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The U.S. government should condemn Uzbekistan’s campaign to arrest and torture independent Muslims, Human Rights Watch said today. The Bush administration should designate Uzbekistan as a violator of religious freedom under the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act.

“Uzbekistan’s campaign against religious dissidents continues unabated, and it is time for the U.S. to acknowledge that one of its key allies is systematically abusing the rights of Muslims,” said Rachel Denber, Acting Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division.

Uzbekistan has imprisoned more than 6,000 independent Muslims—Muslims who practice their faith outside government-controlled mosques and religious institutions—for the peaceful expression of their religious beliefs. On February 12, a 62-year-old woman in Tashkent was the latest to be convicted. Fatima Mukhadirova was sentenced in a closed court hearing to six years in prison with hard labor for possession of unsanctioned religious literature, membership in a prohibited religious organization, and “attempted encroachment on the constitutional order.”

Mukhadirova is the mother of the late Muzafar Avazov, a religious prisoner who died from torture in prison in August 2002. An investigation of his death by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded that Avazov had been submerged in boiling water. Those who saw his body also reported that there was a large, bloody wound on the back of his head, heavy bruising on his forehead and the side of his neck, and that his hands had no fingernails.

Uzbek authorities alleged that Fatima Mukhadirova is a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), a non-violent Muslim group that advocates the peaceful establishment of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan and elsewhere. An estimated 4,000 members of the group have been jailed in Uzbekistan for possession and distribution of unsanctioned religious materials and for affiliation with the group. Mukhadirova, whose youngest son is also in prison on charges of Hizb ut-Tahrir membership, had spoken out against the ongoing arrests of independent Muslims and the torture and death of her eldest son.

“Fatima Mukhadirova’s case is tragic, but unfortunately it’s typical in many ways,” said Denber, “We have seen hundreds of families decimated by the Uzbek government’s campaign to punish independent religious activity.”

In testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on International Relations on February 10, Human Rights Watch called for the designation of Uzbekistan as a Country of Particular Concern for religious freedom under the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act.

“Uzbekistan cannot be a good ally for the United States in the struggle against terrorism unless it stops persecuting Muslims for the peaceful expression of their faith,” Tom Malinowski, Human Rights Watch’s Washington advocacy director told the House committee.

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