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Fresh Anti-Beard Campaign Reported In Uzbekistan

According to vendors, people in civilian clothes identifying themselves as law enforcement officials have been raiding the Namangan market and stopping bearded men since September 22. (file photo)

NAMANGAN, Uzbekistan -- Vendors at a marketplace in Uzbekistan's eastern city of Namangan say authorities have been forcing traders and market visitors to shave their beards.

According to the vendors, people in civilian clothes who have shown documents identifying them as law enforcement officials have been raiding the Chorsu agricultural market since September 22 and stopping bearded men.

The officials then took bearded men with them to police stations where they force them to shave. In some cases, they just warned the bearded men or told the market administration to "persuade " bearded vendors to shave off their beards.

The vendors complain that the Islamic religion does not allow men to shave off their beards.

Local authorities were not available for immediate comment.

The vendors' complaints come a month after police in Tashkent, the capital, came under fire for detaining dozens of men at a local market and shaving their beards before releasing them.

The Tashkent police responded to the criticism in late August, saying that for security reasons some men were asked to shave off the beards so that their faces resembled the photos on their biometric passports.

Since coming to power in 2016, President Shavkat Mirziyoev has taken modest steps to relax restrictions on religious freedom in the predominantly Muslim country of more than 30 million people.

But religion in Uzbekistan remains strictly regulated by authorities.

The government reportedly continues to bar the wearing of the Islamic hijab in schools and offices. A 1998 law prohibits the wearing of religious clothing in public, with the exception of religious figures.

There have also been frequent reports of police singling out men with long beards, a campaign presented by officials as an effort to combat radical Islam in Central Asia's most populous nation with deep Islamic roots and traditions.