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Kyrgyz Republic

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion, the right to practice or not practice a religion, individually or jointly with other persons, and the right to refuse to express one’s religious views. It bans actions inciting religious hatred.

The constitution establishes the separation of religion and state. It prohibits the establishment of religiously based political parties and the pursuit of political goals by religious groups. The constitution prohibits the establishment of any religion as a state or mandatory religion.

The law states all religions and religious groups are equal. It prohibits the involvement of minors in organized, proselytizing religious groups, “insistent attempts to convert followers of one religion to another (proselytism),” and, “illegal missionary activity,” defined as missionary activity of groups not registered with the State Commission on Religious Affairs (SCRA).

The law requires all religious groups, and religiously affiliated schools, to register with the SCRA, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the law’s provisions on religion. The law prohibits activity by unregistered religious groups. Groups applying for registration must submit an application form, organizational charter, minutes of an institutional meeting, and a list of founding members to the SCRA for review. Each congregation of a religious group must register separately and must have at least 200 founding resident citizens. Foreign religious organizations are required to renew their registration with the SCRA annually.

The SCRA is legally authorized to deny the registration of a religious group if it does not comply with the law or is considered a threat to national security, social stability, interethnic and interdenominational harmony, public order, health, or morality. The SCRA may also deny or postpone the certification of a particular religious group if it deems the proposed activities of the group are not religious in character. Denied applicants may reapply or may appeal to the courts. Unregistered religious groups are prohibited from actions such as renting space and holding religious services. Violations may result in an administrative fine of 500 soms ($7).

After the SCRA has approved a group’s registration as a religious entity, the group must register with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to obtain status as a legal entity so it may own property, open bank accounts, and otherwise engage in contractual activities. The organization must submit an application to the MOJ, which includes a group charter with an administrative structure and a list of board and founding members. If a religious group engages in a commercial activity, it is required to pay taxes. By law, religious groups are designated as nonprofit organizations exempt from taxes on their religious activities.

The law gives the SCRA authority to ban a religious group as long as the SCRA delivers written notice to the group stating it is not in compliance with the law. The group may appeal the decision in the courts.

The law prohibits religious groups from “involvement in organizational activities aimed at inciting ethnic, racial, or religious hatred.” A conviction for inciting ethnic, racial or religious hatred may lead to a prison term of three to eight years while a conviction for creating an organization aimed at inciting ethnic, racial or religious hatred may lead to a term of five to 10 years. Murder committed on the grounds of religious hatred is punishable by life imprisonment.

In April President Atambaev signed into law a measure mandating separate prison facilities for prisoners convicted of “terrorism” and “extremism.” In August he signed into law a measure stripping the citizenship of any Kyrgyz national convicted of terrorism or extremism.

According to the law, only individuals representing registered religious organizations may conduct missionary activity. If a foreign missionary represents an organization approved by the SCRA, the individual foreign missionary must apply for a visa with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Visas are valid for up to one year and a missionary is allowed to work three consecutive years in the country. All religious foreign entities, including missionaries, must operate within these restrictions and must reregister annually. Representatives of religious groups acting inconsistently with the law may be fined or deported. Violations of the law may result in fines in the amount of 1000 soms ($14), and deportation in the case of foreign missionaries.

The law provides for the right of religious groups to produce, import, export, and distribute religious literature and materials in accordance with established procedures, which include examination by state “experts.” The law does not define the criteria for religious expert. The law prohibits the distribution of religious literature and materials in public locations or in visits to individual households, schools, and other institutions. The law specifies fines based on the nature of the violations.

The law allows public secular schools an option to offer religion courses which discuss the history and character of religions as long as the subject of such teaching is not religious doctrine and does not promote any particular religion. Private religious schools need to register with SCRA to operate as such.

According to the law, religion is grounds for conscientious objection to and exemption from military service. Conscientious objectors must pay a fee of 18,000 soms ($260) to opt out of military service. Draft-eligible males must pay the fee before turning 27 years of age. Failure to pay by the age limit will require the person to perform 240 hours of community service or a fine of up to 20,000 soms ($289). Draft-eligible men who evade military service and do not fall under an exemption are subject to a fine or imprisonment of up to two years. There is no option to perform alternative service.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The authorities maintained bans on approximately 20 “religiously oriented” groups they considered to be extremist and arrested hundreds of individuals they accused of participating in “extremist” incidents. One suspect in the attempted murder of the director of a religious center had his sentence reduced on appeal from life to 20 years imprisonment. Three individuals previously convicted of religious extremism were sentenced to life imprisonment following criminal acts during a highly publicized prison break which occurred in 2015. The authorities opened a criminal case against one of the police officers accused of attacking participants in a 2015 Jehovah’s Witnesses gathering, while they unsuccessfully appealed the acquittal of the leader of the Jehovah’s Witness service for illegal religious activity. Minority religious groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, continued to face difficulties in registering, but some unregistered groups said they continued to be able to hold religious services without government interference. The defeat of a bill in parliament to amend the labor code by extending Friday lunch breaks to accommodate Muslim prayers was followed by public statements by the ex- grand mufti, criticizing government officials for opposing the bill, and statements by government officials saying the actions of the ex-grand mufti violated the secular nature of the state.

The government continued to maintain bans on approximately 20 “religiously oriented” groups it considered to be extremist, including al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, the Kurdish Peoples’ Congress, the Organization for the Release of Eastern Turkistan, Hizb ut- Tahrir (HT), the Union of Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Party of Turkistan, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church; Mun San Men Church), Takfir Jihadist, Jaysh al-Mahdi, Jund al-Khilafah, Ansarullah, At-Takfir Val Hidjra, Akromiya, ISIS, Djabhat An Nusra, Katibat al-Imam al-Buhari, Jannat Oshiqlari, and the Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. Authorities also continued the ban on all materials or activities connected to A.A. Tihomirov aka Said Buryatsky.

Law enforcement authorities stated they had recorded 441 extremist incidents for the year. They opened criminal cases for 180 of these events and arrested 418 people. In comparison, there were 360 extremist incidents recorded in 2015, for which132 people were convicted of extremism and terrorism and 278 people were arrested. The Vice-Chairman of the Kyrgyz State Penitentiary Service stated as of March there were approximately 200 individuals accused of affiliation with extremist or terrorist organizations who continued to serve prison sentences.

In June a Bishkek court sentenced Tilek Uulu Alibek to life in prison for attempted murder in the November 2015 attack on Kadyr Malikov, Director of the Religion, Law, and Politics Analytical Center. In August an appeals court reduced Tilek Uulu’s sentence to 20 years, the maximum under the law for attempted murder. Tilek Uulu had left the country shortly after the attack, reaching Turkey at the end of November 2015. Turkey extradited him in March. His suspected accomplice, Yryskul Beishenaliyev remained in Turkey, continuing to fight extradition.

In June three Muslims previously convicted of extremism were sentenced to life imprisonment following their escape in a highly publicized prison break and manhunt in October 2015, which had resulted in the deaths of several prison guards. A man and woman convicted of providing shelter to the escapees were sentenced to four years’ imprisonment and a four-year suspended sentence, respectively.

In July the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a criminal case against one of the police officers accused of attacking participants in an August 2015 Jehovah’s Witness gathering in Osh following an appeal from the Jehovah’s Witnesses to do so. The Prosecutor General’s Office referred the case to the Osh city prosecutor, who had declined to initiate criminal proceedings immediately after the attack, citing a “lack of facts and circumstances” to support a case against the officers. Subsequent to the opening of the case in July, lawyers for the Jehovah’s Witnesses asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to recuse the Osh city prosecutor’s office and to have the criminal case handled in the capital city of Bishkek. In August the Prosecutor General’s office informed the lawyers the case had been transferred to the Osh Regional Prosecutor for investigation, but as of the end of the year there was no report of further developments.

In March the Supreme Court rejected efforts by the Osh Prosecutor to re-open a case against Nurlan Usupbaev, the leader of the 2015 Jehovah’s Witness gathering in Osh. Police had charged Usupbaev with “illegal religious activity” and had reportedly beaten him. The Supreme Court’s decision upheld Usupbaev’s previous acquittal of the charge of “illegal religious activity.” The Supreme Court stated the prosecutor had failed to adhere to the procedural deadline for contesting the lower court’s decision acquitting Usupbaev.

