International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and for the principle of separation of church and state; however, in practice the Government restricted this right. The Government permits the existence of mainstream religions, including approved Muslim groups, Jewish groups, the Russian Orthodox Church, and various other denominations, such as Catholics, Lutherans, and Baptists, and generally registers newer religions. Christian churches generally are tolerated as long as they do not attempt to win converts among ethnic Uzbeks. However, the law prohibits or severely restricts activities such as proselytizing, importing and disseminating religious literature, and offering private religious instruction.

There was no overall change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Government continued its harsh campaign against unauthorized Islamic groups it suspected of extremist sentiments or activities. The Government arrested numerous alleged members of these groups and sentenced them to lengthy jail terms. Most of these were suspected members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a banned extremist Islamic political party. The number arrested has continued to decline, but remains high. During the period covered by this report, the Government released 923 such individuals in the second of 2 large-scale amnesties. Approximately 25 women were arrested and tried for participating in or organizing demonstrations demanding the release of male relatives on suspicion of Islamic extremism. A number of minority religious groups, including congregations of a variety of Christian confessions, had difficulty satisfying the strict registration requirements set out by the law. Some underground mosques, such as those that were tolerated during the Soviet Union, began to operate again in 2002. This trend has continued; however, religious authorities and the security services monitor them closely.

The generally amicable relationship among religions contributed to religious freedom; however, harassment of ethnic Uzbek Christians continued on some occasions. Hizb ut-Tahrir continued to circulate strongly anti-Semitic leaflets, the text of many of which originate from sources outside the country; however, these views are not seen as representative of the sentiments of the vast majority of the country's population.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The U.S. Embassy is actively engaged in monitoring religious freedom and maintains contact with government and religious leaders and human rights activists.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total land area of 117,868 square miles and its population is approximately 25,563,000. There are no official statistics on membership in various faiths; however, it is estimated that 88 percent of the population are nominally Muslim. Approximately 9 percent of the population nominally are Russian Orthodox; this percentage is steadily declining as the number of ethnic Russians remaining in the country has decreased. A growing number of individuals from these two faiths practice their religion, and outside of Tashkent, Muslim believers may now outnumber non-believers. Since 1991, when the country gained independence from the Soviet Union, there has been a resurgence, particularly in the Fergana Valley and the country's southern provinces, of the Hanafi School of Sunni Islam, traditional in the region. During the decades of Soviet rule, most persons did not practice religion openly; however, it remained an important cultural factor in the lives of many, particularly Muslims.

An estimated 30,000 Ashkenazi and Bukharan Jews remain in the country, concentrated in the main cities of Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand. Almost 70,000 have emigrated to Israel or the United States since independence. The remaining 3 percent of the population include small communities of Korean Christians, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, Buddhists, Baha'is, and Hare Krishnas.

The law prohibits proselytizing, which tends to constrain the activities of foreign missionaries, particularly those who seek to minister among the country's Muslim population. In practice, many foreign missionaries ignore this restriction. There is no significant immigrant community.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and for the principle of separation of church and state; however, in practice the Government restricted these rights. The Government is secular and there is no official state religion.

Although the laws treat all religious confessions equally, the Government shows its support for the country's Muslim heritage by funding an Islamic university and subsidizing citizens' participation in the Hajj. The Government promotes a moderate version of Islam through the control and financing of the Spiritual Directorate for Muslims (the Muftiate), which in turn controls the Islamic hierarchy, the content of imams' sermons, and the volume and substance of published Islamic materials.

The Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations requires all religious groups and congregations to register and provides strict and burdensome criteria for their registration. Among its requirements, the law, using juridical citizenship, stipulates that each group must present a list of at least 100 citizen members to the local branches of the Ministry of Justice. This provision enables the Government to ban any group simply by finding technical grounds for denying its registration petition. This has had the effect of suppressing the activities of those Muslims who seek to worship outside the system of state-sponsored mosques. A special commission may grant exemptions to the Religion Laws' strict requirements and register groups that have not been registered by local officials. The commission has granted exemptions to 51 such groups, including congregations with fewer than 100 citizen members. However, no formal procedures or criteria have been established to bring a case before this commission, and the commission has not met in over 2 years.

