The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and for the principle of separation of church and state; however, in practice the Government restricted this right. 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. Christian churches generally are tolerated as long as they do not attempt to win converts among ethnic Uzbeks. However, the law prohibits or severely restricts activities such as proselytizing, importing and disseminating religious literature, and offering religious instruction.
There was no overall 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 numerous alleged members of these groups, and sentenced them to lengthy jail terms. However, the number arrested declined sharply from 1,500 persons in any 7-month period from 1999 to 2001, to 300 persons in the first 7 months of 2002. The Government granted amnesty to 800 such individuals. At least 20 women were tried for participating in or organizing demonstrations demanding the release of male relatives jailed on suspicion of Islamic extremism. A number of minority religious groups, including congregations of a variety of Christian confessions, the Baha'i Faith, and Hare Krishna, had difficulty satisfying the strict registration requirements set out by the law. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Government permitted the opening of thousands of mosques, more than the Soviet era total of 80 mosques. The Government permitted Muslims from outside the country to build many of these mosques and to establish unauthorized Islamic groupings. However, after this initial phase, the Government decided to ban such groupings, perceiving them as extremist threats, and closed all but approximately 2,000 of the new mosques. Vigilante groups enforcing strict Islamic mores such as full cover dress for women, were outlawed. Some underground mosques, such as those that were tolerated during the Soviet Union, have begun to operate again, but religious authorities and the security services monitor them closely.
There are amicable relations among the various religious communities. However, Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist Islamic political organization, continued to circulate strongly anti-Semitic leaflets.
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; however, approximately 88 percent of the population nominally are 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. Approximately 10 percent of the population nominally are Russian Orthodox. A growing number of individuals from these two faiths practice their religion, and outside of Tashkent believers may outnumber non-believers. During the decades of Soviet rule, religion was not practiced openly by most persons; however, it remained an important cultural factor in the lives of many, particularly Muslims.
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 restricted 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 to the local branches of the Ministry of Justice. This provision enables the Government to ban any group simply by finding technical grounds for denying its registration petition. Government officials designed the law to target Muslims who worship outside the system of state-organized mosques. A special commission may grant exemptions to the Religion Laws' 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 citizen 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 Christian churches from registering. The Ministry of Justice in Tashkent also has cited this requirement in explaining local officials' decisions. 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.
Some churches, particularly evangelical churches with ethnic Uzbek members, do not bother to apply for registration because they do not believe local officials will register them. Other groups, including those 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 on its face does not meet legal requirements. There also are a few groups, which refuse on principle to seek registration, because they challenge the Government's right to require registration. The central Government's Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA) intervened in at least one case where a church met all registration requirements but had been denied registration by local officials. As a result, the church was allowed to register in the fall of 2001.
As of May 1, 2002, the Government had registered 2,047 religious congregations and organizations, 1,863 of which were Muslim. The 182 registered minority religious groups include 59 Korean Christian, 33 Russian Orthodox, 23 Pentecostal ("full gospel"), 23 Baptist, 11 Seventh-Day Adventist, 8 Jewish (6 Bukharan, 1 Ashkenazy, 1 mixed), 7 Baha'i, 4 Lutheran, 4 "New Apostolic," 4 Roman Catholic, 2 Jehovah's Witnesses, 2 Krishna Consciousness groups, 1 Bible Society, and 1 Armenian Apostolic. According to 2000 statistics, 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.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
There were significant governmental restrictions on religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Government, by continuing to deny registration to some religious organizations, deprived them of their legal right to worship. The Government restricted many religious practices and activities and punished some citizens for carrying out their religious practices and activities in violation of the registration laws. Ethnic 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 often face difficulties in registering, or are reluctant to list their Uzbek members on registration lists for fear of incurring official displeasure.
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 public 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. However, the authorities enforce this law disparately in practice.
