Islamic Clothing Vanishes From Markets in Uzbek Capital

By News Briefing Central Asia - News Briefing Central Asia
14 Mar 12
Traditional Islamic dress for women has disappeared from display in several markets in the Uzbek capital Tashkent following a secretive ban on sales.
A human rights activist said the ban was part of a government campaign against overt signs of religious observance in this predominantly Muslim state.
Traders say tax officials have begun fining stores selling the coats and headscarves that make up “hijab”, the form of dress worn by devout Muslim women. Hijab has disappeared from the Chorsu, Kuyluk, Otchopa and Urikzor markets. The authorities have also confiscated all stock from some stalls caught selling the clothing, they said.
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.”
Abdurahmon Tashanov of the Tashkent-based human rights group Ezgulik said his group had received complaints of police harassment from several businesses that sell Islamic dress.
Ninety per cent of Uzbekistan’s 26 million inhabitants are Muslim and many women cover their heads. But the authorities distinguish between traditional Uzbek dress and hijab, which they see as the outward sign of pernicious imported forms of Islam.
Rights groups have long accused Uzbekistan of suppressing religious freedoms as part of a campaign against Islamic extremism.
In a 2012 country report, the New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the Uzbek authorities of continuing “their unrelenting, multi-year campaign of arbitrary detention, arrest and torture of Muslims who practice their faith outside state controls”.
There is no legal provision banning sales of hijab, but legislation passed in 1998 sets out fines and short jail terms for wearing religious clothing in public. In the first known prosecution under the law, a court in Syrdarya region fined a woman the equivalent of 155 US dollars for wearing hijab.
This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.