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UZBEKISTAN: A chance to decriminalise homosexuality

UZBEKISTAN: ‘A small ray of hope’: an urgent chance to decriminalise homosexuality in Uzbekistan

As long as the country’s Article 120 exists, said one young man, ‘we will live in fear and homophobes will have power over us’

By Anne Sunder-Plassmann

 

Open Democracy (05.07.2021) – https://bit.ly/3hI14Xh

 

“Since childhood I have always known that I’m different. Deep down I feel lonely, as if I am a foreigner in this world.”

 

So spoke Rustam*. Like thousands of other gay and bisexual men in Uzbekistan, he learnt early on that, unless he hides his sexual identity, he risks tarnishing his family name and losing his loved ones. “What I experience, what I feel, my pain, everything stays inside me. I cannot even tell my friends and family. Their hatred of homosexuals is endless,” he adds.

 

Rustam also knows no one would be punished for subjecting him to abuse or discrimination; in fact, he could easily be imprisoned for being gay.

 

In Uzbekistan, homosexuality is illegal. Article 120 of the country’s criminal code punishes consensual sexual relations between adult men by up to three years in jail.

 

Impunity

 

Besides Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan is the only former Soviet republic where same-sex relations remain a punishable crime – a hangover from Soviet legislation introduced in the 1920s and 1930s. This is despite many other Muslim-majority countries having decriminalised homosexuality, including Uzbekistan’s neighbours – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – as well as Azerbaijan and Turkey.

 

But instead of committing to improving the lot of gay and bisexual Uzbekistanis, the country’s government officials and politicians have on many occasions expressed homophobic views in public. This reinforces widespread stereotypes and condemns members of the LGBT+ community in the country to live in fear of discrimination, extortion, imprisonment, and even violence.

 

A case in point is Uzbekistan’s new draft criminal code, which has been under development over the past few years. While human rights organisations have repeatedly urged Uzbekistan to use this opportunity to decriminalise homosexuality, instead the content of Article 120 has simply been moved to Article 154 – in a newly created chapter called ‘Crimes against family, children and morality’ – with the previous wording unchanged.

 

“This article gives people the right to abuse and discriminate against us with impunity,” one young man bitterly remarked. “As long as it exists, we will live in fear and homophobes will have power over us,” he concluded.

 

“I have never been beaten and intimidated like that in my entire life. I wanted to die to free myself from this torture”

 

Alisher Kadyrov, the head of the Uzbekistan National Revival Democratic Party, declared on his Telegram channel earlier this year that the country’s laws do not go far enough in criminalising homosexuality. Uzbekistan should “prohibit all forms of propaganda of homosexuality”, Kadyrov said, and the criminal code article “should stipulate compulsory treatment, imprisonment, revocation of citizenship, and deportation”.

 

In March last year, the chief consultant of Uzbekistan’s Presidential Security Council, Okil Ubaydullaev, told experts of the United Nations Human Rights Committee that homosexuality is a “lifestyle” that is “not approved by Islam” and “not in keeping with the Uzbek mindset”, adding that the general public is strongly opposed to decriminalising same-sex relations.

 

Despite this, in October 2020 Uzbekistan was elected to the UN Human Rights Council, whose members are expected to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”.

 

Living in the shadow of abuse and extortion

 

A young Uzbekistani man who was imprisoned under Article 120 in recent years reports that, during pre-trial detention, he was regularly subjected to violence by other detainees, while the guards looked the other way. He recalls that the days spent in pre-trial detention “were the most awful and disgusting of my life”. Likewise, when he first arrived at the penal colony, officers beat him and attempted to rape him with a truncheon, while he was treated with hatred and contempt by fellow inmates and prison guards.

 

Those suspected or convicted of same-sex relations have the lowest status in the informal but strictly imposed prison hierarchy in Uzbekistan. Guards and fellow prisoners regularly force them to carry out all sorts of demeaning work such as cleaning dirty toilets with their bare hands. “Article 120 of the criminal code keeps thousands of people in fear every day,” Shukhrat* told me, adding that “this article turns us into outsiders and forces us to live in the shadows”.