To register, groups also must report in their charter a valid legal address. Local officials on occasion have denied approval of a legal address in order to prevent Christian churches from registering. The Ministry of Justice also has cited this requirement in explaining local officials' decisions. Although church leaders cite high registration fees and the 100-member rule as obstacles, the most frequent problem is the lack of an approved legal address. Some groups have been reluctant to invest in the purchase of a property without assurance that the registration would be approved. Others claim that local officials arbitrarily withhold approval of the addresses because they oppose the existence of Christian churches with ethnic Uzbek members.

Some churches have applied for registration and were denied or never received an official answer, including the Greater Grace Christian Church of Samarkand, the International Church of Tashkent, the Mir (Peace) Presbyterian Church in Nukus, the United Church of Evangelical Christians/Baptists in Tashkent, the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Andijan, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Some churches, particularly evangelical churches with ethnic Uzbek members, generally do not apply for registration because they do not believe local officials will register them. Other groups, including those with too few members, have reported that they prefer not to bring themselves to the attention of authorities by submitting a registration application that on its face does not meet legal requirements. There also are a few groups that refuse on principle to seek registration, because they challenge the Government's right to require registration.

As of June 26, the Government had registered 2,119 religious congregations and organizations, 1,931 of which were Muslim. This represents an increase of 72 and 68 since the last reporting period. The 188 registered minority religious groups include: 62 Korean Christian, 36 Russian Orthodox, 20 Pentecostal ("Full Gospel"), 24 Baptist, 11 Seventh-day Adventist, 7 Jewish, 7 Baha'i, 4 Lutheran, 4 "New Apostolic," 5 Roman Catholic, 2 Jehovah's Witnesses, 2 Krishna Consciousness groups, 1 Bible Society, and 1 Armenian Apostolic.

According to 2000 statistics, 335 applications were denied, 323 of which were from Muslim groups. The number of mosques has increased significantly from the approximately 80 permitted during the Soviet era, but has decreased from more than 4,000 that opened after the country gained independence and before registration procedures were in place. The Government reported that it no longer releases statistics on the denial rate of religious organizations.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

There were significant governmental restrictions on religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Government, by continuing to deny registration to some religious organizations, deprived them of their legal right to worship. The Government restricted many religious practices and activities and punished some citizens because they engaged in religious practices and activities that were in violation of the registration laws. Ethnic Russians, Jews, and foreigners generally enjoy greater religious freedom than traditionally Muslim ethnic groups, particularly ethnic Uzbeks. Christian churches generally are tolerated as long as they do not attempt to win converts among ethnic Uzbeks. Christians who are ethnic Uzbeks are often secretive about their faith and sometimes do not attempt to register their organizations. Christian congregations that are of mixed ethnic background often face difficulties in registering or are reluctant to list their ethnic Uzbek members on registration lists for fear of incurring official displeasure.

The Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations provides for freedom of worship, freedom from religious persecution, separation of church and state, and the right to establish schools and train clergy; however, the law also severely limits religious activity. It restricts religious rights that are judged to be in conflict with national security, prohibits proselytizing, bans religious subjects in public schools, prohibits the private teaching of religious principles, and requires religious groups to obtain a license to publish or distribute materials. Article 14 of the law prohibits the wearing of "cult robes" in public places by all except "those serving in religious organizations." This vague provision does not appear to have been enforced during the period covered by this report.

The Criminal and Civil codes contain stiff penalties for violating the Religion Law and other statutes on religious activities. Prohibited activities include organizing an illegal religious group, persuading others to join such a group, and drawing minors into a religious organization without the permission of their parents. Any religious service conducted by an unregistered religious organization is illegal. The Law prohibits groups that do not have a registered religious center from training religious personnel. There are seven such registered religious groups. In practice, these restrictions contravene most internationally recognized standards of religious freedom.

The Government, for national security reasons, has conducted an intensely repressive campaign against persons perceived as Islamic extremists. The result is an atmosphere of intimidation in which many young Muslim men say they do not feel safe even observing basic religious duties such as praying five times each day. This pressure is uneven. For example, government workers generally feel less free to perform their religious responsibilities than do independent small traders. However, officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are allowed to pray at work if they wish. The Criminal Code formally distinguishes between "illegal" groups, which are those that are not registered properly, and "prohibited" groups, which are banned altogether. The code makes it a criminal offense punishable by up to 5 years in prison to organize an illegal religious group or to resume the activities of such a group, possibly after being denied registration or ordered to disband. In addition, the code punishes any participation in such a group with up to 3 years in prison. The code also provides for penalties of up to 20 years in prison and confiscation of property for "organizing or participating" in the activities of religious extremist, fundamentalist, separatist, or other prohibited groups. In practice, the courts ignore the theoretical distinction between illegal and prohibited groups and frequently convict members of disapproved Muslim groups under both statutes.

