Why Is the Uzbek Government Putting Cameras in Its Mosques?

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The monitoring program is part of a larger effort to restrict religious organization.

uzbekJomma march19 p.jpg

Friday prayers in Tashkent / Reuters

Authorities in Uzbekistan are increasing their surveillance of Muslims, while showing greater concern about what they wear.

At the beginning of March, a representative from the government-controlled Muslim Spiritual Board in Namangan Region requested that cameras be installed in and around 181 mosques in the area, Regnum reported. Authorities claim the installation of security cameras follows thefts at some mosques.

However, an Uzbek imam living across the border in neighboring Kyrgyzstan told Radio Free Europe's Uzbek Service he believes "the authorities are trying to control what happens during prayer, to track what imams say to believers and to see whether young people are attending prayers."

Also this month, Uzbek authorities have prohibited the sale of religious clothing, specifically hijabs and burqas, at several Tashkent markets. After receiving an oral order, venders at several markets including the massive Chorsu Bazaar, quickly pulled headscarves and other coverings from their racks. Local authorities reportedly confiscated some clothing, reported the Institute of War and Peace Reporting:

Tashkent businesswoman Mutabar, who imports goods from Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, still offers the items to customers, but only in secret.

"Islamic clothing is being sold under the counter," she said. "I am selling it from home, but only to trusted customers."

Officials in Tashkent confirmed the ban was in place but were reluctant to comment in detail.

"There's a ban on the sale of Islamic clothing, but I can't discuss hijab," an official at the Chorsu market who did not give his name said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a local tax officer said the authorities wanted to keep the ban quiet.

"No one will discuss it openly now," he said. "It's the same with halal cafes, which have been closed."

A 1998 law forbids Uzbeks from wearing "religious clothing in public." Punishment ranges from a fine of five to 10 times the monthly minimum wage to 15 days in jail.

Last October, Manzura Kattakhuzhaeva became the first woman to be tried and found guilty of wearing hijab. Kattakhuzhaeva, from Syrdarya Region, was fined.

For years, Uzbek authorities have tried to suppress what they see as manifestations of Islamic fundamentalism, specifically in the conservative Ferghana Valley. Observers fear the heavy-handed tactics could radicalize practicing Muslims while pushing them underground.

This article originally appeared at EurasiaNet.org, an Atlantic partner site.

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