There was no overall change in the status of religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Government continued its campaign against unauthorized Islamic groups suspected of extremist sentiments or activities. The Government arrested numerous alleged members of these groups and sentenced them to lengthy jail terms. Most of these were suspected members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a banned extremist Islamic political party. During the period covered by this report, the Government released 704 individuals as part of a large-scale amnesty. The number arrested continued to decline through the end of 2003; however, there was a reported increase in arrests in January and February, centered mostly in Tashkent City and Region. The Government took into custody several hundred individuals following a series of terrorist incidents in Bukhara and Tashkent in late March and early April; the overwhelming majority of detainees were identified as having belonged to Hizb ut-Tahrir or other so-called "Wahabbi" groups. Most of these were released after questioning, but an estimated 150 to 200 remained in detention at the end of the period covered by this report. In contrast with previous years, women who participated in demonstrations demanding the release of male relatives were not charged with criminal offenses. Several of these demonstrations were larger than in previous years; nevertheless, those who were detained were typically given an administrative fine and released quickly. A number of minority religious groups, including congregations of a variety of Christian confessions, had difficulty satisfying the strict registration requirements set out by the law. As in previous years, Protestant groups with ethnic Uzbek members reported operating in a climate of harassment and fear. A small, but growing number of "underground" mosques, such as those that were tolerated during the Soviet Union, operated under the close scrutiny of religious authorities and the security services.
The generally amicable relationship among religions contributed to religious freedom; however, ethnic Uzbek Christians continued to face harassment. This is particularly true for recent converts and for residents of smaller communities, who often face pressure from neighbors, family, and employers. Hizb ut‑Tahrir continued to circulate strongly anti-Semitic leaflets, the text of which often originates from sources outside the country; however, these views are not seen as representative of the sentiments of the vast majority of the population.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Embassy is actively engaged in monitoring religious freedom and maintains contact with government and religious leadersand human rights activists. The Embassy also sponsored exchange and educational programs designed to promote religious tolerance and to expand religious freedom. The programs include the 3-year University of Washington partnership program for Cultural and Comparative Religious Studies, the Cultural and Religious Pluralism in Uzbekistan and the United States program, and a Community Connection group on the topic of Islam in a Religiously Diverse United States.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has a total land area of 172,742 square miles and its population is estimated to be 26,410,416. There are no official statistics on membership in various faiths; however, it is estimated that 88 to 90 percent of the population are nominally Muslim. Less than 10 percent of the population is Russian Orthodox; this percentage is steadily declining as the number of ethnic Russians and other Slavs remaining in the country decreases. A growing number of Muslims and Russian Orthodox adherents actively practice their religion. Outside of Tashkent, Muslim believers may now outnumber nonbelievers. Since 1991, when the country gained independence from the Soviet Union, there has been a resurgence, particularly in the Fergana Valley and the country's southern provinces, of the Hanafi School of Sunni Islam. During the decades of Soviet rule, most persons did not practice religion openly; however, it remained an important cultural factor in the lives of many, particularly Muslims.
The remaining 3 percent of the population includes small communities of Korean Christians, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, Buddhists, Baha'is, and Hare Krishnas. In addition, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Ashkenazi and Bukharan Jews remain in the country, concentrated in the main cities of Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand. At least 80,000 others have emigrated to Israel or the United States since independence.
The law prohibits proselytizing, which tends to constrain the activities of foreign missionaries, particularly those who seek to minister among the country's Muslim population. In practice, many ignore this restriction. There is no significant immigrant community.
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 an indigenous, moderate version of Islam through the control and financing of the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan (the Muftiate), which in turn controls the Islamic hierarchy, the content of imams' sermons, and the volume and substance of published Islamic materials.
The 1998 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations 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 citizen members to the local branches of the Ministry of Justice. This provision enables the Government to ban any group by finding technical grounds for denying its registration petition. This has had the effect of suppressing the activities of those Muslims seeking to worship outside the system of state-sponsored mosques.
