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 unauthorized Islamic groups or mosques as extremist security threats and outlaws them. The Government permits the existence of mainstream religions, including approved Muslim groups, Jewish groups, the Russian Orthodox Church, and various other denominations, such as Catholics, Lutherans, and Baptists and generally registers more recently arrived religions. However, the law prohibits or severely restricts activities such as proselytizing, importing and disseminating religious literature, and offering religious instruction.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Government continued its harsh campaign against unauthorized Islamic groups it suspected of anti-State sentiments or activities. The Government arrested hundreds of alleged members of these groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, and sentenced them to lengthy jail terms. The Government 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). The number of Muslim women prosecuted for their alleged involvement in religious groups increased during this reporting period. A number of minority religious groups, including a variety of Christian confessions, Baha'i, and Hare Krishna, had difficulty satisfying the strict registration requirements set out by the law.
There are amicable relations among the various religious communities.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The U.S. Embassy is engaged actively in monitoring religious freedom and maintains contact with both government and religious leaders.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has a total land area of 117,868 square miles and its population is approximately 24,756,000. There are no official statistics on membership in various faiths, but 80 to 85 percent of the population are nominally Muslim. 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. Another 10 to 15 percent of the population 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 remaining in the country, 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.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
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 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.
The Religion Law requires all religious groups and congregations to register and provides strict and burdensome criteria for their registration. Among its requirements, the law stipulates that each group must 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. A special commission created in 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, which did not meet during the period covered by this report.
To register, groups also must report in their charter a valid legal address. Local officials on occasion have denied approval of a legal address in order to prevent churches from registering. 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. For example, 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. 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.
As of May 24, 2001, the Government had registered 2,008 religious congregations and organizations, 1,830 of which were Muslim. The 178 registered minority religious groups include 59 Korean Christian, 32 Russian Orthodox, 22 Pentecostal ("full gospel"), 23 Baptist, 10 Seventh-Day Adventist, 8 Jewish (1 Ashkenazy, 6 Bukharan, 1 mixed), 7 Baha'i, 4 Lutheran, 4 "New Apostlic," 3 Roman Catholic, 2 Jehovah's Witnesses, 2 Krishna Consciousness groups, 1 Bible Society, and 1 Armenian Apostolic. Several of these congregations had fewer than the required 100 members but received exemptions from the requirement. During the previous reporting period, the last one for which statistics are available, 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.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
There were significant governmental restrictions on religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Government deprived some politically oriented religious groups of their right to worship by denying them registration. It also 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 ethnic 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.
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 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 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 between illegal and prohibited groups and frequently convict members of disapproved Muslim groups under both statutes.
Some churches continue to face obstacles in obtaining registration from the Government. Local authorities have blocked registration of Baptist congregations in Gazalkent, Guliston, Andijon, and Novy Zhizn. The Deputy Mayor of Gazalkent allegedly told church leaders that their application might be approved if they removed from the Church's membership list all names of ethnic Uzbek origin. In December 2000, the Baptist congregation in Guliston was denied registration, ostensibly on the grounds that its proposed church was in a residential area.
Although two congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses are registered, eight others that have attempted to register during the period covered by this report were unsuccessful. Church officials believe that the fact that many members of these groups are ethnic Uzbeks (while the pastors of these groups are not ethnic Uzbeks) is at the root of the bureaucratic obstructionism that they encounter. The Government's Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA) denied the Greater Grace Christian Church of Samarkand permission to have a Finnish, rather than Uzbek, pastor. The Church's application for registration therefore is blocked until this issue is resolved. In March 2001, the CRA stated that the Government planned to instruct Christian congregations with foreign pastors to replace their pastors with Uzbek citizens. The CRA maintained that graduates of a registered Korean Christian seminary in the country could replace the foreign pastors.
In November 2000, the Ministry of Justice ruled that the Tashkent International Protestant Church could not be registered because its members were not Uzbek citizens. However, the CRA gave permission for the Church to meet and hold services. The Church has appealed to the Presidential Commission on the Implementation of the Religion Law, which has authority to grant exceptions to the requirements of the law. However, since that appeal, the Commission has not met.
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. The 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-Semitic, and antidemocratic 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.