 

Unsurprisingly, Article 120 has also been used against heterosexual men. From exile in France, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia has documented cases of police officers extracting large bribes from pious Muslim men by threatening to open cases against them under Article 120.

 

According to Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Interior, between 2016 and 2020 a total of 44 individuals were convicted under Article 120, with 49 people currently serving prison terms for sentences related to it. But the criminalisation of homosexuality has implications that go beyond the number of convictions under Article 120. Police officers often use the threat of charging gay and bisexual men under the article, or of disclosing their sexual identity to family members and neighbours, in order to extort money from them.

 

“We live in the centre of Eurasia, but it’s as if we lived on a different planet”

 

Ravshan*, a young bisexual man, was detained after police burst into his apartment and filmed him and his partner having sex. The officers took Ravshan to the local police station, where “they suspended me from the ceiling using handcuffs, severely beat me, and tried to rape me with a truncheon”. After that, they laid him on the floor and an officer jumped up and down on the young man’s stomach.

 

Ravshan recalls: “I have never been beaten and intimidated like that in my entire life. I wanted to die to free myself from this torture”. When police threatened to imprison him under Article 120 unless he gave them $2,000, he paid up and was released. And it is not uncommon for the police to coerce gay and bisexual men to reveal details about their wealthier friends and partners. Ravshan later realised that his partner had cooperated with the police and set him up, possibly in order to avoid being himself charged and jailed.

 

Clearly, when in danger, gay and bisexual men cannot rely on the police and are left to their own devices. Take the case of Komil*. He provided anonymous online support to LGBT people in Uzbekistan. Last year, he started receiving death threats online. The callers somehow managed to figure out his identity and, one day, Komil noticed that he was being followed on his way home from work. In September, someone appeared at Komil’s house and knocked at his bedroom window in the middle of the night. As he heard the sound of a gun being loaded, Komil screamed at the top of his lungs and the person disappeared. The following day, however, he received another message to his phone: “We will destroy you and give your blood to the dogs!”

 

Like many others who have been targeted by homophobic activists, Komil did not report the incident to the police. In addition to the real risk of imprisonment and torture, there are credible allegations that many police officers collude with homophobes, who often disseminate the names and contact details of gay and bisexual men on internet-based messaging services, sharing videos of beatings and intimidation. This practice has continued with impunity for years.

 

“We live in the centre of Eurasia, but it’s as if we lived on a different planet, where it is normal to hate and humiliate, imprison and punish, discriminate and kill people simply for who they are,” says Shukhrat.

 

Moreover, the ongoing criminalisation of homosexuality and the widespread homophobia in society translate into gay and bisexual men being afraid to undergo HIV tests, despite the fact that they are a high-risk group and Central Asia is considered a HIV hotspot. This is because staff at HIV clinics have frequently disclosed information about their clients’ sexual orientation and HIV status to family members.

 

An outreach worker at one of those facilities recalled to me how “Ivan* did an HIV test. Staff at the centre asked him for his phone number. Two days later they rang and said he was HIV positive. At that point, they threatened to send the police after him and reveal to his family that he is gay, in case he didn’t show up at the centre immediately to give them his full contact information”.

 

While a draft presidential decree indicates the new criminal code will enter into force on 1 January 2022, until Uzbekistan’s Parliament approves it there is still a window of opportunity for change. Ending the criminalisation of homosexuality would help gay and bisexual men in Uzbekistan step out of the shadows.

 

The fact that some people have broken out of this hateful mindset gives some reason to hope. For example, the mother of a gay man recalls: “When I found out that my son is gay, I was thrown into a blind panic. I dragged him to imams and to psychologists to try to ‘heal’ him. I caused him so much pain. I often regret this. Now I understand that homosexuality is not an illness. My son is healthy. Now I only want my son to be happy”.

