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Uzbek Authorities Identify Potential Terror Threat By Where The Knot Is Tied

  • Bruce Pannier

According to Uzbek authorities, if a head scarf is tied behind the head (like that of the woman on the left) that is socially acceptable. If the head scarf is tied under the chin that like that of the woman on the right, it is deemed to be offensive. (file photo)

According to Uzbek authorities, if a head scarf is tied behind the head (like that of the woman on the left) that is socially acceptable. If the head scarf is tied under the chin that like that of the woman on the right, it is deemed to be offensive. (file photo)

Qishloq Ovozi has been chronicling Uzbek authorities' attempts to impose their unique fashion sense on the country's citizens, usually female citizens.

But RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, reports that there's a new twist to this ongoing campaign in at least two districts of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. Actually, "twist" is not the correct word, "knot" might be a better term. You'll see.

Ozodlik, reports that members of the mahalla (community or neighborhood) watch are compiling a list of women who wear headscarves in public. Technically these neighborhood snoops are from the mahalla "cultural-educational committee."

Their task is to warn women seen wearing headscarves in public not to do so anymore and these women are made to sign a paper stating they have been warned.

One resident of Tashkent's Shaykantahur district watch told Ozodlik that, if the women continue to be seen in public with head scarves, it would be a "minus or something similar."

That sounds vague and terrifying.

There is a loophole here. Apparently, in the eyes of the authorities, if a head scarf is tied behind the head that is acceptable. If the head scarf is tied under the chin that is deemed offensive.

Ozodlik reports that one elderly woman, who did not understand the distinction, was caught outdoors with her scarf tied in the aforementioned offensive manner. She was asked to sign a document acknowledging that she had violated the law by knotting her headwear in the wrong place.

Article 14 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations says, "The appearance of citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan (with the exclusion of clerics from religious organizations) in public places [attired] in religious clothing is not permitted."

The penalty for violating this law is a fine equivalent to five to 10 minimum monthly wages or administrative arrest for up to 15 days.

Ozodlik managed to contact a woman named Zaynab in the cultural-educational committee of Mirzo Ulughbek mahalla. Zaynab said that,as long as women wear headscarves in the "Uzbek tradition" -- tied behind the head, that is -- there is no problem. She declined to answer a question about what would happen to women who did not conform to this tradition.

Uzbek rights defender Ikram Ikramov told Ozodlik he had heard about the mahalla campaign against head scarves. Ikramov said the campaign was part of Uzbekistan's battle against the influence of the Islamic State militant group.

It seems the head scarf can be a gateway garb to more insidious intentions.

Ozodlik previously reported that the Uzbek prosecutor's office has been perusing social network sites looking for young women who post pictures of themselves wearing headscarves tied the "illegal" way, or visiting websites that contain suspicious religious content. Once discovered, these women are summoned to the prosecutor's office for questioning.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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