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 “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 SCRA. The law also prohibits the involvement of minors in organized, proselytizing religious groups, unless a parent grants written consent.

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 the organizing meeting, and a list of founding members. Each congregation of a religious group must register separately and must have at least 200 resident founding citizens. Foreign religious organizations are required to renew their registrations 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 at any time or may appeal to the courts. The law prohibits unregistered religious groups 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 that 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 the group does not comply with the law. The group may appeal the decision in the courts.

The constitution 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. Conviction for murder committed on the grounds of religious hatred is punishable by life imprisonment.

The law mandates separate prison facilities for prisoners convicted of terrorism and extremism, and it strips the citizenship of any Kyrgyz national convicted of those offenses. The law defines “extremist activity” as including the violent overthrow of the constitutional order; undermining the security of the country; violence or inciting violence on racial, national, or religious grounds; propagating the symbols or paraphernalia of an extremist organization; carrying out mass riots or vandalism based on ideological, political, racial, national, or religious hatred or enmity; and hate speech or hostility toward any social group.

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 1,000 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 could include examination by state experts. The law does not require government examination of religious materials (such as literature and other printed or audio or video materials), and it does not define the criteria for religious experts. 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 that 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 requires the person to perform 240 hours of community service or pay a fine of up to 20,000 soms ($290). 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; community service is imposed only in cases of a conscientious objector failing to pay the 18,000 soms ($260) fee.

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

Summary Paragraph: Authorities maintained bans on 21 “religiously oriented” groups they considered “extremist” and arrested hundreds of individuals they accused of participating in “extremist” incidents. Authorities pursued a criminal case against one of the police officers accused of attacking participants at a 2015 Jehovah’s Witnesses gathering. A parliamentary committee approved draft amendments to the 2009 religion law that would impose additional restrictions on religious freedom, such as an expansive ban on proselytizing and an increased number of members required to register as a religious organization. Minority religious groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, continued to face difficulties in registering, and there were cases of government interference in Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings. Some unregistered groups said they continued to be able to hold religious services without government interference. The SCRA announced a policy to divide public cemeteries by religion. This came in response to reports that non-Muslim religious minorities continued to face difficulties arranging for burial of their dead in public cemeteries, including one case in 2016 in which villagers and imams twice exhumed the body of a deceased Protestant woman without any intervention by local authorities. In September a Bishkek city court overturned the four-year prison term of journalist Zulpukar Sapanov and instead released him with a two-year suspended sentence. Several weeks earlier Sapanov had been convicted on charges of inciting interreligious conflict for authoring a book that examined the pre-Islamic beliefs of the Kyrgyz people. Twice during the year, President Almazbek Atambaev expressed concern about foreign cultures, including from the Middle East, influencing the practice of Islam in the country.

The government continued to maintain bans on 21 “religiously oriented” groups it considered to be “extremist,” including al-Qaida, the Taliban, Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, Kurdish Peoples’ Congress, Organization for the Release of Eastern Turkistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), Union of Islamic Jihad, Islamic Party of Turkistan, Unification (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. On June 15, a Bishkek district court ruled Yakyn Incar, a splinter group of Tablighi Jamaat, to be an extremist organization.

The media reported that on October 20, Authorities arrested the leader of Yakyn Incar for possessing extremist materials. A district court ordered his detention for two months, and a criminal case was pending at year’s end.

Law enforcement authorities stated they had recorded 597 “extremist” incidents for the year. They opened criminal cases in 229 instances. Extremist incidents included membership in a banned “religiously oriented” organization, possession of literature associated with a banned organization, and proselytizing on behalf of or financing a banned organization. In comparison, the authorities recorded 441 extremist incidents in 2016, for which they opened 180 criminal cases. According to September 8 press reports, the vice-chairman of the Kyrgyz State Penitentiary Service stated at a public forum there were more than 185 individuals convicted of extremism and terrorism housed in separate prisons in order to prevent the spread of extremist religious ideology among the prison population. There were no reports of citizens being stripped of citizenship for terrorism or extremism. According to NGOs, in the course of conducting counterterrorism measures against extremists, authorities arrested dozens of citizens for possession of vaguely defined “extremist” materials. In addition, ethnic Uzbeks claimed to have been arrested and imprisoned on extremism-related charges, usually tied to possession of banned literature or support of banned organizations, based on false testimony or planted evidence.

The government did not enforce the provision of the law that prohibits the involvement of minors in organized, proselytizing religious groups.

On June 1, the Prosecutor General’s Office requested the Osh regional prosecutor to consider filing criminal charges concerning the 2015 police assault on Jehovah’s Witnesses at a gathering in Osh. In July 2016, the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a criminal case against one of the police officers accused of participating in the attack, after the Osh city prosecutor declined to initiate criminal proceedings against the officer.

On May 30, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of two Jehovah’s Witnesses, a mother and daughter, on charges of defrauding local residents while engaged in religious activities. A new trial had been scheduled for April 2016, after the Supreme Court granted an appeal filed by the Osh city prosecutor contesting the acquittal of the defendants, but lawyers for the women successfully argued the three-year statute of limitations had passed. The Osh city prosecutor then appealed the April 2016 ruling. According to the NGO Forum 18, 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.

On January 22, authorities raided a Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting in Kemin. After the meeting officials summoned three elders to court and charged them with administrative violations. On May 19, a court dismissed the case against the elders, but a representative from the SCRA reportedly told local Jehovah’s Witnesses that they would monitor all Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings in the country. On January 24, in Osh, SCRA officials accompanied by local police entered a Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting and charged one of the elders with engaging in religious activity without local registration.

On May 29, the Parliamentary Committee on Social Issues, Education, Science, Culture, and Health approved draft amendments to the 2009 religion law. The amendments, which remain pending in parliament, included an expansive ban on proselytizing (particularly door-to-door proselytism), stricter censorship of religious literature, an increased number of members required to register as a religious organization (from 200 to 500 members), and a requirement to notify the government prior to undertaking religious education abroad. If adopted, the amendments would also grant the SCRA additional oversight and enforcement powers over religious organizations. According to Forum 18, the only religious community that submitted comments on the bill was the Spiritual Administration of Muslims, known as the “muftiate,” which supported the proposed restrictions; one committee member acknowledged that other religious communities were likely afraid to comment publicly on the bill. In meetings with government officials, Jehovah’s Witnesses noted concerns with the draft amendments to the religion law, stating that elements of the law would have a negative impact on their ability to share their faith with others, register local congregations, and import religious literature.

On January 27, the Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee regarding the SCRA’s refusal to register communities in Osh, Naryn, Jalal-abad and Batken. In February 2016, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to overturn the SCRA’s continuing refusal to register these communities. 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 Witnesses leaders reported authorities continued to deny registration to groups if they did not have 200 resident founding citizens in each region. Church leaders asserted 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, a representative of the group confirmed it still had not obtained registration. The community initially registered in 2002, but the SCRA has declined to approve its reregistration since 2012.

Religious groups continued to report the SCRA registration process was cumbersome, taking anywhere from one month to several years to complete. Some unregistered groups continued to report they were able to hold regular religious services without government interference, especially foreign religious organizations that had been registered in the past and had an annual application for reregistration pending. According to Forum 18, Protestant pastors stated there were many new churches in the country that would like to register, but did not have the 200 founders required for registration, or were afraid to give the names of their members to the police. The SCRA reported it registered one Jehovah’s Witnesses, four Catholic, and four Protestant organizations during the year.

According to Forum 18, non-Muslim religious minorities continued to face difficulties arranging for burial of their dead in public cemeteries. On March 13, the SCRA announced a policy to divide the country’s cemeteries into separate sectors by religion. On January 12 and February 27, the Ala-Buka district court sentenced four persons involved in the October 2016 exhumations of a Protestant woman from two public cemeteries, while imams, local officials, police officers, and National Security Committee officers reportedly looked on but did not interfere. The defendants received three-year suspended sentences. The authorities reportedly did not charge the imams who had incited the exhumations, the officials who had not prevented the exhumations, or members of the mobs that carried out the exhumations. Regional officials reportedly stated they then buried the woman in a third, undisclosed location.