 

Rustam, for one, does not want to give up. “Despite everything, I still feel a small ray of hope that the authorities will remove this terrible article from the criminal code and that in the future we will be able to live our lives without fear of imprisonment and discrimination”.

 

*The names of the men interviewed for this article have been either changed or left out to protect their identities.

 

Photo credits: upyernoz / Flickr.

 





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UZBEKISTAN: Authorities blame attacked LGBT activist!

A blogger who suggested Uzbekistan decriminalize gay sex was brutally attacked. The Interior Ministry and others blame him for provoking the assault.

 

By Catherine Putz

 

The Diplomat (31.03.2021) – https://bit.ly/3rJu9V7 – The day after a human rights activist was assaulted by three masked men near his apartment in Tashkent, leaving him with a fractured leg and a concussion, among other injuries, the Uzbek Interior Ministry put out a video statement blaming the victim of the attack. Then Komil Allamjonov, the chairman of the board of trustees of the Public Foundation for Support and Development of the National Mass Media, tweeted a video with English subtitles making a similar argument.

 

The attack against Miraziz Bazarov, a well-known activist and blogger with a distinct and provocative style, occurred against the backdrop of discussions about Uzbekistan’s continued criminalization of sexual relations between men.

 

In the Interior Ministry’s telling, Bazarov provoked the attack on himself by calling on “individuals with nontraditional sexual orientation” to hold mass demonstrations near the Hazrati Imam mosque and Amir Timur avenue in downtown Tashkent.

 

RFE/RL’s summary of the statement noted:

 

The ministry said in its video that Bazarov “had deliberately ignored” social-behavior rules by distributing videos with contents “not typical for the Uzbek nation,” and “demonstrating his perverted behavior to the society.”

 

“[Bazarov], acting with the assistance and support of destructive external forces and ill-intentioned international nongovernmental organizations, attempted to propagate homosexualism and similar evils, despite the fact that it is banned by Uzbek law, and created the atmosphere of protest and intolerance,” the ministry’s statement said.

 

 

Allamjonov, formerly the acting director of Uzbekistan’s Agency of Information and Mass Communications (AIMK), made similar comments in his video, stating that society in Muslim-majority Uzbekistan “does not tolerate unnatural men and women (LGBT)! Our holy religion, Islam, does not allow it.”  He then commented: “For example, Bazarov, what was the consequence of speaking without thinking?!”

 

Bazarov is well-known for issuing harsh criticisms of the Uzbek government on social media, particularly via Telegram. He had recently urged the government, among other things, to decriminalize same-sex relations. Per RFE/RL’s reporting, while he does not consider himself an LGBT activist, he “believes that being gay is a personal issue and that laws should not be created to regulate it.”

 

Before the attack that left Bazarov hospitalized and in serious condition, a weekly event that he organizes for Japanese anime and K-pop fans was disrupted by a crowd of men shouting “Allah hu Akbar!” Videos of the march show Uzbek police calmly walking through the crowd which, in nearly any other context in Uzbekistan, would have warranted a harsh response.

 

In the Interior Ministry’s telling, the crowd of men was a “group of our citizens who considered [Bazarov’s] calls as an insult… [and] created a situation compromising public safety by staging mass disorders.” The ministry said individuals “responsible for the disorder” had been arrested.

 

Nevertheless, it’s clear that the Uzbek government is comfortable pegging blame for all the chaos, and the assault, on Bazarov.

 

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are the only countries in Central Asia that continue to have laws on the books banning sexual relations between men. It’s worth pointing out that neither criminalizes sexual relations between women.

 

One aspect to highlight is that the rationale used by the Uzbek Interior Ministry in its statement is old hat. Recall, the statement accused Bazarov of “acting with the assistance and support of destructive external forces and ill-intentioned international nongovernmental organizations, attempted to propagate homosexualism and similar evils…”

 

This taps into well-trod territory of blaming external actors for what are domestic problems, as well as equally familiar arguments that same-sex relationships are a Western invention and nefarious export. That Western governments have advocated for tolerance toward LGBT people, urged the Ubzek government to change its laws, and reacted strongly to Bazarov’s attack further feeds this sentiment, but does not prove it to be valid.