In April the Supreme Court revised its February ruling granting an appeal filed by the Osh City prosecutor contesting the acquittal of two Jehovah’s Witnesses, a mother and daughter, of alleged criminal activities while sharing their faith with others in 2013. A new trial had been scheduled for April 25, but lawyers for the two women successfully argued the three year statute of limitations had passed and the court agreed their acquittal should stand. According to the NGO Forum18, in 2014 the original trial court, in acquitting the two women, stated they had been targeted by the Osh Department of Internal Affairs and Osh City Prosecutor’s office solely because of their religion.

As of June, the most recent date for which statistics were available, authorities had “registered” 4,154 people as “adherents of extremist views.” In 2015, authorities registered 1,866 “adherents of extremist views” in the country and of these they classified 1,361 as adherents of HT. The Ministry of Interior reported there were approximately 200 adherents of HT in Bishkek. Registration meant the police picked up potential suspects for questioning in advance of a possible decision to arrest them. Police continued to register people as extremists without a subsequent arrest, and to keep their names in police files.

MOI data continued to show 62 percent of adherents of extremist views were residents of the south, where most of the religiously active members of the ethnic Uzbek community resided, and 74 percent of crimes of an extremist nature occurred in the south. HT adherents reportedly continued to be mostly active in the south, where 70 percent of the arrests of HT adherents occurred. The authorities also observed continued HT activity in Talas and Chui Provinces. Of the total number of registered adherents of designated religious extremist organizations, the government continued to estimate approximately 23 percent were women.

In February the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to overturn the SCRA’s refusal to register communities in Osh, Naryn, Jalal-abad, and Batken. Representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses stated the refusal to register them was in contravention to a 2014 Supreme Court Constitutional Chamber decision declaring unconstitutional the section of the religion law regarding registration requirements. Jehovah’s Witness leaders reported authorities continued to deny registration to groups if they did not have 200 founding resident citizens in each region. The church leaders continued to assert the SCRA’s policy continued to create difficulties for them because without the required minimum number of members, groups could not register, and without registration they could not meet and recruit members to fulfill the minimum registration requirement. The lawyer representing the church stated the SCRA had refused the application, “by arguing that although Article 10(2) of the Religion Law had been declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Chamber, Parliament had not yet amended the Law.”

Although the government continued not to list the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as a banned organization, the Ahmadiyya Community in the U.S. reported the SCRA continued to deny it re-registration. A U.S. representative of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community confirmed the Community still had not obtained registration. The Ahmadiyya community initially had registered in 2002, but the SCRA had declined to renew its re-registration since 2012.

Religious groups continued to report the SCRA registration process was cumbersome, taking anywhere from a month to several years to complete. Unregistered groups continued to report they were able to hold regular religious services without government interference, especially if they had been registered in the past and their annual application for re-registration was pending. According to Forum 18, Protestant pastors stated there were many new churches in the country which would like to register, but did not have the 200 founders required for registration.

As of the end of the year, the registered religious groups and organizations reported by the authorities included 2,743 mosques;10 Islamic higher educational institutions; 89 madrassas; 74 Muslim foundations, centers and unions; 380 Christian organizations and unions; 51 Russian Orthodox churches; four Catholic communities; 50 Baptist communities; 31 Seventh-day Adventist churches; 56 Pentecost communities; 20 Lutheran communities; 38 Presbyterian communities; 43 Charismatic communities; 26 foreign Protestant organizations; 18 non-denominational Protestant organizations; one Jewish community; one Buddhist community; and 12 Bahai Faith communities.

In June the parliament considered a bill amending the labor code to extend Friday lunch breaks for up to two hours to accommodate Muslim prayer rituals. Proponents of the bill included the country’s Islamic leaders, including ex-Grand Mufti Chubak Ajy Jalilov. When parliament declined to pass the draft bill on the grounds it was unnecessary because the labor code did not prohibit employers from offering an accommodation of a longer lunch hour for those who requested it, Jalilov posted a video message on his Facebook page criticizing members of parliament who opposed the adoption of the bill. Then-director of the State Committee on Religious Affairs, Orozbek Moldaliev, then told the media Jalilov had breached the constitution by calling those who did not pass the law “kafirs” (unbelievers). Moldaliev said Jalilov had “violated the secular system.” On June 9, the State Committee on National Security issued an official warning to Jalilov about the unacceptability of extremist statements. The following day, President Atambayev met with opponents of the draft bill, stating publicly “religious activists should never be allowed to interfere in politics. They attempt to violate the constitutional principle of the secular system of the state.”

The government did not provide religious materials to prisoners charged with affiliation with banned religious groups, according to NGOs, but the government allowed them to practice their religion and conduct prayers in prison. There continued to be no specific procedure for hiring or evaluating the experts performing the examination of religious literature which groups wanted to distribute. According to religious studies academics, SCRA employees or religious scholars with whom the agency contracted continued to be chosen serve as the experts. Attorneys for religious groups continued to say the experts chosen by the SCRA were biased in favor of prosecutors, and were not formal experts under the criminal procedure code.

In March the Bishkek Interdistrict Court rejected a suit filed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses after permission to import the November 2015 issue of its journal Awake! was denied by the SCRA. The court stated it was not competent to overrule the evaluation done by the SCRA.

According to representatives of religious groups, refusal either to serve or to pay a fee to opt out of military service continued to subject a conscientious objector to hardship because military service continued to be a prerequisite for employment in the government and with many private employers.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the country a secular state and religious associations shall be separate from the state and “shall not interfere in state affairs.” According to the constitution, everyone has the right individually or jointly to adhere to any religion or to adhere to no religion, and to take part in religious customs and ceremonies.

The law prohibits provoking religious-based hatred, enmity, or conflict, as well as humiliating and harming the religious sentiments of other citizens.

The law defines extremism as the activities of individuals and organizations aimed at destabilization, subverting the constitutional order, or seizing power. This definition includes inciting religious and other forms of hatred.

The law recognizes the “special status” of Sunni Islam’s Hanafi school of jurisprudence with respect to the country’s culture and spiritual life.

The law defines any group of people who join together for religious purposes as a religious association. These associations are formed for the aim of “conducting joint religious worship” and are subdivided into religious organizations and religious communities. In order to operate legally, religious associations and organizations are required to register with the government, a process overseen by the CRA.

In order to register a religious organization, a group of at least 10 persons over the age of 18 must first obtain a certificate from the local authorities confirming that adherents of their religious faith have lived in the local area for at least five years. The group must then submit to the CRA proof of the citizenship of its founders, along with the home address and date of birth of each. The group must also provide an account of its beliefs and religious practices and describe its attitudes related to education, family, and marriage, and provide documentation on the health of its adherents. As part of its submission, a religious group must list its “national religious centers, central cathedral mosques (facilities built for Friday prayers), central jamoatkhona (prayer places), religious educational institutions, churches, synagogues, and other forms not contradicting the law.” The group must specify in its charter the activities it plans to undertake, and, once registered as a religious organization, must report annually on its activities or face deregistration.

Religious communities include cathedral mosques and mosques where prayers are recited five times per day. These communities are required to register both locally and nationally, and must be registered “without the formation of a legal personality.” Religious communities must adhere to the “essence and limits of activity” set out in their charters.

The law provides penalties for religious associations which engage in activities contrary to the purposes and objectives set out in their charter, and assigns responsibility to the CRA for handing down fines for such offenses. The law imposes fines for violating its provisions on organizing and conducting religious activities; providing religious education without permission; performing prayers, religious rites, and ceremonies in undesignated places; and performing activities beyond the purposes and objectives defined by the charter of the religious association. Individuals are subject to fines of 280 to 400 somoni ($36-$51) for these offenses, heads of religious associations are fined 800 to 1,200 somoni ($103-$154), and registered religious associations, as legal entities themselves, are subject to fines of 4,000 to 8,000 somoni ($513-$1,026). For offenses committed repeatedly within a year after the original offense, fines are increased to 480 to 800 somoni ($62-$103) for individuals, 1,600 to 2,000 somoni ($205-$256) for heads of religious associations, and 12,000 to 16,000 somoni ($1,538-$2,051) for the registered religious associations.

If a religious association conducts activities without obtaining registration or reregistration, local authorities may force a place of worship to close, and fine each member from 280-400 somoni ($36-$51) for first time individual offenders, 800-1,200 somoni ($103-$154) for religious association leaders, and 4,000-8,000 somoni ($513-$1,026) for the unregistered religious association as an entity. In case of repetition of the same offense within one year, the authorities may levy fines of 480-800 somoni ($62-$103) for repeat individual offenders, 1,600-2,000 somoni ($205-$256) for religious association leaders, and 12,000-16,000 somoni ($1,538-$2,051) for the religious associations themselves.