On September 28-29, President Atambaev hosted an international conference on “Islam in a Modern Secular State.” At the conference, international religious experts and academics discussed ways of countering religious radicalization to violence and effective government practices in the religious sphere. At the end of the event, participants adopted the “Bishkek Declaration,” which expressed a desire to “find a balance between observance of human rights and freedoms, including freedom of conscience and religion, and ensuring security.”

On November 29-30, the SCRA held a forum on interfaith dialogue that included Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Bahai participants, as well as civil society representatives. Topics discussed included “Islam and tolerance,” “the role of tolerance in a multifaith society,” and “questions in multifaith relations.”

The government did not provide religious materials to prisoners charged with affiliation with banned religious groups, according to NGOs, but the government continued to allow them to practice their religion and conduct prayers in prison.

The SCRA reported that, while the law did not mandate expert review of religious literature, its practice was to examine imported religious materials submitted for review by religious organizations. There continued to be no specific procedure for hiring or evaluating the experts performing the examination of religious literature that groups wished to distribute within their places of worship. According to religious studies academics, the SCRA continued to choose its own employees or religious scholars with whom the agency contracted to 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. Under current law the SCRA is allowed, but not required, to review religious materials. According to the SCRA, its practice is to examine imported religious materials provided by religious organizations.

On September 19, an attorney for the Jehovah’s Witnesses stated he would file a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee contesting a February 6 Supreme Court ruling which upheld a lower court decision to bar the importation of the November 2015 issue of the Jehovah’s Witnesses publication Awake!. In March 2016, the Bishkek Interdistrict Court rejected a suit filed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses after the SCRA denied permission to import the publication. The lower court stated it was not competent to overrule the evaluation conducted by the SCRA.

On September 29, a Bishkek city court overturned the four-year prison term of journalist Zulpukar Sapanov and instead released him with a two-year suspended sentence. On September 12, a Bishkek district court convicted Sapanov of “inciting interreligious conflict” and sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment for statements in his book Kydyr Sanjyyrasi (Kydr’s Namesake), which examined the pre-Islamic beliefs of the Kyrgyz people and questioned the role of clerics in imposing Islam. Local newspapers published excerpts of his book, which prompted religious leaders to call on the government to investigate Sapanov. The ombudsman, who called the original verdict “a return to the Inquisition,” requested the court to reconsider its decision and attended the appellate trial.

On July 21, at the opening of a center for nomadic civilization near Lake Issyk-Kul, President Atambaev called for the separation of foreign culture from religion. With respect to the increasing number of Kyrgyz women wearing hijabs, the president noted traditionally Kyrgyz women never had the custom of covering their faces, as practiced in other Islamic countries. On August 29, during a visit to Yntymak, President Atambaev urged his audience not to confuse Islam and foreign culture, including the wearing of long beards.

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.

The muftiate, the highest Islamic administrative body in the country, continued to oversee all Islamic entities, including institutes, madrassahs, and mosques. Although an independent entity per the constitution, NGOs stated the government continued to exert influence over the office, including the mufti selection process.

The SCRA and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture held a teacher-training course in August as part of an expanded 56-school pilot program to teach a secular course on the “History of Religious Culture” for ninth grade students in secondary schools in six regions across the country. In June 2016, the SCRA, the muftiate, and the ministry established a working group to implement a concept plan for religious education reform in line with state educational standards.

Tajikistan

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 no religion, and to take part in religious customs and ceremonies.

The law prohibits provoking religiously-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 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 persons who join together for religious purposes as a religious association. Associations formed for the aim of “conducting joint religious worship” 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 local authorities confirming 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 that 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. For first-time offenses, individuals are subject to fines of 350 to 500 somoni ($40 to $57), heads of religious associations are fined 1,000 to 1,500 somoni ($114 to $170), and registered religious associations, as legal entities themselves, are subject to fines of 5,000 to 10,000 somoni ($570 to $1,100). For repeated offenses committed within a year of the first offense, fines are increased to 600 to 1,000 somoni ($69 to $114) for individuals, 2,000 to 2,500 somoni ($230 to $290) for heads of religious associations, and 15,000 to 20,000 somoni ($1,700 to $2,300) 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 in addition to .levying fines.

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 the 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 (government-sanctioned prayer leaders) 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. An August amendment to the law bans the traditional sacrifice of animals at ceremonies marking the seventh and fortieth day after a death and celebrating the return of Hajj travelers.

On August 23, parliament added an amendment to the law on the regulation of traditions, celebrations, and ceremonies that states, “Individuals and legal entities are obliged to protect the values of the national culture, including the state language, and national dress.” According to customary interpretation, “national dress” does not include the wearing of the hijab. The chairman of the Committee on Women and Family Affairs said in an interview there is no penalty for violation of this amendment, but also stated that a set of regulations would be introduced. The Code of Administrative Violations does not list wearing a beard or the hijab or other religious clothing as violations.

The law allows registered religious organizations to produce, export, import, and distribute an unspecified quantity of religious literature with the advance consent of appropriate state authorities. Only registered religious associations and 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 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 3,500 somoni ($400) for individuals; 7,500 somoni ($860) for government officials (who distribute or produce literature without permission); and 15,000 somoni ($1,700) for legal entities, a category including organizations of any kind as well as registered religious associations, with confiscation of the religious literature that is the subject of the administrative offense.

The law prohibits children under 18 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 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 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.

According to the CRA, 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 restricts sending citizens abroad for religious education and 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 2,500 to 5,000 somoni ($290 to $570) for violating these restrictions.

In December the parliament amended the law on freedom and conscience and religious associations to ban the creation of political parties based on religion. According to the newly amended law, only state educational institutions may provide religious education. The constitution prohibits political parties of “a religious nature” as well as “propaganda and agitation” encouraging religious enmity.

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

Summary paragraph: The government continued to take measures to prevent individuals from joining or participating in what it labeled “extremist” organizations. The government arrested or detained more than 220 persons on extremism charges, many of whom the government said were “Salafis” and/or ISIS supporters. NGOs stated authorities continued to refuse to register religious groups on technical or administrative grounds. Without registration, groups risked criminal or civil penalties for operating. Jehovah’s Witnesses remained banned and deemed an extremist organization, and the country’s sole Jewish synagogue remained unregistered. Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce the edict by the government-supported Council of Ulema prohibiting women from praying at mosques. Human rights activists again stated that authorities sought to “establish total control of Muslim activity” in the country. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) continued to conduct internal video surveillance of mosques in Dushanbe. Authorities remained vigilant against the appearance of “illegal” prayer rooms and mosques around the country. NGOs reported authorities continued to harass women wearing hijabs and men with beards, and continued to conduct raids to shut down shops selling “nontraditional or alien” clothing. Government officials continued to issue statements discouraging women from wearing nontraditional clothing.

Government officials continued to take measures they claimed were intended to prevent individuals from joining or participating in what they considered “extremist” organizations and continued to arrest and detain individuals suspected of membership in or supporting such banned groups. Those groups included Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Qaida, Muslim Brotherhood, 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, Salafi groups, Jamaat Ansarullah, and the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). According to a CRA spokesperson, the committee defined extremism as agitating for the overthrow of the current government or the initiation of sectarian violence.

On July 21, Minister of Internal Affairs Ramazon Rahimzoda told the media that in the first six months of the year, authorities detained 228 individuals suspected of involvement in groups the government deemed terrorist. Included among them were 104 having connections with ISIS, 80 with Salafi groups, 17 with Jamoat Ansarullah, 16 with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and three with the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. In addition, 13 citizens who joined ISIS voluntarily returned home. All of the voluntary returnees, according to national legislation, were exempt from criminal prosecution.

