during the raid, and also confiscated electronic and print media. In August the government detained 16 people in a raid on an unregistered church in Chirchik, Tashkent. Twelve people also were detained that month following a raid on an unregistered religious group in Andijan. A similar raid also occurred in the Khorezm region, though the 12 people in that case were not detained, but rather charged with the administrative offense of possession of religious literature. With a few exceptions, authorities charged those detained with unauthorized religious activity such as worshipping, teaching, proselytizing, or possessing unauthorized religious material, and imposed administrative fines. *^*

“The government continued to carry out raids against social gatherings of those belonging to registered churches, sometimes detaining participants. On July 23, the Namangan Region Anti-Terrorism Police, under the guise of a passport check, raided a worship meeting of an officially registered Baptist church held at a church member’s private home in Khalkabad village. Officials confiscated Christian literature, including Bibles and Bible study guides. On July 30, authorities in the Tashkent Region raided a summer camp run by an officially registered Baptist church and confiscated religious literature. *^*

“The authorities also fined representatives of registered religious groups, or of groups which were currently undergoing the process of registration for engaging in religious activities. On August 5, in the city of Samarkand, 12 police officers broke into a former Seventh-day Adventist church (which was deregistered in 2007, and attempted to reregister in 2014) under the guise of a fire inspection. In the basement, they broke into old chests which stored unused literature, including a Quran in Arabic, and Christian literature. Officials then searched a car parked nearby belonging to the pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist church registered in the Tashkent Region. He was later fined 20 times the minimum wage (1,922,000 soum, $781) for possession of religious literature outside of his church’s area of registration. *^*

“Religious groups and human rights activists reported that police raided private homes without cause and seized religious materials. In March police in Samarkand raided the home of Veniamin Nemirov. They tore posters with scripture texts from the walls, and threatened Nemirov that his home could be taken away from him and his children expelled from school. On August 21, police in Tashkent raided the apartment of Maxim Kostin under the pretext of a passport check, detaining him and his spouse, both members of the registered Presbyterian church “Vera” (Faith), and confiscated 65 copies of Christian books, as well as other media and pamphlets. *^*

“A number of government entities, including the Ministry of Interior (MOI), National Security Service (NSS), Customs Service, and local police confiscated religious literature. The authorities confiscated, and in some cases destroyed, illegally imported religious literature and materials, as well as the equipment used to reproduce it. Authorities also confiscated, and in some cases destroyed, religious literature in Uzbek and Russian that was imported legally, as well as articles of religious use. There were dozens of cases in which courts ordered the destruction of Bibles in Uzbek and Russian. On January 20, the NSS and the MOI’s Anti-Terrorism Department raided a home in Tashkent belonging to Natalya Gaiyer. Officials confiscated hundreds of Christian books and other materials, which they ordered to be destroyed. Gaiyer was also fined three times the minimum monthly salary (288,315 soum, $117). In February authorities reportedly fined a hotel employee in Tashkent’s Miran Hotel 150 times the minimum monthly salary (14,415,750 soum, $5,858) after they found and confiscated a Muslim prayer mat found in his possession during a January search. The government allowed the BSU, under the close supervision of the CRA, to publish locally one book of the Bible in the Uzbek language, and the BSU anticipated completion of the translation by 2015.” *^*

Uzbekistan Accuses U.S. Of Interference in Religious Matters

According to the U.S. Department of State: U.S. government representatives directly engaged with the government on religious freedom during the Annual Bilateral Consultations in Tashkent in December. Senior officials from the Department of State Bureaus of South and Central Asian Affairs and Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor raised concerns about religious freedom conditions. They discussed with the government tangible steps it could take to improve its record on religious freedom, including a potential training program on religious tolerance, continued interfaith dialogue, and loosening restrictive laws on religious practice. Since 2006, the Secretary of State has designated Uzbekistan a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom, most recently reaffirming that designation in July. [Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *^*]

In 2006, Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry said that the decision by the U.S. State Department to include list Uzbekistan as a Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) on religious issues was an example of unwarranted interference in internal Uzbek affairs. Associated Press and AFP reported: “An Uzbek government website declares that the move "again shows the one-sided approach and double standards of U.S. foreign policy." The United States and some international rights groups have accused Uzbek officials of persecuting innocent Muslims and stifling independent voices in the name of countering extremism. "It is clear that many of those harassed, abused, tortured, and convicted of membership in extremist organizations are simply observant Muslims," AP quoted U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John V. Hanford III as saying. [Source: AFP, AP, November 24, 2006]

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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