To register, groups also must report in their charter a valid legal address. Local officials on occasion have denied approval of a legal address to prevent religious groups from registering. The Ministry of Justice also has cited this requirement in explaining local officials' decisions. The Jehovahs' Witnesses Tashkent congregation has had its registration application denied on these grounds. Some groups, such as the Tashkent International Church, have been reluctant to invest in the purchase of a property without assurance that their registration would be approved. Others claim that local officials arbitrarily withhold approval of the addresses because they oppose the existence of Christian churches with ethnic Uzbek members.
The number of mosques has increased significantly from the approximately 80 permitted during the Soviet era, but has decreased from the more than 4,000 that opened after the country gained independence and before registration procedures were in place. New mosques, as well as those closed in the early 1990s, continue to face difficulties gaining registration.
Some Christian groups have applied for registration at local levels and were denied or never received an official answer during the period covered by this report, including the Greater Grace Christian Church of Samarkand, the International Church of Tashkent, the Mir (Peace) Presbyterian Church in Nukus, the United Church of Evangelical Christians/Baptists in Tashkent, the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Andijan,and Jehovah's Witnesses. Some churches, particularly evangelical churches with ethnic Uzbek members, do not apply for registration because they do not think 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 authorities by submitting a registration application that obviously does not meet legal requirements. There are a few groups that refuse on principle to seek registration because they challenge the Government's right to require registration.
As of January 1, the Government had registered 2,153 religious congregations and organizations, 1,965 of which were Muslim. This represents an increase of 34 since the period covered by the last report. The 188 registered minority religious groups include: 61 Korean Christian, 36 Russian Orthodox, 22 Pentecostal ("Full Gospel"), 24 Baptist, 11 Seventh-day Adventist, 7 Jewish, 6 Baha'i, 4 Lutheran, 4 "New Apostolic," 5 Roman Catholic, 2 Jehovah's Witnesses, 2 Krishna Consciousness groups, 1 Bible Society, 1 Temple of Buddha, 1 Christian "Voice of God" Church, and 1 Armenian Apostolic.
A December 11, 2003, Decree of the Cabinet of Ministers outlining new registration requirements for international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) could restrict the activities of international faith-based NGOs. Statements by government officials, as well as documents disseminated to the NGOs by the Ministry of Justice, indicate that the new requirements are intended, in part, to curtail the activities of international NGOs that proselytize as part of their charitable activities.
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 the private teaching of religious principles, and requires religious groups to obtain a license to publish or distribute materials. Article 14 of the law prohibits the wearing of "cult robes" in public places by all except "those serving in religious organizations." This provision does not appear to have been enforced during the period covered by this report.
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 centers training religious personnel.
These restrictions contravene most internationally recognized standards of religious freedom. In the summer of 2003, a panel of experts convened by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR), reviewed the 1998 Religion Law and associated criminal and civil statutes and concluded that they were in violation of international norms. The OSCE submitted a number of recommendations, including lifting the bans on proselytizing and private religious instruction and decriminalizing activities of unregistered religious organizations. The Government, through its Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), agreed to consider the ODHIR recommendations, but had taken no action to enact them by the end of the period covered by this report.
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 because they engaged in religious practices in violation of the registration laws. Ethnic Russians, Jews, and foreigners generally enjoy greater religious freedom than Muslim ethnic groups, particularly ethnic Uzbeks. Christian churches are for the most part tolerated as long as they do not attempt to win converts among ethnic Uzbeks. Ethnic Uzbek Christians are often secretive about their faith and sometimes do not attempt to register their organizations. Christian congregations of mixed ethnic background often face difficulties in registering or are reluctant to list their ethnic Uzbek members on registration lists for fear of incurring harassment by local officials.
The Government, for national security reasons, has conducted a repressive campaign against persons perceived as 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. Government workers, particularly teachers, generally feel less free to perform their religious responsibilities than do independent small traders.
The Criminal code formally distinguishes between "illegal" groups, which are those that are not registered properly, and "prohibited" groups, such as the Islamic political partyHizb ut-Tahrir and other groups branded under the general term "Wahhabi," 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 after being denied registration or ordered to disband. In addition, the code punishes any participation in such a group with up to 3 years in prison. The code also provides for penalties of up to 20 years in prison (if the crime results in "grave consequences") 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.