On November 17, Asia Plus reported an imam-khatib of one of the mosques in the northern province of Sughd was in jail for membership in an outlawed Salafi group. A Guliston city court sentenced Ilhomiddin Abdulloyev, imam-khatib of a mosque in the Choruk-Daarron settlement, to 5.5 years in prison on charges of organizing activities of an extremist group. A source at the Guliston city court said Abdulloyev joined the Salafi group while studying in a religious school in Kuwait from 1994 to 1998. According to the news report, Abdulloyev disseminated Salafi literature and urged others to join the group as well. Authorities banned “Salafism” in 2009 as a threat to national security.

According to a November 27 report from the Ozodagon news agency, a court in Khujand found cardiovascular surgeon Abdumalik Salomov guilty of membership in an illegal Salafi group and sentenced him to 5.5 years in prison. The court also found two other defendants, Ilhom Gafforov (classmate of Salomov) and Saidullo Mirzoev (friend of Salomov), guilty and sentenced each person to five years in prison.

On October 24, the Khujand city court convicted four men in the Sughd Region – Mumin Sodiqov, Bakhtiyor Ahmadov, Mahmud Fayziyev, and Homid Boymatov – of membership in the banned Salafi religious movement, according to press reports. The court found them guilty on charges of establishment of an extremist organization and participation in a religious organization banned for carrying out extremist activities. Each person received a five-year prison sentence.

In February media reported the arrest of Mullorahmat Okhunov, imam of Hoji Mulloqurbon, a five-time prayer mosque in Mastchoh District, and four of his followers for being members of a Salafi group. According to the CRA, the arrest occurred at the end of January. According to media reports, all five detainees were local residents under the age of 35. The arrest of the imam came after police detained a fellow villager in the town of Buston, where he shared information implicating Ohunov. Later, authorities stated they found materials from banned movements or groups in the house of the imam and the four followers.

On May 23, authorities detained four entrepreneurs from Panjakent and held them in custody for seven days for disobeying the police. Subsequently, the Khujand city court sentenced them to an additional two months of preliminary detention. On June 5-6, the court brought charges against all four for the organization of activities of an extremist organization, accusing the men of membership in a Salafi group. According to media reports, law enforcement officers had previously detained the four individuals in Panjakent in June 2016 on suspicion of membership in a Salafi group. Media reports stated that according to their relatives, the authorities forced them to shave their beards at that time and released them.

In August the media reported authorities detained Numonkhon Otaev, a former imam-khatib, in the city of Istaravshan for possessing unregistered religious books. According to his relatives, his arrest took place on August 7 after security officers searched his home and confiscated more than 300 religious and other books. News outlets reported Otaev was a well-known scholar and religious leader with no known connections to groups the government considered extremist.

On September 23, media reported local police detained a government-sanctioned imam of a city mosque in Guliston in Sughd Region along with dozens of his followers. Police officers interrogated and released many detainees the same day. The imam-khatib and 10 of his followers remained in custody, however. The authorities did not release the name of the imam-khatib. Authorities accused the imam and his 10 followers of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.

According to newspaper reports, at the end of July the court of Khujand city sentenced Bahrom Kholmatov – pastor of Sonmin Sonbogim, a Protestant church organization originating in South Korea – to three years’ imprisonment on charges of extremism. Police detained Kholmatov on April 10 in Khujand, and a panel of local religious experts, part of a specialized CRA council to analyze religious literature and provide consent to its importation or publication and distribution in the country, deemed the literature in his house and church to have extremist content. Following the verdict, authorities deregistered the Sonmin Sonbogim church, which meant it could no longer function legally despite having been registered in 2009. Kholmatov’s defense lawyer appealed the court’s decision. In early September media reported the Sughd regional court upheld the July verdict. According to a December update by the NGO Forum 18, Kholmatov decided not to appeal his sentence further.

On October 19, media reported Daniil Islomov, a Jehovah’s Witness from Dushanbe, refused to take the oath, wear a military uniform, or bear arms due to his religious beliefs after being called for military service. The court sentenced him to six months in prison on the charge of evading military service. Islomov appealed his case to the Supreme Court in November. In December Forum 18 stated that the Supreme Court denied Islomov’s appeal despite the court’s recognition that (unspecified) “mistakes” were made in the case.

On June 3, according to representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses, police raided a private home in Khujand, seizing passports, religious books, and a personal computer. Following an interrogation of those present in the house, police returned all of the seized items.

At a January 10 press conference, CRA officials stated the committee’s functions were based on the constitution and laws of the country, including laws concerning freedom of conscience and religious organizations, the regulation of traditions, celebrations, and ceremonies, and on parental responsibility in the education and upbringing of children. The officials stated that decrees and orders of the president, government, and internal legal acts ratified by the parliament were additional sources for CRA functions.

Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce a religious edict issued by the government-supported Ulema Council prohibiting women from praying at mosques.

NGOs reported authorities put restrictions on imam-khatibs, such as centrally selecting and approving sermon topics, as well as prohibiting some imam-khatibs from performing certain ceremonies. On June 22, the Ulema Council announced the topics for sermons by imam-khatibs in the mosques on the June 26 Eid al-Fitr holiday that included taking measures against recruitment by extremist groups.

At the press conference on January 10, Deputy Chairman of the CRA, Jumakhon Ghiyosov, told the media that only imam-khatibs of Friday mosques and central Friday mosques had the right to perform nikoh (the Islamic marriage ceremony). Additionally, he said imam-khatibs should perform such ceremonies only with appropriate documentation from the registry office. This was to prevent cases of polygamous marriages or marriage to a minor. Those imam-khatibs who performed wedding ceremonies for second or third wives, were already removed from their positions, according to Ghiyosov. This new restriction on who could perform Islamic marriage ceremonies did not have the force of law, however, and according to the CRA, the committee was developing a methodology for instituting administrative action against those clergy not approved by government who were performing marriage ceremonies.

In January officials in the prosecutor’s office in Kulob stated in a press conference that 10 imam-khatibs in villages near Kulob had been punished for “irresponsibility and mismanagement” of the mosques under their supervision. According to the officials, the government fined all of the imam-khatibs and put the mosques under stricter control.

Multiple sources reported on conversion of mosques into other facilities. The prosecutor’s office stated in a press conference there were 72 official mosques functioning in Kulob, and authorities had turned 54 unofficial mosques into sports facilities, residential properties, a local inspector’s office, a kindergarten, and medical stations.

The U.S.-based news organization EurasiaNet reported authorities converted 2,000 mosques into facilities for general public use during the year. Husein Shokirov, head of the CRA, said in a news conference “We gave the owners of the mosques time to file [registration] documents, but they didn’t do it, so the sites were either reclaimed by the government or repurposed into social facilities.” The committee said there were 3,900 mosques operating with proper permits in the country. According to Forum 18, a human rights activist said the committee’s claim that the mosques were illegal was not credible. She added many mosques refused to complain about their closure, even when she offered legal assistance to bring court cases, because “they were afraid to do so.”

On July 21, Khujand Mayor Maruf Muhammadzoda told the media that during the first half of the year, authorities closed four mosques in Khujand lacking proper registration and turned them into other types of facilities: a workshop for producing traditional national textiles, a kindergarten, a teahouse, and a drug store. Muhammadzoda denied the closures reflected a crackdown on religious freedom, noting that in Khujand there were 42 mosques, including 37 five-time prayer mosques and five Friday mosques. He said mosques were closed down and turned into other types of facilities because they lacked proper documentation or were located nearby other mosques.

On July 12, speaking at a press conference, Sulaymon Davlatzoda, Chairman of the CRA, told media that five-time prayer mosques could hold religious training courses if they provided appropriate conditions for conducting classes. He said because the courses were educational, mosques would need a license from the Ministry of Education and Science. As of the end of the year, no mosques received the license necessary to offer religious training, although several applied.

The Ulema Council in July stated on its website Friday prayers should be held at mosques only with official permission. The statement came in response to a question from a reader, and the Ulema Council advised him that if his council mosque were banned from holding Friday prayers, he should go to another mosque.

