HRWF has just published a 29-page report about Sunni Muslims in prison for their faith in five Asian countries[1]


HRWF (15.07.2020) – Human Rights Without Frontiers urges President Mirziyoyev to release 26 Muslim prisoners who are serving lengthy prison sentences. Most of them were tried under President Karimov after being accused of alleged separatism, extremism, planning to overthrow the government and/or belonging to a banned Islamist movement. However, they are not known to have committed acts of violence and there were serious concerns that under President Karimov these charges were fabricated.[2]


List of 26 Muslim prisoners: See their documented cases in HRWF Database of FoRB Prisoners[3]:

AKHMEDOV, Mansurkhon
FAYZIYEV,  Davron Yuldashevich
INAGAMOV,  Khusnuddin Abdukhakimovich
KAMILOV,  Dilshod Khikmatullayevich
KASYMOV, Alisher
KHASANOV,  Sobirjon Sotvoldiyevich
KODYROV, Muhammad
KURBONOV, Botyraly
MIRZAYEV,  Ravshan Mukhamadovich
RASHIDOV,  Abdurashid Abdulkhayevich
RASULOV, Akmaljon
RIZAYEV,  Khusnuddin Tokhtamurodovich
SADYKOV,  Bakhadyr Bakhtiyarovich
SADYKOV,  Ravshan Bakhtiyarovich
TURABAYEV, Rakhmonzhon
TURSUNOV, Bakhtiyor
TURSUNOV, Khayrullo
UMARBAYEV, Ravshanbek
URUNOV,  Afzaljon Azatovich
YUSUPOV, Latip Talipovich
ZOKIROV, Shakhzodjon

Sunnis behind bars: some statistics

As of 1 June 2020, HRWF documented 26 cases of Sunni Muslims in its Prisoners’ Database.[4] 19 of these individuals were arrested and detained before 2017 and are serving prison sentences that range from five to sixteen years. Four Sunni Muslims were detained in 2019 and three have been imprisoned so far in 2020.


In 2019, there were 38 cases recorded in HRWF’s database. There were ten more cases in 2018. Between late August and early September 2018, the authorities arrested many bloggers criticising the lack of religious freedom in an attempt to stop public discussions on such issues. At least eight of them were jailed for two weeks.[5] Some Sunni imams were also prosecuted for criticising the state controlled Muftiate and the ban on the wearing of hijabs in schools.


Articles of the Penal Code

Prisoners are typically charged under these articles of the Uzbekistani Criminal Code:


Article 156, Part 2 which includes ‘deliberate acts intended to humiliate ethnic honour and dignity, insult the religious or atheistic feelings of individuals, carried out with the purpose of inciting hatred, intolerance, or divisions on a national, ethnic, racial, or religious basis, as well as the explicit or implicit limitation of rights or preferences on the basis of national, racial, or ethnic origin, or religious beliefs’.


Article 159 which is ‘attempts to change the Constitutional order’, including acts of violence. It is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.


Article 244-1, Part 1 which is ‘the production, storage, distribution or display of materials containing a threat to public security and public order’. Part 2 is the ‘dissemination of materials containing ideas of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism, calls for pogroms or violent eviction, or aimed at creating panic among the population, as well as the use of religion for purposes of breach of civil concord, dissemination of calumnious and destabilising fabrications, and committing other acts aimed against the established rules of conduct in society and public order’. Part 3 (a) specifies when these acts are premeditated or by a group of people, Part 3 (b) specifies when they are committed by officials, and Part 3 (c) specifies when they have received ‘financial or other material aid from religious organisations, as well as foreign states, organisations, and citizens’.


Article 244-2, Part 1 which is the ‘creation, leadership or participation in religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organisations’.