While supportive of moderate Muslims, the Government is intolerant of Islamic groups it perceives to be extremist. A small but growing number of unofficial, independent mosques are allowed to operate quietly under the watch of official imams.Some sources have claimed that imams of registered mosques are required to submit lists of individuals in their congregations who may have extremist tendencies. There have also been reports that in some areas, mahalla (neighborhood) committees and--in fewer instances--imams have come under pressure to provide names of persons who pray daily. Observers claim that this has led to a tendency on the part of some imams to submit names of unusually devout believers, who may have no extremist tendencies. There were credible reports that the heads of mahalla committees have told persons to say their daily prayers quietly at home to avoid being reported to the security services for unusual devotion. The Government controls the content of imams' sermons and the volume and substance of published Islamic materials.
The Government is determined to prevent the spread of the Party of Islamic Liberation (Hizb ut-Tahrir), an extremist organization founded in 1952 in Jordanian-administered East Jerusalem and headquartered in London. Although Hizb ut-Tahrir maintains that it is committed to non-violence, the political party's strongly anti-Semitic and anti-Western literature calls for secular governments, including Uzbekistan, to be replaced with a world-wide Islamic government called the Caliphate.
In the spring of 2002, President Islam Karimov reaffirmed on national television his intention to eradicate Hizb ut-Tahrir in the country. Following the terrorist attacks of March 28 through April 1, President Karimov again stressed the dangers posed by Hizb ut-Tahrir. Although the Government backed away from initial comments directly linking Hizb ut-Tahrir to the attacks, President Karimov and other members of the Government on several occasions repeated their view that the group's ideology fosters extremism and terrorism. Persons accused of involvement with the organization, which often involves nothing more than having attended one of its meetings or passing along banned Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets, continued to be subject to prison sentences of up to 15 years.
The Government is also determined to prevent the growth of other extremist Islamic organizations and of extremist forms of Islam that it broadly labels under the rubric of Wahhabism. The authorities appear to suspect that Muslims who meet privately to pray or study Islam are extremists. People accused of "Wahhabism" faced abuse ranging from job loss to long imprisonment.
Religious groups are prohibited from forming political parties and social movements.
The Government's harsh treatment of suspected religious extremists has generally suppressed outward expressions of religious piety. Although many young men attend Friday prayers, hardly any are bearded. It is impossible to say to what extent this is a personal choice and reflects the largely secular society or to what extent it is because the Government considers wearing a beard to be a sign of extremism.
Some mosques continue to have difficulty registering. The Panjera mosque in Navoi has been trying unsuccessfully for 6 years to register, as have several mosques in the southern and eastern Fergana Valley. The source of funding for these mosques is unknown. According to congregants, supporters of the Panjera mosque have submitted documents every year but have not received a response. Approximately 500 persons meet for prayer at the mosque on feast days. In March, several dozen residents of the Akhunbabayev District of Fergana held a public demonstration to protest local authorities' repeated refusal to register a locally funded village mosque, one of six in the area that have been denied registration. In April, a civil court in Fergana ruled in favor of a local activist advocating for the mosque's registration, arguing that the district authorities had unlawfully impeded the mosque's application. The mosque has since opened.
Local authorities have continued to block the registration of evangelical Christian congregations, particularly those that attempt to minister to ethnic Uzbeks. The Peace Church in Nukus, Karakalpakstan, which was stripped of its registration in 2000, has been unable to reregister, as have the Hushhabbar ("Good News") Church in Guliston, the Pentecostal Resurrection Church in Andijan, and the Baptist Church in Gazalkent. Church leaders report that officials cite a multitude of reasons for refusing to register them, ranging from claims of falsified congregation lists, to problems certifying addresses, to improper certification by fire inspectors. Congregants of a Protestant denomination in Chirchick, Tashkent Oblast reported that the local Ministry of Justice denied their church's registration application because of "grammatical errors." All of these churches have ethnic Uzbek members.
The International Church of Tashkent, a Protestant nondenominational church that ministers exclusively to Tashkent's international community, has been unable to obtain registration, despite several years of effort. The Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs Committee have signaled a willingness to assist the International Church, but note the law requires at least 100 congregants be citizens. The International Church meets regularly, without obstruction, but continues to experience difficulties renting a place of worship. As a result, the congregation continues to meet in a restaurant.
