The Baptist Press reported today that the government of Uzbekistan has officially granted itself “sweeping control” over religious materials in that Central Asian country, which may outlaw the distribution of Bibles there.
Even without a law authorizing it, Uzbek authorities had long maintained a de facto stranglehold on religious literature, films, recordings, websites and other materials. This decree allows the government a legal basis to control the production, distribution and import of all such materials.
According to the decree, no one can distribute or purchase religious materials except for in a fixed commercial point of sale with a cash register, and the materials cannot be imported without specific permission from the state. The law also makes it a criminal act to store, produce or distribute religious materials that, according to the government, “distort” religious canons or encourage a change in beliefs.
The law adds a new dimension to the stifling of religious freedom in Uzbekistan, which had already outlawed unregistered religious meetings under the 1998 Religion Law. Punishments for illegal activities regarding religious literature already include fines of up to 150 times the minimum monthly wage, with legal experts suspecting that new punishments probably will be added to enforce the new decree.
In an August 2013 religious freedom survey on Uzbekistan, Forum 18 (a religious freedom organization) reported that all exercise of religious freedom or belief with others is illegal without state permission. Further, the government imposes strict limits on access to religious literature, including Bibles and Qurans to be read in private homes. The government also regularly tortures detainees, imposes bans on the religious activity and education of children, and conducts trials lacking due legal process.