There were reports of governmental action against students studying abroad. At his July press conference, CRA Chairman Davlatzoda said that legislation required citizens to receive initial religious education inside the country before traveling abroad for further religious education. At his July 21 news conference, Khujand Mayor Muhammadzoda said the city administration repatriated more than 60 persons studying at religious schools abroad. He said only three students remained, in Saudi Arabia, and authorities were pressuring those students to return.

On November 2, the Akhbor news agency reported the CRA sent a statement to all mosques requiring them to dismiss all imam-khatibs who had studied abroad and to replace them with imams who had only studied in the country. The highest Islamic cleric of the country, Mufti Saidmukarram Abdulqodirzoda, was a graduate of a Pakistani religious school. It was unknown whether this decision would affect him.

NGOs reported authorities continued to enforce their ban on “nontraditional or alien” clothing. The Code of Administrative Violations does not list wearing a beard or the hijab or other religious clothing as violations, but citizens wearing these items reportedly received fines under other regulations. On July 11, President Rahmon stated during a speech marking the 10th anniversary of a national law regulating traditions, celebrations, and ceremonies that persons were not to wear beards or hijabs. He further stated hijabs and black dresses for women were not in line with the country’s traditions, and beards were not necessarily a reflection of religiosity. He called on citizens to “love God with their hearts” and not seek to show their “righteousness” through external attributes.

On September 26, media reports stated authorities took a resident of Khujand, Nargis Qurbonova, to the local police station for her refusal to take off her hijab. She told media police visited her house, asking her to take off her hijab. When she refused, they forced her to go to the police station with her son but released her later in the day, and she returned home. Qurbanova stated two police officers entered her house without any notice. One of them was a local inspector who had previously asked her to remove her hijab. She refused and said there was no legal requirement. After her detention, she called the helpline for the MIA as well as for the Department of Internal Affairs of Sughd Region, informing them of this incident. Once media reported news of her detention, police officers from the regional department visited her and asked her to submit a written statement about the incident. The MIA informed media organizations it was investigating the case. Qurbonova previously taught English at a local university, but four years ago when she began wearing the hijab, she said the university forced her to quit. Qurbonova told media she would continue to wear the hijab.

Media reports stated that on September 26, authorities detained Muhabbatkhon Davlatova, a resident of Ghafurov District, during a police raid at the Panjshanbe market in Khujand. She stated police threatened to take her to the local police station and force her to write a statement explaining why she was wearing a hijab. Davlatova commented to media, “I was released as soon as I said I would complain to the Prosecutor General’s Office.” According to Davlatova other women questioned by police officers did not argue and tied their scarves or veils in a way that exposed their necks. Three months prior to her September 26 detention, at the Atush market, police had “advised” Davlatova to stop wearing clothing “alien” to the country. Davlatova wrote a statement to the prosecutor’s office of Ghafurov District, to which that office responded the officers were acting within the law. In a letter from the prosecutor’s office, authorities stated that since 2015 groups of police officers and other authorities were working to dissuade individuals from wearing “alien clothing.” There were no references to specific enforcement guidelines, however.

In a video of a sermon posted on social media, Muhtadi Ahmadkhojaev, a prominent imam, strongly criticized government policy on hijabs and beards. He said, “Our beards were removed, our wives’ hijabs were removed, doors of mosques are closed, madrassas are closed, and now they are calling through ‘Open Microphone’ [a program on government TV in which individuals espouse their views on various subjects] to ban sacrificing [of animals per Islamic tradition]. This is no sign of prosperity; and it is democracy, not Islam.” According to Ahmadkhojaev, the campaign against hijabs and sacrifices was un-Islamic. After giving the sermon, Ahmadkhojaev left for Russia, according to media reports. Reports stated law enforcement officials requested his return to Tajikistan. Upon his return on August 25, law enforcement officials summoned and questioned him about the sermon. Ahmadkhojaev told district authorities the video was a forgery. Jaloliddini Balkhi district authorities said they initiated no criminal case against him.

On August 16, officials of the Committee on Women and Family Affairs told media they conducted “interviews” with 8,000 women in Dushanbe, and approximately 90 percent of the women interviewed agreed not to wear “religious dress” and instead wear “Tajik national clothes.” Most women said they started to wear hijabs because of family pressure.

On July 12, speaking at a news conference, Deputy Chairman of the CRA Azizulloh Mirzozoda announced government plans to introduce regulations on clothing and appearance into national law. At the same news conference, the head of the Islamic Center, Saidmukarram Abdulqodirzoda, said historically Tajik society was not accustomed to women wearing black and regarded it as rude. He further stated sharia did not require women to wear black clothing.

On July 21, Minister of Culture Shamsuddin Orumbekzoda told the media that the government had set up a commission to promote clothing it deemed appropriate for its citizens, which he said was an initiative aimed at combating “alien” culture. Speaking at a press conference, he said the commission would assist in designing clothing for men and women “taking into consideration Tajik traditions” and “modern life.” According to Orumbekzoda, the hijab was not compatible with the country’s hot climate for reasons of hygiene. Moreover, women wearing the hijab could spark “fear and doubt” in public places. He said, “Some persons standing next to them might wonder, ‘What if she is hiding something under her hijab?’”

On November 29, Russian news agency Sputnik reported authorities would provide women sketches of national clothes for all seasons. The report said, “Sketches of models of women’s clothing, designed for all ages and all seasons, were prepared by three departments: the Ministry of Culture, the Committee on Women and Family Affairs, and the Committee on Youth Affairs.” According to the report, authorities launched this initiative to prevent the dissemination of “alien” culture associated with religious affiliation among the citizens, and to promote national clothing for women and girls. As soon as the government approved the outfits, sketches were expected to be published on the Ministry of Culture’s website.

On September 6, millions of mobile communications subscribers received text messages from the government on national dress. The previous day the government Committee on Women and Family Affairs asked all mobile communication companies to send out messages calling for women to wear national dress. The SMS messages stated, “Wearing national dress is a must!” “Respect national dress,” and “Let us make it a good tradition to wear national dress.” There were reportedly no legal sanctions associated with the campaign.

On March 14, media reported MIA officials had searched for women wearing hijabs at a Dushanbe medical facility and forced a local woman to remove her hijab. The MIA denied its officials forced women to remove their hijabs and said forcible removal was against the law. Instead, ministry officials stated the ministry regularly organized public education campaigns to promote traditional national dress for women.

In May media reported the Committee on Youth, Sports, and Tourism was developing an ethics code which would preclude the participation of athletes in competitions if they wore beards or hijabs. Suhrobi Akbarsho, a representative of the committee, said the regulation was intended to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. He also said hijabs were not comfortable for some types of sports. In August the committee finalized and adopted the code and set up a commission to monitor its implementation. The code contained a stipulation it would be reviewed once a year, at which time experts would consider complaints against the code.

On July 3, the Department on Women and Family Affairs of the Sughd Regional Administration held a meeting in Khujand to begin establishing working groups to strengthen the fight against “alien culture.” All relevant agencies of Sughd Region and Khujand attended the meeting. At the meeting, the regional administration created 21 working groups of government personnel and civilians and developed a plan of action for eliminating “alien” clothing, specifically the hijab and satr (a hair covering similar to the hijab). On July 4, the working groups started urging women not to wear “alien” clothing, visiting localities, trading centers, sewing workshops, kindergartens, health centers, schools, and restaurants.

On July 15, the Minister of Health and Social Protection Nasim Olimzoda called for a ban of “alien clothing” at all health care institutions, including medical educational institutions.

On July 18, national television channel Jahonamo showed a video in which officials from the Committee on Women and Family Affairs, including the head of the committee, Idigul Qosimzoda, stopped women wearing hijabs in the streets of Dushanbe and told them to wear traditional attire instead.

