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Executive Summary

The constitution provides for separation of religion and state. It guarantees 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 provides for restricting religious activities when necessary to maintain national security, the social order, or morality. The law requires religious groups to register with the government and declares religious activities of unregistered groups to be illegal. It bans a number of religious groups as “extremist.” The law prohibits proselytizing, efforts to involve minors in religious activities, and the teaching of religious subjects in public and private schools. In 2015, independent human rights groups estimated between 5,000 and 15,000 individuals were imprisoned on charges related to either “religious extremism” or membership in an unregistered religious group; attempts by independent groups to verify this figure have been unsuccessful. According to nongovernmental organization (NGO) sources, there were several deaths of prisoners in custody which the NGOs reported were due to torture or physical abuse of individuals arrested on suspicion of “religious extremism” or who participated in underground Islamic activity. According to media sources, law enforcement officers closely monitored and raided meetings of unregistered religious groups and detained their members. Courts continued to sentence members of minority religious groups to administrative detention and fines following searches of their homes. The government limited access to religious 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 continued to experience difficulties registering and conducting religious activities.

NGOs and private individuals continued to report social pressure on individuals, particularly among the majority Muslim population, to not change religions. Religious groups perceived as proselytizing, including evangelical, Baptist, and Pentecostal Christian Churches, stated they continued to face greater societal scrutiny and encountered discrimination. Ethnic Uzbeks who converted to Christianity reportedly suffered continued harassment and discrimination, including pressure upon them from national and local authorities to repudiate their new faith and on their family members to convince them to do so. A number of independent media organizations continued to publish articles critical of proselytism and critical of members of minority religious groups they regarded as “nontraditional.”

The Secretary of State, the Ambassador, and other high-level officials from the Department of State met with government officials and recommended tangible steps the government could take to improve its record on religious freedom, including easing restrictions on religious practice and increasing tolerance of minority religions. Embassy officers urged the government to include religious prisoners of conscience in its annual amnesty and met with government officials to discuss the nonregistration of religious communities, limitations on religious expression, and restrictions on the publication and dissemination of religious literature. Since 2006, Uzbekistan has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Most recently, on October 31, 2016, the Secretary of State redesignated Uzbekistan as a CPC, and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompanies designation as required in the important national interest of the United States.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 29.5 million (July 2016 estimate). According to government figures from the 1989 census, the latest available, approximately 93 percent of the population is Muslim. Most are Sunni of the Hanafi School; the government states approximately 1 percent of the population is Shia, concentrated in the provinces of Bukhara and Samarkand. Approximately 4 percent of the population is Russian Orthodox, according to news reports, and Russian migration statistics indicate this number continues to decline as ethnic Russians and other ethnic Slavs emigrate. The government states the remaining 3 percent includes small communities of Roman Catholics, ethnic Korean Christians, Baptists, Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, evangelicals, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Bahais, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, and atheists. The Jewish community estimates 6,000 Ashkenazi and fewer than 2,000 Bukharan Jews remain, concentrated in Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand, and the Fergana Valley. The Jewish population continues to decline because of emigration.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to NGOs, there continued to be social pressure, particularly among the majority Muslim population, not to change religions. Ethnic Russians, Jews, Catholics, and non-Muslim foreigners said they felt less societal pressure against choosing and changing their religion from members of their own ethnic community or from the Uzbek Muslim community. Ethnic Uzbeks who converted to Christianity, however, reportedly continued to face harassment and discrimination, particularly from neighborhood officials applying pressure on them, their family members, and employers to convince converts to not involve themselves with what they were told were “alien religious beliefs.” Religious groups perceived as proselytizing religions, including evangelical, Baptist, and Pentecostal Christian churches, said they faced greater social scrutiny and their neighbors called the police to report their activities. Other groups, including Catholics, Jews, Russian Orthodox, and members of the Bahai community, report harmonious interfaith and community relations with the members and leadership of the predominate-Muslim faith.

A number of media NGOs continued to publish articles critical of proselytism and critical of members of minority religious groups deemed by media outlets to be “nontraditional.” A popular tabloid magazine criticized missionaries for proselytizing, labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Full Gospel believers “totalitarian sects” and “evil ideologies” and stated it was the “duty” of all citizens to prevent the “deleterious” effects of such groups, especially on youth.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future