The Koran reportedly is banned in most detention facilities.
Religious groups are prohibited from forming political parties and social movements.
Under the laws dealing with religion, only registered central offices of religious organizations are permitted to produce and distribute religious literature. Seven such offices have been registered to date: a nondenominational Bible society, two Islamic centers, and Russian Orthodox, Full Gospel, Baptist, and Roman Catholic offices. However, the Government discourages and occasionally has blocked 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. The Government bans the teaching of religious subjects in schools and also prohibits the private teaching of religious principles.
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 who openly try to convert Muslims to Christianity. Members of Jehovah's Witnesses claim that they are subjected 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 July 2000, police closed a summer youth camp sponsored by the registered Korean Christian church "Mir" in Nukus, Kakalpakstan. In August Karakalpak authorities revoked the church's registration and ordered Pastor Vladimir Kim to close it on the grounds that the camp had taught religion to minors without parental consent, a violation of the religion law. Kim maintained that all of the minor's parents had signed consent forms. Although the church was allowed to reopen in January 2001, it has not been reregistered.
In December 2000, local police and justice department officials ordered the closure of a training facility for Adventist clergy in Navoi. The authorities who ordered the closure cited the 1998 Religious Law that prohibits groups that do not have a registered religious center from training religious personnel.
On May 17, 2001, the Ministry of Justice informed in writing the Baptist Union that the holding of Sunday School classes for the children of congregation members was a violation of the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations. The letter threatened revocation of the Baptist Union's registration if it did not immediately cancel Sunday School. The Baptist Union responded to the letter and, in turn, received another letter from the Ministry still refusing to allow the Sunday School classes.
Also in May 2001, the Roman Catholic parish in Ferghana received an order from the regional Prosecutor General to close its Sunday School on the grounds that the school was an institution of higher learning and had not been registered properly. However, later in the month the CRA found that the Catholic Sunday School was not a formal institution, had been closed improperly, and should be allowed to reopen. Sunday School classes resumed at the school.
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, and they had not been reinstated as of the end of the reporting period.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
The Government continued to commit numerous serious abuses of religious freedom. 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 was 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 (IMU), whose roots are in Namangan; and suspected members of Hizb ut-Tahrir throughout the country.
Because it is likely that those responsible for the 1999 bombings were members of a political organization with religious ties, the Government considers so-called Wahhabists as closely connected to terrorism even when they are not. Both groups, the Wahhabists and those suspected of involvement in the bombings, 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. Although there is specific information available on only a few 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 is much higher. Law enforcement officials have been known to threaten families not to talk about their relatives' deaths.
On July 7, 2001, the body of Shovruk Ruzimuradov was returned to his family from police detention. Police reportedly beat and tortured Ruzimuradov to death. Ruzimuradov, a human rights activist and opposition figure known to be a pious Muslim, was arrested on June 15, 2001 by an assault team of 31 police officers armed with automatic weapons. After searching his house, police claimed to have found nine Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets as well as 28 bullets and narcotics. Relatives reported that the police had planted the contraband themselves. According to NGO reports, police detained, threatened, and blocked the road against human rights activists and opposition figures who attempted to travel to Ruzimuradov's funeral. An official investigation of his death concluded that Ruzimuradov committed suicide. Nonetheless, four officials were dismissed for mishandling Ruzimuradov's detention, and disciplinary actions were taken against others.
On February 28, 2001, well-known writer Emin Usman died in pretrial detention; he was being held by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to Memorial, a Moscow-based human rights organization, his body featured a large open wound on the back of the head. Authorities who returned the body told Usman's family that he had committed suicide, although the official death certificate listed a brain tumor as the cause of death. Usman allegedly was involved with Hizb ut-Tahrir.
In late December 2000, Habeebullah Nosirov, a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir who was convicted in 1999, died in prison in Jaslik. According to the family of the deceased, he died of injuries sustained from severe beatings by police while he was in prison. Habeebullah Nosirov was the brother of Haffezullah Nosirov, who was the "Amir" or chief of the Hizb ut-Tahrir organization in the country until he was arrested and tried earlier in the year.
