Religious freedom denied even in Uzbekistan's prison
The government's harsh control over religion reaches into the country's prisons. More and more prisoners and people close to them are talking about the ban on praying and reading holy texts.

Tashkent (AsiaNews) - The relatives of some jailed Muslim prisoners of conscience have told Forum 18 that it is not possible to pray in the prisons of Uzbekistan. According to the sources, anonymous for fear of possible retaliation, prisoners "cannot openly pray, or read any Muslim literature, even the Koran."

Mukhammadakmal Shakirov, head of the International Relations Department of the state-controlled Islamic Religious Leadership, denied the allegation, insisting that "in all Uzbekistan's prisons convicts are allowed to pray or read the Koran if they want to".

Yet, many witnesses from various religious backgrounds have said that in prison religious freedom is under tight control.

Last April, Andrei Serin, a member of an unregistered Baptist Church in Tashkent, said that one prisoner "had a Bible which was taken away from him at the beginning of his sentence".

In Uzbekistan, where Sunni Muslims are 88 per cent of the population and Christians 8 per cent, freedom of religion is under stringent government control.

In its latest annual report released on 30 April, the US Commission on Religious Freedom included Uzbekistan in its list of 15 'Countries subject of particular attention'.