Jehovah’s Witnesses’ freedom of religion
threatened in Uzbekistan
FERGANA, Uzbekistan—On August 24, 2006, the Fergana District Justice Department issued an order to liquidate the religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses registered in Fergana. The Uzbekistan law on religious freedom—criticized by international human rights bodies for its harsh restriction of religious freedom—prohibits any religious activity without state registration. The liquidation order effectively places Jehovah’s Witnesses in Fergana under ban.
In response to an official request from Jehovah’s Witnesses in Fergana regarding the reason for the ban, the Justice Department stated that the Witnesses had acted illegally when they conducted meetings in the private home of one of their members. According to the Justice Department, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to meet for worship and study or to share their beliefs with others.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been present in the Fergana valley since the 1950’s. On May 3, 1994, they were granted legal status as a registered religious organization in Fergana and were reregistered on August 18, 1999. In 2005 the Fergana justice authorities raised questions regarding the organization’s legal address. In response, Jehovah’s Witnesses purchased a public building and obtained the required agreements from various government departments regarding its structural integrity and its conformity to fire, health and sanitary codes. However, the local council (Makhallya) and the Committee on Religious Affairs refused final approval.
Despite the existence of Jehovah’s Witnesses in other parts of Uzbekistan, the only remaining legally recognized congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country is in Chirchik, close to the capital, Tashkent. Whether the Fergana ban is a prelude to repression in Chirchik remains to be seen.
There are now over 1,100 documented cases in Uzbekistan of Jehovah’s Witnesses being arrested, detained, fined, or beaten. The Constitution of Uzbekistan guarantees freedom of religion.
Media contact in Russia: Matthew Kelly
Telephone: 011 7 812-434-3850