An estimated 2,000 people remain imprisoned in Uzbekistan for peacefully practicing their religious beliefs, a new report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has found.
In a report titled, Uzbekistan's Religious and Political Prisoners: Addressing A Legacy Of Repression, the USCIRF documents the cases of 81 prisoners, many of whom are serving some of the longest politically-motivated prison sentences in the world.
Notwithstanding some improvements in Uzbekistan's record on religious freedom under the presidency of President Shavkat Mirziyoev, imprisonment of persons on religiously and politically motivated charges in Uzbekistan remains widespread, the report says.
Since 2016, Mirziyoev initiated a series of reforms, including the release of certain categories of religious and political prisoners and the removal of over 20,000 independent Muslims and their relatives from notorious "blacklists" of alleged potential religious "extremists," the report says.
To date, the Mirziyoev government has released more than 65 high-profile political prisoners and a larger undetermined group of religious prisoners.
However, with respect to religious prisoners, ignoring repeated calls by UN mechanisms, the government has never published the numbers or identities of those released and those still incarcerated, the report finds.
The report was released on October 13, the same day Human Rights Watch accused Uzbek authorities of ramping up restrictions on media freedom and keeping opposition candidates off the ballot for the presidential election scheduled for October 24.
"Uzbekistan has garnered significant international attention for pursuing a reform agenda, but recent human rights setbacks in the country, and the lack of any opposition or independent candidates in these elections, expose the limits of those claims,' said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"Uzbekistan could have shown its genuine commitment to meaningful reforms by allowing presidential candidates who don't share the government's views to participate in upcoming elections -- but it did not."