On October 8, 2000, the body of Numon Saidaminov, Haffezullah Nosirov's alleged successor as Amir of Hizb ut-Tahrir, was returned to his family from detention by the National Security Service (NSS). Although officials stated that he died of a heart attack, a doctor who examined the body allegedly confirmed that the cause of death was a severe beating that occurred 2 days prior to the examination. Saidaminov's body had open wounds and bruises on the fingernails, anus, and the bottoms of the feet, which are consistent with sexual violence and torture.
There were no new reports of disappearances of religious leaders during the period covered by this report. It is believed widely that Imam Abidkhon Nazarov, who has been missing since March 5, 1998, fled the country to avoid arrest and was not abducted by security forces. During the period covered by this report, 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.
There was one report of a person who disappeared after being taken into custody. Plainclothes police officers apprehended Bakhodir Khasanov, an instructor of French at the Alliance Francaise, in front of witnesses on July 17, 2000. The authorities have not acknowledged that he is being held in detention. This is the fourth time that the authorities have detained Khasanov. The security services' interest in Khasanov apparently stems from the fact that many members of the Khasanov family are pious Muslims, although acquaintances claimed that Bakhodir was not especially religious. Bakhodir's father and brother both are imprisoned. His brother Ismail was convicted in August 1999 for alleged links to Islamic extremists and was retried on additional charges of involvement in events in Yangiabad, although these events took place while he was in prison. In November 1999, police arrested Khasanov's 70-year-old father after planting Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets on him. He signed a confession after police forced him to watch them beating his son Ismail, and he is serving 3 years in prison.
The security services have arrested, detained, and harassed Muslim leaders for perceived acts of insubordination and independence. On April 9, 2001, a Tashkent court convicted former Imam Abdulvakhid Yuldashev, a former associate of missing Imam Nazarov, along with 12 other defendants. Yuldashev was sentenced to 19 years in prison for organizing an underground Islamic militant group. He was arrested in June 2000, held incommunicado for several months, and was denied access to a lawyer during most of his pretrial detention in the basement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). In mid-August, the MVD investigator in the case allowed a meeting with lawyer Hamid Zainutdinov, but Yuldashev declined the lawyer's services. Zainutdinov later wrote an appeal to the Prosecutor General stating that it was evident by the wounds on his feet and by his demeanor that Yuldashev had been tortured and forced to refuse counsel. In court Yuldashev described how investigators had beaten him and burned his genitals in order to extract confessions during detention. The judge declined to investigate these charges. Evidence at the trial consisted almost entirely of statements by the other prisoners who also claimed in court to have been beaten in detention.
The Koran reportedly is banned in most detention facilities and there are numerous reports that Muslims in places of detention are punished severely if they are caught praying.
Arbitrary arrest and detention of Muslim believers is common. 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 arrests. According to human rights activists, the police arrested many of those whose religious piety, sometimes indicated by their dress or beards, made them suspect to 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 ensure 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 suspected 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. During the period covered by this report, there were dozens of cases in which persons who had previously been detained and released were retried.
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 until April 2000. The number of those in pretrial detention is unknown but is probably several hundred persons. 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 2001, the Government had convicted at least 140 persons for direct involvement in the bombing plot. Of these, at least 20 received death sentences and most of these are believed to have been executed.
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 persons were released after they renounced their allegiance to Islamist groups and pledged never again to engage in anti-State activities, while others were released for lack of evidence.
The Government typically held unannounced trials of large groups of alleged extremists, and rarely allowed international observers to attend. Human rights observers contended these groupings of defendants were arbitrary, since the prosecution only occasionally argued that those on trial actually were 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, which ended on November 24, 2000, a court sentenced 23 defendants accused of establishing a criminal Wahhabist organization in Kokand between 1989 and 1992 to between 16 and 20 years in prison. Eleven of the defendants were already in prison on charges related to the same alleged activities. Among the defendants were five brothers of Khamramon Khamidov, who died--reportedly from mistreatment--in prison in 1998. Defendants and witnesses said during the trial that their signatures on statements written before the trial were extracted under duress. The defendants admitted that they established an organization that, until forced to disband in 1992, opposed criminality and corruption in Kokand but committed no actions against the State.
