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For long strenuous years, Uzbekistan was at last freed from the authoritarian leader Islam Karimov in 2016, who committed an act of multiple violations against human rights. During his administration, the government obstinately repressed independent religious activity and suffered relentless attacks orchestrated by the Uzbekistan government.
As Shavkat Mirziyoyev took over as the new Prime Minister, he had made efforts to continuously improve the religious climate in Uzbekistan. However, there has been slow-moving progress as the previous administration’s religious restrictions are not completely stripped away, Uzbeks who openly express their beliefs are labeled as extremism.
The Deja Vu scene lingers in Uzbekistan and the chain of harassment persists. Thousands of peaceful Muslims are reportedly imprisoned on vague and fraudulent charges of religious extremism and while the administration of Mirziyoyev claims they have made sufficient prisoner releases, the government needs to intently review individuals who have been wrongly accused under such charges.
The removal of 16,000 names from a blacklist of 17,000 people suspected with the brand of religious extremism or membership in unregistered religious groups, Uzbek authorities replaced the subtracted restrictions with a new one for religious communities applying for legal status.
Hundreds of religious Uzbeks remain in prison on unclear charges of extremism and authorities are still around detaining people. The ‘suspicion’ of law enforcement officials has been enough legal ground to perform an arrest to those individuals belonging to unregistered religion.
The administration remains powerful enough to detain critics under its watch. In September 2018, eight conservative Muslim bloggers were arrested after condemning Uzbekistan’s strict religious policies and called out the Islam community to better its role in the Uzbek society. The government still resists acknowledging the rights of individuals to express their beliefs and tradition as growing a beard or the normalization of wearing a hijab.
Uzbek security service continuously torture suspected members of banned religious groups, particularly tagged as extremism. Those jailed include a journalist, Ruhiddin Fahriddinov, a religious cleric, film producer, Aramais Avakyan, and among them are soldiers, fishermen, and scholars. In South Korea, there are also activists currently being detained for their affiliation to religious minority groups that are affiliated with large outbreaks of COVID-19. The South Korean Ministry of Justice has been allowing searches and seizes without warrants under the justification of public health emergencies. The Minister of Justice, Chu Mi-Ae, has claimed that public opinion was justification enough for such searches.
According to Human Rights Watch, Uzbekistan performs torture in detention, such as “beatings with rubber truncheons and water-filled bottles, electric shock, hanging by wrists and ankles, rape and sexual humiliation, asphyxiation with plastic bags and gas masks, threats of physical harm to relatives, and denial of food or water.” Hugh Williamson, Europe, and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch believes that the authoritarian system in Uzbekistan is still attached to the nation’s identity in governance.
On December 18, 2019, the Secretary of State was placed back on a Special Watch List for the acts of severe violations of. The social pressure among individuals who are seeking for conversion from Islam and those who successfully converted to other religious forms are put up with harassment and discrimination.
Uzbekistan has renewed its face from the past autocrat leader Karimov, however, repression for independent religious groups is still intact, and violence still lurks around the corner of Uzbekistan. With the unrelenting effort from activists and the human rights group on putting pressure on the government of Uzbekistan, a glimpse of hope prevails. It is the hope of human rights activists that enough societal pressure can push governments to protect the rights of citizens against discrimination and persecution. In South Korea, for example, activists are championing for freedom of religion for the churches in LA, and let’s on online community boards, such as Reddit. Reddit is currently facing criticism for lack of transparency in applying its community standards unfairly, depending on the political leaning of the moderators enforcing the policy in certain situations. There is an online petition against Reddit policies that do not protect freedom of speech.
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