Domestic Laws and Regulations
The 1998 Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations (hereinafter, the law on freedom of conscience) regulates religious dress in public places, and university codes of conduct further regulate it on university campuses.29 Article 14 of the law states that, with the exception of those working in religious organizations, citizens of Uzbekistan are not permitted to wear "ritual" dress in public places.30
In May 1998, parliament passed the Law on the Introduction of Amendments and Additions to Several Legislative Acts of the Republic of Uzbekistan (hereinafter, the May 1998 amendments), which amended provisions to the criminal code and code on administrative responsibility treating the practice of religion. Under article 184 ofthe amended code on administrative responsibility, violators of the prohibition on ritual dress are fined five to ten times the minimum monthly wage or subject to administrative arrest for up to fifteen days.
The law on freedom of conscience and the May 1998 amendments failed to define the type of dress punishable under this legislation. Without implementing rules to define "ritual" dress, the exact meaning of the legislation and the type of attire it prohibited has remained ambiguous and, as this report documents, open to arbitrary interpretation.
The only available interpretation of "ritual" dress prohibited under article 14 is court testimony made by Aliya Tuygunovna Iunusova, an expert with the Committee on Religious Affairs (an agency under the Cabinet of Ministers) at a June 1998 court hearing.31 Iunusova's statements, however, were vague and fail to clarify the meaning of the prohibition or the types of dress that constitute violations of law.
On June 16, 1998, Iunusova testified before the Mirabad District Court at a hearing of the civil case of Raikhona Hudaberganova, who had been expelled from the Institute for Oriental Studies. During the first hearing, in which Hudaberganova sued for reinstatement, arguing her expulsion had been discriminatory, the university leadership countered that Hudaberganova should be charged with violating article 14. When the presiding judge found it too difficult to determine whether or not Hudaberganova's dress indeed violated the law, he suspended the trial until such time as he and the parties to the case could receive a clarification of the law from a government expert.
When asked by the judge to define "ritual dress" prohibited under article 14 of the new freedom of conscience law, Iunusova stated:
This part of the article appeared in connection with some women [who] started to wear long dresses and called themselves objects of respect, like a mosque...they wore this, because they want to show by their dress that they belong to Islam....women do not pray in mosques and ritual dress is typical of male clergy and in Islam only an imam has the right to wear religious dress-this includes a turban."32
Separately, employing a circular logic that appeared to render the applicable section of article 14-that only clergy can wear ritual dress-meaningless, Iunusova said of Hudaberganova, "Here, this dress is not cult dress, because she is not clergy." She then stated that Hudaberganova's dress in court-a long dress and headscarf that left her face uncovered-was hijab, but not ritual dress and would not be even if she covered her face. She said that dress is ritual only when the dress and scarf are solid black and added, in seeming contradiction to the text of the law, that this has no relation to article 14. All-black clothing, she mentioned, is not traditional and is "a mark of belonging to a religious organization not registered with the state." When questioned further by Judge Navruzov, who noted that no particular color of dress is singled out in the text of the law, Iunusova declared decidedly that dressing all in black is prohibited under article 14.
Finally, however, she conceded that Hudaberganova's dress was permissible under the law. Hudaberganova was not tried under article 14, but her expulsion from university was upheld by the judge.33
University Codes of Conduct
Beginning in 1998, the universities and institutes under scrutiny in this report amended their respective codes of conduct specifically to ban or regulate religious attire. In general, the codes were amended after university administrators had begun to confront students wearing religious attire, and they do not explain in detail what constitutes prohibited garb. Nonetheless, at some of the highest echelons of government, officials relied on university dress codes to clarify the rules regulating religious dress and justify their support of discriminatory expulsions.
In May 1998, the Pediatric Medical Institute's internal rules were amended to ban religious dress and declare violators "ineligible" to study at the institute. The amendments were adopted on May 23 and confirmed by its scholarly council on May 27, 1998, after Rector Asadov had already instructed students to remove their religious clothing. Expulsions began five days later.