The CRA is the government body primarily responsible for overseeing and implementing all provisions of the law pertaining to religion. The Center for Islamic Studies, under the president’s executive office, helps formulate the government’s policy toward religion.

The law restricts Islamic prayer to four locations: mosques, cemeteries, homes, and shrines. The law regulates registration, size, and location of mosques, limiting the number of mosques which may be registered within a given population area. “Friday” mosques, which conduct larger Friday prayers as well as prayers five times per day, are allowed in districts with populations of 10,000 to 20,000 persons; “five-time” mosques, which conduct only daily prayers five times per day, are allowed in areas with populations of 100 to 10,000. In Dushanbe, Friday mosques are allowed in areas with 30,000 to 50,000 persons, and five-time mosques are allowed in areas with populations of 1,000 to 5,000. The law allows one “central Friday mosque” per district or city, and makes other mosques subordinate to it.

Mosques function on the basis of their self-designed charters in buildings constructed by government approved religious organizations or by individual citizens, or with the assistance of the general population. The law states the selection of imam-khatibs and imams shall take place in coordination with “the appropriate state body in charge of religious affairs” (i.e., the CRA must approve the imam-khatibs and imams elected by the founders of each mosque). The CRA regulates and formulates the content of Friday sermons.

The law regulates private celebrations, including weddings, funeral services, and celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. The law limits the number of guests and controls ceremonial gift presentations and other rituals. The law states mass worship, religious traditions, and ceremonies shall be carried out according to the procedures for holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, and peaceful processions prescribed elsewhere in the law.

The law prohibits children under 18 years of age from participating in “public religious activities,” including attending worship services at public places of worship. Children are allowed to attend religious funerals and to practice religion at home, under parental guidance. The law allows children to participate in religious activities as part of specific educational programs at authorized religious institutions.

The law allows registered religious organizations to produce, export, import, and distribute an unspecified amount of religious literature with the advance consent of the appropriate state authorities. Only registered religious organizations are entitled to establish enterprises to produce literature and material with religious content. Such literature and material must indicate the full name of the religious organization producing it. The law allows the government authorities to levy fines for the production, export, import, sale, or distribution of religious literature without permission from the CRA. According to the law, violators are subject to fines of up to 2,800 somoni ($359) for individuals, 6,000 somoni ($769) for government officials (who distribute or produce literature without permission), and 12,000 somoni ($1,538) for legal entities, a category including organizations of any kind as well as registered religious associations.

The law requires all institutions or groups wishing to provide religious instruction to obtain permission from the CRA. Central district mosques may operate madrassahs, which are open only to high school graduates. Other mosques, if registered with the government, may provide part-time religious instruction for younger students.

With written parental consent, the law allows minors between the ages of seven and 18 to obtain religious instruction provided by a registered religious organization outside of mandatory school hours. According to the law, this kind of extracurricular religious education may not duplicate religious instruction already part of the school curriculum. The CRA is responsible for monitoring mosques throughout the country to ensure implementation of these provisions.

Parents may teach religion to their children at home, provided the child expresses a desire to learn. The law forbids religious instruction at home to individuals outside the immediate family. The law maintains restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, and for establishing ties with religious organizations abroad without CRA consent. To be eligible to study religion abroad, students must complete a higher education degree domestically and be enrolled at a university accredited in the country in which it operates. The law provides for fines of 2,000 to 4,000 somoni ($256 to $513) for violating these restrictions.

In a May 22 constitutional referendum, voters approved a package of 40 proposed amendments, including one banning the creation of political parties based on religion. As a result of the referendum, the constitution now prohibits political parties of “a religious nature.”

The constitution prohibits “propaganda and agitation” encouraging religious enmity.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The government continued to take measures to prevent individuals from joining or participating in what it considered to be “extremist” organizations. The government arrested or detained over 100 persons as “extremists,” primarily individuals it suspected of supporting Salafi ideas. NGOs stated authorities continued to refuse to register religious groups on technical or administrative grounds and without registration, groups risked criminal or civil penalties for operating. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and the country’s sole Jewish synagogue remained unregistered. Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce the fatwa prohibiting women from praying at mosques. Human rights activists asserted that authorities sought to “establish total control of Muslim activity” in the country. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) continued to conduct video surveillance of mosques in Dushanbe, stating its focus was on individuals who attended multiple mosques as most likely to spread “radical ideology.” Authorities continued to shut down “illegal” prayer rooms and mosques around the country. Officials stated 29 religious associations had voluntarily terminated their activities during the year after notification their mosques were surplus to the number officially allocated to their locations. During a meeting with local imam-khatibs, the chief of the Department of Internal Affairs in Sughd Region stated his department had warned 138 mullahs for providing “illegal” religious education to young people. The CRA told the media it planned to organize refresher courses for imam-khatibs to educate them on the “behavior of potential extremists.” NGOs reported the authorities continued to harass women wearing hijabs, as well as men with beards, and continued to conduct raids to shut down shops selling such “nontraditional” Tajik clothing. Government officials issued statements discouraging women from wearing nontraditional clothing. The Ministry of Education announced the introduction of a new course on the history of religion in public schools.

The government continued to arrest and detain individuals whom it suspected of membership in or support for any of the groups on its list of groups banned as extremist. Those groups included Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, Jamaat Tabligh, Islamic Group (Islamic Community of Pakistan), Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, Islamic Party of Turkestan (former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – IMU), Lashkar-e-Tayba, Tojikistoni Ozod, Sozmoni Tablighot, Salafiya, Jamaat Ansarullah, Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), and Group 24.

On July 20, the Acting Chief of the Sughd Regional Department of Religious Affairs, Suhrob Rustamzoda, told media the authorities in the first half of the year had detained nine imam-khatibs and sentenced them to various terms of imprisonment in Sughd Region for membership in the banned Salafi movement. As of the end of the year, no updated figures were available.

In two separate cases in February, the Khujand City Court sentenced 14 residents of Sughd Region to prison terms for disseminating Salafi ideas. In the first case, authorities charged the 11 defendants with organizing extremist activity and participating in a banned extremist movement, and the court handed down sentences ranging from three years and two months to five years and six months. In the second case, the three defendants pled guilty to spreading Salafi ideas after joining a Salafi group in 2004. The court sentenced each of them to three years in prison.

In March local authorities in the Jaloliddin Balkhi District told the media they had detained 25 alleged Salafists from different villages and settlements of the district. Some of the individuals were reportedly detained following complaints by imams from local mosques.

In April and again in July Dushanbe’s Ismoili Somoni District Court convicted four individuals for membership in the Salafi movement. According to the court’s website, in the first case the court sentenced Romish Boboev to 16 years imprisonment, Otabek Azimov to 14 years imprisonment, and Abdurahmon Ismoilov and Khurshed Suvanov to three years imprisonment each. In the second case, the court sentenced Muhammadi Rahmatulloh to eight years imprisonment for “organizing an extremist community.”

In August during a working meeting at the Khujand mayor’s office, the Chief of the Interior Ministry’s office in Khujand, Colonel Emin Jalilov, announced the authorities had detained 30 residents of Khujand over the first seven months of the year for membership in various extremist and terrorist parties and movements. According to Jalilov, the authorities had previously “registered” (placed on a list of alleged extremists maintained by the government) 245 members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir group and 226 members of the Salafi group in Khujand. He said the authorities had jailed the majority of them, although he did not specify when this had occurred. As of the end of the year, no updated figures were available.

In May the authorities arrested five imam-khatibs of mosques in the northern Konibodom District, all reputedly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, on suspicion of spreading extremist propaganda, and for allegedly calling upon young people to go fight in Syria.

On June 7, in a closed trial, the Bobojon Ghafurov District Court convicted seven mosque imams from the northern Sughd region on charges of extremism based on their membership in the Muslim Brotherhood and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from three years to three years and four months. All the imams reportedly were graduates of the Islamic University of Medina, Saudi Arabia, where, investigators said, the men were recruited into the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1990s.

In September the media reported police had arrested five imams from the Sughd region for promoting extremist ideas and recruiting young people to join Islamist militant groups abroad. On December 19, the media reported a total of approximately 20 imam-khatibs from the Sughd region had been given prison sentences of varying lengths for involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood in closed trials held during the year.

On July 4, the national TV channel Tojikiston broadcast a report sourced to the Ministry of Internal Affairs on Orifjon Ergashev, the former Imam-khatib of the Taqvo mosque in Khujand, who allegedly had voluntarily surrendered to police and confessed his membership in the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the report, Ergashev reportedly said he had joined the Muslim Brotherhood while studying abroad from 1993 to 2001 and regularly received payments from the group. During almost 15 years as a teacher at the Khujand madrassah, he had allegedly engaged in promoting Muslim Brotherhood ideas among parishioners.