The Criminal and Civil codes contain stiff penalties for violating the Religion Law and other statutes on religious activities. Prohibited activities include organizing an illegal religious group, persuading others to join such a group, and drawing minors into a religious organization without the permission of their parents. Any religious service conducted by an unregistered religious organization is illegal. The Law prohibits groups that do not have a registered religious center from training religious personnel. There are seven such registered religious groups. In practice these restrictions override almost all freedoms recognized by international standards.
The Government, for national security reasons, has conducted an intensely repressive campaign against perceived Islamic extremists. The result is an atmosphere of intimidation, in which many young Muslim men say they do not feel safe even observing basic religious duties such as praying five times each day. The ban on proselytizing results in fines and the denial of registration to many Christian churches, and in some cases, beatings of many of their members. The control over publication and distribution of religious literature has been used to prevent distribution of Bibles in the Uzbek language, something the Government fears is a barely disguised effort to convert the Uzbek-speaking Muslim majority.
The Criminal Code distinguishes between "illegal" groups, which are those that are not registered properly, and "prohibited" groups, which are banned altogether. The code 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). In addition, the code punishes any participation in such a group by up to 3 years in prison. The code also provides for 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 continued to block the registration of Baptist congregations in Gazalkent, Andijon, and Novaya 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. At the end of the period covered by this report, they still were experiencing problems. In 2001 the CRA successfully intervened on behalf of the Nukus Full Gospel Church, which resulted in its registration. In 2000 the Baptist congregation in Guliston was denied registration, ostensibly on the grounds that its proposed church was in a residential area. Church officials had claimed that local officials blocked their registration because ethnic Uzbeks were listed on their membership lists. The congregation was registered during the period covered by this report.
Although two congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses are registered, nine others that attempted to register between 2000 and 2001 were unsuccessful. Provincial authorities have referred to them as "extremists." Church officials believe that their particularly active style of proselytizing among ethnic Uzbeks (while the pastors of these groups are not ethnic Uzbeks) is at the root of the bureaucratic obstructionism that they encounter. Church officials also reported that members were detained and beaten on several occasions. In March 2002, police arrested members of three congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses and charged them with participating in an unregistered religious organization. Several received fines, and a few congregants in Nukus reported they were beaten. All later were released. At the end of the period covered by this report, the authorities in Bukhara still were debating whether to file criminal charges against the leader of Jehovah's Witnesses in that province. Any religious service conducted by an unregistered religious organization is illegal. In May 2002, officials of the CRA summoned leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses and explained to them the requirements of the religion laws and offered to work with them to meet those requirements.
The CRA continues to refuse the Greater Grace Christian Church of Samarkand permission to have a Finnish, rather than Uzbek citizen, pastor. The Church's application for registration therefore is blocked until this issue is resolved. Church leaders expressed some optimism in the spring of 2002 that the issue might soon be 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 May 2002, the CRA announced to a group of evangelical pastors that they no longer would be allowed to preach in the Uzbek language - the official national language and the one identified most closely with the majority Muslim population. However, by the end of the period covered by this report, official instructions were not issued in either case, and the measures had not been enforced.
The Gazalkent Baptist Church in Gazalkent continued to face difficulties in its attempts to obtain registration. According to the church's leader, Alikhan Kiev, officers of the NSS accused him in August 2001 of fabricating the congregation's membership list. The law requires 100 Uzbek citizen members for the registration of a religious organization. NSS officer Abdujalil Ishmatov accused Kiev of having "fabricated around 90 percent of the signatures." Ishmatov indicated that the NSS had interviewed individuals whose signatures were on the membership list. He said that most of these individuals, had not realized "they were signing up as members of a founding church group."
While supportive of moderate Muslims, the Government is intolerant of Islamic groups operating outside the state-run Muslim hierarchy that it perceives to be extremist; however, a small number of unofficial, independent mosques are allowed to operate quietly under the watch of official imams. The Government controls the content of imams' sermons and the volume and substance of published Islamic materials. Since 1998 the Government has prohibited loudspeakers in mosque minarets, in order to prevent amplified public calls to prayer. This order was implemented following a series of bombings in 1999, which the Government attributed to Islamic extremists. The order generally is enforced; however, in some neighborhoods on Fridays, the call to prayer is issued by loudspeaker.