Accused Hizb ut-Tahrir members also were tried in large groups, claimed mistreatment, and were sentenced to lengthy jail terms. In a trial which ended on May 17, 2001, a court sentenced all but 1 of 24 alleged members of Hizb ut-Tahrir to between 8 and 18 years in prison for anti-State activities, including belonging to a religious fundamentalist group. The court convicted the remaining defendant under a lesser charge and released him under amnesty. One of the defendants, Odiljon Umarov, was 17 years old and received an 8-year sentence. His father also was arrested and scheduled for trial in May 2001. Another defendant, Mirzakarim Avasov, who denied belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, was the younger brother of Hizb ut-Tahrir member Mirzafar Avasov, who had been arrested in January 2000. According to persons familiar with the case, Mirzakarim originally was taken into custody in order to help investigators extract a confession from his older brother. Members of the National Security Service reportedly tortured Mirzakarim with electric shocks in front of his brother until Mirzafar agreed to sign a statement incriminating himself and others.
The Avasov case was typical of a trend of arresting family members of persons who are wanted by the authorities but are at large, or even of persons already in jail. Typically, while the fugitives or previously imprisoned persons may have admitted being involved in religious groups, their family members deny involvement. The motive in arresting family members in the former category appears to be to hasten the apprehension of fugitives. Imprisoning family members of those already in jail reportedly is based on the belief that aggrieved relatives may turn against the State.
One such case occurred during the investigation of Nahmiddin Juvashev, who was in pretrial detention in late 2000. According to Human Rights Watch, Juvashev originally was arrested in 1999 when, believing the Government's promise of amnesty for repentant Islamists, he turned himself in as a former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir to the Jizzak office of the NSS. The NSS officials allegedly tortured him in detention, and the court sentenced him to 9 years in prison. In August 1999, he was released after the Supreme Court overturned his conviction on the basis of the promised amnesty; however, he was rearrested in the summer of 2000. On September 6, the authorities arrested Juvashev's brother Idrisbek Umarkulov when, in the course of a search (allegedly conducted without a warrant) of the Juvashev family home, NSS officers claimed to find a sawed-off shotgun and bullets for another weapon. Family members and witnesses claimed that the officers planted the items in the house.
In July 2000, a court convicted Kamoletdin Sattarov of Andijon of anti-State activity after police allegedly planted two Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets on him. The authorities had jailed his brother Muradjon in 1999 for membership in the Hizb ut-Tahrir. Kamoletdin has admitted that Muradjon was involved with the group but denied that he shared his brother's political or religious beliefs. Investigators in Kamoletdin's case found individual appeal forms of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in his home and used them as evidence against him during his trial.
All adult male members of the family of missing Imam Abidkhon Nazarov remain in jail and allegedly are beaten periodically by interrogators trying to learn Nazarov's whereabouts.
Human rights observers noted an increase in the number of women arrested during the year for their alleged involvement with religious groups. Rahima Ahmadalieva was arrested on March 17, 2001, and reportedly is held in the basement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Tashkent. Ahmadalieva is the wife of Imam Ruhiddin Fahruddinov, who was accused by the Government of "Wahhabism" and is believed to be in hiding. On March 20, Ahmadalieva's daughter Odina Makhsudova was detained briefly and forced to give a statement that incriminated her mother. Makhsudova alleged later that police were verbally abusive to her and her mother, forced them to remove their headscarves, and threatened to rape them. She claimed that her mother was mistreated physically. She quoted police officials as saying that her mother would be freed as soon as her father turned himself in.
In another case, prosecutors brought charges against Feruza Kurbanova for alleged membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The trial, which was well-attended by international observers, ended in March, when the judge dismissed two of the three charges and sentenced Kurbanova only to probation on the third charge. Kurbanova's husband is serving an 8-year sentence for his alleged involvement in the organization.
On March 21, 2001, police in Andijon broke up a demonstration of 200-300 women and children whose relatives were imprisoned for allegedly distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets. Three women were arrested during the protest and were detained for 1, 3, and 20 nights in jail respectively. On March 23, the women tried to assemble again, but police reportedly ordered many of them into waiting buses. However, none of the women were arrested. On April 12, 2001, similar protests occurred in Tashkent and Andijon. Police, wielding batons, broke up the Tashkent protest violently, injuring numerous demonstrators. One demonstrator was arrested. On July 2, women attempted to hold protests at the Andijon and Tashkent city halls. Police and security forces were well prepared for the would-be demonstrators and forced them into waiting buses before they could assemble.