Baptist churches associated with the International Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, a denomination that rejects registration on principle, continue to come under pressure from local authorities. According to media accounts, the pastor of a small Baptist congregation in Angren, was summoned to the local prosecutor's office and asked for a list of church attendees. However when the U.S. Embassy followed up with the reporter and the Tashkent office of the International Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists could not provide further details or contact information for the pastor.
The Jehovah's Witnesses continue to focus their registration efforts on obtaining registration in Tashkent. The Tashkent City authorities have refused to sanction the address of the Jehovah's Witnesses' place of worship. Out of the 11 Jehovah's Witnesses' churches in the country, those in Chirchik and Fergana remained the only registered congregations. Many in the Government remain suspicious of the Jehovah's Witnesses, viewing it as an extremist group. Internal police training documents have listed the Jehovah's Witnesses, along with the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Hizb ut-Tahrir, as security threats. There are some signs that this attitude may be softening, as illustrated by the October 2003 decision to overturn the conviction of Marat Mudarisov. However, in general local officials and representatives of the religious establishment continue to express apprehension about the group's missionary activities.
Any religious service conducted by an unregistered religious organization is illegal. Police occasionally broke up meetings of unregistered evangelical congregations and detained their members. On August 15, 2003, authorities arrested five men and three women members of an unregistered Baptist Church in the village of Khalkabad in Namangan. The men were sentenced to 10 days' imprisonment for attending services in a private home and reportedly made to pay $8 (8,160 soum) to cover the costs of their time in jail. The women were fined $7 (6,770 soum). On August 24, 2003, police in Nukus raided the Peace Protestant Church, reportedly for the fourth time, and questioned the congregants. Two of the Church's leaders were fined the equivalent of $28 (27,300 soum) in September 2003 for holding illegal religious services. According to Forum 18, on September 7, 2003, police in Chirchik disrupted the Sunday services of the unregistered Friendship Protestant Church. On December 11, 2003, a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Zhuma was detained when found conducting a private religious gathering. Later that day, he was taken to court, found guilty, and sentenced to 3 days in jail. On March 9, police raided an unauthorized Protestant meeting involving citizens and South Korean missionaries outside Tashkent; the citizens were fined. In a separate incident on March 10, a criminal court fined six members of a Protestant church in Tashkent for holding unauthorized religious meetings in a private home.
Throughout the period covered by this report, members of Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested and fined for illegally teaching religion and proselytizing.
In May 2002, the Committee on Religious Affairs told 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 linked most closely to the majority Muslim population. This issue has not been fully resolved. The control over publication and distribution of religious literature has been used to restrict the distribution of Bibles in the Uzbek language; however, the CRA has made some concessions on publication and distribution of Uzbek-language Bibles.
The Government requires that the religious censor approve all religious literature; however, in practice a number of other government entities concerned with religion have a chance to suppress religious literature that they do not approve. 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 religious organizations from producing or importing Christian literature in the Uzbek language even though Bibles in many other languages are available in Tashkent bookstores. Religious literature imported illegally is subject to confiscation and destruction.
The CRA sporadically issues an updated list of all officially sanctioned Islamic literature. The list contains more than 200 titles. Bookstores are not allowed to sell Islamic literature that does not appear on the list; however, in practice Islamic bookstores in Tashkent sell dozens of titles not included on the list, including a small number of works in Arabic imported from abroad. 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 are prohibited categorically.
Baptists belonging to an unregistered congregation in Navoi claimed that on September 27, 2003, police confiscated religious books that the church had been distributing in a mobile library; members were fined. On February 14, according to press reports, police in Karakalpakstan confiscated religious literature from a Jehovah's Witness in Nukus. The Jehovah's Witnesses report that even their registered congregations in Chirchik and Fergana have been unable to import religious material. On January 4, the home of a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Dzhizak was searched and religious literature was confiscated. The police brought her to court; however, after the intervention of a local lawyer, the police withdrew the charges. Although the woman was not charged, the confiscated religious literature was not returned to her.
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. Jehovah's Witnesses have come under particular scrutiny. In three separate cases during the reporting period, Jehovah's Witnesses in Tashkent were convicted for proselytizing and given administrative fines. On December 20, 2003, two Jehovah's Witnesses in Karshi were arrested while preaching door-to-door. On January 23, their case was heard by an administrative judge, who ordered the prosecution to base its case on Article 240 of the Administrative Code, which enforces the ban on proselytizing, rather than Article 241, which governs religious teaching. The case has not yet been retried.