The authorities often 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 Hizb ut-Tahrir, as well as other extremist Islamic groups, which it places under the broad label of "Wahhabism". In spring of 2002, President Islam Karimov reaffirmed on national television his intention to eradicate Hizb ut-Tahrir. Hizb ut-Tahrir members desire an Islamic government, and the group's literature includes much anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and antidemocratic rhetoric. Some independent Muslims deny that they are extremists and claim that they are being labeled wrongly.
The Koran and prayer are banned in certain prisons, particularly those with prisoners believed to be Islamic extremists.
Religious groups are prohibited from forming political parties and social movements.
The Government requires that the religious censor approve all religious literature; however, in practice a number of government entities concerned with religion have a chance to veto that with which they are not satisfied. The CRA, in accordance with the law, has given the right to publish, import, and distribute religious literature solely to registered central offices of religious organizations. 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 Muftiate sporadically issues an updated list of all officially sanctioned Islamic literature. Bookstores are not allowed to sell any Islamic literature not on the list. The list contains more than 200 titles; however, in practice Islamic bookstores in Tashkent sell a large number of titles not included on the list, including those in the Arabic language. More controversial literature, when available, is not displayed on shelves. Possession of literature by authors deemed to be extremist may lead to arrest and prosecution. Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets absolutely are prohibited.
Unlike in the past, there were no reports of the confiscation of foreign Islamic literature or Uzbek-language Christian literature during the period covered by this report.
Although the 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 ethnic Uzbek names.
The Government bans the teaching of religious subjects in schools and also prohibits the private teaching of religious principles. In July 2000, police closed a summer youth camp sponsored by the registered Korean Christian church "Mir" in Nukus, Karakalpakstan. In August 2000, 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 had not been reregistered by the end of the period covered by this report.
In May 2001 the Ministry of Justice informed the Baptist Union in writing 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 legal problem has not been resolved, but a series of communications between the Baptist Union and the Ministry has resulted in what is at least a temporary, and mutually acceptable, compromise.
Also in May 2001 the Roman Catholic parish in Fergana 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.
Unlike in the past, there were no cases of women being expelled from either university or secondary school for wearing religious dress during the period covered by this report. In 1999 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 the hijab, the headscarf associated with Muslim female modesty. Several women who were expelled in the past continued an unsuccessful campaign to be reinstated.
For the most part, women who wish to enter university abandon the headscarf. At one prominent Tashkent University, a professor noted that to his knowledge only one female student wore the hijab.
The law forbids anyone except clerics from wearing religious clothing in public. Nonetheless, women are seen wearing the hijab and less frequently, the veil on the street. Older men wearing prayer robes is not an uncommon sight.
Most young men do not wear beards, which the Government regards as a sign of extremism. Many young men attend Friday prayers; however, hardly any are bearded.
There were some reports of human rights abuses against members of minority religions during the period covered by this report. Police occasionally broke up meetings of unregistered groups. Leaders of such groups have been assessed fines or charged with administrative violations and in some cases, briefly detained by the authorities. Registration applications have been hampered.
Nikolai Shevchenko, pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church in Tashkent, faces administrative fines for leading an unregistered congregation. In July 2001, Shevchenko was charged with a related criminal offense, but those charges were dropped. Bethany Baptist Church is located in the Mirzo-Ulugbek district of Tashkent. The authorities rejected Bethany's application for registration after the mahalla (neighborhood) committee called the presence of a Christian church in their neighborhood intolerable.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
The Government continued to commit numerous serious abuses of religious freedom. The Government's campaign against extremist 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 Imam Nazarov of Tashkent and missing Imam 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. The campaign resulted in the arrest of many observant Muslims who were not extremists. The campaign also resulted in thousands of allegations of torture, many of which have been confirmed.