On July 21, speaking at a news conference, the rector of the Islamic Institute of Tajikistan, Tojiddin Asomuddinzoda, noted the institute had prepared its own guidelines on “Tajik style” clothing for female students in accordance with Islamic law requirements. According to Asomuddinzoda, female students would henceforth “not need to wear alien Arab, Iranian, Turkish, or Afghan clothing,” which was widely interpreted to mean that women should not wear hijabs.

On July 28, the Committee on Women and Family Affairs announced at news conference it launched a campaign against “indecent clothing alien to the national culture and religion.” First Deputy Chair Marhabo Olimi told media that its effort focused not only on hijabs but also on indecent and immodest clothing “alien to our national culture and religion.”

At a July news conference, Chief of the Department of Internal Affairs in the Sughd Region General Sharif Nazarzoda said, “Having a beard has guidelines. There is a beard culture. When some join extremist groups and parties, their first duty is to have a beard and wear hijabs. They return home and force their spouses to wear hijabs.” He stated police did not shave individuals’ beards but sometimes ordered the population to “take care” of their beards.

On August 3, a media report stated authorities of the southern Dusti District asked the imam-khatibs of the mosques to shorten their beards to three centimeters (1.2 inches). Authorities explained they were setting an example to help propagate the “national culture.” One of the imam-khatibs was reported to have stated, that even if according to his madhab (school of Islamic thought) the length of a beard should be at least six centimeters (2.4 inches), he could not refuse the authorities’ request.

According to social media users, on August 5, representatives of the MIA and CRA stopped women wearing hijabs at the Shohmansur Market in Dushanbe, recorded their names, and brought some of them to MIA offices for further questioning. The social media users said some of the women removed their hijabs at the gate of the bazaar due to this pressure, and that government representatives told those gathered at the market that the women who violated the law would pay fines up to 1,000 somoni ($110). While there did not appear to be any legal provisions for levying fines, there was reportedly no unified guidance on enforcement, which observers said resulted in punitive actions of various kinds being taken against women wearing hijabs, including fines.

On August 7, Umarjoni Emomali, head of the Press Service at the MIA, stated in an interview with Radio Ozodi that police officers would not fine anyone for wearing foreign garments, including the hijab and satr, or “indecent” clothing. According to him, authorities were reminding women that hijabs, satrs, and turbans were foreign to the traditions of the nation’s people. In the same interview, First Deputy Chair of the Committee on Women and Family Affairs Olimi said the committee’s specialists would soon prepare guidelines for clothing that reflected the national culture and traditions.

On August 10, the media reported one television personality stated that on August 9, two officials at the Qariyai Bolo Hospital in Dushanbe approached his wife and him for “explanatory” checks and treated them rudely because he had a beard and his wife was wearing a hijab. One of the officials threatened him with future fines. When he asked the two inspectors to justify their actions, they responded they were obliged to follow the law.

On August 16, the Ministry of Education and Science issued a manual on its website providing requirements for the clothing of schoolchildren. The guidelines include restrictions on hijabs, as well as other clothing, and on jewelry and fashion items with no particular religious significance. The ministry stated its introduction of these regulations underscored the importance of conforming to national, cultural, and moral norms.

On October 9, media reported a police officer in the northern city of Konibodom stopped a group of bearded men and brought them to the local police station, stating all the city’s bearded men needed to be registered. The detained men explained they worked in the town’s theater, and beards were required for their performance. The police issued the men a special beard exemption card, giving them permission to wear their beards in public.

A media report from September 18 quoted a source at the prosecutor general’s office as saying those women fined for wearing hijabs could appeal to the prosecutor’s office. The source confirmed that, in accordance with norms and amendments to the law regulating traditions, ceremonies, and rituals adopted at the end of August, no penalty had yet been designated for wearing the satr or hijab. The source further noted, according to a court decision, individuals and legal entities could be fined for violating the provisions of this law.

On October 9, media reported authorities in the Rudaki District were launching an investigation into an incident in which Shokir Holodorov, a council member in the village of Mehrobod, used obscene language at a local mosque and demanded its closure. A video of the incident was posted on the internet shortly afterwards. Firuza Kamolova, deputy chairman of the Rudaki District leadership body, reported the village council member had been called in to discuss his behavior with the district leadership body and the local department of the State National Security Committee. Following the incident security officials temporarily closed this mosque. Holodorov explained the mosque in question was operating without registration from the CRA, and he had asked it cease its operations on previous occasions before this incident. After posting a video of the incident online, media organization Akhbor.com reported access to its website had been blocked within the country. Social media followers expressed outrage on Facebook at Holodorov’s behavior.

The government continued to restrict distribution of religious literature; made school attendance mandatory on the Eid al-Adha; limited the numbers of those allowed to go on the Hajj; and defined acceptable practices for children attending mosques and for funeral observances.

In August the Customs Service stated to the media that, during the first half of the year, it had identified six cases in which religious literature was illegally imported into the country and sold. The Customs Service confirmed the sale of a large batch of unauthorized religious literature at the Panjsher trading center of Dushanbe. During a joint raid on the Panjsher trading center, officials of the Customs Service and Dushanbe Department of the Committee on National Security found approximately 100 types of literature it deemed illegal, totaling approximately 4,000 copies. The government determined the literature did not go through appropriate CRA vetting and prevented importation and distribution of the materials. The books were from Pakistan, Iran, Libya, Egypt and Russia. The Customs Service brought court cases against those selling this literature.

On August 23, the Ulema Council of the Islamic Center announced the country would celebrate Eid al-Adha, a designated national holiday, on September 1, like other Muslim countries. The holiday coincided with the first day of the new school year. While constitutional provisions require that citizens be kept free from school or work obligations on official holidays, the Ministry of Education kept schools open on September 1, and made school attendance on that day mandatory for all teachers and students.

On June 20, the CRA announced it had barred citizens under the age of 40 from performing the Hajj, in order to give older individuals a greater chance to undertake the pilgrimage. The CRA’s imposition of age restrictions was similar to past years, when the government also imposed age restrictions on Hajj travel. In 2015, the minimum age was 35.

On September 11, a pilgrim returning from Mecca told media that, while still in the airport, officials from the CRA stated new amendments to the law on the regulation of traditions banned celebrations and ceremonies in honor of those returning from the Hajj. Afshin Muqim, a spokesperson at the CRA, told media that pilgrims could distribute holy water from the Zamzam well, and dried dates brought back from the pilgrimage, but Hojioshi or Hojitalbon ceremonies in honor of those returned from the Hajj, which were traditionally held in the past, were prohibited.

In September the CRA released new guidelines forbidding family and friends from loud wailing or ululating, or hiring others to do so, at funerals and advised citizens not to wear black at funerals.

On June 2, during his sermon at the Qaramishqor Friday mosque in Dushanbe, the imam-khatib told attendees that parents who allowed their children to attend taraweeh prayers (special prayers performed only during Ramadan) would be subject to a government fine. According to the imam-khatib, a government inspector had come to the mosque that day and reiterated that parents should forbid their children from attending mosques. The imam-khatib said the officials also told the imam that law enforcement officers would be posted at the entrances of mosques to register all juveniles attending mosques and levy fines on their parents. The imam-khatib urged his followers to ensure children prayed only at home until age 18.

In January Rector of the Islamic Institute of Tajikistan Asomuddinzoda, informed the media that for the 2016-17 academic year, the number of students at the institute had dropped by almost 40 percent. There were only 197 first year students enrolled for 308 slots; 102 studied for a fee, and the remaining were free of charge. He offered no reason for the decline. The Islamic Institute of Tajikistan is the only higher educational institution in the country offering a religious education.

Uzbekistan

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the freedom of religion or belief, including freedom of not professing any religion, but also contains limitations. Constitutional rights may not encroach on lawful interests, rights, and freedoms of other citizens, the state, or society. The law allows for restricting religious activities when necessary to maintain national security, the social order, or morality. The constitution establishes a secular framework providing for noninterference by the state in the affairs of religious communities, separates the state and religion from each other, and prohibits political parties based on religious principles.