In the weeks immediately following the March-April terrorist attacks, Muslim women reported feeling widespread unease about wearing the hijab, particularly after law enforcement authorities circulated pictures of one of the alleged suicide bombers dressed in conservative Muslim attire. School administrators pressured female students not to wear the hijab. Following the bombings, there were reports from a credible source that some female students were suspended from Tashkent's Pedagogical University for wearing the hijab.
Religious instruction is limited by law to officially sanctioned religious schools and "state-certified" instructors. The law permits no private instruction and provides for fines upon violation. There are 10 madrassas (including 2 for women), which provide secondary education. In addition, the Islamic Institute in Tashkent provides university-level instruction. The curriculum in these facilities is oriented to those planning to become imams or religious teachers. There is no officially sanctioned religious instruction for those students who are simply interested in learning more about Islam. An increasing number of imams informally offer religious education; although this is technically illegal, local authorities are unlikely to take legal action. The Russian Orthodox Church operates two monasteries (one for women, one for men) and a seminary, and offers Sunday school education through many of its churches. Other faiths offer religious education through their religious centers.
The law prohibits the teaching of religious subjects in schools, the private teaching of religious principles, and the teaching of religion to minors without parental consent. On February 17, Vladimir Kushchevoy, a Jehovah's Witness resident in Samarkand, was sentenced to 3 years of corrective labor for providing unauthorized religious instruction. Kushchevoy's sentence was later reduced, following an appeal, to 1 year of probation. On November 27, 2003, the pastor of a registered Baptist church in Urgench was levied an administrative fine of $23 (22,000 soum) for allegedly conducting religious work among children without their parents' permission. The administrative court determined that the church's summer camps and children's club enticed children into the church without their parents' consent.
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 1990s, which followed an earlier Government effort to encourage a rebirth of Islam in post-Soviet Uzbekistan, resulted in numerous serious human rights abuses during the period covered by this report. The campaign was directed at three types of Muslims. The first included alleged Wahhabists, in particular those educated at madrassas abroad and followers of Imam Abduvali Mirzaev of Andijon, who disappeared in 1995, and Imam Abidkhan Nazarov of Tashkent, who is widely believed to have fled abroad in 1998 to avoid arrest. The second group includes those suspected of being involved in the 1999 Tashkent bombings or of being involved with the IMU, whose roots are in Namangan and is designated by the U.S. Government as an international terrorist organization. The third, and largest, group includes suspected members of the radical Islamic political party Hizb ut-Tahrir. The campaign resulted in the arrest of many observant Muslims who were not extremists. The campaign also resulted in allegations that hundreds, perhaps thousands, have been physically mistreated or tortured; dozens of these claims have been confirmed.
Following the terrorist attacks of March and early April, the Government took into custody several hundred persons, the overwhelming majority of whom were identified as having belonged to Hizb ut-Tahrir or various Wahabbi groups. The arrests were made for national security reasons, but in conducting its operations, the police and security services reportedly relied on a list of approximately 1,000 individuals who had been convicted of extremism and subsequently amnestied. The Government also took into custody relatives of persons currently in jail on charges of extremism. The majority of those taken into custody were released after questioning. Approximately 150 to 200 remained in custody, including a popular imam in Kashkadaria, Rustam Klichiyev. There have been some credible allegations of torture. Trials of the first terrorist suspects were expected to begin later in 2004.
Individuals arrested on suspicion of extremism often face particularly severe mistreatment in custody, including torture. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of individuals detained in connection with extremist activities dying as a result of beatings or torture. In March, Abdurrahman Narzaullayev, a convicted religious extremist serving a 16-year sentence in Karshi prison, died of a pulmonary infection after prison authorities allegedly attempted to break his hunger strike by force feeding him. Although specific information is difficult to obtain, human rights and other observers maintain that prisoners frequently die of diseases directly related to the conditions of their confinement. There were no developments in the investigation of the deaths of convicted Hizb ut-Tahrir members Orif Ershanov (May 2003) and Mirzakomil Avazov and Khusnuddin Olimov (August 2002).
