Uzbekistan Professes Freedom of Religion While Simultaneously Infringing Upon Those Rights
Corey Bailey, Regional Manager for Central Asia
International Christian Concern
The executive director of Uzbekistan's Bible Society is denying claims that people in Uzbekistan are prohibited from having Bibles in their homes. This comes not long after a Christian in Uzbekistan had religious literature confiscated and criminal charges brought against her for the illegal production, storage, import and distribution of religious literature.
Individuals in Uzbekistan may only own government-approved religious material in approved amounts. While Bibles are allowed in the country, the restrictions placed on the type and number one can own continues to be an infringement on their citizen's rights to religious freedom. "Religious literature in Uzbekistan is under tight state control. The production and import of literature - including the Koran and the Bible - is strictly controlled, with compulsory prior censorship by the state Religious Affairs Committee," reports Forum 18.
Recently, Sharofat Allamova, a Protestant from Uzbekistan, was sentenced to one-and-a-half years of corrective labor as punishment for allegedly illegally storing religious literature. The conviction came after rejected appeals citing harassment and over 272 violations of legal procedures in the seizure of materials, as well as the lack of legal representation.
Not long after Allamova's conviction, the director of the Bible Society in Uzbekistan, Khalmat Ashirov, expressed his displeasure in the Uzbek media's statements that Uzbeks are prohibited from possessing Bibles. "The Bible is true world heritage and it's just sick to say that it can be prohibited in any country. If that information was true to at least some degree, not only the use of the Bible, but also the activities of Uzbekistan's Bible Society would be prohibited," he said.
While the Bible may technically be permitted in Uzbekistan, the reality is that the government regulates how many copies and which translations are permitted, all under the guise of freedom of religion. In addition, at any time authorities can claim Bibles and religious literature are being stored illegally, using that as an excuse to confiscate them and punish the owners.
Religious minorities, including Christians, should have the right to own religious literature and follow their beliefs without fear of trumped-up charges, illegal raids and fines. What they read, and how many copies of any book they have in their home, should not be regulated by the government. Whether or not the government allows Bibles into the country, the fact remains that the government frequently harasses Christians in Uzbekistan, especially when they are found to be avid followers of their faith.
For interviews, contact Corey Bailey, Regional Manager for Central Asia: RM-Asia@persecution.org
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