 

This line of argument assumes that absent these “destructive external forces” there would be no LGBT Uzbeks. But there are, indeed, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Uzbeks. Furthermore, if same-sex relationships were simply a Western plot, why then have Western societies themselves struggled to tolerate and accept LGBT people?

 

In the United States, it was only in 2003 that the Supreme Court ruled sodomy laws unconstitutional. (“Sodomy laws” being a catchall term for laws criminalizing certain sexual acts, often left undefined but understood to be “immoral” — almost always referring to anal and oral sex, among other things). Before 2003, same-sex sexual relations were illegal in 14 states, Puerto Rico, and in the U.S. military. Over the past decades there have been shocking attacks on LGBT people in the United States and a firm objection to not just same-sex marriage but tolerance of LGBT people simply existing in society.

 

Over time, attitudes shift and cultures evolve. But Allamjonov approaches this truism with twisted logic, calling on media to “stop covering the topic of LGBT relentlessly.”

 

Discussing these issues will kill people’s sensitivity. We will begin to take this very unpleasant topic as a regular one, as it goes. In fact, such statements should be perceived to such an extent that one trembles when hears them.

 

In essence: Do not discuss these matters because discussing them normalizes them and people’s attitudes might be changed.

 

Additionally, Allamjonov makes the argument that if anti-LGBT laws were relaxed, “and such categories start to show themselves on the streets, the number of lynching[s] may increase.” He goes on to say, “Even if no formal punishment is imposed [on LGBT people], the Muslim community will not leave them alone anyway.”

 

The struggle between conservative social norms and progressive values is something that has occurred around the world, across religions, and throughout time. Uzbekistan is no different in this regard.

 

There’s a central paradox to Allamjonov’s argument: While he says “Of course, human rights are an important issue and every citizen, regardless of their behavior, is under the protection of the state” everything that follows undercuts that sentiment.

 

Uzbekistan is a secular state, one with a long history of cracking down on iterations of Islam its leaders have perceived as radical, or Islamists who seemed to challenge the state’s grasp on authority. Yet Allamjonov and others reach to Islam for justification to denigrate the LGBT community and excuse attacks against it (and its supporters).

 

Allamjonov also reaches to democracy, stating that “the word ‘democracy’ means the rule of the people. Since the majority of the people are against something, it is necessary to take into account their wishes, and this is democracy!” Yet who has asked the Uzbek people their wishes? And which Uzbek people? If the confirmed public stance of the government and its officials is that beating up LGBT supporters is somehow justified, why would any Uzbek — gay or not — utter a word in defense of the LGBT community? There’s no safe path toward a civilized conversation when a topic is de facto off limits. Rather than cooling the debate, urging calm and respect for the rule of law above all else, the Uzbek government’s response to Bazarov’s beating is poised to only stoke the flames of contention.

Photo credits: Pixabay





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UZBEKISTAN: Unique opportunity to decriminalise same-sex conduct

ILGA (03.03.2021) – We, ILGA-Europe and the undersigned human rights organisations, call on the President and government of Uzbekistan, member of the UN Human Rights Council, to decriminalise same-sex conduct between men under the ongoing review of the Criminal Code, with a view to ensuring conformity with the recommendations of the UN treaty bodies.

 

Since 2016, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has launched many legal reforms and Uzbekistan is now discussing and undertaking reforms to its criminal justice system. This presents a unique opportunity to finally decriminalise same-sex conduct between men in Uzbekistan, in line with international human rights standards and its own Constitution.

 

However, the draft of the new Criminal Code[1], released for public discussion by the Uzbek Prosecutor General’s Office on 22 February 2021, does not remove the provision criminalising consensual same-sex conduct between men. Despite calls from international human rights bodies and civil society, the provision remains in the new version of the Code, moved from Article 120 to Article 154 without changing its substance.