In July and August 2003, international observers monitored at least two trials of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members in which witnesses and defendants stated that their testimonies had been elicited through torture. In neither case were these allegations of torture investigated by the presiding judge. All were convicted.
There were numerous credible reports that authorities in several prisons mistreated prisoners in connection with a series of demonstrations that took place during the month of Ramadan. According to relatives of prisoners and local human rights activists, well over 100 inmates jailed on charges of extremism staged hunger strikes and other protests in October 2003 to demand that prison authorities adjust labor and eating schedules to accommodate the Ramadan fast. The protests began in the Jaslyk prison in Karakalpakstan, but spread to penal facilities in Karshi, Zarafshan, and Navoi. In response to these demonstrations, several prisoners were reportedly beaten in Jaslyk, while in Karshi more than 100 Hizb ut-Tahrir prisoners were placed in punishment cells, where the heat was turned off and the prisoners made to sleep on the floor; many of these prisoners reportedly were beaten. Relatives of prisoners in Navoi report that inmates who participated in the protest actions were subject to additional reprisals in early March and April. Among those participating in these prison demonstrations was Abdurrahman Narzaullayev, whose death is mentioned above.
On May 16, Husnuddin Nazarov reportedly disappeared on the way to evening prayer services. His family alleged that members of the security services detained Nazarov. Husnuddin Nazarov is the eldest son of Imam Abidkhan Nazarov, an influential religious figure in Tashkent who was dismissed from his position at the Tokhtabay mosque in 1995; he also disappeared without reported notice to his family. Imam Nazarov's followers were principal targets of the Government's effort to end extremism.
The Government does not consider repression of persons suspected of extremism to be a matter of religious freedom, but instead to be directed against those who want to foment armed resistance to the Government. However, authorities are highly suspicious of those who are more religiously observant than is the norm, including frequent mosque attendees, bearded men, and veiled women. Reports suggest that law enforcement and national security officers actively monitor and report on mosque activities and those of worshippers.
There were fewer reports that evangelical Christians were beaten than in years past. According to a posting by the Internet reporting service Forum 18, a National Security Service (NSS) officer in Khorezm called in two members of an unregistered Baptist church and questioned them about their funding and foreign associations. According to Forum 18, one of the men summoned for questioning was hit several times. Local authorities in Khorezm strenuously denied the allegations.
Estimates from credible sources suggest that as many as 4,500 of the estimated 5,000 to 5,500 political prisoners being held in detention are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir. It is difficult to estimate precisely the number of persons arrested on charges of extremism. Most observers agree that arrests continued to decrease through the end of 2003. However, there appeared to have been a spike in arrests in the first 2 to 3 months of 2004, particularly in Tashkent City and Oblast. Overall the number of individuals taken into custody remained well below the highs from 1999 to 2001. Arrests continued through May in connection with the March-April terrorist attacks, with an estimated 150 to 200 in detention at the end of this reporting period.
As in previous years, a large percentage of those taken into custody on charges of extremism were arrested arbitrarily. Even in cases where individuals are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir or other extremist organizations, the authorities frequently failed to produce credible evidence that the individuals committed the acts for which they were arrested. Family members of individuals wanted in connection with Islamic political 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 is only by association.
Women continued to be detained for participating in or organizing demonstrations demanding the release of male relatives jailed on suspicion of Islamic extremism; however, unlike in past years, none were convicted for such activities. Most of those detained were simply driven home or released after a short period of time with an administrative fine. There were reports that police insulted or forced some of these women to remove their head coverings. Although the police generally did not arrest women simply for taking part in this type of demonstration, many MVD offices maintained a list of women who participated in protests, and detained many for questioning in the aftermath of the March-April bombings. Twenty-one women imprisoned for religious extremism, many of whom had participated in demonstrations in the past, were released under the 2003-2004 amnesty.
The police routinely planted narcotics, ammunition, and 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. According to an unconfirmed Forum 18 News Service report, on June 5, police and secret police raided the home of a Nukus Protestant warning that if she did not stop preaching Christianity she would have drugs planted on her and would be sentenced to prison.