The law criminalizes unregistered religious activity; requires official approval of the content, production, and distribution of religious publications; and prohibits proselytism and other missionary activities.

The administrative and criminal codes specify sanctions for violations of the law and other statutes on religious activities. The administrative code punishes illegal production, storage, or importation of religious materials. It criminalizes unapproved religious meetings, street processions, or other religious ceremonies and punishes private entities for leasing premises or other property to, or facilitating gatherings, meetings, and street demonstrations of, religious groups without state permission. It punishes unauthorized religious activity, failure to properly register a religious organization under the law, and facilitating children’s and youth meetings, as well as vocational, literature, and other study groups related to worship. The penalty for violating these provisions ranges from fines of 50 to 100 times the minimum monthly wage (172,240 som) ($21) or up to 15 days imprisonment, while the other violations of the law described carry fines only.

The criminal code distinguishes between “illegal” groups, which are those not registered properly, and “prohibited” groups viewed as “extremist.” It criminalizes membership in organizations banned as terrorist groups. It is a criminal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of four million to eight million som ($500 to $1,000), 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.

The criminal code punishes proselytism – the attempt to convert persons belonging to a certain religion to another religion – with up to three years in prison, proscribes efforts to draw minors into religious organizations without parental permission, and prohibits all individuals except clergy and individuals serving in leadership positions of officially recognized religious organizations from wearing religious attire in public places. Any religious service conducted by an unregistered religious organization is illegal.

The law requires all religious groups to register with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). Among the requirements, the law states each group must present a membership list of at least 100 citizens ages 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). The law states a religious organization may carry out its activities only after the MOJ registers it. Religious educational establishments acquire the right to operate after registering with the MOJ and receiving the appropriate license. Individuals teaching religious subjects at religious educational establishments must have a religious education and carry out their work with the permission of the appropriate agency of the government. These provisions make it illegal to practice any form of religion or belief with others without first obtaining registration as a juridical entity.

The law imposes registration requirements, such as a permanent presence in eight of the country’s 14 administrative units for central registration and the application by 100 members for registration in a specific locality. The applicants also require the concurrence of the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA, which reports to the Cabinet of Ministers) and the mahalla (neighborhood) committee. The government says it does not review mahalla decisions and activities, but reports continue to state there is ongoing coordination.

The law 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 CRA concurrence to registration. The law requires local governments to concur in registration of groups in their areas and that the group presents 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. Registered religious groups 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 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.

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 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. The CRA reviews all materials produced and must approve them before distribution. Materials include books, magazines, newspapers, brochures, leaflets, audiovisual items including CDs and DVDs, and materials posted to the internet describing the origins, history, ideology, teachings, commentaries, and rituals of various religions of the world. The state forbids banned “extremist religious groups” from distributing any type of publications. Individuals who distribute leaflets or literature deemed extremist via social networks have been subject to criminal prosecution and have faced jail terms ranging from five to 20 years. In the summer, government religious authorities expanded the list of religious literature clerics could use in services. To receive a Bible, a “Bible application” must be completed and is subject to government clearance before an authorized version of the bible may be purchased.

According to the law, individuals in possession of literature by authors the government deems to be extremist, 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 ($16) 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. In practice, criminal code violations for literature are rarely applied, if ever. Courts issue fines under the administrative code. In instances where an individual is unable to pay the fine, courts will issue an order garnishing wages.

The law permits only religious groups with a registered central administrative body to train religious personnel and conduct religious instruction. Nine madrassahs, including one for women, and an Orthodox and a Protestant seminary are officially approved to train religious personnel and provide secondary education. The government-sponsored Muslim Board of Uzbekistan plans to open a half-dozen religious education schools in 2018. The Cabinet of Ministers considers madrassah-granted diplomas equivalent to other diplomas, enabling madrassah graduates to continue to university-level education. In addition, the Tashkent Islamic Institute and the Tashkent Islamic University provide higher education religion programs. The law does not permit private religious instruction absent state approval and imposes fines for violations. The law limits religious instruction to officially sanctioned religious schools and state-approved instructors. The law prohibits the teaching of religious subjects in public schools.

The law requires imams to have graduated 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 he can become an imam later.

The law allows those who object to military service based on their religious beliefs to perform alternative civilian service. The law restricts the activities of faith-based NGOs, which is how the government classifies religious congregations. It prohibits religious activities outside of formal worship, as well as religious activities intended for children under 16 years old without parental permission.

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

Summary paragraph: According to NGOs, religious organizations, and expert observers such as the UN special rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief, the government continued to constrain the rights of its citizens to freely speak of and publicly profess or share one’s religion, faith, or belief with others. In his preliminary Uzbekistan trip report, the special rapporteur also said, “One of the primary ways in which the freedom of religion or belief is violated is through an overly broad interpretation of religious extremism.” The government continued to ban Islamic groups it defined as “extremist” and criminalized membership in such groups, which included 22 religious organizations. 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. Reports from NGOs indicated prison authorities physically abused prisoners, and charged some with organizing extremist religious activities from within prisons, which resulted in lengthened sentences. Authorities prevented prisoners held on “religious extremism” charges from practicing their religion.

The government continued to prohibit gatherings for worship in communities where a registered house of worship did not exist, and imposed strict penalties on those worshipping outside an authorized location.

For the eighth consecutive year, the government did not register a non-Sunni Muslim house of worship. The Jewish community remained unable to register a central office due to a regulation requiring synagogues (or other houses of worship) in at least eight of country’s 14 administrative units. Authorities fined members of some groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, which had unsuccessfully attempted to register, for engaging in religious activities. Law enforcement officers raided meetings and detained participants of unregistered religious groups and social gatherings where religious issues were discussed. The possession of religious literature uncensored by the CRA was heavily penalized and remained prohibited. Officials continued to search homes, offices, and spaces belonging to members of minority religious groups, at times 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 certain Islamic publications deemed extremist and arrested individuals attempting to import or publish religious literature without official permission. It also continued to arrest individuals in possession of literature deemed by the government to be “extremist.” State-controlled media accused missionaries and others engaged in proselytizing of posing a danger to society.

The government continued to ban Islamic groups it defined as “extremist” and criminalized membership in such groups, which included 22 religious organizations. Groups the government labeled as “extremist” were unable to practice their religious beliefs without risking criminal prosecutions. 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. NGO sources reported the government continued its physical abuse of persons arrested and jailed on suspicion of “religious extremism” or of participating in underground Islamic activity.

According to UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed, who visited the country in September – the first such visit since 2012 – freedom of religion or belief was subject to excessive government regulations that prioritize security over freedom. The rapporteur stated the government continued to constrain the rights of its citizens to freely speak of, publicly profess, or share one’s religion, faith, or belief with others in defiance of its own laws and international obligations. He said the various criminal code provisions addressing extremism captured a wide range of activities and have the potential to restrict activities protected under international law. He also said the government imposed strict penalties on those worshipping outside an authorized location and it failed to register a non-Sunni Muslim house of worship in eight years.

Representatives of minority religious groups stated the government continued to prohibit peaceful gatherings for worship and other religious activities in communities where a registered house of worship did not exist. In some cases, Christians remained separated from an authorized gathering place by more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and gathered in private “house churches,” leaving them vulnerable to police harassment and abuse since such gatherings remained illegal.

Based on information gathered during the year from a leading civil society association that follows prison reform, the country’s prison system held approximately 7,000 inmates on charges relating to their religious beliefs or practices. According to a speech by the president on December 7, the total prison population was 57,000.

Minority religious groups said they continued to experience difficulties registering and conducting religious activities because of harassment by local authorities.

On May 26, IGIHRDU reported the Tashkent City Criminal Court charged 11 devout Muslims with “religious extremism” and sentenced them to five to six year prison terms. According to IGIHRDU, defendants reported that, during the investigation, authorities tortured and physically abused them and harassed their family members. The judge and prosecutor rejected their torture claims.

