USCIRF Concerned by New Uzbekistan Religion Law

Jul 16, 2021

USCIRF Concerned by New Uzbekistan Religion Law

Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed its disappointment that Uzbekistan’s new Religion Law fails to address the most serious restrictions on religious freedom in the country.

We are concerned that the newly signed legislation retains Uzbekistan’s most severe limitations on freedom of religion or belief from previous laws, including restrictions on education, literature, and sharing of religious beliefs,” said USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza. “USCIRF urges the U.S. government to encourage Uzbekistan, as a participating state in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, to continue on its path of positive change and conform its Religion Law with international standards.

The new law, On the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, has some positive changes for religious freedom in Uzbekistan, such as lifting the ban on wearing religious attire in public for non-registered clergy. It also halves the number of adult citizens required for registering a new religious organization, from 100 to 50. Despite this progress, however, the law also includes a new stipulation that requires citizens registering their religious group to live in the same district, making it difficult once again for small religious organizations to register. The Uzbek government reportedly adopted the legislation “almost entirely in secret,” with infrequent public announcements and little input from citizens.

Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed the legislation into law on July 5, 2021, and its adoption follows worrying trends in the country. In recent months, Uzbek police forced practicing Muslims to shave off their beards; the Uzbek government recalled up to 1,500 students from religious schools abroad; and an Uzbek court fined a journalist for writing on religious topics.

Uzbekistan has made some headway on religious freedom, and we applaud the Uzbek government for releasing religious prisoners of conscience Khayrullo Tursunov and Habibullah Madmarov, but the adoption of the new Religion Law and recent developments in the country show that progress remains fragile,” USCIRF Vice Chair Nury Turkel added. “The U.S. government should encourage Tashkent to stay the course of reform.”

In its 2021 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the U.S. Department of State place Uzbekistan on its Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe religious freedom violations. USCIRF has also discussed Uzbekistan’s religious freedom developments in an episode of the USCIRF Spotlight Podcast published in March 2021.

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The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov.