|| Religious Freedom Ranking:
1 out of 5 stars: Serious Violations
The state of religious freedom in Uzbekistan can only be understood in light of the general state of the country, the transformation which has taken place in the post-Soviet era, and the movements which are occurring in neighboring countries. The current President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov rose to power as a Communist party functionary during the Soviet era. He became the leader of the Uzbek Communist Party in 1989. In 1991 he supported the hard-line coup against Mikhail Gorbachev. When that coup failed, he officially renamed the Communist Party as the People’s Democratic Party. Under the leadership of Karimov, this party has ruled since that time. President Karimov is referred to as "Papa," or the "Hero of Uzbekistan."
Officially Uzbekistan is governed under a Constitution adopted during the Soviet era. The Constitution delineates Uzbekistan as a secular state but provides religious freedom and guarantees other civil rights such as freedom of the press. The constitution establishes three branches of government, but in fact, the country is dominated by the chief executive. All media is tightly controlled and censored and criticism of the President is forbidden. Unauthorized public assembly is prohibited. Uzbekistan has been sited for numerous human rights abuses. The Freedom House Survey of Press Freedom 1997 states the case mildly, "Uzbekistan is a state with limited civil rights." Human Rights Watch goes further. In there 1997 report, they state, "Increased attacks on dissidents suggested that the promises were empty words (referring to efforts by Karimov to improve his human rights image)... Almost all human rights continued to be denied."
The police (controlled by the Ministry of the Interior), and the National Security Service (NSS) - the former KGB- are the security forces responsible for domestic security and are the two forces generally charged with human rights abuses. According to Freedom House, "Police and NSS forces used torture, harassment, and illegal searches, and arbitrarily detained or arrested opposition activists on false charges. They committed these and other abuses against both dissidents and other citizens, although reported abuses against dissidents decreased sharply. Arbitrary arrest and detention is common; even foreigners are not exempt. Police often beat criminal suspects, and detention can be prolonged. Prison conditions are poor. Although the Government says that it investigates abuses, those responsible for documented abuses rarely appear to be punished."
In Uzbekistan, religion is closely related to politics. Uzbekistan borders on two countries which have been torn by warfare resulting from the rise of Islamic fundamentalism - Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Since 1991, Islam has been resurgent. The number of mosques has increased from 80 at the end of the Soviet era to more than 5000 today. The number keeps increasing.
The 1996 US State Department Report on Human Rights stated, "Fearing the destabilizing influence of extremist Islamic forces, the Government has sought to control the Islamic Hierarchy, the content of imam’s sermons, and the extent and substance of published Islamic materials. However, Islamic groups not affiliated with the Government form a ‘parallel Islam.’" Independent clerics have been harassed, arrested, and tortured. Some have disappeared. Several mosques have been closed.
Karimov is not opposed to religion or Islam per say. After Uzbekistan became independent, he made the Hajj to Mecca. He sees Islam as a part of the cultural identity which holds Uzbekistan together. But he opposes the establishment of an Islamic state and detests the "extremist" groups who would seek to establish such a state through a "jihad," such as occurred in Afghanistan. It should be noted that many Uzbeks agree with him and feel that his strong rule is necessary to ward off the instability and bloodshed which have ravaged neighboring countries.
However, because the government seeks so stringently to forbid any discussion critical of the government, limits Islamic participation to government-approved mosques, and regulates the content of the messages of the Imams and discussion within the mosques, there is no outlet for dissent or critical discussion of government policy by moderate Muslims who advocate independence from the government. According to some observers such as the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, such repression of independent thought could lead to the very situation which the government fears -- an increase of those who turn to more extremist and violent Islamic groups.
Jews, Russian Orthodox, and other ethnic minorities are free to practice their religion so long as they do not criticize the government or proselytize. Missionary activity and evangelism in Uzbekistan are illegal.
Under these circumstances there is not much room for new religious movements in Uzbekistan. Registration for the Unification Church has been denied. The Church is prohibited from holding public meetings, fundraising, witnessing, or speaking in public. The right to teach the church doctrine, the Divine Principle, is restricted, and the church has experienced immigration and emigration problems.
2008 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Report on Uzbekistan