TASHKENT. Students are routinely expelled from universities and other higher education establishments for wearing Islamic-style dress or beards, Human Rights Watch claimed in a report that alleges religious intolerance in the former Soviet state of Uzbekistan.
The allegations were immediately denied by Shavkat Kurbanov, Uzbekistan's deputy minister of education. "There have been no expulsions because of students' dress or wearing beards. If some students have been expelled it is because they have broken university laws."
The report documents the cases of 28 students who were expelled from universities in Uzbekistan. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there may be many others too frightened to talk.
Supporting the findings, United States government officials last week reprimanded Uzbekistan for its poor human rights record and persecution of religious believers.
At a hearing in Washington, Christopher Smith, chairman at the meeting of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, said that the exercise of religion in Uzbekistan was
hindered by a restrictive law on religion, enacted in May 1998. "This law has been used in the past as a basis for persecuting Muslim and other groups the
government saw as security threats."
While president Islam Karimov, the former first secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party, made reference to Islam in
political speeches, holding the Koran in one hand and the
country's constitution in the other on the day of his inauguration, politicised Islam has since become a target for the state
security services. The Islamic Renaissance Party was banned in 1992 and its leader, Abdullo Utaev, "disappeared" later that year. He has not been seen since.
The repression was formalised in the May 1998 law on freedom of conscience and religious org-
anisations that expressly forbids what is described as
"ritual dress" being worn in
The ban is strictly enforced at all levels of academia. Several teachersandprofessors have been fired or demoted after continuing to wear headscarves or beards at work, Human Rights Watch said.