 

Worryingly, the Article is included in the newly created Chapter V of the Code, entitled: “Crimes against family, children and morality”. No further explanation was given by the Prosecutor General’s Office in the explanatory note to the draft.

 

We recall that as a party to the international human rights treaties, Uzbekistan is obliged to protect the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family[2]. We also remind that when applying for membership at the UN Human Rights Council, Uzbekistan committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and the adoption of a range of legislative, institutional and administrative measures to fulfil its international obligations in the field of human rights, and pledged to protect, promote and support universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all[3]. Moreover, as an EU GSP+ beneficiary, in accordance with Article 13 of the GSP Regulation[4], Uzbekistan should effectively implement agreed international treaties and cooperate with the relevant monitoring bodies.

 

In its communication with the UN treaty bodies, the Uzbekistani government has claimed that criminalisation of same-sex conduct between men reflects Uzbek traditions and religion[5]. However, we reiterate the statement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, clearly stating that religious beliefs cannot be used to justify LGBT+[6] rights violations nor be invoked as legitimate ‘justification’ for violence or discrimination against LGBT people, and that the right to freedom of religion protects individuals and not religions as such.[7]

 

We remind Uzbekistan that attitudes towards LGBT people may vary from country to country, but human rights standards are universal and inalienable. International human rights law is clear: all people, without exception, are entitled to protection of their human rights, including LGBT people. Criminalisation of consensual same-sex conduct violates multiple human rights standards, including those on liberty, fair trial, integrity, privacy, dignity, equality before the law, non-discrimination and the absolute prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. These human rights standards are enshrined in legally binding treaties ratified by Uzbekistan as acknowledged in its voluntary pledges and commitments pursuant to General Assembly resolution 60/251[8].

 

Repealing the provision criminalising same-sex conduct or relation and other laws used to persecute LGBT people is an important step for Uzbekistan, member of the UN Human Rights Council, towards combating prejudice and protecting lives of LGBT people under international human rights law and its own Constitution.

 

Background

 

Although the Uzbekistani Constitution guarantees privacy, equality and non-discrimination, Uzbekistan is one of the only two Central Asian countries that retain legislation criminalising private, consensual same-sex conduct between men. Article 120 of the Criminal Code[9]  in force stipulates that “bezakalbazlyk” (sodomy), voluntary sexual intercourse between two male individuals, is punishable by one to three years of restricted liberty, or by up to three years of imprisonment. Due to the widespread failure to understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity by state and non-state actors in Uzbekistan, this law negatively impacts all of the LGBT community.

 

As a consequence of criminalising same-sex conduct between men, LGBT people are routinely subjected to arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, persecution and surveillance by state and non-state actors[10]. It should be noted that non-state actors feel emboldened to attack LGBT people merely due to the existence of Article 120, knowing that the victims will not seek state protection out of fear of being persecuted for their sexual orientation[11].

 

Due to the Article 120 in the Criminal Code, and widely practiced bans on associations and peaceful demonstrations, as well as public stigmatisation of LGBT people, activists cannot apply for and register civil society organisations advocating for human rights of LGBT people in Uzbekistan.

 

Aidsfonds

All Out

Amnesty International

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia

Association UMDPL – Association of Ukrainian human rights monitors on Law Enforcement

The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

Bir Duino – Kyrgyzstan

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

Center for Civil Liberties – Ukraine

Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights – Russia

Center for Participation and Development

Centre De La Protection Internationale

Citizens’ Watch

Civil Rights Defenders

COC Nederland

Crude Accountability

DRA – Deutsch-Russischer Austausch e.V.

Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity

Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry

The Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims – GCRT

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights – Poland

The Human Dignity Trust

Human Rights Center “Memorial”

Human Rights Club

Human Rights Monitoring Institute – Lithuania

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Without Frontiers

Humanrights.ch – Switzerland

Hungarian Helsinki Committee

The International Commission of Jurists

International Federation for Human Rights

International Partnership for Human Rights

The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law

Libereco Partnership for Human Rights e.V.

