05/23/2007, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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Tashkent to reintroduce Soviet-style controls over religion

An official document shows how the state wants to exert close control over religious groups. Missionary and religious activities outside official organisations are punishable. The goal is to have a network of local committees in charge of religion like in Soviet times.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/F18) – The Uzbek government wants to tighten controls over independent religious groups, including Islamic ones, and prevent any kind of missionary activity, this according to the Forum 18 news agency citing a three-page document on religion from a regional state administration. The goal is to extend Soviet-style state control over religion.

The document, which mentions the decision taken to that effect at a high-level government meeting in April, details among other things directives to regional representatives of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims (the local Islamic religious organisation) and the state Religious Affairs Committee, which order them to “to bring under constant close observation all officially registered religious organisations” and establish tight controls in cities and neighbourhoods of people “who pervert true Islam” and engage in illegal religious activities.

In practice, Forum 18 writes, the document wants official Islamic organisations to co-operate with the government and the police to crush “independent Muslim [and non-Muslim] activity outside its framework,” requiring imams to speak out against “extremism, terrorism and perversions of true Islam.”

City district committees (Mahalla) are already working with the police to stamp out all kinds of illegal religious activities. Ostensibly independent, such committees are in fact tools that enable the authorities to exercise control over all social activities.

A case in point is the trial of Protestant clergyman Dmitry Shestakov when Mahalla officials testified that he had led an illegal religious group and engaged in missionary activities. Their presence and testimony in court are clear evidence that they had closely monitored the clergyman’s activities.

The aforementioned document does not limit itself to general directives but provides detailed instructions as well. It tells for example Rev R. Jalilov, pastor of the Church of Full Gospel  Christians, to draw up a plan together with the head of the Andijan Religious Affairs Committee, N. Mamajanov, that contains “concrete measures to prevent missionary activity in the region.”

This is clear evidence of the Uzbek government’s intention to tightly control religion despite article 61 of the Uzbek constitution which states: “Religious organisations and associations are separate from the state and equal before the law. The state does not interfere in the activities of religious associations.”

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