On August 8, the Dushanbe Court convicted 18 residents of Roghun District on charges of religious extremism, without specifying the nature of the religious acts they had undertaken, but also for allegedly issuing public calls for the forcible overthrow of the country’s constitutional order. The 18 convicted included two local imams. The group was sentenced to prison terms ranging from three years and six months to 10 years.

On January 28, the Chief of the Department of Internal Affairs in Sughd Region, Sharif Nazarzoda, told the media police in 2015 had arrested approximately 110 members of different extremist and terrorist groups in the region, including 36 members of Salafi groups, 34 members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, 20 members of Ansarrullah, seven members of Jindullah, five members of the IRPT, four members of ISIS, and two of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

On February 22, media reported police had detained two merchants from Korvon Bazaar because they wore beards. In a February 23 statement, the Ministry of Internal Affairs denied the authorities had detained the two merchants because of their beards and stated the individuals had been detained on suspicion of involvement in terrorist and extremist movements intending to destabilize the political situation in the country.

On May 26, the Isfara City Court sentenced Oqil Sharifov to one year in prison after he filmed police in a local market detaining two women wearing hijabs. Sharifov was convicted on charges of inciting ethnic, racial, regional, or religious enmity.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported a case in which police raided a peaceful gathering and temporarily detained all the participants, including women and children. Some of the detainees were beaten and one was reportedly tasered and knocked unconscious.

The CRA reportedly continued to send out guidance to imam-khatibs on the content of Friday sermons. In some cases, there were reports of the CRA sending out the text of sermons for imam-khatibs to deliver.

On several occasions, NGOs reported authorities refused to register religious groups on technical or administrative grounds. Without registration, the NGOs said, the groups continued to risk criminal or civil penalties for operating. Domestic and international NGOs stated both registered and unregistered religious organizations continued to be subject to police raids, surveillance, and forced closures.

Representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported ongoing difficulties with the government and stated the government remained unwilling to register the group. The group said it continued to face harassment as a result of its lack of registration.

The country’s sole synagogue remained unregistered, reportedly because the emigration of many Jews from the country meant the Jewish community continued to have too few members to meet the registration requirements.

According to statements made to the press by the CRA’s top officials, there were 4,089 religious associations registered in the country, 72 of which were non-Muslim religious associations, and one of which was a non-Muslim religious community. The CRA did not report whether the number of registered associations included any newly approved during the year, nor did the CRA provide any information on whether there had been any applications for registration during the year. In terms of Muslim religious associations, the CRA stated there was one Islamic Center, 324 Friday mosques (where sermons were offered on Fridays), 47 central Friday mosques (which exercised jurisdiction over other Friday mosques), 3,558 five-time mosques (where sermons were offered during the day, but not on Fridays), and two Ismaili centers. At a January 12 press conference, CRA First Deputy Chairman Jumakhon Ghiyosov stated the CRA maintained “close cooperation” with all “legitimate” religious associations.

Hanafi Sunni mosques maintained enforcement of the 2004 fatwa issued by the Ulema Council prohibiting women from praying at mosques. Although the government had publicly stated the fatwa was a religious ruling rather than a law, a government official privately stated there was little evidence the public understood the distinction. NGOs stated the public perception was the Ulema Council operated under the control of the government. Women of other traditions, such as Ismaili Shia, were not subject to the Ulema Council’s prohibition.

Although neither the constitution nor the law made the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam the official religion of the country, observers said the government treated it as the “first among equals” because the majority of the population adhered to it. The CRA stated imam-khatibs should conduct preventative conversations with people who prayed “out of frames set by the Hanafi” Sunni school of thought.

The MIA continued to conduct video surveillance of mosques in Dushanbe, and said it hoped to expand the program to other cities.

On October 4, then-Mayor of Dushanbe Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloev ordered all official Friday and five-time mosques in the city to install surveillance cameras and metal detectors at their entrances. He said the camera feeds would be sent to the central mosque Hoji Yaqub, where the videos would be monitored. Ubaydulloev stated this step would make the city more secure. All costs of these security measures should be covered by the mosques themselves, according to Ubaydulloev. The mayor’s office stated cameras and metal detectors would also be installed in educational and medical facilities, restaurants, and public service and trading centers. The CRA, however, stated these measures would apply only to Dushanbe’s mosques and the mosques would be able to use donations to cover the costs of the cameras. The difference between the positions of the mayor and CRA remained unresolved as of year’s end.

On February 8, during a meeting with imam-khatibs and imams of local mosques in Khujand as well as representatives of law enforcement and other agencies, the Mayor of Khujand, Rajabboy Ahmadzoda, ordered the establishment of a working group to review the performance of all mosques in the city and to identify the exact number of mosques in Khujand. According to the mayor, if there were two or three mosques in one neighborhood and the distance between the mosques was negligible, this would be inconsistent with the law specifying the number and kinds of mosques allowed to exist in a given area based on its population, and at least one of the mosques ought to be converted into a public facility. “Excessive” mosques, he said, ought to be turned into sewing shops, teahouses, or kindergartens. The working group consisted of the Department of Religion and law enforcement employees.

According to the international NGO Forum 18, the Interior Minister stated in a January 25 press conference the authorities had closed 900 out of an estimated 1,500 prayer rooms and mosques in Dushanbe. At a July press conference, CRA Chairman Sulaymon Davlatzoda told the media the government had not stopped the activities of any “official mosque” for the last six years. He said those mosques whose activities were suspended were previously public facilities which later illegally had been turned into mosques. The mosques were shut, he said, because they lacked government approval for their activities. In the past two years, Davlatzoda said, the government had converted 1,032 mosques in different parts of the country into cultural and entertainment centers, or so-called “public places.” Davlatzoda further stated 29 “religious associations” (the classification officially applied to mosques) had “voluntarily” terminated their activities in the first six months of the year after receiving letters from city governments saying their mosques were surplus to the number of mosques officially allocated to their locations.

In March the media reported the CRA suspended the activities of 133 “illegal” mosques in Rudaki District. According to CRA statements, the mosques had been constructed without proper documentation. The chairman of the district issued a decree converting the mosques to schools, kindergartens, medical units, sport halls, cultural centers, and computer and sewing shops.

In April authorities of Kulob City told the media the local government had given seven buildings, which had been illegally used as mosques, to homeless families. The authorities also said they had determined 54 mosques in Kulob were operating illegally due to a lack of appropriate documentation. City authorities said some of the mosques had already been turned into recreation facilities.

On May 14, during a meeting with local imam-khatibs, Sharif Nazarzoda, Chief of the Department of Internal Affairs in the Sughd region, stated his department had warned 138 mullahs for providing illegal religious education to young people in the first four months of the year. The mullahs were fined a total of 28,000 somoni ($3,590). As of the end of the year, there was no information on whether the authorities in Sughd had warned or fined additional mullahs.

In January the CRA told the media it planned to organize refresher courses for imam-khatibs. Representatives of official religious organizations, the Islamic Center, and lawyers would conduct courses for imam-khatibs to educate them about the behavior of potential extremists and terrorists during prayers. CRA officials stated since 2013, 2,543 imam-khatibs from all parts of the country had taken refresher courses.

CRA First Deputy Chairman Ghiyosov told the media in January there were 1966 students studying to become clergy at the Imam Azam Islamic Institute in Dushanbe. He said there were another 89 students studying at the Islamic gymnasium/lyceum. He provided no indication whether these figures represented a change from prior years.

The government ban on financial donations by individuals to mosques remained in effect. Clergy continued to be salaried government employees. The CRA continued to pay Muslim clerics a monthly salary of 800-1,000 somoni ($103-$128), depending upon their position. The CRA also continued to require clerics to wear a specific robe while performing official duties and continued its 25 percent subsidy of the robe’s cost.

In Dushanbe Muslim clergy continued to use loudspeakers for the call to prayer, despite a public disturbance regulation prohibiting the use of external loudspeakers for azan (the Islamic call to prayer) in the city’s mosques if residents in the vicinity of a mosque complained to city authorities.

In January the government released a new order on performing the Hajj. According to the order, citizens who wanted to perform the Hajj had to be 40 years old. After returning from the Hajj, a pilgrim would have to wait five years before performing the Hajj again. According to the CRA, the regulation was intended to give older Tajiks the opportunity to make the Hajj. The government stated it had urged the government of Saudi Arabia to increase the number of Tajik pilgrims it allowed but thus far there had been no change.