The Institute for Oriental Studies amended its charter in January 1998 to prohibit clothing that "attracts attention," including clothing that covers the face.34 Again, prior to the adoption of these amendments, the institute's rector had reprimanded students for religious attire, and had even barred at least one student from her dormitory.35
Tashkent State University's code of conduct prohibits clothing that "attracts attention" and instructs students to wear clothing "corresponding to modern demands."36
The government's ban on ritual dress in public places and the resultant university codes of conduct banning religious dress on campus violate Uzbekistan's obligations under international law. Human Rights Watch takes no position on the propriety or advisability of dress codes in educational institutions. The law banning ritual dress and the politically motivated use of the law by universities to expel students perceived as "Wahhabis" clearly constitutes discrimination in violation of the students' rights to freedom of religion and expression as well as their right to education.37 Since enforcement of the ban overwhelmingly affects women, it also violates Uzbekistan's obligations to prevent discrimination against women.
The ban on ritual dress in public places runs directly afoul of article 18 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. 38
Although article 18(3) identifies circumstances in which this right may be limited, such limitations are appropriate only where "necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others." None of the cases documented in the present report can be justified on these grounds.
General Comment number 22 of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, adopted on July 20, 1993, to clarify the meaning of article 18, explicitly includes the wearing of distinctive religious headgear as a protected form of religious practice. The Committee states that, "The observance and practice of religion or belief may include not only ceremonial acts but also such customs as...the wearing of distinctive clothing or headcoverings..."39 With regard to paragraph (3) of article 18, the General Comment reads, "Restrictions may not be imposed for discriminatory purposes or applied in a discriminatory manner."40 The same principles are reflected in article 26 of the ICCPR, which prohibits discriminatory laws and has been interpreted to apply to "any field regulated and protected by public authorities."41
Religious attire also constitutes a form of expression that may be essential to human identity in a variety of social fora. Article 19 reads, "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers...." The targeting of students who wear religious garb violates this provision as well. The government has attempted to justify its policy by stating that its goal is preserving Uzbekistan as a secular society, but the choice of attire of individual students in no way threatens that goal. Where the government singles out a particular class of people on account of their perceived religious and political sympathies, it commits discrimination, irrespective of whether it is forcing them to wear certain clothing against their will or forbidding them from wearing clothing that accords with the dictates of their conscience. Article 2(1) of the ICCPR specifically requires states party to respect and ensure rights to all "without distinction of any kind" including religious and political or other opinion.
University officials have some latitude to regulate student dress and appearance when it threatens public order. However, the expulsion cases documented in this report involved no such threat, and the justifications for banning religious dress proffered by Uzbek officials rarely invoked any genuine or specific issue of public order. The simple wearing of these religious symbols does not incite disorder or indiscipline among students, as the "attention-getting" standards in the university codes of conduct imply. While there may be a genuine need to regulate dress in laboratory or other medical situations, officials from the Pediatric Medical Institute, which invoked hygiene broadly to justify the ban on headscarves, could not articulate the specific need to ban full headscarves as opposed to "Uzbek-style" headscarves, nor is it clear why they did not offer these women an alternative to the headscarf to accommodate both hygiene concerns and their religious needs. And whereas certain kinds of headscarves may truly impede a university official's ability to identify students at exams, officials barred women in various types of non-"Uzbek-style" headscarves-some that left the face exposed and some that covered theface-from taking exams. For these reasons, and given the crackdown against the new manifestations of Islam in Uzbek society more broadly, the vague references to public order and hygiene made by university officials are specious.
Uzbekistan has also acceded to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Article 13 of the ICESCR sets forth the right to education, and article 2(2) mandates that state parties undertake to guarantee nondiscrimination in the exercise of all of the rights identified in the covenant, specifically including "religion" and "political or other opinion" as impermissible bases for distinctions. Article 13 (1)(c) of the ICESCR states: "Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means...." Pursuant to these provisions, a student's ability to study at an advanced level, not his or her religious orientation, should be the sole determinant in whether the student is allowed to complete his or her course of study. In this regard, it is noteworthy that one of the first instruments to implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the Convention against Discrimination in Education, adopted by UNESCO in 1960, a time when the ICCPR and ICESCR were still in draft form. Among other things, it bans discrimination which has "the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing equality of treatment in education," and specifically includes "religion" among the proscribed bases of discrimination.42 As the UNESCO Director-General stated at the time the convention was adopted: "UNESCO helps directly to give effect to the intentions of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [which sets forth the right to education]. In so doing, it contributes at the same time to the realization of other human rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration, since education is essential to their achievement."43
29 Adopted May 1, 1998, the law also establishes tight government control over religious organizations and religious education. For instance, private religious instruction is illegal under article 9. Regarding implementation of this article, Uzbek Minister of Justice Sirojiddin Mirsofoev reportedly stated in September 1998, "At a number of religious schools, dozens of self-styled clerics have been punished for engaging in the underground teaching of religion "for money" and for misappropriating large sums of money." Khalq Sozi (The People's Word) (Tashkent) newspaper, September 30, 1998, reprinted in BBC Monitoring, November 11, 1998.