There were few reports of human rights abuses against members of minority religions during the period covered by this report; however, police occasionally broke up meetings of unregistered groups. Leaders of such groups have been assessed fines or have been imprisoned. In June 2001 in Tashkent, the head of the local mahalla told Baptist Pastor Nikolai Shevchenko that he faced an 8-year prison term for leading an unregistered church; however, at the end of the reporting period the legal case against Shevchenko was dropped. Local authorities also filed charges against 10 other members of the Baptist Church; however, these charges were dropped. In August 2000, police allegedly detained for 2 days a group of unregistered Baptists meeting in a private apartment in Chirchik, during which the police allegedly beat them. After a similar incident in October 1999 in Karshi, the Committee on Religious Affairs claimed that it 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 July 2000, police in Nukus, Karakalpakstan, arrested Nikolai Rudinsky, pastor of a small, unregistered Baptist group, after allegedly planting narcotics in his bicycle pack; he was released in late September 2000.
An ethnic Korean Christian pastor, Stanislav Kim, was released from prison under amnesty in October 2000. In February 1999, a court convicted Kim on charges of tax evasion and financial impropriety. Acquaintances of Kim believe that he was jailed in part because local officials believed that Kim's religious activities conflicted with his duties as a director of a state concern.
The authorities have attempted to silence human rights activists who criticize government repression of religious Muslims and others. In December 2000, the Government pardoned and released imprisoned human rights activist Mahbuba Kasimova. However, on April 26, 2001, militia detained her for 3 hours and questioned her about her attendance at trials of "religious persons" and her contacts with relatives of defendants. The officers warned her to cease her human rights monitoring activities. Human rights activist Ismail Adylov was released from jail on July 3. He was arrested in July 1999, after police allegedly planted 100 Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets among his effects to justify the arrest (Adylov was not known to be religious). In September 1999, a remote regional court sentenced him to 6 years in prison for allegedly possessing incriminating papers.
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.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including 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.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
There were several cases during the reporting period of persons brought to trial for involvement in religious extremist organizations who were granted parole or amnesty. Among these were Feruza Kurbanova, five of the defendants in the trial of Imam Abduvakhid Yuldashev, and one of the 24 defendants in the May 17 Hizb ut-Tahrir case in Tashkent. While there have been cases in the past of prosecutors declining to prosecute persons, according to human rights observers these were the first cases of a judge giving light sentences in religious cases. In September 2000, Baptist Pastor Nikolai Rudinsky, who had been arrested on false charges, was released after U.S. Embassy intervention.
The Government's Center for Human Rights and the Committee on Religious Affairs sponsored a series of three roundtables to foster inter-confessional dialog. Participants from minority religions noted that these were opportunities to speak openly about restrictions on religious freedom.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
There are amicable relations among the various religious communities. There is no pattern of discrimination against Jews. Synagogues function openly; Hebrew education, Jewish cultural events, and the publication of a community newspaper take place undisturbed. However, many Jews are emigrating because of bleak economic prospects and because of their connection to families abroad. Jewish leaders in Samarkand reported that anti-Semitic fliers signed by the Hizb ut-Tahrir have been distributed throughout the country.
Members of ethnic groups that traditionally are associated with Islam who convert to Christianity sometimes encounter particular societal and low-level governmental hostility.
Section IV. 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 Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the Newly Independent States met with the Foreign Minister on three occasions during the period covered by this report. In each of these meetings, he expressed U.S. support for freedom of opinion and religion. In September 2000, the Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom met with the Uzbek Ambassador to raise current issues. Officials in Washington have met on several occasions with Uzbek embassy officials to convey U.S. concerns regarding the state of religious freedom. The U.S. Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission discussed religious freedom on at least six occasions with the Foreign Minister and other officials, as well as in the context of the U.S.-Uzbek human rights working group.
In November 2000, the Ambassador met 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 the Committee on Religious Affairs as well as religious leaders and human rights activists.
After the U.S. Embassy intervened following the arrest of Pastor Nikolai Rudinsky in Nukus (see Section II), the Government quickly released him.