While supportive of moderate Muslims, the Government is intolerant of Islamic groups it perceives to be extremist. A small but growing number of unofficial, independent mosques are allowed to operate quietly under the watch of official imams. Some sources have claimed that imams of registered mosques are required to submit lists of individuals in their congregations who may have extremist tendencies. There have also been reports that in some areas, mahalla (neighborhood) committees and--in rarer instances--imams have come under pressure to provide names of persons who pray daily. Observers claim that this has led to a tendency on the part of some imams to submit names of unusually devout believers, who may have no extremist tendencies. There were credible reports that the heads of mahalla committees have told people to say their daily prayers quietly at home to avoid the mahalla reporting them to the security services for unusual devotion. The Government controls the content of imams' sermons and the volume and substance of published Islamic materials. Use of loudspeakers in mosque minarets was highly discouraged following a series of February 1999 bombings that the Government blamed on Islamic extremists. A 1998 fatwa from the Mufti of Uzbekistan--one meant simply to control the volume of the loudspeakers--was misinterpreted as justification for discouraging their use after the Tashkent 1999 bombings. During the reporting period, loudspeakers were used.

The Government is determined to prevent the spread of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Although Hizb ut-Tahrir maintains that it is committed to non-violence, its members seek to replace secular governments, including in Uzbekistan, with an Islamic one, part of a world-wide Islamic government called the Caliphate. The organization's literature includes strong anti-Semitic and anti-Western rhetoric. Hizb ut-Tahrir is illegal in Germany, as well as in Pakistan, and some other Islamic countries. Hizb ut-Tahrir has not been implicated in violent activities in the country; however, the organization calls on the armed forces of Muslim nations to overthrow their rulers and reserves the possibility that its own members might resort to violence in the establishment of the caliphate.

In the spring of 2002, President Islam Karimov reaffirmed on national television his intention to eradicate Hizb ut-Tahrir. Persons accused of involvement with the organization, which often involves nothing more extensive than having attended one of its meetings or passing along banned Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets, continued to be subject to prison sentences of up to 15 years.

The Government is also determined to prevent the growth of other extremist Islamic organizations and of extremist forms of Islam that it broadly labels under the rubric of Wahhabism. The authorities appear to suspect Muslims who meet privately to pray or study Islam of being extremists. People accused of Wahhabism faced persecution ranging from job loss to long imprisonment.

Religious groups are prohibited from forming political parties and social movements.

The Government's harsh treatment of suspected religious extremists has generally tended to suppress outward expressions of religious piety. Most young men do not wear beards, because the Government regards them as a sign of extremism. Although many young men attend Friday prayers, hardly any are bearded.

Unlike during the previous reporting period, there has been increased tolerance for the use of head coverings by Muslim women.

The Koran, prayer, and observance of Islamic holidays are banned in certain prisons, particularly those with prisoners believed to be Islamic extremists. Prisoners suspected of Islamic extremism face religious insults and significant barriers to observing religious obligations.

In general, any Muslim religious activity outside the registered mosques is closely monitored. A small but growing number of unofficial, independent mosques are allowed to operate quietly under the watch of official imams.

Some mosques continue to have difficulty registering. The Panjera mosque in Navoi has been trying unsuccessfully for the past 5 years to register. According to believers, they have submitted documents every year but have not received a response. Approximately 500 people meet for prayer at the mosque on feast days.

The ban on proselytizing results in fines and sometimes in the denial of registration. Local authorities have continued to block the registration of evangelical Christian congregations in Tashkent, Samarkand, Guliston, Gazalkent, Andijan, Karakalpakstan, and Novaya Zhizn. The head of the Guliston branch of the Ministry of Justice allegedly told leaders of an evangelical church there that Christianity was not needed and that they should leave Uzbekistan. The International Church of Tashkent, a Protestant non-denominational church that ministers exclusively to Tashkent's international community, has been unable to obtain registration, despite several years of efforts. It continues to experience difficulties renting a place of worship. As a result, the congregation meets in a Chinese restaurant.

