Uzbekistan’s new Religion Law was signed by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on 5 July and came into force the following day. Despite state media claims that the law extends religious freedom, human rights groups have commented on the vast number of restrictions that remain.
Since 13 October 2020 Uzbekistan has been a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, but the government has repeatedly ignored recommendations to fulfil its international human rights obligations. The most recent recommendations were made by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe Venice Commission, also in October 2020.
Changes to the previous law included removal of the ban on all except registered clergy wearing religious clothes in public. The number of adult citizens required to apply for status as a registered religious community was reduced from the previous minimum of 100 founders to 50, but an additional restriction requires all founders to be resident in the same city or district.
The law retains most of the former restrictions. The continued ban on religious teaching without state permission defies the recommendations of the Venice Commission and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Joint Opinion on the draft law, which had called for the prohibition on “engaging in religious educational activities in private” to be removed. Any gathering for religious purposes in a home, such as a Bible study group, is thus prohibited.
Religious events continue to be heavily controlled with existing constraints maintained. A registered religious community must still submit the reasons for any event, the address, date and time, number of attendees, sources of finance, and provide copies of any literature or audio-visual material to be used at the event. Details of any foreign citizens attending must also be supplied.
Article 3 prohibits any form of proselytism. According to Forum 18, Abduvohid Yakubov, a human rights activist from Tashkent, concluded, “No one can express their religious views publicly without the permission of the state.” He labelled the legislation a “gross violation of human rights”.
The process of passing the law was cloaked in secrecy. Although the draft law entered parliament in August 2020 the text was not made available to the public until the law was adopted on 6 July 2021.
Uzbekistan was for many years after gaining independence in 1991 the harshest Central Asian country in regard to its treatment of Christians. But some of the other Central Asian republics have increased their restrictions in the last 15 years or so. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan’s President Mirziyoyev, elected in December 2016, has presided over an increase in church registrations and raids on Christians’ homes have decreased markedly since then.
From Barnabas Fund contacts and other sources