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Report: Uzbek police force Muslim men to shave beards

Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on 22 October 2021 [VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images]
Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on 22 October 2021 [VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images]

Police in Uzbekistan have been forcing dozens of practising Muslim men to shave their beards according to a report today by RFE/RL.

Over the past recent weeks, there have been several incidents of men being summoned by police in the city of Yangiyul, 20 kilometres south of the capital, Tashkent, said correspondents. One local activist, speaking on anonymity, stated that in the past month alone, 22 men had their beards forcibly shaved in the city.

"Only religious men are forced to shave their beards," he alleged, adding that the practise appeared "systematic".

One Yangiyul resident told RFE/RL that "The police say that we supposedly look like terrorists."

"We grow beards as this is considered in line with the traditions and practices of the Prophet Muhammad. They violate our rights," he explained.

READ: Uzbekistan repatriates Daesh women and children

The policy has been criticised by rights groups for several years, and appears to be on the rise as the government says it is clamping down on what it refers to as radical Islam. This follows a brief period where the Uzbek authorities started easing previous hard-line policies towards religion.

In June, it was reported that the Uzbek government recalled students of Islamic studies in Egypt and Turkey as part of efforts to control and restrict certain interpretations of Islam not sanctioned by the State.

In December of last year, the US State Department removed the Central Asian country from its special observation list for violations of religious freedom, as the government was considered as no longer engaged in or tolerated "severe violations of religious freedom". Uzbekistan had previously been designated as a Country of Particular Concern from 2006 to 2017, and was moved to a Special Watch List in 2018 and 2019.

However, according to its 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom, it was found that Uzbekistan continued to force Muslim men to shave their beards and to prevent women from wearing the hijab in schools and offices.

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