Tashkent (AsiaNews/Forum18) Religious freedom continues to be violated in Uzbekistan as the government seeks total control over religion. According to art. 8 of Uzbekistan's Religion Law, only registered religious groups can engage in any religious activities, but more often than not, registration is never granted.
Many groups that have applied to be registered are still waiting for approval. For them, even a simple prayer in a private home is dangerous. Participants in such illegal activity can be fined under art. 240 of the Uzbek Administrative Code (this year fines increased tenfold) or incarcerated up to 15 days. Under art. 216-2 of the Criminal Code, proselytising is also punished with prison sentences varying from six months to three years.
With Muslims constituting over 90 per cent of Uzbekistan's population, the authorities see Islamic radicalism as a reason to keep a lid on Islam and the population. Fearing Islamic radicalism the government has used state media and a network of secondary and higher educational institutes to train state-appointed imams, who are nominated and replaced at the whim of the authorities although the law does not allow it. Even Friday prayers must be approved by the Muftiate, the government-controlled Islamic religious leadership.
Non-state controlled mosques are not registered and so must operate as social clubs, libraries, museums, like during Soviet times.
Non-state controlled religious education is forbidden. Violators can be fined or even imprisoned.
State Islamic educational institutions are keen to ensure that students are politically loyal to the President, using means such as asking applicants questions to test their political reliability.
Many Muslims are incarcerated on charges of belonging to radical or banned organisations or simply for meeting to pray or discuss God.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Andijan massacre, when the army fired on unarmed demonstrators, killing hundreds.
No one has been charged for the crime, but hundreds of people have been tried and sentenced for "organising" subversive demonstrations.
Since May 2005 a wave of repression has hit anyone involved in religious activities.
"It is clear that the majority of Muslims arrested after the Andijan rebellion were 'guilty" only of meeting to read the Qu'ran and talk about God," said Ikramov of the Human Rights Initiative Group of Uzbekistan.
But Muslims are not the only one suffering. However numerically insignificant other religions may be, the government does not simply want to control them; it seems bent on restricting them if not altogether eliminating them.
In the north-western region of Karakalpakstan Christian, mostly Protestant, groups are not allowed to worship or engage in any activity, except for the Russian Orthodox parish in the regional capital Nukus. The anti-Christian campaign has gone so far as threatening children to get them to renounce their religion
In March and April, Jehovah's Witnesses have also come under attack with government agents disrupting religious functions.
"When Christians meet in private apartments for discussion, the authorities see them as potential terrorists. Since the events in Andijan the number of raids by police on private apartments owned by Christians has risen, as has the number of arrests of believers," Iskander Najafov, a lawyer for the Tashkent Protestant Church. (PB)