In addition, the Hushhabbar ("Good News") Church in Guliston, which has many ethnic Uzbek members, reported that in August 2002 local Ministry of Justice officials tore up its registration documents and in March rejected the application. A Pentecostal church in Andijan has been denied registration for more than 1 year. Its leader says that local authorities have cited his conversion of ethnic Uzbeks as a major problem. The Peace Presbyterian Church in Nukus has been unable to obtain registration, despite repeated efforts. The Baptist Church in Gazalkent remains unable to obtain registration. Church leaders report that officials cite a multitude of reasons for refusing to register them, ranging from claims of falsified congregation lists to improper certification by fire inspectors. All of these churches have ethnic Uzbek members in their congregations.

A Baptist church with the International Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, a denomination that rejects registration on principle and has ethnic Uzbek members in Mubarek, came under intense pressure over the past year for refusing to register.

The Catholic Church has largely solved its problems with authorities, and three parishes have been registered (one each in Tashkent, Fergana, and Nukus). The Nukus parish was registered during the period covered by this report.

The Jehovah's Witnesses focused their registration efforts on obtaining registration in Tashkent. By the end of the reporting period, only 2 of the church's 11 congregations were registered. The churches in Chirchik and Fergan were registered in November 2002. Internal police training documents list the Jehovah's Witnesses, along with the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb ut-Tahrir, as security threats. Quasi-governmental think tanks in Tashkent have called the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist threat, and both local and central political authorities have expressed their fear that the denomination is dangerous.

Any religious service conducted by an unregistered religious organization is illegal. According to an unconfirmed Forum 18 news service reports, in early October 2002, police raided the Mir (Peace) Presbyterian Church in Karakalpakstan. The church leaders reported that police forced ethnic Karakalpak and Uzbek members of the congregation to write statements indicating the reason for their attendance. In November 2002, police raided the Baptist church in Gulistan. The pastor, Boris Akrachkov, was accused of performing religious activities without registration, found guilty, and fined. Authorities in Samarkand continued during the reporting period to insist that Greater Grace would be registered if the congregation chose a local pastor and got rid of their foreign pastor. In May the church was also informed that registration would be facilitated if it did not accept funding from non-residents.

In May 2002, the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA) told a group of evangelical pastors that they no longer would be allowed to preach in the Uzbek language--the official national language and the one identified most closely with the majority Muslim population. This issue has not been fully resolved. The control over publication and distribution of religious literature has been used to restrict the distribution of Bibles in the Uzbek language; however, the CRA has made some concessions on publication and distribution of Uzbek-language Bibles.

The Government requires that the religious censor approve all religious literature; however, in practice a number of other government entities concerned with religion have a chance to suppress religious literature that they do not approve. The CRA, in accordance with the law, has given the right to publish, import, and distribute religious literature solely to registered central offices of religious organizations. Seven such offices have been registered to date: A nondenominational Bible society; 2 Islamic centers; and Russian Orthodox, Full Gospel, Baptist, and Roman Catholic offices. However, the Government discourages and occasionally has blocked registered central offices from producing or importing Christian literature in the Uzbek language even though Bibles in many other languages are available in Tashkent bookstores. Religious literature imported illegally is subject to confiscation and destruction.

The Muftiate sporadically issues an updated list of all officially sanctioned Islamic literature. The list contains more than 200 titles. Bookstores are not allowed to sell Islamic literature that does not appear on the list; however, in practice Islamic bookstores in Tashkent sell a large number of titles not included on the list, including those in the Arabic language. More controversial literature, when available, is not displayed on shelves. Possession of literature by authors deemed to be extremist may lead to arrest and prosecution. Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets are categorically prohibited.

In 2003 the Government allowed former Mufti Mohammed Sodiq to publish two religious volumes that previously had been considered too controversial. The Mufti has openly criticized the Government's heavy-handed repression of extremism, arguing that education and openness are the only sure means of ensuring that moderate Islam triumphs.

There were no reports of the confiscation of foreign Islamic literature during the period covered by this report. However, in December 2002, police reportedly seized religious literature from the private home of a Tashkent Baptist church member. In April a shipment of several hundred illegally imported, Russian-language copies of the Baptist magazine Herald of Truth was confiscated and burned.

Although the authorities tolerate the existence of many Christian evangelical groups, they enforce the law's ban on proselytizing. The Government often monitors and harasses those who openly try to convert Muslims to Christianity.

