ANGREN, Uzbekistan -- Police in Uzbekistan's eastern city of Angren have forced dozens of practicing Muslims to shave off their beards, a practice in the Central Asian nation that has been criticized by domestic and international rights organization for years.
One city resident told RFE/RL on June 8 that a day earlier he had been summoned to a police station where he and dozens of other men were forced to shave their beards off.
"Police warned us that if we refuse to shave our beards, they will do it using force. They took our pictures before and after the beards were shaved," the man said, adding that the anti-beard campaign lasted for several days.
"All those men who were summoned to police and forced to shave their beards off are practicing Muslims. When we tried to protest, demanding to show us a law that bans beards, police said "your beards are different than other men have, and you look differently." Those of us who tried to refuse to shave were warned that we'd be charged with disobedience to police and there was no other way for us than to follow their orders," another man told RFE/RL.
Angren city police officials were not immediately available for comment.
There have been frequent reports in recent years of police singling out men with long beards in Uzbekistan, a campaign presented by officials as an effort to combat radical Islam in Central Asia's most-populous nation of 32 million with deep Islamic roots and traditions.
Last month, a video circulated on the Internet allegedly showing a police official in the eastern city of Namangan instructing his subordinates to single out men with beards and force them to shave while documenting the process, taking the men's pictures before and after shaving.
Authorities have rejected the reports, saying that in some cases citizens were "asked to shave off their beards in order to have the appearance that corresponds to their pictures in identification documents."
The chairman of the Tashkent-based Ezgulik (Compassion) human rights group, Abdurakhman Tashanov, told RFE/RL that his organization had registered numerous cases where police forced practicing Muslims to shave their beards.
"Having a beard is a personal issue and it is wrong to persecute someone or force someone to shave. However, in our country, a beard is considered to be a sign of Islamic radicalism and men with beards are treated with prejudice," Tashanov said.
Two years ago, Shuhrat Ganiev, then the governor of the eastern region of Ferghana, refused to provide a local farmer with a loan solely because he had a beard.
In 2016, soccer fans with beards were not allowed into a stadium in the city of Bukhara and police instructed them to shave before attending the match.
The U.S. State Department said in a report published in June last year that Uzbekistan continues to restrict freedom of religion by forcing Muslims to shave their beards and barring the wearing of the Islamic hijabs in schools and offices.