In the late 1980's, the Government of the USSR began to loosen its control of the practice of Islam. In the early 1990's, the newly independent Government of Uzbekistan built hundreds of new mosques and allowed the construction of thousands more, many funded from abroad. However, towards the end of 1991, the Government launched a campaign of severe repression, in an attempt to stem the growth of what it considered a dangerous threat to stability. This followed the appearance of vigilante groups enforcing conservative Islamic social mores (for example, full cover dress for women) in the Fergana Valley. The Hizb ut-Tahrir and Wahhabist organizations first appeared in the country during the late 1980's and early 1990's proliferation of Islam. The IMU was formed in part by members of Adolat (Justice), a conservative Islamic political party that later was banned by the Government. While the Government views members of the IMU as terrorists, it views members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and Wahhabists as potential terrorists and as an ideological breeding ground for 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 want to foment armed resistance to the Government. However, the authorities are highly suspicious of those who are more observant than is the norm, including frequent mosque attendees, bearded men, and veiled women. In practice this approach results in abuses against observant Muslims for their religious beliefs. It also serves to radicalize some young men and women who otherwise might practice their religion in a politically neutral manner.
There were credible reports that police mistreatment resulted in several deaths 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 also is common. Although there is specific information available on only a few deaths from mistreatment in custody, human rights and other observers credibly report that a large number of prisoners throughout the country during the period covered by this report died of diseases directly related to the conditions of their confinement. Law enforcement officials have been known to threaten families not to talk about their relatives' deaths. Human rights monitors reported a decrease in the number of abuses in certain prisons following a January 2002 conviction of four police officers in the beating death of an alleged extremist. Allegations of serious abuses in other prisons continue to be reported.
The Government has not conducted an investigation into the December 2000 death in prison of Habeebullah Nosirov, a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir who was convicted in 1999. According to his family, he died of injuries sustained from severe beatings by police while he was in prison. He was the brother of the imprisoned leader ("Amir") of Hizb ut-Tahrir Uzbekistan, Hafeezullah Nosirov.
There was no investigation into the October 2000 death of Numon Saidaminov, Haffezullah Nosirov's reported successor as Amir of Hizb ut-Tahrir. His body was returned to his family from detention by the National Security Service (NSS) and showed signs of torture.
In January 2002, a court sentenced four policemen to 20 years imprisonment each for their role in the beating death of Ravshon Haitov. In October 2001, Ravshon and Rasul Haitov were arrested in Tashkent on suspicion of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir. The next morning, Ravshon's body was returned to his family, who reported that it showed signs of severe torture. Rasul Haitov also was tortured and spent several months in the hospital. There have been allegations that three senior police officers also involved in the beatings escaped prosecution. The Government's investigation into Rasul Haitov's alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir activities still was open at the end of the period covered by this report.
During the period covered by this report, there were no reports of disappearances of religious leaders. There were no 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). The fate of the three men is unknown, but most observers believe that the authorities abducted them.
Bakhodir Khasanov, an instructor of French at the Alliance Francaise who was arrested in July 2000, still is missing. Unconfirmed reports indicate that he may have been sentenced since then. The authorities have not acknowledged that he is being held. Security services reportedly were interested in Khasanov because many members of the Khasanov family were jailed for alleged extremist Islamic activity, although acquaintances claimed that Khasanov was not especially religious. His brother Ismail was convicted in 1999 for alleged links to Islamic extremists and was retried on additional charges of involvement in an IMU incursion near Yangiabad, although these events took place while he was in prison. In 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. He was sentenced to 3 years' imprisonment.