The law prohibits the teaching of religious subjects in schools, the private teaching of religious principles, and the teaching of religion to minors without parental consent. In April, authorities began an investigation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Gazalkent for teaching local children and for proselytizing. In March authorities investigated a Baptist pastor in Yangiyul for holding a religious service in the home of one of his congregation (rather than in the church itself). In November 2002, an administrative court case was brought against a Baptist pastor in Guliston for the private teaching of religion (the pastor's church was not officially registered, and hence its services were considered "private teaching"). In December 2002, police raided a private apartment belonging to a member of a Baptist church in the Khamzin district of Tashkent, where a number of adult church members and ten of their children were preparing for Christmas celebrations. The adults were taken to the police station and later accused of teaching religion to children. Members and leaders of several churches, including the Khamzin Baptist Church, the Guliston Hushhabbar Church, and the Jehovah's Witnesses, have reported that local officials have provided school officials with lists of those children whose parents had converted to Christianity. School officials reportedly harassed those children. In February, a group of police officers raided a private apartment in Khojali where 10 Baptist women of local ethnicities were gathered for a Christian meeting. Police reportedly insulted them and detained them for 27 hours.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

The Government continued to commit numerous serious abuses of religious freedom. The Government's campaign against extremist Muslim groups, begun in the early 1990s, following a Government effort to encourage a rebirth of Islam in post-Soviet Uzbekistan, resulted in numerous serious human rights abuses during the period covered by this report. The campaign was directed at three types of Muslims: alleged Wahhabists, including those educated at madrassas (schools) abroad and followers of Imam Nazarov of Tashkent and missing Imam Mirzaev of Andijon; those suspected of being involved in the 1999 Tashkent bombings or of being involved with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), whose roots are in Namangan; and suspected members of Hizb ut-Tahrir throughout the country. The campaign resulted in the arrest of many observant Muslims who were not extremists. The campaign also resulted in allegations that hundreds, perhaps thousands, have been physically mistreated or tortured; dozens of these allegations have been confirmed.

After various brands of extremist political Islam began to appear in the country in the early 1990s, conservative Islamic social practices began to emerge. In response, the Government launched a severely repressive campaign against extremist political Islam, which it had determined was an unacceptable threat to stability. Following both the 1997 murder of police officials in Namangan and the 1999 terrorist bombings in Tashkent, police detained hundreds and perhaps thousands of suspected Wahhabists. The majority of those detained were released after questioning and detention that lasted as long as 2 months, but some were convicted; of these, the whereabouts of a small number remain undisclosed. Several of those detained and released report ongoing health problems, such as the aftermath of heart attacks suffered during detention, kidney damage, and brain trauma. The mother and wives of one family of detainees in the late 1990s were held under house arrest, deprived of their clothing, sexually abused, and humiliated, and their household goods were stolen; the mother continues to be followed and harassed. One woman reported that all of her sons along with all the males in her village between the age of 16 and 45 were detained and accused of "Wahhabism." Her husband was returned unable to talk, one son died in prison, and the rest she fears may be dead, as she has not heard from them in four years. She continues to be followed and severely harassed by local law enforcement officials.

Individuals arrested on suspicion of extremism often face severe mistreatment. There were credible reports that three known members of Hizb ut-Tahrir died in custody as a result of torture and beatings. Law enforcement officials often beat and torture suspects held in pretrial detention--including those accused of religious extremism--in order to extract confessions. Prisoners convicted of extremism are often subjected to particularly harsh prison regimens and conditions of confinement. Although there is specific information available on only a few deaths from torture in custody, human rights and other observers credibly report that a large number of prisoners throughout the country died of diseases directly related to the conditions of their confinement during the period covered by this report.

The Government does not consider repression of persons suspected of extremism to be a matter of religious freedom, but instead to be directed against those who want to foment armed resistance to the Government. However, authorities are highly suspicious of those who are more observant than is the norm, including frequent mosque attendees, bearded men, and veiled women. In practice this approach results in abuses against observant Muslims for their religious beliefs. It may also serve to radicalize some young men and women who otherwise might practice their religion in a politically neutral manner.

The investigation into the May death of a Hizb ut-Tahrir member remained ongoing at year's end. In March a member of an evangelical Christian church in Karakalpakstan died of heart failure hours after police badly beat him at a local police station. There was no investigation into the 2002 torture deaths of two persons convicted of Hizb ut-Tahrir members.

