Legislators in Uzbekistan’s Lower House are set to sign off a series of reform bills that will improve the human rights situation in the country.

Uzbekistan is progressing towards rapid transformation, including political, economic, and importantly, religious freedom,” said the deputy chairman of the Uzbek Senate yesterday (25 July) at a side event to the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom currently being held in Washington DC.

Sodiq Safoyev was one of the speakers at the “conversation about this new direction”, hosted by the Embassy of Uzbekistan and the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE).

Participants heard how Uzbekistan is advancing religious freedom through a “unique and original model”, and how “religious communities should enjoy the same rights and freedoms”, as the country begins to implement recommendations made by the UN.

Yet earlier this month the Oslo-based news service Forum 18 reported how the country had “added two new restrictions for religious communities seeking legal status”.

The leader of a religious community now needs to show, through a notarised copy of a diploma or certificate from a foreign or Uzbek religious training course, that he or she is officially qualified. The same applies to the director of an educational institution the community might run.

“There is no indication of what type of religious education, whether formal or informal, is covered by this second new registration requirement,” Forum 18 reported. “The Religion Law also is imprecise about what the term religious education covers. At present, there is no formal official centre to recognise foreign religious education, so fulfilling this new restriction is at present impossible. It is unknown when the government will establish such a centre, and it is also unknown how long such recognition will take.”

Under Uzbekistan’s Religion Law, all religious activities need prior state permission, which requires the completion of a complicated registration procedure.

According to Forum 18, many religious communities in Uzbekistan are not unwilling to register but are afraid that the information they provide will be used against them, leading to fines or even torture.

“Give us freedom of religion and belief, [and] we will ask for registration,” one Protestant, who did not wish to be named, told the news service.

Meanwhile Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to experience harassment, with several having been charged for sharing their faith with others, reports Forum 18.


In May, the government announced a roadmap setting out how recommendations for improving human rights, including the protection of religious freedom, were to be implemented.

The initiative was welcomed by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, Ahmed Shaheed, who had made the suggestions during his visit in October 2017.

“Freedom of religion or belief as a human right inherent to every human being is not recognised in law and in practice,” he said after his visit, adding that this “poses a fundamental challenge for religious freedom in Uzbekistan”.