Tashkent (AsiaNews/F18) - Uzbekistan's official state media continue their campaign against religious communities and believers, targeting in particular Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses.
According to Forum 18, a news service committed to documenting violations of religious freedom in Central Asia, various articles and editorials have appeared, attacking people who demand the right to religious freedom. What is more, victims are denied the right to reply to articles that contain unsubstantiated slanderous and defamatory content.
In one particularly telling case, a judge fined religious believers based on false information found in a number of articles. More generally, newspapers like to allege that those who practice faith use brainwashing techniques to "turn children into zombies".
Attacks by media and the press in Uzbekistan are so commonplace that they appear to be part of a strategy by Uzbek authorities to undermine religious freedom and worship, whether by individual believers or entire communities. This strategy, experts explain, is aimed at controlling society.
Inaccurate or false reporting and the impossibility for victims to reply against attacks have created a culture of impunity for government officials and their acolytes.
Government censorship of all sources of information, including the seizure and ban of texts and other material somehow linked to faith or religious freedom, underpin the situation.
The latest cases of press attacks against religions occurred in the last two months, involving two different Baptist communities, the Church of Eternal Life, and a group of Jehovah's Witnesses.
In one case, Forum 18 reports that on 13 November, the 12news newspaper published several defamatory articles about Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses whose only fault was to demand the right to practice their religion.
Before that, another newspaper, Oltin Vodiy, had attacked four members of a Protestant community in the region of Navoi.
Calling them "lost souls," it compared the four to the characters in a movie in which a Muslim couple goes through all sorts of mishaps after converting to Christianity.
After the article came out with the names and addresses of the four Christians, they lost their job, local Christian sources said.
In a country where Sunni Muslims constitute 88 per cent of the population, and Christians make up 8 per cent, government restrictions on religious freedom are a normal feature.
Under Uzbek law, it is illegal for example to possess religious literature "if it is extremist and incites hatred". At the same time, courts often order the destruction of material seized in private homes after hearing the "learned" opinion of "experts" who tend to define all books on religion as "extremist".