In its latest International Religious Freedom report, the U.S. State Department says that the status of religious freedom in Uzbekistan declined during the period of June 2005 through June 2006. A number of minority religious groups, including various Christian denominations, had difficulty satisfying the strict registration requirements set out by Uzbek law. Law enforcement officials raided and harassed some registered groups, several of which were subsequently deregistered and closed.
John Hanford the Third is U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. He says that the government of Uzbekistan, like a number of other repressive governments, targets minority religions for abuse and equates certain types of religious expression with security threats:
“The status of religious freedom declined in Uzbekistan, mainly for those accused of being connected with dangerous sects or extremists, as well as for many Protestant groups. And there was an amendment to the law on religion, which is already the most restrictive in Central Asia that severely increased penalties for violations. They are outrageous now. There are fines of up to three hundred times the minimum monthly wage for violations of the law and religious activities such as illegal meetings, up to three years in jail for just distributing religious materials and. . . .we had a number of instances in which there were raids and people were detained and tried and fined.”
Ambassador Hanford said that Muslims have been among the Uzbek governments’ main targets:
“The most serious problem over the last few years in Uzbekistan has been inappropriate arrest of some Muslims who are simply observant, maybe praying five times a day, perhaps they have a beard, and just on the basis of these outward signs are suspected of having terrorist ties. And in some cases, these people have been horribly treated.”
People must have the right “to believe and practice and worship” as they choose, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The United States, she says, “seeks to promote religious freedom and tolerance and build a more peaceful world for the peoples of all faiths.”
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.