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Memorandum to the U.S. Government Regarding Religious Persecution in Uzbekistan
August 10, 2001

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Key Sections


Recommendations: Uzbekistan and the International Religious Freedom Act

A Note On Islam in Uzbekistan

Background on the Campaign of Religious Persecution

Unlawful Arrests and Prosecutions: 1999-2001

Extrajudicial Executions


Social Punishment
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Recommendations: Uzbekistan and the International Religious Freedom act

Human Rights Watch therefore urges the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to recommend that the Bush administration designate Uzbekistan as a "country of particular concern" for religious freedom, as provided under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).

We further urge the Bush administration to designate Uzbekistan as a country of particular concern. Under IRFA section 405, such a designation would require the Bush administration to take appropriate action with regard to Uzbekistan including, but not limited to, public condemnation in bilateral and multilateral fora, and the conditioning of state or other visits and of financial or security assistance on Uzbekistan's progress toward ending abuses outlined in this memorandum.1

IRFA section 402 (b) requires the executive to designate as countries of particular concern those that "have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom... during the preceding 12 months..." IRFA section 3 (13) includes in its definition of "violations of religious freedom" the detention, interrogation, and imprisonment of individuals "if committed on account of their religious belief or practice." Under IRFA section 3 (11), "particularly severe violations of religious freedom" mean that the legal and practical suppression of religious beliefs is combined with systematic torture or "other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty or the security of persons." As described below, these conditions are amply met in Uzbekistan, where in addition to torture and prolonged incommunicado detention and denial of due process of law the targets of the religious persecution campaign are subjected to public shaming, ostracism, and surveillance.

The U.S. government itself has repeatedly expressed concern about violations of religious freedom of independent Muslims in Uzbekistan. The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2000 notes that in Uzbekistan: "The security forces arbitrarily arrested or detained pious Muslims...on false charges, frequently planting narcotics, weapons and forbidden literature on them.... The Government harassed and arrested hundreds of Islamic leaders and believers on questionable grounds, citing the threat of extremism."2

The report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for 2000 uncritically reported the Uzbek government's view on these matters: the Karimov government, it noted, "does not consider repression of these groups to be a matter of religious freedom, but instead to be directed against those who oppose the political order." In 1999 and 2000, the U.S. administration did not designate Uzbekistan a country of particular concern for religious freedom. We are pleased that the commission's report of May 2001 notes that Uzbekistan is a "serious violator" of religious freedom, but this does not bear the same consequences as designation as a country of particular concern. And the legal designation is warranted, because a constant feature of the current crackdown has been that those arrested are explicitly pursued and prosecuted for and because of their religious activity-whether individual or group prayer, Koranic study, or discussions or publications about their faith.

Below, we divide the abuses into the four main categories set out in IRFA as criteria for countries of particular concern for religious freedom: detention and arrest, extrajudicial executions (cases in which detainees have been tortured to death), torture more generally, and social punishment that recalls the Stalin-era practice of publicly humiliating and ostracizing those believed to espouse views inimical to the state.3

The victims and their relatives describe their activities as essentially studying Islam. Some, though not all, religious detainees support the reestablishment of the Caliphate (Islamic state) in Uzbekistan. Fundamentalist religious movements typically reject separation between the sacred and secular spheres, but this does not explain away the essentially religious nature of these movements. The U.S. government has, commendably, taken a strong stance against the persecution of the small Christian community in Uzbekistan. To overlook or misinterpret the anti-religious content of the government's campaign against independent Muslims cannot but create the impression for the Uzbek government-and others-that the U.S. is concerned only with Christian religious freedom and not with the rights of Muslim believers. It sends the unintended message that the U.S. government is willing to countenance the massive persecution of religious believers so long as that persecution is labeled anti-terrorist.

Human Rights Watch is well aware of the offensive content of some literature generated by independent Muslim organizations in Uzbekistan. Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), an organization whose leadership and members have been especially targeted since 1999, publishes tracts that are anti-Semitic, antithetical to the rights of women, and intolerant of others' beliefs. But the views of the U.S. government on this should not impede it from taking appropriate action on the Uzbek government's violation of religious believers' fundamental rights to physical integrity, due process of law, and freedom of expression-all subsumed under an attack on freedom of religion.

1 Section 402 mandates the executive to take certain actions against governments of countries of particular concern. These are enumerated in section 405 and may include: the withdrawal, limitation or suspension of development assistance in accordance with section 16 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961; directing the Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or the Trade and Development Bank not to approve credits or other benefits; the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of security assistance in accordance with section 502B with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961; opposing loans by international financial institutions; denial or limiting of licenses for the export of certain goods; prohibiting any loan of more than U.S. $10,000,000; and prohibiting the procurement or contracting for the procurement of goods.

2 United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2000, February 2001.

3 IRFA section 3 (11).