Human rights activists have reported numerous cases of persons convicted of extremism who have been punished harshly for refusing to accept the moderate interpretations of Islam presented by imams visiting their prisons. There were also credible reports that prisoners who refused to sign letters renouncing what the authorities deemed religious extremism were beaten or put in isolation cells.
On August 8, 2003, the Chirchik City Court added 3 years to the sentence of Tolib Khaidarov for violating prison rules. Khaidarov complained that many of the alleged prison violations used to extend his sentence were false and that a prison administrator attempted to force him to write a confession letter. Khaidarov was originally imprisoned for anticonstitutional activities, Article 159, and belonging to an illegal religious organization, Article 216. He was due to be released under the terms of his sentence on July 17, 2003.
There were fewer reports during the period covered by this report that Christian evangelicals were detained. Nevertheless, such incidents did occur, including the arrest of eight Baptists in Namangan, held in prison for 10 days and made to pay $7 (6,440 soum), and the detention of two leaders of a Protestant church in Nukus. Even if they are not taken into custody, pastors who conduct unauthorized religious services still run the risk of arrest, which can have an effect on their activities. For example, Bakhtier Tuichiev,the pastor of a Full Gospel Pentecostal church in Andijan continued to face harassment from local officials. In January, local security service officers reportedly warned Tuichiev's mother that unless he halted church activities, a case would be brought against him for operating without registration.
Members of the Jehovah's Witnesses were also subjected to police questioning, searches, and administrative fines. On July 28 and 30, 2003, police questioned the family of a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Tashkent; on August 7, 2003, a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses was ordered to pay an administrative fine of $27 (27,000 soum) for holding an unauthorized religious service. Similar administrative penalties were levied against Jehovah's Witnesses in Tashkent on March 5 and March 31. On August 1, 2003 the NSS interrogated another member of the Jehovah's Witness in Tashkent for 3 hours about the Jehovah's Witnesses' membership and activities.
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.
Abuses by Terrorist Organizations
There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
In the first half of 2003, after years of banning his writings, the Government allowed former Mufti Muhammad Sodiq Muhammad Yusuf to publish 3 volumes of a projected 30-volume compendium of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (hadith). The former Mufti, a revered figure in the country, has also been permitted to host a popular radio program on Islam and to teach at the Islamic University. Muhammad Yusuf broke from the Government in 1993, insisting that its attempts to control the content of Islam were counterproductive and only fed extremism. He has argued that greater opportunities for religious education are the only hope for ensuring that the people have a proper understanding of Islam.
Authorities have allowed a small but growing number of unregistered mosques to reopen, both in cities and in the countryside. In addition unofficial imams began working, particularly in rural areas, under the close watch of religious officials. Some of these provide informal religious instruction, which, while technically illegal, is increasingly tolerated in some areas. Following the 1999 Tashkent bombings, most unregistered mosques were shut down. These mosques, many of which had been functioning underground throughout the Soviet period, served the spiritual needs of the people in ways that the large, registered mosques were often unable to do. The unregistered mosques first began to reopen in late 2001 and early 2002.
Following peaceful protests in the Akhunbabayev District of Fergana Province, a civil court in April ruled that local authorities had unlawfully impeded attempts to register a village mosque. Local residents and community activists who have advocated for the mosque for years cited the ruling as an important precedent.
On August 22, 2003, the Cabinet of Ministers issued a decree that made diplomas granted by madrassas equivalent to other diplomas, thus enabling graduates of those institutions to continue their education at the university level.
On January 6, the Religious Affairs Committee lifted all quotas on travel to Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage. Previously, a quasi-governmental board selected pilgrims in a process widely viewed as corrupt.
In March, the Government completed an amnesty of 704 political prisoners, the vast majority of whom were convicted of Islamic extremism. This followed an amnesty in 2002-2003 of 923 such prisoners, as well as the 2001 amnesty of 860.
On October 8, 2003, the Presidium of the Tashkent City Criminal Court overturned the conviction of Marat Mudarisov, a member of the unregistered Jehovah's Witnesses congregation in Tashkent. Mudarisov had been sentenced to a 3-year suspended sentence in 2002 for inciting religious hatred.