The absence of a free press and publicly available centralized records makes it difficult to determine how many persons have been incarcerated. Nonetheless, the Moscow human rights center, Memorial, has compiled a list of more than 2,600 individuals arrested and convicted for political and religious reasons between January 1999 and August 2001. Nearly all those listed were accused of being Islamic extremists. Most human rights groups agree that the number of individuals convicted and still in prison, who were arrested for political or religious reasons is between 6,500 and 7,000. The Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan (IHROU) estimates that all but approximately 200 of those arrested were arrested on suspicion of Islamic extremism. The number of those in pretrial detention is unknown but is estimated to be less than 300.
Unlike in the past, there were no reports that security services arrested, detained, or harassed Muslim leaders perceived to be extremists during the period covered by this report.
Since August 2001, the number of individuals arrested on suspicion of Islamic extremism has decreased throughout the country. Activists in Fergana region reported that, in the first 4 months of 2002, only eight such arrests were made. In Andijon region, the reported figure was five. In Tashkent, the figure was similar, although 24 women were arrested, and 8 charged, for demonstrating on behalf of jailed relatives. Local human rights activists credibly estimate that throughout the country, approximately 300 such individuals were arrested during the first 6 months of 2002.
In December 2001, attorney Irina Mikulina met with Imam Abdulvakhid Yuldashev, a former associate of Imam Nazarov, 8 months after his April 2001 conviction for organizing an independent Islamic group, and reported that he continues to be tortured. According to Mikulina, the skin on his feet had been stripped clean from beatings. Observers claim that such continued beatings are meant as a deterrent to others. 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.
The Koran reportedly is banned in many detention facilities, and there are numerous reports that Muslims in places of detention are punished severely if they are caught praying, especially in prisons where suspected Islamic extremists are incarcerated.
Arbitrary arrest and detention of Muslim believers on charges that they belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir or Wahhabist organizations remained a problem. Various estimates from credible sources suggest that as many as 5,000 of the estimated 6,500 political prisoners currently being held in the country are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Nonetheless, there were numerous cases of incarceration of individuals who were gathering for prayer in an unauthorized manner. For example, in August 2001, a Jizzakh court convicted six young men (ages 20 to 30) and their 83-year-old host for holding prayers in the older man's home. The police allegedly planted drugs and Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets. The six young men remained in prison at year's end, although their host was released after paying a fine. Even in cases where individuals are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir or other extremist organizations, the authorities sometimes failed to produce credible evidence that the individuals committed acts for which they allegedly were arrested.
Following both the 1997 murder of police officials in Namangan and the 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 observance, sometimes indicated by their dress or beards, made them suspect to the security services. Approximately 8,000 persons have been arrested and convicted since February 1999 on suspicion of Islamic extremism, and approximately 6,500 remain incarcerated. While exact numbers are not available, observers believe that many prisoners have died in custody, primarily due to diseases such as tuberculosis.
To determine whom to arrest, the Government used the local mahalla (neighborhood) committees as a source of information. Shortly after the 1999 Tashkent bombings, President Islam Karimov directed that each committee assign a "defender of the people," whose job it was to ensure that youths 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 identified the same individuals who 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 for lack of evidence.
During the period covered by this report, the number of new arrests declined sharply. Local human rights activists have confirmed that, nationwide, the total number of persons arrested on suspicion of Islamic extremism during the first 7 months of 2002 was approximately 300. The average number of arrests during any 7-month period between 1999 and mid-2001 exceeded 1,500 persons. Activists in regions where there had been large-scale arrests in the past confirmed these numbers. During the period covered by this report, more than 300 persons, many of whom were arrested during the spring and summer of 2001, were convicted. In August 2001, the Government declared an amnesty, in which approximately 860 persons convicted on charges related to Islamic extremism were released.
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 its claim that the presumption of innocence is observed, government officials pointed out that after the 1999 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.
Unlike in previous years, human rights observers and others generally were allowed to attend trials during the period covered by this report. Defendants often claimed that confessions on which the prosecution based its cases were extracted by torture. Judges usually ignored these claims and invariably convicted the accused. During the period covered by this report, the majority of sentences were from 7 to 12 years, which were more lenient than previous years' sentences of 15 to 20 years but still are quite harsh. In an October 2001 trial, a Tashkent court convicted four men, ranging in age from 27 to 30, to terms of between 6 and 18 years for their membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The prosecutor in this trial showed up for only one of the five court sessions, and the state's evidence consisted exclusively of testimony from two witnesses, one of whom misidentified the defendants.