Macedonian Helsinki Committee

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Public Association “Dignity” – Kazakhstan

Public Verdict Foundation

The Swedish OSCE-Network

Transgender Europe

Union “Women of the Don”

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

[1] Draft of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Article 154, Available at: https://regulation.gov.uz/ru/d/29646

[2] The United Nations. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights accessible on https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

[3] Annex to the letter dated 30 September 2019 from the Permanent Representative of Uzbekistan to the United Nations addressed to the President of the General Assembly. Candidature of Uzbekistan to the Human Rights Council, 2021– 2023. Available at: https://undocs.org/en/A/74/477

[4] Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 applying a scheme of generalised tariff preferences and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 732/2008. Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=celex:32012R0978

[5] UN Committee against Torture (CAT), List of issues in relation to the fifth periodic report of Uzbekistan. Replies of Uzbekistan to the list of issues, 20 September 2019, CAT/C/UZB/Q/5/Add.1

[6] LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans persons.

[7] UNOHCHR (2 March 2020), “States should not use religious beliefs to justify women and LGBT+ rights violations – UN expert”, accessible on https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25644&LangID=E

[8] See 3.

[9] Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Article 120, Available at: http://www.legislationline.org/download/action/download/id/1712/file/a45cbf3cc66c17f04420786aa164.htm/pr eview

[10] https://www.ilga-europe.org/sites/default/files/Uzbekistan.pdf

[11] https://rus.ozodlik.org/a/29890288.html

 

 

Photo credits: ILGA Europe





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UZBEKISTAN: Five years jail for defending Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief

By Mushfig Bayram

Forum18 (22.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/2YeT32OAfter repeatedly defending Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief, including demonstrating outside President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s residence, Tulkun Astanov has been jailed for five years. A state report accused him of following “sources of biased news such as Radio Free Europe”, and publishing “unsubstantiated and exaggerated” information. Prisoner of conscience Astanov is being banned in jail from reading the Koran and praying the namaz.

After repeatedly defending the freedom of religion and belief of Muslims, including demonstrating outside President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s residence in the capital Tashkent, a city court has jailed 49-year-old Tulkun Astanov for five years. Tashkent City Criminal Court rejected his appeal on 5 January.

The jail sentence followed an October 2019 five-year suspended prison term for visiting the state-controlled Muslim Board to discuss restrictions on Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief. Deputy Chief Mufti Mansur accused Astanov of being a “hooligan”, and being disrespectful to the Muftiate’s “spiritual leadership”. Astanov was then jailed for 15 days but continued defending Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief (see below).

In November 2020 Astanov left the boundaries of the city of Tashkent, against the terms of his suspended sentence, to visit Muslims in Yangikurgan in Namangan Region and Chinaz in Tashkent Region “who asked him to represent them as a public defender before the authorities”, his lawyer Umid Davvlatov told Forum 18. “He did not agree with his punishment given to him for defending the freedom of religion and belief of Muslims” (see below).

The Agency of Information and Mass Communications under the Presidential Administration (AIMC) on 26 November 2020 produced a report based on social media activity claiming that prisoner of conscience Astanov follows “sources of biased news such as Radio Free Europe”, and published “unsubstantiated and exaggerated” information. No official was prepared to discuss the claims with Forum 18 (see below).

Judge Karimov on 21 January 2021 refused to tell Forum 18 why he imposed a jail term instead of a lesser punishment such as a warning. He was at first hesitant, and then told Forum 18: “Please, understand me correctly, I am not authorised to give you comments on the case. You need to write an official letter to us through the Supreme Court” (see below).

On 1 December prisoner of conscience Astanov was transferred to General Regime Prison No. 1, even though this legally can only follow an appeal hearing. “My client was taken to prison in violation of the law without waiting for the result of the appeal,” lawyer Davlatov told Forum 18 (see below)

Judge Karimov told Forum 18 that “based on the Law they should have waited for the appeal decision, but I do not know all the regulations for the Interior Ministry’s Chief Directorate for the Enforcement of Punishments” (see below).