Article 246, Part 1 which includes ‘smuggling, that is carriage through the customs border – without the knowledge of or with concealment from customs control – materials that propagandise religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism’. It is punishable by between 10 to 20 years in prison.[6]


Additionally, Sunnis may be charged under these articles of the Uzbekistani Code of Administrative Offences:


Article 240, Part 1 which includes the ‘carrying out of unauthorised religious activity, evasion by leaders of religious organisations of registration of the charter of the organisation, and the organisation and conduct of special children’s and youth meetings, as well as vocational, literature and other study groups not relating to worship’. Individuals found in violation of this article may be jailed for up to 15 days or required to pay fines that are 50 to 100 times the minimum monthly wage.


Article 241 includes ‘teaching religious beliefs without specialised religious education and without permission from the central organ of a [registered] religious organisation, as well as teaching religious beliefs privately’. Individuals found in violation of this article may be jailed for up to 15 days or required to pay fines that are 50 to 100 times the minimum monthly wage.[7]


International advocacy

On 22 February 2018, the Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on his mission to Uzbekistan was presented to the UN General Assembly. In this report, the Special Rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, shared findings from his mission in October 2017, which included:


  1. The number of detainees imprisoned on vague charges relating to ‘religious extremism’, ‘anti-constitutional’ activity or membership in an ‘illegal religious group’ — also known as ‘religious detainees’ — is unconfirmed. The estimate ranges between 5,000 and 15,000 individuals[8], while the official data is unknown. Thousands of Muslims have allegedly been imprisoned on accusations of belonging to terrorist, extremist or banned organizations or exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. It is hard to know whether those detainees were indeed involved in violence or other crimes or whether they were only ‘guilty’ of taking their faith seriously.[9]


In February 2019, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Alice G. Wells visited Uzbekistan. She raised concerns about religious freedom issues and specifically cited the release of prisoners of conscience as a positive step the government could take.[10]


The US State Department removed Uzbekistan from its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) and placed it on its Special Watch List (SWL) for the first time in December 2018. It did so again in November 2019. Before this, Uzbekistan was designated as a CPC due to egregious violations of religious freedom.


The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2020 Annual Report recommended that the US State Department keep Uzbekistan on the Special Watch List.[11]


[1] Those five countries are: China, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

[2] Mushfig, Bayram, “UZBEKISTAN: Religious freedom survey September 2017,” Forum 18, September 11, 2019, accessed May 2020.

[3] There is often much confusion around the concept of the freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in respect to the identification of groups and persons who are victims of FoRB violations.

For HRWF, a FoRB prisoner is someone whose rights, protected by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)[3] and Article 6 of the 1981 UN Declaration of the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, were violated by state institutions. Not more and not less.

For more details about the distinctions between FoRB prisoners from religious prisoners of conscience, FoRB defenders and human rights defenders, see HRWF’s latest report “In Prison for their Faith 2020”/ Foreword & Introduction ( published online in July 2020.

[4] Our Database is updated on a regular basis. For more details about imprisoned Sunni Muslims, see

[5] Mushfig, Bayram, “UZBEKISTAN: Jailings ‘to intimidate all who speaks about freedoms’,” Forum 18, September 20, 2018, accessed May 2020.

[6] Mushfig, Bayram, “UZBEKISTAN: Religious freedom survey September 2017,” Forum 18, September 11 2019, accessed May 2020.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The statistics mentioned by the Special Rapporteur were not supported by any identifiable source and the government of Uzbekistan fiercely denied such figures in its comments sent to the Special Rapporteur. However, USCIRF 2020 Annual Report was quoted as saying ‘Estimates from international and local human rights organizations generally range from 1,500 to 5,000 prisoners. According to human rights activists in Uzbekistan, many of the remaining religious prisoners were sentenced in connection with real or fabricated membership in the Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Uzbekistan’. See United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Annual Report, USCIRF-Recommended for countries of particular concern: Uzbekistan 2020, 2020.

[9] Shaheed, Ahmed, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief on his mission to Uzbekistan, United Nations, 2018.

[10] ‘Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells Travels to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan,’ U.S. Department of State, February 24, 2019.

[11] United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Annual Report, USCIRF-Recommended for countries of particular concern: Uzbekistan 2020, 2020.

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