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Crackdowns on alleged Muslim extremists recently landed Uzbekistan on the U.S. State Department's list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC). The situation for all religious groups has deteriorated since 2005, when troops in Andijan fired on civilians gathered in a public square, killing hundreds.

About 88 percent of Uzbekistanis are Muslim. But the government has closed thousands of mosques and arrested, imprisoned, and tortured Muslims in the name of combating Islamic extremism, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

"They are being arrested by thousands," said Michael Cromartie, who chaired the USCIRF from 2004 to 2006. "The point is, when [the government] cracks down on thousands and thousands of Muslims, you, too, could be a victim of a crackdown."

President Islam Karimov's regime, like several others in Central Asia, restricts aid organizations and religious groups out of concern that they foment Islamic or democratic revolution, according to Chris Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement. At the same time, government officials try to mollify Islamic radicals by harassing Christian churches. However, with increasing anger over government abuses, the threat of Islamic militants is growing.

"Extremists would never be able to recruit on their own," Seiple said.

Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic, was long known for toleration. But now a strict though unevenly enforced 1998 law requires all religious groups to register with the government. Many decline, Cromartie said, because they don't want to be monitored. Even registered churches have been raided, according to Forum 18. The Norwegian human-rights organization reported that 47 worshipers were arrested during a ...

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February 2007

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