The Ulema Council continued to interpret sharia as limiting beard lengths for men to the size of a fist and requiring women’s clothing to cover the entire body except for hands, face, and feet. Although a media report released in January stated the government had forcibly shaved the beards of an estimated 15,000 men in 2015, observers stated there were only a few reports of forced shavings during the year. One civil society representative reported he was told to cut his beard in order to obtain a driver’s license, but said he eventually was allowed to take his driver’s license picture without cutting his beard.

With so many men shaving to avoid government scrutiny, observers said, the government had shifted its focus away from beards toward hijabs. Women wearing hijabs stated they were often harassed by law enforcement, despite the absence of any law banning hijabs. On June 23, three women requested assistance from an international organization because of government harassment they said they had received for wearing hijabs. One woman reportedly was approached at home and at work by plainclothes police officers who told her she needed to remove her hijab if she wished to continue operating her stand at a local market in Sughd Region. Police told her daughter the same and reportedly said the daughter would face prosecution if she did not comply. A second woman said authorities had delivered the same threat to her at her place of work in a different bazaar. A third woman, a housewife, said she had faced harassment from local authorities for wearing the hijab as she went about her daily activities. Six police officers reportedly approached her in a market and questioned her about her hijab. She said the officers had threatened her with detention, although they took no action against her. One of the women filed an official complaint with the CRA and the MIA. According to the international organization, the three women stated the authorities had increased their harassment of women wearing hijabs since May. They said they knew of instances where police had raided homes and public spaces and ordered women to remove hijabs. They also reported instances of children being denied entry to kindergarten because their mothers wore hijabs.

On May 24, during a meeting with representatives of several government bodies including the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Health, the Interior Ministry, the State Committee for National Security (SCNS), as well as heads of Dushanbe’s bazaars and trade centers and deputy mayors of Tursunzoda and Rudaki District, the Head of the Committee for Women and Family Affairs, Idigul Qosimzoda, called on local women to wear Tajik national dress and to refrain from wearing clothing “alien” to Tajik culture. According to media reports, she urged the meeting’s participants to encourage their employees to wear national clothing, and to reject “alien” clothing.

During the course of a televised conference at the beginning of June, Sharif Nazarzoda, head of the Sughd Department of the MIA, stated “some women and girls” were associated with extremist/terrorist organizations and drew a link between these women and those who followed “alien culture and traditions.” According to human rights NGOs and international media, references to “alien culture and traditions” had become a government euphemism for the wearing of hijabs. Nazarzoda said the MIA would detain women in hijabs and would investigate whether their husbands were Salafists, because the Sughd MIA had determined all Salafist wives wore hijabs.

In August chief of the Interior Ministry’s Khujand office Jalilov stated police officers had conducted approximately 40 raids since the beginning of the year in bazaars and shopping points and had registered 643 women (i.e., put their names on a list maintained by the government) for wearing the hijab. No updated figures were available as of the end of the year.

On January 19, the Chief of the Department of Internal Affairs in Khatlon Region, Bahrom Sharifzoda, told reporters that in 2015 authorities had shut down 162 shops selling women’s religious clothing which did not meet national traditions. According to Sharifzoda, as a result of joint efforts undertaken with other local authorities, 6,873 local women had stopped wearing hijabs and clothing “alien to Tajik custom.” He said during 2015 the authorities had detained 89 women wearing hijabs who were involved in prostitution, which observers said was an attempt to lower the public status of women wearing hijabs. Sharifzoda reported authorities in Khatlon conducted various educational events aimed at encouraging women to wear traditional national clothing.

The Ulema Council in August published an article on its website recommending Tajik brides wear “traditional” dresses at their weddings. In response to a reader’s question, the council stated wearing a Western wedding dress was also permissible and would not affect the sanctity of an Islamic marriage ceremony.

Officials reportedly continued to inspect bookstores, newsstands, kiosks, markets, and mosques to confiscate illegal religious materials. The government continued to allow vendors to sell basic Islamic texts, including the Quran, the Hadith, the history of the Prophet, and prayer books, but did not permit vendors to sell Shia literature, Sunni texts considered non-Hanafi, or audio and video disks featuring unregistered imams. Leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Baptist congregations, and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), stated they had difficulty bringing religious literature into the country. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptists both said the authorities seized their literature, and the Baptists said they had to pay fines for “possession of unvetted religious material.” In the case of the ROC, local priests reported Russian Orthodox Bishop Pitirim had to appeal to President Emomali Rahmon to get a large shipment of books released. The Ismaili Shia community stated its organization had experienced no problems receiving prompt CRA clearance for its religious materials.

In May police seized Jehovah’s Witness literature and submitted it for review to three Muslim imam-khatibs who ruled the literature was an “incitement to religious strife” because it stated the Jehovah’s Witnesses practiced the “true” faith. As of the end of the year, the materials remained banned.

During his January 12 press conference, CRA First Deputy Chairman Ghiyosov stated the CRA had printed 14,000 brochures on the dangers of “extremist” movements and parties, and had disseminated the brochures at the major markets in Dushanbe and at central Friday mosques throughout the country. In response to 117 requests from religious groups, Ghiyosov said, the CRA had analyzed 399 items of literature, 36 notebooks, one religious calendar for 2015, and 1049 leaflets of religious content. He said the CRA had approved 312 of the items of literature, seven of the notebooks and 783 of the leaflets, while determining the remainder of the items contained illegal content.

At the beginning of the year, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced the construction of new mosques would be allowed only in those neighborhoods where there was no other mosque nearby.

At a July 20 press conference, the acting chief of the Sughd Regional Department of Religious Affairs, Suhrob Rustamzoda, announced the government closure of five madrassahs which had been in suspended status since June 2013. He said the madrassahs had not met requirements for providing religious education.

During the year, authorities strengthened efforts to address “illegal” religious studies by citizens at overseas institutions. During a January 12 press conference, CRA First Deputy Chairman Ghiyosov stated 3,006 students involved in “illegal” religious studies abroad had returned to the country as a result of measures taken by the government, in particular by the CRA. He expressed concern about 57 students whom he said had returned to schools abroad and were still studying illegally. From the total number of returned students, he said 66 were found guilty of crimes and were imprisoned. He said 25 of those were imprisoned for involvement in terrorist political parties and movements both inside and outside the country. He provided no details as to exactly what measures the government had taken to convince the students to return, the dates when the students returned, or when the 66 had been imprisoned. According to Ghiyosov, data gathered by the MFA and SCNS indicated 466 students were still studying abroad illegally, primarily in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

A Sughd Region official stated 649 Sughd residents had studied at religious institutions in Islamic countries abroad. He said 630 of them had returned to the country while 19 students had not done so and continued to study at foreign religious institutions. According to Rustamzoda, 39 of those who had returned had then gone back abroad to continue their studies. He provided no details as to exactly when the 649 had first gone abroad or how long the 630 had stayed abroad before returning home.

On February 29, the Tajik Islamic University warned its students against contact with “extremist” groups. A statement released by the university stated the university had information about some students using their mobile phones to watch videos released by such groups, including the IRPT. The university’s statement said this was a violation of law and students with ties to “extremists and terrorists” would be expelled from the university and criminal proceedings would be brought against them.

On January 11, Minister of Education and Science Nuriddin Said announced the ministry had introduced a new course entitled the “history of religion” for ninth grade students. The textbook for this course had already been printed in Tajik and the ministry intended to publish it in Russian and Uzbek. Komil Isoev, Director of the Center on Drafting, Printing, and Dissemination of School Textbooks for the Ministry of Education and Science, told the media the majority of young people were susceptible to radical messaging because they lacked knowledge of the content and concepts of religion. Isoev stated the government considered introduction of the course into school curriculum necessary so young people would become familiar with world religions.

In the context of discussing difficulties minority religious groups were having in trying to comply with the provisions of the law on the religious education of minors, leaders of the groups reported conversations with government officials in which the officials continued to state the provisions of the law were not meant to apply to their organizations, but to the Hanafi Sunni population instead.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for separation of religion and state. It states religious organizations and associations shall be separate from the state and equal before the law and the state shall not interfere in the activity of religious associations.

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and states everyone has the right to profess or not to profess any religion. The law provides for freedom of worship and freedom from religious persecution, but grants the government authority to restrict these freedoms when the government deems such restrictions “necessary to maintain national security, social order, life, health, morality, and the rights or freedoms of other citizens.”

