It is estimated that 2,000 people are still imprisoned in Uzbekistan for peacefully practicing their religious beliefs, according to a new report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
In a report titled, Uzbekistan Religious and political prisoners: tackling a legacy of repression, USCIRF documents the cases of 81 prisoners, many of whom are serving some of the world’s longest prison terms on political grounds.
Despite some improvements in Uzbekistan’s religious freedom record under President Shavkat Mirziyoev, imprisonment of people on religious and political grounds remains widespread in Uzbekistan, according to the report.
Since 2016, Mirziyoev has launched a series of reforms, including the release of certain categories of religious and political prisoners and the removal of more than 20,000 independent Muslims and their relatives from notorious “blacklists” of suspected potential religious “extremists”, indicates the report.
To date, the Mirziyoev government has released more than 65 prominent political prisoners and a larger undetermined group of religious prisoners.
However, with regard to religious prisoners, ignoring repeated appeals from UN mechanisms, the government has never published the number or identity of those released and those still in prison, the report notes.
The report was released on October 13, the same day as Human Rights Watch accused Uzbek authorities have stepped up restrictions on media freedom and excluded opposition candidates from ballots for the presidential election scheduled for October 24.
“Uzbekistan has garnered considerable international attention for pursuing a reform agenda, but the recent human rights setbacks in the country and the lack of opposition or independent candidates in these elections reveal the limits of those claims, ”said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Uzbekistan could have shown its real commitment to meaningful reforms by allowing presidential candidates who do not share the government’s views to participate in the next elections, but it failed to do so.”