Woman in Uzbekistan convicted for wearing hijab

Drawing from the ferghananews.com website
For the first time In Uzbekistan a woman has been convicted for wearing the Muslim head covering in a public place, the human rights organisation Ezgulik claims.

Manzura Kattakhuzhaeva, from Bakht in the Syrdarya region, was prosecuted for wearing the traditional Muslim hijab, which covers the hair and forehead. The Syrdarya court fined Kattakhuzhaeva ten times the minimum wage (a total of 286,000 sums) on 7th October 2011, says Ezgulik’s leader Vasilya Inoyatova.

She had been found guilty of violating article 184-1 of the Administrative Code, “Appearance of citizens in a public place in religious dress”. This article was introduced into Uzbekistan’s Administrative Code in 1998 when Uzbekistan decided to adopted a more hardline approach on religious fundamentalism and extremism in the country.

The amendments to the Administrative Code in 1998 were also enshrined in Uzbekistan’s criminal law.

They incorporate much more severe penalties for the crimes of engaging others in religious activity, creation and leadership of religious organizations, infringing rules on teaching religion, drafting or distributing materials which constitute a threat to public order.

These legislative changes were adopted without being debated in the Uzbek parliament or by wider society in Uzbekistan.

In France, by contrast, the adoption last year of a law which bans the wearing of the Niqab, the religious style of dress which fully covers the face, in public places, was accompanied by debates and protests in the country.

Uzbekistan’s 1998 Criminal Code provided the law enforcement and legal bodies in the country with a context for investigating members of unregistered religious groups and others the authorities wished to indict.

Human rights campaigners have calculated that since 1999, the start of Uzbekistan’s crackdown on religious activity, around 10,000 people have been accused of religious extremism. That number is falling, although not rapidly since new arrests are taking place nearly as fast as others are being released.

Article 184-1 of the Administrative Code has never been applied in the country. The authorities have usually found another way to deal with women wearing the hijab, sometimes threatening to ban them from their colleges or workplace.

Therefore it is quite common to see women wearing the hijab in Uzbekistan, and they are not pursued through the courts.

Vasilya Inoyatova claims that Manzura Kattakhuzhaeva comes from a family which has suffered particiulary from religious oppression. Three of her close relatives are already behind bars, all of them sentenced under article 159, “Offences against the constitutional order.”