The law requires all religious groups to register. Among the requirements, the law states each group must present a membership list of at least 100 citizens, age 18 years or older, belonging to the group and a charter with a legal, physical address to the local branch of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). It also requires notarized documents stating the leading founding members have the religious education necessary to preach their faith, the group’s sources of income, and the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA, which reports to the Cabinet of Ministers) concurrence to registration. The law requires local governments to concur in registration of groups in their areas and that the group present a “guarantee letter” from local government authorities stating the legal and postal addresses of the organization conform to all legal requirements (including statements from the main architectural division, sanitary-epidemiological services, fire services, and locally selected neighborhood committees). By law, the MOJ may take one to three months to review a registration application. The MOJ may approve or deny the registration, or cease review without the issuance of a decision. Registration of a central administrative body requires registered religious groups to be present in at least eight of the country’s 14 administrative units, which may include Karakalpakstan and Tashkent city. The religious groups thus registered may expand throughout the country and have appropriate buildings, organize religious teaching, and possess religious literature.

The law limits the operations of a registered group to those areas where it is registered. The law grants only registered religious groups the right to establish schools and train clergy.

The criminal code distinguishes between “illegal” groups, which are those not registered properly, and “prohibited” groups viewed as “extremist.” It is a criminal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of four million to eight million som ($1,200-$2,400), to organize or participate in an illegal religious group. The law also specifically prohibits persuading others to join illegal religious groups with penalties of up to three years in prison. The criminal code provides penalties of up to 20 years in prison for organizing or participating in the activities of religious extremist, fundamentalist, separatist, or other prohibited groups. Aside from joining an extremist group, charges of religious extremism may include the offenses of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and terrorism.

In 2015, the latest year for which figures were available, there are 2,238 registered religious groups representing 16 denominations. There are 2,064 Muslim groups (affiliated with mosques, educational institutions, and Islamic centers). Among the Muslim groups are several Shia congregations. Registered minority religious groups include ethnic Korean Christian, Russian Orthodox, Baptist, Pentecostal (Full Gospel), Seventh-day Adventist, Jewish, Catholic, Bahai, Lutheran, New Apostolic, Armenian Apostolic, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Krishna Consciousness, Temple of Buddha, and Christian Voice of God Church communities, as well as one interconfessional Bible society.

The CRA oversees registered religious activity. The Council for Confessions, under the CRA, includes ex-officio representatives from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish groups, and discusses ways of ensuring compliance with the law, the rights, and responsibilities of religious organizations and believers, and other issues related to religion.

The criminal and administrative codes contain penalties for violating the law and other statutes on religious activities. The law punishes proselytism with up to three years in prison. It proscribes efforts to draw minors into religious organizations without the permission of their parents and prohibits the wearing of religious attire in public places by all except clergy and individuals serving in leadership positions of officially recognized religious organizations. Any religious service conducted by an unregistered religious organization is illegal. After an offender is punished for a violation under the administrative code, a repeat offense may be tried under the criminal code.

Under the law, state bodies, including neighborhood committees and nonstate and noncommercial public organizations have wide-ranging powers to combat suspected “antisocial activity” in cooperation with police. These powers include preventing the activity of unregistered religious organizations, ensuring observance of rights of citizens to religious freedoms, prohibiting forced propagation of religious views, and considering other questions related to observance of the law.

The law requires religious groups to obtain a license to publish or distribute materials. It limits the right to publish, import, and distribute religious literature solely to registered central offices of religious groups and only following approval by the CRA. Under a Cabinet of Ministers decree, the CRA must conduct a review of any “religious materials” imported, produced, or distributed. The decree defines religious materials as books, magazines, newspapers, brochures, leaflets, audiovisual items (including animated material), CDs, DVDs, and materials posted to the internet “describing the origins, history, ideology, teachings, commentaries, and rituals of various religions of the world.” The decree also requires the CRA to compile an annual list of religious materials banned for import, production, or distribution.

According to the law, individuals in possession of literature by authors the government deems to be extremists or of any literature illegally imported or produced are subject to arrest and prosecution. The administrative code punishes “illegal production, storage, import, or distribution of materials of religious content” with a fine of 20 to 100 times the minimum monthly wage of 130,240 som ($40) for individuals. The fine for government officials committing the same offense is 50 to 150 times the minimum monthly wage. The administrative code permits the confiscation of the materials and the “corresponding means of producing and distributing them.” The criminal code imposes a fine of 100 to 200 times the minimum monthly wage or corrective labor of up to three years for these offenses for acts committed subsequent to a judgment rendered under the administrative code.

The law allows only those religious groups with a registered central administrative body to train religious personnel. Nine specialized Islamic training schools, including one for women, and an Orthodox and a Protestant seminary may officially train religious personnel.

The law requires imams to graduate from a recognized religious education facility and register for a license with the government. The Muslim Board of Uzbekistan assigns a graduate to a particular mosque as a deputy imam before becoming an imam later.

The law limits religious instruction to officially sanctioned religious schools and state-approved instructors. Otherwise, the law prohibits the teaching of religious subjects in public schools. It does not permit nonstate approved private religious instruction and imposes fines for violations.

Nine madrassahs, including one for women, provide secondary education on a full range of secular subjects. The Cabinet of Ministers considers diplomas granted by madrassahs equivalent to other diplomas, enabling graduates of those institutions to continue their education at the university level. In addition, the Tashkent Islamic Institute and the Tashkent Islamic University, which is a secular institution, provide higher education religion programs. There is no other officially sanctioned religious instruction for individuals interested in learning about Islam.

The law allows those who object to military service on the basis of their religious beliefs to perform alternative civilian service.

The constitution prohibits the formation of political parties based on religious principles as well as political parties and public associations advocating religious hostility.

The law restricts the activities of faith-based NGOs. It prohibits religious activities outside of formal worship, as well as religious gatherings intended for children under 16 years old, and the creation of faith-based activity groups deemed by the government to be unrelated to acts of worship.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The government continued to describe religious extremism as a threat to domestic security and stability. According to several NGO sources, there were several reported deaths of prisoners in custody due to torture or physical abuse of persons arrested on suspicion of “religious extremism” or who participated in underground Islamic activity. NGOs reported authorities continued to pressure the families in such cases to bury the bodies before medical professionals could examine them. The government continued to imprison individuals on charges of religious extremism for advocating replacement of the current secular government laws based on religious principles. In 2015, based on their research of prosecution of religious people by authorities, independent human rights groups estimated a high number of prisoners – between 5,000 and 15,000 – remain in detention on charges related to “religious extremism” or membership in an unregistered religious group, though attempts by independent groups to verify this figure have been unsuccessful. Law enforcement officers continued to raid meetings of unregistered religious groups and detain their members. According to media sources, authorities closely monitored social gatherings where religious issues were discussed and made several arrests based on participation. Officials continued to search homes, offices, and spaces belonging to members of minority religious groups, often without valid search warrants, and courts sentenced members of such groups to administrative detention or fines, including for possession of Bibles. The government continued to limit access to Islamic publications and arrested individuals attempting to import or publish religious literature without official permission as well as individuals in possession of literature deemed by the government to be extremist. Minority religious groups said they continued to experience difficulties registering and conducting religious activities because of harassment by local authorities. State-controlled media accused missionaries and others engaged in proselytizing of posing a danger to society.

Family members reported deaths in custody of prisoners accused of religious extremism. They stated the bodies of prisoners showed signs of torture, beatings, or other abuse. For example, on February 11, the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan (IGIHRDU) reported that Doston Abdurakhmanov died due to what his family said was severe torture at penal colony number 64/48 in Zarafshan City, Navoi Region. On February 12, IGIHRDU reported authorities returned the body to his family and demanded immediate burial the next day in the morning. Abdurakhmanov was serving his prison term pursuant to a conviction for religious extremism and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.

In February Ozodlik Radio (the Uzbek Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) reported that police officers brought the body of Makhmudjon Khasanov, who was in penal colony 64/46 under charges that he was affiliated with the banned religious organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, to his family without official forensic examination records. The police demanded immediate burial. According to Fergana News, the death resulted from torture.

In 2015, independent human rights groups estimated between 5,000 and 15,000 individuals remained in prison on charges related to religious extremism or membership in an illegal religious group. The government did not disclose relevant data or provide independent observers access to prisoners. Human rights groups continued to estimate the government imprisoned approximately 200 individuals annually for participation in unregistered religious groups or engaging in religious “extremism,” but acknowledged difficulties in obtaining accurate numbers. NGO sources reported the government continued its physical abuse of persons arrested and jailed on suspicion of “religious extremism” or who participated in underground Islamic activity.