Imams of registered mosques continue to visit prisons, where they have met with prisoners convicted of extremism. While the effect of these visits has been undermined by the actions of prison authorities (prisoners who argue with the imams have reportedly been subject to severe mistreatment), the visits themselves are a welcome move. Imams have also met with amnestied prisoners convicted of extremism upon their return to their communities. Previously, no known attempts were made to persuade suspected extremists with religious instruction.
While some women reported feeling unease about wearing conservative Muslim attire following the March-April terrorist attacks, overall there continued to be increased tolerance for the use of head coverings by Muslim women. Over the period covered by this report, the hijab was seen more frequently in Tashkent's Old City and the more religiously conservative parts of the Fergana Valley and the southern provinces of Kashkadaria and Surkhondaria. There were reports that at least one university began readmitting women who were expelled in 1997 and 1998 for wearing the hijab; however, this trend was countered by reports that, following the March-April terrorist bombings, another university expelled some women for wearing the hijab. The Religious Affairs Committee has taken the position that women should not be barred from educational institutions on the basis of their religious dress and has actively assisted some women who had been previously expelled gain readmission to their universities. During the period covered by this report, it was more common to see women wearing the hijab and, less frequently, the veil on the street. Older men wearing prayer robes are not an uncommon sight.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
There are amicable relations among the various religious communities.
There was no pattern of discrimination against Jewish persons. Synagogues function openly; Hebrew education, Jewish cultural events, and the publication of a community newspaper take place undisturbed. Many Jews have emigrated to the United States and Israel, but this is most likely because of bleak economic prospects and because of their connection to families abroad, rather than anti-Jewish sentiment. Anti-Semitic fliers signed by Hizb ut-Tahrir have been distributed throughout the country; however, these views were not representative of the feelings of the vast majority of the population.
Christians were generally well tolerated, provided they did not actively proselytize. There were reports of discrimination against Muslims who converted to Christianity. Difficulties that evangelical Christian churches and churches with ethnic Uzbeks face often reflect of societal attitudes. The Government has increasingly expressed concern that Christian evangelicals will inflame social tensions by proselytizing among ethnic Uzbeks and has attempted to limit such organizations' activities.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Embassy actively engages in monitoring religious freedom issues and maintains contact with government and religious leaders and human rights advocates. Members of Congress and other high-level legislative and executive branch officials met with Uzbek officials abroad andin the countryduring the period covered by this report and expressed strong concern on human rights, including the U.S. stance on freedom of religious expression.
The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met with local religious leaders, human rights activists, and country officials to discuss specific issues of human rights and religious freedom. Officials in Washington met on several occasions with embassy officials of the country to convey U.S. concerns regarding religious freedom. U.S. officials traveled around the country meeting with religious leaders and groups as well as with government officials. Embassy officials maintain regular contact with the CRA, as well as with religious leaders and human rights activists.
When the U.S. Embassy received information concerning difficulties faced by religious groups, it intervened on their behalf, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Greater Grace Church in Samarkand, the Hushhabbar Church in Guliston, a Catholic Church in Urgench, the Jehovah's Witnesses in Tashkent and Fergana, a Pentecostal church in Andijan, an international nondenominational church in Tashkent, and several faith-based foreign aid organizations.
Embassy officials met with numerous Muslim clergymen and pressed the Government to take action against security force members implicated in the torture of individuals arrested on suspicion of Islamic extremism. Embassy officials repeatedly urged the Government to allow more freedom of religious expression and to allow more mosques to be registered. U.S. officials, both in Washington and in Tashkent, have encouraged the Government to revise its laws on religion, including repealing the ban on proselytizing, lifting restrictions on the import and publication of religious literature, and eliminating legal provisions prohibiting the private teaching of religion, which the U.S. Government believes is an essential element for preventing further radicalization of young Muslims.
The U.S. sponsors exchange and educational programs that are specifically designed to promote religious tolerance and to expand religious freedom. The Community Connections project, a program conducted in cooperation with the International Research and Exchange (IREX), has brought local Islamic leaders to the U.S., exposing them to the diversity of religious practice in the United States. A 3-year Comparative Religious Studies Program, funded by the Embassy and managed by the University of Washington, provides for exchange of experts and professors from five local universities. One of the major goals of the project is the development of school curricula that fosters religious tolerance. In all of these programs, the central premise is that religious tolerance and political security do not conflict, but rather are complementary goals.