Tashkent approves new law on religious freedom
by Vladimir Rozanskij

It should strengthen guarantees for believers of all faiths. Facilitated registration and termination of religious associations. The measure has a very "European" character. Uzbek Islam still has strong fundamentalist traits.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Yesterday, Uzbek President Šavkat Mirziyoyev signed the new version of the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations", which provides a simplified procedure for the registration and termination of their activities. The document was published in the Parliament Official Gazette and has already entered into force.

Interfax reports that the measure aims to strengthen the guarantees of freedom of conscience and religious confession. It perfects the legal mechanisms that ensure that every citizen can freely profess his or her religious beliefs or refrain from professing any.

The new law reduces the number of citizens required to establish a religious community, mosque or church at the local level by half (now no more than 50 people are needed).

The requirement of 100 founders is also abolished for the creation of a central administrative body of the religious association, and for religious formation institutions. Suspension or termination of activities is delegated only to the courts, removing it from the registrar’s office.

The legislation establishes the professional status of religious education, which is prohibited from being taught outside the religious association's educational institution. It also removes the ban on appearing in public places wearing the clothing and vestments of one's own religion, which had caused controversy in the past.

The law has a very "European" character. Data released by the Uzbek Senate reveals that the law incorporates the recommendations of experts from various international organizations, including the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

According to the State Committee for Religious Affairs in Tashkent, in Uzbekistan 94% of the population professes Islam, 3.5% are Orthodox of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the remainder belong to other religious denominations.

Catholics number about 5,000, out of a population of 25 million inhabitants: they are organized in 5 parishes and are cared for by the Latin Rite Apostolic Administration of Uzbekistan. There is also a small community of Catholics of Byzantine rite, which depends on the special apostolic administration for Greek Catholics in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. The apostolic nuncio in Moscow is also accredited to the government in Tashkent.

Uzbek Islam is not without fundamentalist traits. At the end of June, a group of Muslim faithful led by the rector of the Islamic Academy of Uzbekistan, Musaffar Kamilov, carried out an aggressive "inspection" in bookshops in the center of Tashkent: they wanted to check the extent to which the books sold corresponded to the ideology of the Islamic religion.

Kamilov, who is vice-president of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, was accompanied by other Islamic authorities, such as the collaborator of the Center for Muslim Civilization Abror Abduazimov and the former Imam-khatib of the mosque in Tashlaksk (Fergana province), Šukryllo Egamberdiev.

They denounced some books as "contradicting our faith,” in so far as "some volumes present the theses of orientalists, while they must first of all correspond to our religious convictions, then to the morals, traditions and customs of our people."

Books deemed "foreign" to Uzbek Islam include those on Western artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt, along with several others that for the inspectors "should be blocked at the border.”