Other reports of physical abuses include the December 2002 beating by local police of two Pentecostals in Muinak and their subsequent imprisonment for 5 days. Also in March, police beat a 17-year-old member of Jehovah's Witness in Bukhara region for having religious literature in his possession. There was an unconfirmed report that 22 women imprisoned in Tashkent complained in an open letter to the Government dated in April of being imprisoned on trumped-up charges of "undermining the constitutional system of the Republic." The women complained of their treatment in prison and of being prevented from praying and other religious practices.

In early 2003, local authorities reportedly harassed four Hare Krishna devotees in Fergana for having lunch together.

Arbitrary arrest and detention of Muslim believers on charges that they belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir or Wahhabist organizations remained a problem. Various estimates from credible sources suggest that as many as 5,000 of the estimated 5,700 to 6,200 political prisoners being held in detention are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Estimates of numbers of arrests vary from slightly fewer than the previous reporting period to about the same number, but in either case well below the highs from 1999 to 2001. Even in cases where individuals are members of the party or other extremist organizations, the authorities sometimes failed to produce credible evidence that the individuals committed acts for which they allegedly were arrested.

Family members of individuals wanted in connection with Islamic activities, or already jailed in connection with those activities, often are harassed or arrested. In some cases, the relatives themselves are involved in what the Government considers illegal religious activities, but in many cases the relatives' guilt is only by association.

Approximately 25 women were tried for participating in or organizing demonstrations demanding the release of male relatives jailed on suspicion of Islamic extremism; several of the women were convicted but received suspended sentences.

The police routinely planted narcotics, ammunition, and, beginning in 1999, religious leaflets, on citizens to justify their arrests. According to human rights activists, the police arrested many of those whose religious observance, sometimes indicated by their dress or beards, made them suspect to the security services. Most human rights groups agree that the number of individuals who remain in prison, after being arrested and convicted for political or religious reasons, is between 5,700 and 6,200.

Prisoners suspected of Islamic extremism are often prohibited or prevented from praying regularly, possessing a Koran, and observing religious obligations such as the Ramaddan fast. Those who persist are reportedly subjected to punishment. Human rights activists have reported numerous cases of persons convicted of extremism who have been punished harshly for refusing to accept moderate interpretations of Islam presented by imams visiting their prisons.

In March and April, local police and officials from the local offices of the Ministry of Justice and the CRA, interrupted Greater Grace Christian Church's religious services. Congregation members were asked to provide contact information, and several church leaders were taken to the local police station for further questioning. An assistant pastor with Turkmen citizenship has been fined and threatened with jail. Bakhtier Tuichiev, the pastor of the Full Gospel Pentecostal church in Andijan, was summoned to the regional internal affairs administration in January and April where he was warned that unless he halted church activities, a case would be brought against him for operating without registration. Even congregants meeting socially have been known to come under pressure.

According to news reports, members of some Christian evangelical congregations were detained during the year, including leaders of Mir (peace) Presbyterian Church, Boris Akrachkov (Pastor of a Baptist church in Gulistan), Nikolai Obyedkov (Pastor of a Baptist church in Yangiyul), members of a Baptist church in Khamzin, Bakhtier Tuichiev (Pastor of the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Andijan), and Matti Sirvio (the Finnish pastor of the Greater Grace Church in Samarkand), among others. Several were criminally indicted. Only one Christian evangelical was convicted for his religious activities, and he was handed a suspended sentence.

Members of the Jehovah's Witnesses were also subjected to police questioning, searches, and administrative fines. In November 2002, in a case that generated intense international pressure, Marat Mudarisov, a leader of the Jehovah's Witnesses received a 3-year suspended sentence. He was detained in July 2002 after the police raided a private apartment where 13 members of Jehovah's Witnesses, including Mudarisov, had gathered. Religious literature was confiscated and all present were arrested. However, a criminal case against another member of Jehovah's Witnesses was dropped, and a criminal investigation against a third was dropped. In November 2002, Mars Munasypov was arrested and jailed for proselytizing. A month later he was found guilty of teaching religion but was immediately amnestied. In May four members of Jehovah's Witnesses were detained in Kogan (Bukhara province) while proselytizing door to door. They reported that police, including the city police chief, beat them. Criminal cases were pending against two members of Jehovah's Witnesses, at the end of the reporting period.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

Authorities have allowed unregistered mosques to reopen throughout the country, both in cities and in the countryside. In addition, unofficial imams began working, particularly in rural areas, under the close watch of religious officials. Following the 1999 Tashkent bombings, most such unregistered mosques had been shut down. These mosques, many of which had been functioning underground throughout the Soviet period, served the spiritual needs of the people in ways that the large, registered mosques were often unable to do. The unregistered mosques first began to reopen sometime in late 2001 or early 2002.