Family members of individuals wanted in connection with Islamic activities, or already jailed in connection with those activities, often are harassed or arrested. In some cases, the relatives themselves are involved in what the Government considers illegal religious activities, but in many cases the relatives' guilt only is by association. For example, in April 2002, authorities arrested a niece of Imam Abidkhon Nazarov, who is believed to have fled the country. Many adult male members of the family of Nazarov remain in jail and allegedly are beaten periodically.
In another case, Rahima Ahmadalieva, who was arrested on March 17, 2001, was sentenced in September 2001 to 7 years imprisonment. Ahmadalieva is the wife of Imam Ruhiddin Fahruddinov, who was accused by the Government of "Wahhabism" and is believed to be in hiding.
Eight male relatives of Imam Farhod Usmanov, a lay Muslim Imam who died in pretrial detention in 1999, remain in jail. Imam Usmanov was popular among extremely conservative Muslims in Tashkent.
The authorities continued to arrest women for organizing demonstrations demanding the release of their jailed male relatives. During the first 6 months of 2002, in Tashkent, more than 20 women were brought to trial; all but 2 received suspended sentences.
On April 14, 2002, authorities arrested Musharaf Usmanova, the widow of Imam Farhod Usmanov. Usmanova organized several demonstrations in the fall and winter of 2001 in Tashkent. Days after her April 14 arrest, her picture appeared in the official police gazette, and she was listed as a missing person. Her family subsequently located her, and at the end of the period covered by this report, she was awaiting trial.
On April 23, 2002, 44 women demonstrated in Margilon, demanding justice in the alleged 2001 murders by NSS officers of 4 Hizb ut-Tahrir members. Eleven women were detained, and all later were released. In May 2002, three NSS officers were convicted in one of the murders. The Fergana regional procurator announced that he was conducting investigations into two more of the murders.
On September 4, 2001, police arrested 63-year-old Fatima Mirhatieva, the organizer of several demonstrations. She had received several warnings from authorities to desist from organizing further demonstrations. She was sentenced in early November 2001 to 3 years of community service and was granted amnesty.
Throughout the period covered by this report, participants in similar demonstrations throughout the country were arrested. In most cases, they later were released.
The authorities in some cases briefly detained leaders of minority religions.
In August 2000, police allegedly detained for 2 days a group of unregistered Baptists meeting in a private apartment in Chirchik. The police allegedly beat them. After a similar incident in 1999 in Karshi, the Committee on Religious Affairs claimed that it had taken steps to ensure that police would allow such Baptist congregations, which consider registration to be inconsistent with their religious beliefs, to meet undisturbed for worship.
Police conducted several raids during 2001 against meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Jehovah's Witness' general counsel reports that harassment against their members remained a problem. In two incidents, one in January and one in July 2001, police reportedly beat arrested members. The Jehovah's Witness' counsel alleges that the Government regards Jehovah's Witnesses as an extremist group. On March 26, 2002, members of Jehovah's Witnesses reported that members of the three congregations in the city of Nukus were detained and beaten while celebrating their only official religious holiday. Members were charged with participating in an illegal religious activity. Several were fined; all later were released.
The authorities have attempted to silence human rights activists who criticize government repression of religious Muslims and others. On September 18, 2001, the Andijon prosecutor initiated an investigation into the activities of members of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU). HRSU had assisted a group of women demanding the release of their male relatives, all alleged members of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Andijon chief prosecutor subsequently called off the investigation.
In February 2002, the Ministry of Justice registered the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan (IHROU) after four years of delay. IHROU monitors the arrests and trials of persons accused of extremism.
