This memorandum outlines Human Rights Watch's most pressing concerns about the systematic religious persecution of independent Muslims in today's Uzbekistan, where the government is pursuing a campaign of unlawful arrest, incommunicado detention, torture, unfair trials, and incarceration of non-violent believers.
Human Rights Watch has maintained an office in Tashkent since 1996, from which it has conducted research in eight provinces in Uzbekistan and all thirteen districts of Tashkent, compiling documentation on more than 800 individual cases of religious persecution and interviewing victims and their relatives in more than 200 of those cases. The evidence presented below is only a small portion of the documentation on Uzbek religious persecution gathered by Human Rights Watch during two years of monitoring trials, interviewing officials, lawyers, victims, and their relatives. It draws upon direct examination of evidence that ranges from court documents to the inspection of physical remains of victims evidently tortured to death in custody.
The government of Uzbekistan under President Islam Karimov contends that the affected persons are prosecuted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms because of their intent to overthrow the state or commit acts of terror. But of the thousands who have been detained, harassed, tortured, and imprisoned since the religious persecution intensified in 1999, only very few have been charged with specific violent acts; even more rarely have the authorities produced credible evidence to support charges of the use or advocacy of violence. Human Rights Watch is convinced that the measures against independent Muslims in Uzbekistan constitute religious persecution. This stems primarily from these individuals' adherence to-or in many cases, even their superficial interest in or exposure to the tenets of-certain variations of Islam unacceptable to the governing authorities.
The government's campaign against independent Muslims has far exceeded the bounds of legitimate security measures to enforce the law and to counter terrorism and other violence. In doing so it is in clear violation of international human rights standards, particularly the right to freedom of religion. The government continues to unlawfully arrest and detain people who pray in mosques not run by the government, who belong to Islamic groups not registered with the government, who possess Islamic literature not generated by the government, or who meet privately for prayer or Islamic study, singling them out for nothing more than the peaceful expression of their religious beliefs.