Uzbekistan’s Religious Liberty Violations Mount

Two new requirements for religious organizations seeking government recognition in Uzbekistan are said to evidence the Central Asian nation’s continued restriction of religious liberty.

Comprising five former Soviet republics, Central Asia includes Uzbekistan and two other countries on the U.S. State Department’s list of countries of particular concern (CPCs) for religious liberty violations: Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Another Central Asian nation, Kazakhstan, has been recommended for inclusion on the State Department’s religious liberty watch list by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

In Uzbekistan, Government Decree 409 was adopted May 31, requiring religious communities to obtain government approval of their religious leaders’ education. The decree also requires religious educational institutions to obtain government approval of their leaders’ religious educations, according to Forum 18, a news service that reports on religious liberty violations in Central Asia and the surrounding regions.

The requirements for reporting religious leaders’ education are “at present impossible” to fulfill for some organizations, Forum 18 reported, because there is no official government office to recognize foreign religious education.

According to the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, Uzbek law “requires religious groups to register with the government and declares religious activities of unregistered groups to be illegal.” Unauthorized instances of evangelism, distributing religious literature and possessing religious materials — including the Bible — have resulted in “fines, corrective labor and prison sentences.”

Some 83 percent of Uzbekistan’s 32 million people have Sunni Muslim backgrounds, Forum 18 reported, and “followers of all religions and beliefs — with no exceptions — face freedom of religion or belief violations” as “part of the regime’s intentional systemic policy to control every aspect of society.”

According to USCIRF’s 2018 Annual Report, some religious liberty advocates were optimistic last year that newly elected President Shavkat Mirziyoyev would relax “the repression of religious freedom.” But despite some “changes in religious policies” — like easing some “restrictions on the practice of Islam” — the government “has not yet embarked on a major deviation from its overall policy of severe restriction of religious freedom, premised on the threat posed by Islamic extremism.”

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Source: Baptist Press