On December 19, Forum18 reported that on July 5 Tashkent City police officers raided the Sunnatullayev family’s apartment early in the morning. Three police officers entered the apartment, seized a laptop computer, detained Ziyodullo Sunnatulayev, and took him to the police station where he was beaten and tortured to obtain a confession of extremist religious activity. Surat Ikramov of IGIHRDU told Forum18, Sunnatulayev was so severely beaten that it took a week for him “to come to his senses” after he was released from detention. After 15 days of arrest, Sunnatullayev was released after the police “understood he was not a religious person.”

The government continued to ban Islamic groups it defined as extremist and criminalized membership in such groups, which included Akromiya, Tablighi Jamaat, and Hizb ut-Tahrir. The government also banned Nur, founded by Kurdish Mullah Said Nursi and associated with the religious teachings of Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. The government stated its actions against persons or groups suspected of religious extremism were not a matter of religious freedom, but rather a matter of preventing the overthrow of secular authorities and precluding incitement of interreligious instability and hatred.

On February 19, the Djizzakh Regional Criminal Court sentenced ethnic Armenian Christian Aramais Avakyan as well as Furkat Djuraev, Bektemir Umirzokov, Akmal Mamatmurodov, and Dilshod Alimov from seven to 12 years in prison for charges related to terrorism, attempts to overthrow the state, production and distribution of materials containing threats to public security and public order, and the creation of, leadership, and participation in religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist and other banned organizations. During the court hearing, Avakyan and others reported the use of torture to extract false confessions by Djizzakh regional National Security Service (NSS) and police officers. The men said they were held incommunicado by security services for 40 days and denied access to legal counsel. In response to questions regarding the case, the government denied this account and stated an internal investigation found the torture claims groundless. According to news media accounts, Avakyan and his employees were arrested because the Pakhtakor District governor wanted to expropriate his fish farm and saw a religious conviction as a convenient way to do so.

In August Ozodlik Radio and Forum 18, an international NGO promoting religious freedom, separately reported that on June 1 the Karakul District Criminal Court in the Bukhara Region handed down four-year prison terms to four leaders of a Sufi Naqshbandi Muslim community, who were convicted of establishing and running illegal religious organizations. The four leaders were among 15 Sufis arrested in Karakul District following a police raid on a home where a community was performing the zikir, a devotional practice of reciting sacred phrases. On July 16, the same court fined 11 other members of the same community up to four million som ($1,200) each under the same charges.

On February 17, Ozodlik Radio reported the arrests of Akmal Urinov, Temur Siddikov, Aybek Salikhov, and Davran Kayumov. These individuals were accused of belonging to a prohibited Salifist organization and producing and distributing religious materials. If convicted, the accused could face 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Prison administrators reportedly continued to charge prisoners convicted of religious extremism with organizing extremist cells while in prison or with other offenses which served as grounds for extending their prison terms. Reports from independent media and rights activists continued to state that administrators charged prisoners incarcerated for religious extremism with alleged internal prison violations, making them ineligible to apply for an amnesty for which they otherwise would be eligible.

According to news sources, on November 8, authorities released on parole Tohar Haydarov, an ethnic Uzbek convert to Christianity, after he served six years and 10 months in jail. A court found Haydarov guilty in March 2010 on drug charges, which local Baptists stated were fabricated. According to the NGO Release International, his arrest followed a request by relatives that local police help force him to return to Islam.

In April Forum 18 reported that Latipjon Mamajanov, a Protestant who was arrested and jailed on March 12 in Fergana for 15 days, was released from jail on March 28. According to the report, police raided Mamajanov’s home in Fergana, searching for religious literature. Authorities reportedly imprisoned Mamajanov in the Kuva District Police Detention Center, Fergana Region where up to seven inmates were put in a cell designed for two people, without sanitary and hygienic conditions, and were fed only once a day. Mamajanov and other prisoners, who proclaimed their innocence, were tortured repeatedly, the NGO reported.

According to Forum 18, on July 5, the Tashkent Regional Court confirmed five-year prison sentences for cousins, Jonibek Turdiboyev and Mansurkhon Akhmedov, whom authorities jailed on May 29 for allegedly possessing an Islamic sermon on a music CD. The court jailed a third Muslim for seven years after extradition from Russia for possessing social media sermons. Forum 18 said they were tortured and a human rights activist said their trial was “a farce.”

On February 3, Samarkand police officers arrested three female Jehovah’s Witnesses for hosting a religious study meeting in a private home. On March 15, judge Zafar Kholikulov of Samarkand City Court fined each 50 times the minimum monthly wage, 6,512,000 som ($1,980) for possessing “illegal literature” found after authorities raided their meeting. According to a Jehovah’s Witnesses statement to Forum 18 on April 25, police held the women at a Samarkand Police Station for almost 24 hours before releasing them in the afternoon of February 4. The same source reported that while in detention, two of the women were “physically abused” and another female Jehovah’s Witness was “subjected to sexual harassment.”

On September 30, Forum 18 reported Baptist Pastor Stanislav Kim from Urgench, Khorezm Region, had been fined for a second time within a year for having Christian books at home, which state officials regard as “illegal.” As this was a second instance, Kim was convicted under the criminal code to a two-year corrective labor sentence. Kim’s first offense was in July 2014, when Urgench police raided his home while he was visited by two other members of the Church.

Religious groups and human rights activists reported armed law enforcement officers continued to raid meetings of unregistered groups and detained their members. Courts continued to sentence members of minority religious groups to administrative detention following searches, often without valid search warrants, of homes and offices.

The Darakchi newspaper reported on September 15 only one registered Jehovah’s Witness house of worship existed in the country and that was in Chirchik in the Tashkent Region. The report said one of the members, a resident of Tashkent City, Natalya Shamsuddinova, was fined for illegally keeping religious literature at home.

On January 6, the progovernment web site reported a raid on a gathering of followers of a Korean Protestant church in Tashkent Region’s Yangiyol District. According to the report, law enforcement agencies accused three residents of illegal possession and distribution of religious literature of the church. After completing the search, the authorities found and confiscated seven books, a brochure, two notebooks with notes, and 130 CDs and DVDs containing religious content. No further information was available by the end of the year.

On February 7, police in Okdarya District, Samarkand Region, raided the home of Malika Khidirova, a Christian. Officers confiscated one Bible and one copy of the New Testament. According to the NGO Forum18, Khidirova, along with Munis Oblakulov, Sanobar Aripova and Khudoyor Muhamadiyev, were brought to court under charges of possessing religious literature and teaching religious beliefs without specialized religious education or permission from the central organ of a registered religious group. On March 22, Judge Shohmurod Begmatov of Okdarya District Criminal Court fined Oblakulov 60 times the minimum monthly salary (7,814,400 som or $2,400); Khidirova 20 times the minimum monthly salary (2,604,800 som or $790); and Aripova and Muhamadiyev 10 times the minimum monthly salary (1,302,400 som or $400) each. Begmatov also ordered the formal confiscation of the Bible and New Testament.

On January 9, customs officials detained Bakhtiyor Khudaiberdiyev, an ethnic Uzbek with Russian citizenship, at Tashkent Airport for carrying “extremist” religious materials on his mobile phone, Association for Human Rights in Central Asian and International Partnership for Human Rights NGOs reported. No further information was available at the end of the year.

On March 10, Forum 18 reported a male citizen was detained for a day at Uchteppa District Police Station, Tashkent Region, for possession of an Arabic-language Quran, which was confiscated as it did not have a stamp from the state’s Religious Affairs Committee. According to the report, officials could find no other literature in the man’s home, and released him the next day.

Media reported authorities closely observed social gatherings where religious issues were discussed, particularly among men, and made several arrests based on participation. In one case, the police raided a private home where three Baptists gathered for a birthday celebration and not for private worship. No religious material was found. Police issued a fine for illegal worship outside a registered premise.

On March 13, customs officials stopped Boris Prokopenko, a Baptist from Kazakhstan, at the Gisht-Kuprik border crossing with Kazakhstan for carrying Christian materials on an electronic book reader and memory stick, as well as a leaflet with the word “Christ” in his pocket. Officials held him for two days at Tashkent Regional Customs Department. They released him after opening an administrative case against him. No further information was available at the end of the year.

According to human rights activists and religious adherents, the government reviewed the content of imams’ sermons as well as the volume and substance of Islamic materials published by the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan (Muftiate). The government ensured its control over the Muftiate through the CRA and by selecting staff for the Muftiate. The government also informally restricted the volume of public calls to prayer

The government stated most prisons continued to set aside special areas for inmates to pray, and prison libraries had copies of the Quran and the Bible. Family members of prisoners reported, however, prison authorities did not allow prisoners suspected of religious extremism to practice their religion, including reading the Quran or praying privately. Reported restrictions included not permitting inmates to pray five times a day or refusing to adjust work and meal schedules for the Ramadan fast. There also continued to be reports authorities punished prisoners for “violating internal prison regulations” if they prayed at scheduled times for Islamic prayers.

