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Monday, April 15, 2024

Jahongir Ulugmurodov’s case and the threat to free speech in Uzbekistan

Ulugmurodov's unjust conviction for sharing a religious song reveals the curtailed freedom of expression in Uzbekistan.

Jahongir Ulugmurodov, a 20-year-old Uzbek student, was sentenced to three years in prison for sharing an Islamic devotional song, shedding light on the growing prosecutions for sharing “extremist” content. This case raises concerns about freedom of expression in Uzbekistan. The authorities’ overreach in curbing religious beliefs and their failure to provide substantial evidence further deepens the issue. It is imperative for international partners to support efforts in protecting fundamental rights and urging legislative reforms in Uzbekistan.

Violation of Freedom of Religion or Belief

Ulugmurodov’s conviction not only raises concerns about freedom of religion or belief but also highlights the need for a fair and unbiased judicial process. The charges brought against him for sharing a nasheed, a form of vocal music associated with Islamic beliefs, demonstrate the overreach of the authorities in curbing freedom of expression.

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Lack of Evidence and Misrepresentations

The case against Ulugmurodov is marred by a lack of concrete evidence. The State Committee on Religious Affairs concluded that the song he shared was filled with fundamentalist ideas. However, upon analysis, it is evident that the song does not incite violence. Moreover, the police statement that accused Ulugmurodov of sharing sermons about “jihad” lacks specificity and has been found to contain misrepresentations and defamatory remarks.

Growing Prosecutions for “Extremist” Content

Ulugmurodov’s case is not an isolated incident but part of a larger pattern of prosecutions in Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch has documented several cases where individuals have been sentenced for sharing or storing materials labeled as “religious extremist.” The authorities seem to be targeting young Muslim men under broad provisions, disregarding evidence of intent or use of the material for violent purposes.

International Concerns

International human rights bodies, including the UN Special Rapporteur for countering terrorism, have expressed concerns about Uzbekistan’s overly broad and vague definition of “extremism.” The UN Human Rights Committee has urged the Uzbek government to guarantee freedom of religion or belief and revise the definition of “extremism” to align with international standards. Uzbekistan’s international partners, including the European Union and the United States, should join these efforts and urge the government to review cases like Ulugmurodov’s.

Safeguarding Freedom of Expression

To effectively counter violent extremism, the Uzbek government should amend its legislation to ensure that it upholds the fundamental right to freedom of expression. By narrowing the definition of “extremism” and distinguishing between peaceful religious activity and violent extremism, the government can protect the rights of its citizens while addressing genuine security concerns.

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Jahongir Ulugmurodov’s case underscores the need for the Uzbek government to ensure a fair appeals process and protect freedom of religion or belief. It also highlights the urgency for legislative reforms that align with international human rights standards. The international community, including Uzbekistan’s partners, must support these efforts and advocate for a legal framework that allows individuals to practice their faith peacefully without fear of persecution or imprisonment. Only by safeguarding fundamental rights can Uzbekistan foster a society that respects diversity, pluralism, and the principles of human rights.