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 refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
In August 2001, the Government announced a general amnesty. As part of that amnesty, 860 prisoners who had been convicted of crimes against the constitution (and most of whom were suspected of Islamic extremism) were released. Most of those released were alleged to have been members of, or to have had ties to, Hizb ut-Tahrir.
During the period covered by this report, the number of arrests of individuals on suspicion of Islamic extremism declined sharply. According to local human rights activists, the total arrested in the first 6 months of 2002 was less than 300, compared to thousands in previous years.
In August 2001, a commission from the office of the President visited Andijon, the site of several demonstrations in 2001. The commission met with demonstration organizers and local human rights activists. The demonstration organizers were allowed to convey their demand to release their relatives to the commission members.
In October 2001, the General Prosecutor's office launched an immediate investigation into the death of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir member Ravshon Haitov. In January 2001, four policemen in Tashkent were convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison each in this murder-in-custody case.
In early May 2002, three NSS officers went on trial in a Tashkent military court for the November 2001 beating death of a suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir member in Fergana. Two of the officers, including the chief of the Margilon NSS branch, eventually were convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The third officer received a 4-year sentence. The Fergana Province Prosecutor announced that he was conducting an investigation into two more alleged murders by NSS officers.
The opposition political party Birlik reported on its website that a court in Fergana directly for the first time had answered allegations by defendants that they had been tortured. On April 26, 2002, the judge in the trial of 14 alleged Islamic radicals said that anyone guilty of torture would be brought before the courts.
In the fall of 2001, the authorities in Nukus registered the Nukus Full Gospel Church. According to church leaders, local authorities had objected to the presence on the membership roles of several ethnic Uzbeks in this predominantly ethnic-Korean church. The CRA has indicated that it is looking at ways to facilitate resolution of problems facing other Christian churches and has developed good working relations with minority religious leaders.
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 have emigrated because of bleak economic prospects and because of their connection to families abroad. 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.
Evangelical Christian churches and churches with ethnic Uzbeks on their roles often face difficulties, including in registering. This difficulty is often a reflection of societal attitudes. For example, an official of the Ministry of Justice office in a small provincial city refused to register an evangelical church. The official allegedly told the pastor's wife "We don't need your Russian god." The official then allegedly suggested that the woman should consider emigrating.
The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church in Central Asia complained vocally several times about foreign Christian organizations that conduct missionary activity in the country. He has claimed that this activity is destabilizing and can lead to conflict between Muslims and Christians.
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. President George Bush and the Secretary of State each met with the President during the period covered by this report and expressed the strong U.S. position on human rights, including its stance on freedom of religious expression. Both the President and the Secretary of State have noted positive developments in the human rights situation and linked continued progress in the human rights situation to the viability of a long-term close relationship with the U.S. and Government of Uzbekistan. Numerous other high U.S. Government officials, including many members of Congress, met with officials of the government and have reiterated this view. Visiting legislators repeatedly met with Uzbek human rights activists. The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met with local religious leaders, human rights activists and Uzbek officials to discuss specific issues of human rights and religious freedom. Officials in Washington met on several occasions with Uzbek embassy officials to convey U.S. concerns regarding the state of religious freedom.
The Embassy's human rights officer maintains regular contact with the CRA as well as religious leaders and human rights activists. The U.S. Embassy intervened on behalf of the Nukus Full Gospel Church and the Andijon Branch of the HRSU (which monitors arrests and trials of individuals accused of Islamic extremism). Embassy officials raised with the CRA the problems facing the Jehovah's Witnesses and other Christian groups. Embassy officials worked to facilitate the registration of a charitable Jewish organization that had experienced registration difficulties.
Embassy officials met with numerous Muslim clergymen and pressed the Government to take action against security forces implicated in the deaths of individuals arrested on suspicion of Islamic extremism. Embassy officials repeatedly urged the Government to allow conservative Muslims more freedom of religious expression. The U.S. Government believes that this is an essential element in preventing further radicalization of young Muslims.