“Violation of religious freedoms threatens Uzbekistan’s future”
Violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief in Uzbekistan represents one of the most serious escalations of human rights abuses and threatens Uzbekistan’s future, Sukhrobjon Ismoilov, Director of the Tashkent-based Expert Working Group, reported on September 27, 2011 at the Annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meetng in Warsaw.
Working Session II that was dedicated to Fundamental freedoms (I) – Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, gathered experts and activists from OSCE participating states. Ismoilov was one of those to speak about situation with religious freedoms in Uzbekistan.
“The Uzbek authorities dismiss the crackdown against independent Islamic groups as necessary to stabilize the country during its transition toward its stated goals of a democratic state. The government justifies its strong-hand tactics as necessary to fend off militant Islamists and religious extremists. It is not clear whether religious fundamentalism is a real threat to Uzbekistan or merely a political game.”
Emphasizing the state-controlled Islam, as it was in Soviet times, Ismoilov had this to say:
“The government tries to supervise religious worship and belief, by overseeing the Islamic hierarchy, the content of imams’ sermons, and the substance of their religious materials. In the course of the past years, the Uzbek government has continued to persecute and harass those who practice Islam outside of the government-controlled system. Uzbek law provides for criminal and administrative penalties against those involved in unregistered religious organizations, private religious education, and the possession and distribution of literature recognized as “extremist”.”
Uzbek expert highlighted the situation when counter–terror laws are actively applied in persecution of Muslims who fall beyond the government controlled Islam. As a result, there are more than 7000 political prisoners are being held in prisons on the basis of their religious beliefs.
The Uzbek regime “have always tried to control the growth and level of religiosity in the society, but the task of maintaining a secular character of the state has transformed in Uzbekistan into forced secularization of the public consciousness.”
“In general the Uzbek authorities control the situation by applying punitive measures. But the consequences of this are conflicting. Ongoing imprisonment and crackdown on religious groups falling out of the government set boundaries will possibly fuel those groups and push them to become more radical. One of the main places of radicalization of peaceful Muslim groups today in Uzbekistan is the Uzbek prison system. Whatever the consequences, it is quite clear that religious extremist groups are not leaving Uzbekistan and will continue to challenge the difficult line between rising political dissent and extremism.”
Expert agrees that there is a legitimate threat of Islamist extremism and fundamentalism in Uzbekistan. But at the same time Ismoilov emphasizes that this threat is too exaggerated and demonized by the Uzbek government.
“The government policy on freedom of religion is repressive and that is why ineffective. Such policy on combating religious extremism and fundamentalism doesn’t convince the society but scares and makes it more sympathetic to the extremist and fundamentalist groups. In predominantly Muslim societies such strategy proves to be not effective.”