Authorities continued to fine representatives of registered religious groups, or of groups which had unsuccessfully attempted to register, for engaging in religious activities, including fining members of Jehovah’s Witnesses for congregating in a place other than their sole registered congregation in Tashkent Region. According to Forum 18, on January 27, 30 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Bukhara region were punished for meeting for worship and possessing religious literature officials said was “illegal.” They received fines totaling more than 1,050 times the minimum monthly wage or 136,752,000 som ($41,600). According to Forum 18, two of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – Andrei and Yelena Yu – were fined 30 times the minimum monthly wage each and given 10-day jail terms.

Minority religious groups continued to experience difficulties registering.

Some churches, particularly evangelical churches with ethnic Uzbek members, stated they stopped applying for registration because they continued to expect local officials would not register them. Other groups, including those with less than 100 members, said they did not submit registration applications that they knew would not meet legal requirements as a means of avoiding the attention of the authorities. Some groups did not attempt to register, they said, because they did not want to provide the authorities with a list of their members’ names. They stated local authorities harassed their members, especially ethnic Uzbek members, through pressure on them and their families to renounce their faith in favor of traditional Islamic beliefs during previous attempts to register. A few groups said they refused to seek registration because they challenged the government’s right to require it.

As in previous years, the MOJ continued to explain denials of registration by citing alleged failures of religious groups to report a valid legal address, or to obtain the guarantee letters and other necessary permits from all local authorities. Some groups stated they did not have addresses because they continued to be reluctant to purchase property without assurance their registration would be approved. Other groups stated local officials arbitrarily withheld approval of the addresses because they opposed the existence of Christian churches with ethnic Uzbek members. In response, some groups reported providing congregation membership lists with Russian sounding last names only.

Churches that previously attempted to register reported they remained unregistered. These included the Bethany Baptist Church in the Mirzo-Ulugbek District of Tashkent; the Pentecostal church in Chirchik; Emmanuel Church and Mir (Peace) Church of Nukus, Karakalpakstan; Hushkhabar Church in Gulistan; the Pentecostal church in Andijon; and the Adventist church, Greater Grace Christian Church, Central Protestant Church, and Miral Protestant Church, all in Samarkand. Catholic congregations in Navoi and Angren have been unable to register their churches after attempting to do so for 10 years.

Despite continued efforts to engage with the government, the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported no success in registering new groups.

According to Forum 18, authorities placed restrictions on public religious activities during Ramadan in July. The Tashkent City Administration banned mosques and restaurants from serving an iftar during Ramadan. Religious officials said people should break their fasts at home with their families, whereas one human rights activist said that the government’s objective was to prevent public displays of faith.

Non-Muslim and non-Orthodox religious groups reported they continued to have particular difficulties conducting religious activities in Karakalpakstan because all non-Muslim and non-Orthodox religious communities continued to lack legal status there.

Anecdotal reports said a small number of unregistered “neighborhood mosques” continued to function for use primarily by elderly or disabled persons who did not live in close proximity to larger, registered mosques. The neighborhood mosques remained limited in their functions, and registered imams were not assigned to them.

The Jewish community continued to be unable to register a central office because they did not have synagogues in at least eight provinces of the country’s 14 administrative units, as required by law. Despite the community’s efforts to have additional rabbis recognized, the MOJ provided accreditation for only one rabbi – a Bukharian Sephardic – in the country in 2014, following a seven-year gap and cancellation of the residency permit of the community’s previous rabbi. The Ashkenazi Jewish community lacks rabbinical services. Members of the Jewish community said the rabbi shortage limited faith practices, religious interest, and growth of the community. Jewish people have expressed concern over the future of their congregations once the current generation of adherents either emigrates or passes away.

The government continued to deny permission to train Shia imams inside the country and did not recognize training received outside the country.

The media reported security services continued surveillance of religious communities by filming participants at Friday prayer services at local mosques. The same surveillance activity was reported by parishioners at Catholic masses in English and Russian. Other congregations, such as the Lutherans and Jehovah’s Witnesses, reported surveillance of their facilities, including attempts by authorities to install closed circuit television for Lutheran services.

The government and local imams continued to discourage public displays of religious adherence considered to be foreign-influenced. Media reported authorities questioned women in Tashkent and the Fergana Valley for wearing the hijab and encouraged them to remove it or wear it in the more traditional Uzbek style of tying the scarf at the back of the neck.

State-controlled and state-influenced media continued to accuse missionaries of posing a danger to society and sowing civil discord.

Mahalla (neighborhood) committees and imams continued to identify local residents who could potentially become involved in extremist activity or groups, including those who prayed daily or otherwise demonstrated active devotion.

The government continued to provide logistical support, including charter flights, for a limited number of selected Muslims to participate in the Umrah and Hajj pilgrimages, although pilgrims paid their own expenses. The government limited the number of Hajj pilgrims to 5,200 generally older citizens considered by the government to be “politically reliable,” which was less than 20 percent of the country’s allotted number of pilgrims. Local mahalla committees, district administrations, the NSS, and the state-run Hajj Commission, controlled by the CRA and the Muftiate, reportedly were involved in vetting potential pilgrims. According to reports from sources in the human rights community in the Fergana Valley and Karakalpakstan, it was exceedingly difficult to participate in the Hajj without resorting to inside contacts and bribery.

The government continued to control access to Islamic publications and to require a statement in every domestic publication indicating the source of its publication authority. According to marketplace shoppers, it remained possible, although uncommon, to obtain a few imported works in Arabic from book dealers, but any literature not specifically approved by the CRA was only occasionally found and usually in second hand stores or flea markets.

A number of government entities, including the Ministry of Interior (MOI), NSS, Customs Service, and local police, continued to confiscate, and in some cases destroy, religious literature and the equipment used to produce it.

The international post office in Tashkent reportedly continued to scrutinize all incoming packages and send religious material to the CRA for further examination and approval. If the CRA banned the material, it mailed a letter to the intended recipient and the sender explaining the rejection. The CRA continued to deny the importation of both Christian and Islamic literature.

According to media and NGO reports, the authorities continued to confiscate, and in some cases destroy, religious literature in the Uzbek and Russian languages imported legally or produced in country, as well as religious items such as prayer beads or incense.

Members of registered minority religious communities reported they continued to encounter difficulties when entering and leaving the country because authorities seized religious literature for alleged customs violations.

The government continued to block access to several websites containing religious content, including Christian- and Islam-related news sites.

Groups allowed by the government to publish, import, and distribute religious literature included the Bible Society of Uzbekistan (BSU), the Muftiate, Tashkent Islamic University, Tashkent Islamic Institute, and the offices of the Russian Orthodox, Full Gospel, Baptist, and Roman Catholic Churches.

Media and religious groups reported authorities continued to prohibit children and teenagers under the age of 16 from practicing religion. There were several media reports of the government filing charges against Christian and Muslim groups where the government cited the presence of children during religious services as an incriminating factor. Media reports also said local officials continued to pressure imams to prevent children from attending prayers, and teachers and police officers continued to turn young students away from prayer services. According to Forum 18, there were reports of schoolteachers and police stationed at the entrance of mosques in Tashkent who were preventing children under 18 from entering during Ramadan in July. Authorities in Andijan sent a letter to parents in May instructing them to not send their children to mosques during their summer vacation, and said they would enforce the directive legally. An official from the Andijan Regional Education Department said that children can be “misled” in mosques, but did not explain. There were media reports school officials continued to discourage both Muslim and Christian parents from sending their children to mosque or church services, and some school officials reportedly questioned students about their religion and why they attended services.

Representatives of a registered Christian group and of the Bahai community stated children were able to attend church-sponsored activities and services with the permission of their parents, such as Sunday school. Witnesses continued to report large numbers of children in attendance at both places of worship.

The government continued to fund an Islamic university and the preservation of Islamic historic sites.

Human rights organizations and international media reported continued government harassment in the media of members of Akromiya (Akromiylar), an organization characterized by some scholars and human rights groups as an informal association promoting business according to Islamic principles, but classified as a terrorist organization by the government. Government media continued to publish negative articles about the group and its members. According to authorities, the group had attempted to overthrow the government through armed rebellion in Andijon in 2005.

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