Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is deeply troubled by reports indicating that the government of Uzbekistan is backsliding on steps it had taken in recent years to improve religious freedom conditions in the country. Within the last week, Uzbek officials have allegedly conducted raids against religious individuals, fined them, and subjected many to brief sentences of administrative arrest. Authorities have also reportedly forced Muslim men to shave their beards while school administrators have pressured schoolgirls to either remove their hijabs or wear them differently.
“In the early years of his administration, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev made important strides for freedom of religion or belief by rolling back many of the previous administration’s most problematic policies,” said USCIRF Commissioner Nury Turkel. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing the reemergence of practices that only serve to intimidate believers of all kinds and suppress religious expression. As Uzbekistan continues to reverse course on its reforms and further crack down on religious freedom, we urge the U.S. government to place it on the Special Watch List.”
Religious practice in Uzbekistan is extremely circumscribed by both official policy in the form of legislation and other informal practices carried out by security services and law enforcement. In early September, the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis—Uzbekistan’s parliament—moved forward criminal and administrative code amendments ostensibly meant to protect the secular nature of the state but that would likely impact individuals’ religious freedom. This year, Muslims continued to face arrest and imprisonment related to their religious activities and in other instances felt compelled to exercise self-censorship in consideration of their safety.
“We are particularly disturbed by reports that a high-ranking government official asserted that civil servants must choose between their beliefs and their careers,” added USCIRF Commissioner David Curry. “Everyone in Uzbekistan should be able to live and practice their religion in accordance with their conscience. The U.S. government must not overlook Uzbekistan’s declining religious freedom situation and should urge its counterparts there to protect this crucial right in line with Uzbekistan’s international commitments.”
In its 2023 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the U.S. Department of State include Uzbekistan on its Special Watch List for committing severe violations of religious freedom. In June, USCIRF hosted a discussion with the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and a representative of Human Rights Watch to evaluate religious freedom in Uzbekistan.