Prisoner of conscience Astanov is not being allowed to read the Koran or pray the namaz (daily prayers). Such violations of a prisoner’s human rights are not permitted under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules), which the regime routinely ignores (see below).

Prison officials refused on 22 January to Forum 18 why they are violating prisoner of conscience Astanov’s freedom of religion and belief, and told Forum 18 that the head of the prison Farrukh Ismatov “does not want to talk to you” (see below).

Prisoner of conscience Astanov’s wife Mukhayyo Astanova told Forum 18 that “we have several minors in the family with some teenagers. I work as a doctor and take night shifts sometimes in the hospital because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is very difficult for me to deal with all the family problems alone.” She added that “this is so unfair to punish us for only trying to be good Muslims” (see below).

In another case, Doctor Alimardon Sultonov has unsuccessfully challenged a 14-month restricted freedom sentence. On 7 January judges refused his appeal, despite the prosecutor being described as “more emotional, yelling and behaving unprofessionally in a disrespectful manner to the Court and defendant” (see below).

During his restricted freedom sentence, Sultonov will live under restrictions, having to report regularly to Ellikala District Police and having to be at home from 10 pm to 6 am every day. He cannot leave the District without police permission. He will also be banned from using “means of communication”, including the internet. He also cannot participate in public events or festivities (see below).

Probation Officer Khujanazar told Sultonov on 12 January that among other places he cannot attend mosque for Friday prayers (though he is able to go at other times). Khujanazar told Sultonov that mosque prayers are a public event, and he cannot attend public events. Dr Sultonov can work on night shifts, as the Supreme Court of Karakalpakstan on 7 January provided him with a special written permit allowing him to do this (see below).

Probation Officer Khujanazar told Forum 18 on 22 January that he had not told Dr Sultonov that he cannot go to a mosque. “I have not said that to him. I told him that he can attend a mosque, but not a mass event on the street” (see below).

Suspended sentence

On 18 October 2019, Tashkent City Criminal Court gave human rights defender Tulkun Tashmuradovich Astanov (born 25 April 1971) a five-year suspended prison term for visiting the state-controlled Muslim Board to discuss restrictions on Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief. This followed Astanov’s observation of a trial where two Muslim women, Luiza Muminjanova and Nazimakhon Abdukakharova, tried unsuccessfully to challenge the ban on wearing the hijab (Muslim head covering.

At an 8 April 2019 meeting, Astanov asked Deputy Chief Mufti Abdulaziz Mansur among other things why the hijab is banned, why imams have to be appointed by the state and preach sermons prepared for them by the state, and why the Muftiate does not help Muslims when their freedom of religion and belief is violated. Deputy Chief Mufti Mansur accused Astanov of being a “hooligan”, and being disrespectful to the Muftiate’s alleged “spiritual leadership”. Police were called and later in the day officers arrested Astanov, who was then jailed for 15 days.

Continued defence of Muslim’s freedom of religion and belief

After being released at the end of his short-term jailing, Astanov continued to defend Muslim’s freedom of religion and belief, for example in cases where Muslims who discussed their faith with others were tortured and agent provocateurs used to bring false charges.

In November 2020, Astanov left the boundaries of the city of Tashkent to visit “Muslims in Yangikurgan in Namangan Region and Chinaz in Tashkent Region who asked him to represent them as a public defender before the authorities,” his lawyer Umid Davvlatov told Forum 18 on 20 January 2021. He said that Astanov “asked a probation officer for permission to visit those places, but they refused.”

Astanov still visited the Muslims who asked for his help, breaking the terms of his five-year suspended prison term, “as he did not agree with his punishment given to him for defending the freedom of religion and belief of Muslims.” Lawyer Davlatov said, however, that Astanov did “not violate the curfew hour and he returned home every day on time”.