According to the law, religious organizations may establish schools for religious training only after they have first registered as both a religious organization and as a central administrative body for a given faith, registered the school with the Ministry of Justice, and received a license for the school. Requirements for the registration of religious organizations are excessive and burdensome. Under a May 1998 amendment to the criminal code article 216, religious leaders who fail to register their organizations are subject a fine of fifty to one hundred times the minimum monthly wage (which is approximately U.S. $11), administrative arrest up to six months, or imprisonment for up to three years.
National legislation on religion includes the constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan, article 31 of which guarantees freedom of conscience: "Democracy in the Republic of Uzbekistan shall rest on the principles common to all mankind, according to which the ultimate value is the human being, his life, freedom, honor, dignity and other inalienable rights. Democratic rights and freedoms shall be protected by the Constitution and the laws."
30 Article 14 treats religious rites and ceremonies. Paragraph 5 reads: "Citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan (except religious organization's clergy) cannot appear in public places in ritual attire." The Russian language text of this law uses the word "kultovyi" to refer to the type of prohibited dress. This has been alternatively translated as "cult," "religious," or "ritual." Some of the expulsions of students in religious dress were carried out prior to the passage of the new law; however, university rectors retroactively justified the expulsions on the basis of this law, specifically article 14.
31 Under article 6 of the law on freedom of conscience, the Committee on Religious Affairs is responsible for coordinating relations between state bodies and religious organizations and for supervising the implementation of legislation on freedom of conscience and religion.
32 Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript, Mirabad District Court hearing, Tashkent, June 16, 1998. Human Rights Watch was present during this testimony and compiled the unofficial transcript from which these statements are taken. Testimony was given in Russian and translated into Uzbek for the court.
33 For more details on the hearings, see below, "Discriminatory Expulsions."
34 The order of expulsion of Raikhona Hudaberganova cites January 15, 1998, as the adoption date of University Provisions on Rights and Obligations of Students, signed by Rector Nematullo Ibrohimovich Ibrohimov, March 16, 1998, document number C-21, translated from Uzbek; and Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript of Mirabad District Court hearing, Tashkent, June 16, 1998.
Students from the Institute for Oriental Studies contested the methods by which the code of conduct, supposedly approved of and accepted by the student body, was drafted and entered into force. While university administrators at first portrayed the code of conduct as universally accepted, Prorector Obidov later acknowledged in court that only certain student leaders and members of the Kamolot (formerly Komsomol or Young Communists League) organization had been invited to the meeting on adoption of the charter and were then charged with spreading this news throughout the institution. Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript of Mirabad District Court hearing, Tashkent, June 16, 1998.
35 Human Rights Watch interview with Raikhona Hudaberganova, Tashkent, June 14, 1998.
36 The Internal Rules Established for the Students on the Territory of the Mirzo Ulughbek Tashkent State University, approved by Rector of the Tashkent State University, Academician, T.N. Dolimov, adopted at the general meeting of active students on January 15, 1998, and confirmed by the session of the Scholarly Council of Tashkent State University on February 27, 1998.
37 Human Rights Watch has also condemned the policy, enforced in several countries, of forced veiling and other restrictions on women's attire.
38 Emphasis added. Uzbekistan acceded to the ICCPR in 1995.
39 General Comment number 22 of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, adopted on July 20, 1993, Doc.CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4.
41 General Comment 18, para.12. The General Comment goes on to conclude: "[When legislation is adopted by a State party, it must comply with the requirement of article 26 that its content should not be discriminatory. In other words, the application of the principle of non-discrimination contained in article 26 is not limited to those rights which are provided for in the Covenant."
42 Convention against Discrimination in Education, article 1(1).
43 A/CONF.32/10, p. 20.