In March, the Government completed an amnesty of 923 political prisoners, some of whom were convicted of Islamic extremism. This followed an amnesty in late 2001 of 860 such prisoners. Meanwhile, according to multiple sources, new arrests of suspected extremists have slowed considerably.

In the first half of 2003, after years of banning his writings, the Government allowed former Mufti Mohammed Sodiq Mohammed Yusuf to publish two books on Islam. Muhammad Yusuf broke from the Government in 1993, insisting that its attempts to control the content of Islam were counterproductive and only fed extremism. He has argued that greater opportunities for religious education are the only hope for ensuring that the people have a proper understanding of Islam.

The Government also began a small religious education pilot program in elementary schools. In a small number of schools around the country, Islam and Arabic are now being taught several times a week. The teaching of religion in schools, as well as to minors without their parents' permission, has been banned since early Soviet times.

Imams of registered mosques have been dispatched to prisons, where they have met with prisoners convicted of extremism. While the effect of these visits has been undermined by the actions of prison authorities (prisoners who argue with the imams have reportedly been subject to severe mistreatment), the visits themselves are a welcome move. Imams have also met with amnestied prisoners convicted of extremism upon their return to their communities. Previously, no known attempts were made to persuade suspected extremists with religious instruction.

In June 2002, three National Security Service officers were sentenced to between 4 and 15 years imprisonment for the murder of a suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir member. This followed the January 2002 conviction of four police officers for a similar incident.

There were reports that at least one university began readmitting women who were expelled in 1997 and 1998 for wearing the hijab, a Muslim head covering. During the reporting period, it was more common to see women wearing the hijab and, less frequently, the veil on the street. Unlike in the past, there were no reports of women being expelled from either university or secondary school for wearing religious dress during the period covered by this report. Older men wearing prayer robes are not an uncommon sight.

The CRA submitted the Law on Religion to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office of Democratic Initiatives and Human Rights'(OSCE/ODIHR) Panel of Experts on Religious Freedom for analysis of consistency with OSCE agreements.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There are amicable relations among the various religious communities. There is no pattern of discrimination against Jews. Synagogues function openly; Hebrew education, Jewish cultural events, and the publication of a community newspaper take place undisturbed. However, many Jews have emigrated because of bleak economic prospects and because of their connection to families abroad. Anti-Semitic fliers signed by Hizb ut-Tahrir have been distributed throughout the country.

Members of ethnic groups that traditionally are associated with Islam who convert to Christianity sometimes encounter particular familial, societal, and low-level governmental hostility.

Difficulties that evangelical Christian churches and churches with ethnic Uzbeks face are often a reflection of societal attitudes. The Government has increasingly expressed concern that Christian evangelicals will inflame social tensions and has attempted to draw a clear line for such organizations' activities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy is engaged actively in monitoring religious freedom issues and problems and maintains contact with government and religious leaders and human rights advocates. Members of Congress and other high level legislative and executive branch officials met with Uzbek officials abroad and in the country during the period covered by this report and expressed strong concern on human rights, including the U.S. stance on freedom of religious expression.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met with local religious leaders, human rights activists, and Uzbek officials to discuss specific issues of human rights and religious freedom. Officials in Washington met on several occasions with Uzbek embassy officials to convey U.S. concerns regarding the state of religious freedom. Department officials traveled around the country meeting with religious leaders and groups as well as with government officials.

The Embassy's political officers maintain regular contact with the CRA as well as religious leaders and human rights activists. The Embassy sponsored the Chair of the CRA for the International Visitor Program to the U.S. The International Visitor's Program also sponsored the visits of religious leaders and government officials.

The U.S. Embassy intervened on behalf of the Greater Grace Church in Samarkand, the Hushhabbar Church in Guliston, the Jehovah's Witnesses in Tashkent, a Pentecostal church in Andijan, an international non-denominational church in Tashkent, and several faith-based foreign aid organizations.

Embassy officials met with numerous Muslim clergymen and pressed the Government to take action against security forces implicated in the deaths of individuals arrested on suspicion of Islamic extremism. Embassy officials repeatedly urged the Government to allow more freedom of religious expression. This includes repeal of legal provisions prohibiting the private teaching of religion, which the U.S. Government believes is an essential element in preventing further radicalization of young Muslims.