Mukhayyo Astanova, Astanov’s wife, told Forum 18 on 20 January that the “Uchteppa Police knew of the cases, and Tulkun was officially summoned as a witness to Chinaz Administrative Court to a hearing. The case was brought against some local parents whose daughters attended the secondary schools in hijab.” Astanov and the parents were “successful in cancelling the fines”.

Astanova also told Forum 18 that her husband visited police and Prosecutor’s officials to ask why the parents and daughters were detained and questioned, and why their phones were confiscated, and whether any other cases were opened against them.(…)





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Uzbekistan’s new religion law promises limited change

Critics complain the draft bill preserves many restrictions.

 

Eurasianet (16.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/2ZX6Coz – Lawmakers in Uzbekistan have approved the first reading of legislation that would, among other things, end a ban on the wearing of religious clothing in government offices and places of learning.

 

Prior to this only clerics could, in theory, wear explicitly religious garb in those locations.

 

While gestures like these look designed to make it easier for people to openly express adherence to their faith, religious freedom advocates say the draft bill preserves many repressive and limiting features of existing legislation.

 

The religious clothing ban introduced in 1998, as the late President Islam Karimov was implementing one of his numerous crackdowns on pious Muslims, offered law enforcement bodies wide latitude for interpretation. The effect was to strongly discourage the faithful from adopting external signifiers of their religious affiliations. People falling foul of the prohibition were liable to face fines or up to 15 days in jail. More ominously, those same people were liable to end up on the now-scrapped blacklists of suspected potential extremists.

 

The role of religious clothing in public life has for years been a subject of heated public discussion in Uzbekistan. In 2018, Justice Minister Ruslanbek Davletov spoke during a visit to Washington in favor of the state regulating how citizens dress. He argued, for example, that it was improper for people to obscure their face while in public as this could pose a threat to security.

 

The issue surfaced in the courts some months later, in February 2019, when Luiza Muminjonova, who was 19 at the time, went to court in a bid to overturn the International Islamic Academy’s ban on wearing religious clothing, such as the Islamic headdress, within its halls. Muminjonova and several other students had been expelled from the academy for taking their stand.

 

The law approved in its first reading on September 15 also sets out the terms for what religious educational institutions can do. Under the proposed changes, they will be able to train up clerics and preachers, which was not previously permitted. Also, parents or guardians will be allowed to teach children the basics of religion in the home.

 

This notionally fits in with a broader relaxation toward religion. On August 1, the Interior Ministry released a video statement to say that minors will, once coronavirus-related restrictions have been lifted, be permitted to attend prayers at mosque, ending another Karimov-era prohibition.

 

The government’s steps toward liberalization on faith led to a breakthrough in April, when the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF, recommended removing Uzbekistan from its list of countries “of particular concern.”

 

The USCIRF nonetheless registered concern at the persistence of some longstanding trends, although these are seemingly being addressed in this draft bill.

 

“The government opposes Muslims growing beards or wearing hijabs as expressions of their religious beliefs, and both local government and law enforcement officials singled out and violated the rights of visibly religious Muslims,” a report published in April found. “Other government officials embarked on a campaign to actively discourage girls and women from wearing the hijab, with some authorities reportedly compiling lists of hijab-wearing girls and women for monitoring purposes.”

 

But religious freedoms advocacy group Forum 18 has been strong in its criticism of the draft law on religion, quoting one human rights defender, Bahodyr Eliboyev, as saying “there’s not much difference between the draft law and the current law.”

 

This argument stems in part from the fact that Uzbekistan will still require religious groups to go through complicated and onerous registration procedures before they are entitled to operate lawfully.

 

The legislation, if it adopted in its current form, will “continue to ban all exercise of freedom of religion and belief without state permission, ban teaching about religion without state permission, continue the compulsory prior censorship of all materials about religion and ban sharing of faith,” Forum 18 said in a detailed analysis.

 

Forum 18 notes that while parents will be permitted to instruct children in the fundamentals of ethics and religion, the ban remains in place on “the teaching of religious beliefs on a private basis,” which would apply, for example, to informal afterschool classes organized by parents or an independent religious association.


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