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.

In May IGIHRDU reported that three brothers – Abdukarim, Akhmadillo and Abduvokhid Mirzaev, who were serving prison terms for “religious extremism” and attempts to overthrow constitutional order – received additional prison terms prior to the end of their prior sentences in January and April. Courts had sentenced Abdukarim Mirzaev to eight years in 2009; Akhmadillo Mirzaev to five years in 2006, and an additional six years in 2009; and Abduvokhid Mirzaev to 11 years in 2006. According to family members, prison authorities tortured all three men and denied them accommodation to practice their faith.

In September police raided the private Tashkent home of a Sunni Muslim woman who held regular gatherings of a women’s club at her home to discuss religious matters and Islam with neighbors. A Shaykhontokhur District administrative court convicted the organizer of teaching religion without a license, and fined her 13.8 million som ($1,680).

According to Shia community representatives, in Bukhara on February 2, the National Security Service (NSS) and police officers raided a gathering of 20 Shia men at a local restaurant for disorderly conduct. According to Centre1, an independent news publication founded by an exiled expatriate journalist, authorities released 15 of the detainees immediately while charging the other five – Jahangir Kulijanov, Shavkat Azimov, Alibek Khusanov, Jamshid Khasanov, and Sharof Sharapov –with harassing a woman and refusing to obey police orders; authorities sentenced the men to 15 days in jail. Detainees reported authorities physically abused them while in detention, placed them in solitary confinement, and provided no access to lawyers. Authorities searched the men’s homes, and found unauthorized religious literature and materials, including a video sermon of Moscow-based Imam Amin Ramin, who created a popular lecture series in Russian on the history of Shia Islam and the faith’s basic tenets. In May the government charged Kulijanov and Azimov with illegally establishing a public association or religious organization. Later in the month, authorities charged Kulijanov with possession, production, and dissemination of materials deemed a threat to public order. On August 22, a Bukhara District Court judge ordered Azimov and Kulijanov each to pay an 8,190,000 som ($1,000) fine on the illegal religious association charge. In November a court in Bukhara convicted Kulizhanov of illegal possession of religious material and violating the law on religious organizations and sentenced him to five years in jail. According to human rights activists, the prosecution provided what it said was evidence of alleged appeals to religious discord, but similar passages could be found in officially authorized literature used in mosques. Human rights defenders said the lack of a competent expert on Shia Islam led to an inaccurate interpretation.

President Mirziyoyev took several steps regarding improving relations with the Sunni Muslim community: the government cleared 16,000 persons from a security watch list of potential religious extremists; dispatched imams to prisons to begin a course of rehabilitation with religious prisoners; and lifted sanctions on the day-to-day practice of Islam, including public prayer to youth participation in mosques. A dedicated Islamic prayer room with a separate space for ablution was opened for the first time at Tashkent International Airport; the government has also announced plans to open prayer rooms in train stations. Authorities recently allowed major mosques to use loudspeakers for calls to prayer for the first time in more than a decade. In November the government approved fee-based courses on Arabic language and Quranic studies for the general public. In honor of Constitution Day, December 7, the president pardoned 2,700 convicts, including 763 “religious prisoners,” the largest one-time release of prisoners of conscience in the country’s history.

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

In March Forum 18, an Oslo-based NGO that chronicles religious rights abuses in Central Asia, reported that on February 28, three police officers, including an antiterrorist officer, entered the residence of Protestant couple Andrei and Tursuna Li in Uchtepe District, Tashkent Region, under the guise of conducting a passport check. Officers confiscated two Bibles in Russian, two Bibles in Uzbek, and a concordance (Bible index) in Russian. They also seized two mobile phones and a laptop computer. Li stated they had purchased the Bibles from the officially registered Bible Society. Authorities told Forum 18 that the confiscated materials were being examined by a religious expert pending a decision on whether to press charges.

Forum 18 reported the Council of Baptist Churches said that on March 11, two officers of the Yashnobod District Antiterrorist Police, Tashkent City, raided the home of a Baptist couple, Konstantin and Susanna Binkovsky. According to the couple, the officers stated it was part of a regular inspection for security reasons on the eve of the Novruz holiday (Persian New Year). As soon as the officers entered the Binkovskys’ home, however, they asked the couple whether they had religious literature. The officers confiscated a family Bible, other Christian books, and a paper notebook with notes without a warrant and made no official record of the search. The same day officers took Konstantin Binkovsky to Yashnobod District police station. According to Susanna Binkovsky, officers questioned them and ordered them not to disclose publicly information concerning the raid. Once the Baptists published information about the raid and literature seizure on the internet, the same officers came back to the Binkovskys’ home and threatened the couple with arrest.

On April 6, authorities raided the home of Alla Dobronravova, a member of an officially registered Baptist church in Navoi, while she was hosting her daughter and son-in-law at her residence, Forum 18 reported. Police confiscated Christian materials, including five books, two songbooks, two DVDs, and two personal paper notebooks with notes. Officers also told Dobronravova she might be charged with illegal production, storage, or import into the country, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials. For individuals, this would involve fines between approximately 3.4 million som ($420) and 17.2 million som ($2,100), plus confiscation of the materials and any items used to manufacture or distribute them.

On April 20, Nukus Criminal Court sentenced four Protestant men – identified only as Marat, Joldasbai, Atamurat, and Salamat – to 15-day jail terms for worshiping together at a private residence. Forum18 reported authorities freed the four from custody on May 5. According to Centre1, the NSS deprived the men of food rations as a form of punishment while in prison.

In May Forum 18 reported that authorities fined two visiting female Protestants from Turkmenistan in Khorezm Region. Customs officials searched the women as they prepared to cross back into Turkmenistan and discovered Christian materials on their mobile phones. The materials included sermons, songs, and the Bible in Uzbek. Officials confiscated the women’s mobile phones and passports, preventing them from leaving. Over the next few days, officials summoned the women for questioning each day, often for several hours at a time. Authorities then fined them 172,240 som ($21), each under the Administrative Code and allowed them to return to Turkmenistan.

On June 18, law enforcement in Karshi, Kashkadarya Region, raided a meeting for worship organized by the Council of Baptist Churches for approximately 200 deaf church members. On July 21, the Karshi City civic court tried five church members – Viktor Tashpulatov, Mikhail Balykbayev, Jahongir Shadmonov, Svetlana Andreychenko, and Munira Gaziyeva – on charges of conducting unsanctioned worship. The court sentenced Tashpulatov and Balykbayev to five-day jail terms. The three others each received a fine of 449,325 som ($56).

According to religious freedom advocates, on July 23, 25 police officers in Urgench, Khorezm Region, conducted an unauthorized raid during the Sunday morning worship meeting of a group of 27 local Protestants in the home of Ahmadjon and Yelena Nazarov. According to witnesses, some of the officers carried automatic weapons and only six wore police uniforms. Police confiscated a children’s Bible, a personal notebook with notes, sheets of paper with Christian songs, and three mobile phones. The officers detained all of the worshippers and took them to the Urgench City police station, where, according to victims, they were harassed, including subjecting females to strip searches.

In August, according to Forum 18, police raided a private home where Pastor Ahmadjon Nazarov and fellow Protestant worshipers were meeting. Participants were taken to police headquarters for questioning and released. In October Judge Bakhtiyar Torebayev fined some of the worshipers detained in August, including Nazarov, while others were given warnings.

On November 10, police in Andijan raided the private apartment of Irina Stepanova, a member of the local state-registered Baptist church. Officials justified their search with a claim that she “illegally stored a gun in her apartment.” Officials confiscated three Bibles, one Baptist songbook, Christian magazines, booklets, CDs and DVDs, and six personal notebooks. Andijan police opened a case against Stepanova with a possible penalty of a fine between approximately 3.4 million som ($420) and 25.8 million som ($3,150).

