Each year, the U.S. State Department designates countries of particular concern for severe violations of religious freedom. Uzbekistan has been added to the list this year, says Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford:
"Violations of religious freedom in Uzbekistan are widespread and severe, and the situation has continued to deteriorate this year. The already extremely restrictive religion law has been further tightened, congregations have been harassed and deregistered, and fines have been dramatically raised."
Muslims in Uzbekistan bear the brunt of the government's repression. Authorities continue to target observant Muslims for arrest, often considering conservative Islamic practice to be evidence of extremism and terrorism. It is clear that many of those harassed, tortured, and convicted of membership in extremist organizations are simply observant Muslims.
At the same time, said Ambassador Hanford, the United States recognizes that Uzbekistan faces a legitimate security threat from groups that have used religion as a cover. Such organizations include the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group that is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.
In addition to persecuting Muslims, the government of Uzbekistan has increased its repression of Christians. Under the law on religion, the Uzbek government has tried and convicted many Protestant religious leaders for meeting without being registered and for distributing religious materials. Even some registered congregations have been fined and deregistered by the government.
Clearly, Uzbekistan's record on religious freedom and other human rights is abysmal. By designating Uzbekistan as a country of particular concern, the United States hopes the government will rethink its policies and undertake serious reforms. "Freedom of religion," said President George W. Bush, "is the first freedom of the human soul. We must stand for that freedom in our country. We must speak for that freedom in the world."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.