On November 19, 14 officials raided the private home of Stanislav Kim in Urgench during Sunday morning worship, according to Forum 18. Police arrested nine adults and interrogated and threatened them for two hours at the police station. Officials confiscated Christian books and detained other worshippers for police questioning. Three congregants were fined and two served 15-day sentences in custody. The other four were released from custody.

Media reported authorities closely observed social gatherings where religious issues were discussed, particularly among men, and made several arrests of individuals based on their participation in such gatherings. In one case, police raided a private home in Nukus where more than a dozen Baptists gathered for a dinner party service. Police found no religious materials but issued a fine for illegal worship outside a registered premise.

According to human rights activists and religious community representatives, 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 highest Sunni Muslim authority in the country). The government ensured its control over the Muftiate through the CRA and by selecting the Muftiate’s staff. The government did not legally limit the volume of public calls to prayer, although many mosques did so.

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, and the UN special rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief confirmed during his October visit to the maximum security Jaslyk prison, that prison authorities did not allow prisoners suspected of religious extremism to practice their religion, including reading the Quran or praying privately. According to the UN special rapporteur, reported restrictions included not permitting inmates to pray five times a day or refusing to adjust work and meal schedules for the Ramadan fast.

Authorities continued to fine representatives of registered religious groups, or representatives of groups that 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 house of worship in Tashkent Region. In October Jehovah’s Witnesses reported law enforcement personnel raided the houses of Bayrambay Begzhanov and Zhanar Alekbaeva, members of the congregation, and confiscated religious literature and a mobile phone with religious publications on it. On October 3, the Chirchik City Administrative Court in Tashkent Region charged the two with illegal production, storage, and distribution of religious materials and fined them 1,497,750 som ($190) and 2,995,500 som ($370) respectively.

In Tashkent on February 4, authorities arrested Lidiya Sisoyeva of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for sharing her beliefs with others. Officials searched her personal belongings and seized a mobile phone and tablet computer; they were subsequently fined under the administrative code. On February 14, police arrested two female Jehovah’s Witnesses, Svetlana Andreeva and Alfiya Ganieva, while they were peacefully proselytizing. Police officers seized two mobile phones and a tablet computer; the two women were subsequently fined under the administrative code. In Fergana, on July 2, police officers arrested two female Jehovah’s Witnesses, Anastasiya Berezeva and Gulnara Islamkulova, after they were proselytizing; they were subsequently fined under the administrative code.

During the year the Jehovah’s Witnesses recorded 245 episodes of “hostile acts” against their members, ranging from physical abuse in police detention and threats of physical violence against family members, to home raids, unlawful searches and seizures of personal property, and employment discrimination – a decrease from 264 such acts in 2016. In March the international Jehovah’s Witnesses organization filed a petition with the UN Human Rights Council alleging egregious violations of their members’ right to practice their faith in the country.

Many religious group representatives reported they were unable to meet the government’s registration requirements, which included the need for permanent presence in eight of the country’s 14 administrative units to acquire central registration, and application by 100 members for registration in a specific locality. Their inability to register left them subject to criminal sanction for engaging in “illegal” religious activities.

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 guarantee letters and 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 only Russian-sounding surnames.

Churches that previously attempted to register reportedly 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 were unable to register their churches after 11 years of unsuccessful attempts.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that, despite continued efforts to engage with the government, they had no success in registering new congregations despite their growing numbers. They currently only have one registered site, on the outskirts of Tashkent, which does not adequately meet their needs.

According to the CRA, the number of registered Sunni mosques reached 2,042, the highest number since 1998. 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 close to larger, registered mosques. The neighborhood mosques remained limited in their functions, and were not assigned registered imams.

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.

The Jewish community remained unable to register a central office because it did not have synagogues in at least eight of the country’s 14 administrative units, as required by law. Despite the community’s efforts to have additional rabbis recognized, the MOJ accredited only one rabbi, a Bukharan, in 2014, and none since. The Ashkenazi Jewish community continued to lack a rabbi. Members of the Jewish community said the rabbi shortage limited faith practices, religious interest, and growth of the community. Jews expressed concern over the future of their congregations once the current generation of adherents either emigrated or passed away.

The government continued to prohibit training of Shia imams inside the country and did not recognize training received outside the country.

Media reported security services continued to conduct surveillance of Muslim communities by filming participants at Friday prayer services at local mosques. Parishioners at Catholic masses also reported surveillance and that authorities prohibited a summer camp for children in the Fergana Valley, citing security threats. Other communities, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, reported surveillance of their facilities.

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

According to civil society monitors, Muslims could openly celebrate Ramadan iftars in public for the first time in recent memory. According to the NGO Freedom House, for the first time in many years, the government allowed all-night prayers during Ramadan.

State-controlled and -influenced media continued to accuse missionaries of posing a danger to society and sowing civil discord. In Karshi on May 18, the regional state broadcaster aired a documentary that encouraged residents actively to resist Jehovah’s Witnesses in their neighborhoods because of the potential harm a conversion may have for family and social unity. Regional authorities also initiated an “antimissionary marathon” with posters in the central square.

Mahalla 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. Muftiate authorities stated they and mahallacommittee members regularly made home visits in the mahalla’s district to check on a family’s spiritual needs.

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 increased the number of Hajj pilgrims to 7,500 from 5,200 the previous year, the first increase since the founding of the country 26 years ago, although this number still represented only approximately a third of the country’s allotment allowed by Saudi Arabia. Religious authorities continued generally to limit access to the Hajj to persons over 40 years old. 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. Officials have established a commission to review participation eligibility.

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 in second hand stores or flea markets, but any literature not specifically approved by the CRA was rare.

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

The CRA continued to block the importation of both Christian and Islamic literature.

According to worshippers, 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. In January Forum 18 reported customs officials at Tashkent airport confiscated Qurans and other Muslim books from pilgrims returning from the Umrah pilgrimage.

The government continued to block access to several websites containing religious content, including Christian- and Islam-related news sites, and to websites run by Forum 18.

On June 1, after a 23-year project, government translators finalized the first complete Bible in the Uzbek language. The government subsequently authorized the publication of 3,000 copies, which it conceded would not be enough to satisfy local demand. The government continued to allow the following groups to publish, import, and distribute religious literature upon review and approval by the CRA: the Bible Society of Uzbekistan, the Muftiate, Tashkent Islamic University, Tashkent Islamic Institute, and the offices of the Russian Orthodox, Full Gospel, Baptist, and Roman Catholic Churches.

Christian groups stated they need more than the single authorized version of the Bible in Uzbek to practice their faith. Religious leaders commented they continued to lack access to other important religious materials and texts to explain the teachings and tenets of their faiths in the Uzbek language.

Following a gathering of senior Muslim officials in June, President Mirziyoyev called for a new governmental approach to regulating religion. As a result, media and religious groups reported authorities began permitting children and teenagers under the age of 16 to worship alongside their parents in mosques for the first time beginning in the summer. Civil society groups stated that plain-clothes police reduced their surveillance of Muslim prayer services, and were replaced by uniformed police officers.

In November the Kukcha mosque in Tashkent broadcast the call to prayer over its loudspeakers for the first time since 2005.

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

In June religious authorities inaugurated a new Islamic theological seminary in Bukhara to prepare more imams for pastoral roles, and the government in conjunction with the Muftiate launched online courses on religious subjects such as jihad and sharia.

Media reported that as of the new year, officials would require hotels to furnish at least 10 percent of rooms with Islamic prayer mats and religious books such as the Quran, Bible, and Torah, and 30 percent of rooms with an indicator specifying the direction of Mecca.

The government continued to fund an Islamic university and the preservation of Islamic historic sites. No Islamic religious institutions in the country are privately funded because of a government prohibition. In June the government approved a branch of the Tashkent Islamic University on the premises of the Burkhaniddin Naqshband Sufi Shrine. Officials stated Sunni clerics who obtained their qualifications at religious schools abroad were allowed to preach within registered premises.

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