Tightening up its grip on personal freedoms, the Uzbek government is reacting with excessive measures against the growing popularity of Islamic weddings in the country, an independent think-tank said.
"They hold preventive conversations with them and their relatives, and ask why the family chose to hold the wedding according to strict Muslim rules,” Suhrob Ismailov, head of the Expert Working Group, an independent think-tank in Uzbekistan, told News Briefing Central Asia website on Saturday, July 14.
"Sometimes they force them to sign statements."
The Expert Working Group produced a report on the issue in early July reporting that Islamic weddings were becoming more popular across Uzbekistan.
They are common among migrant workers returning from Kazakhstan and Russia, where there is more religious freedom.
The new measures came after the increase of religious weddings held with no music, dancing or alcohol, and female guests sitting separately from men.
Suppressing freedoms for years, officers from the uniformed police and the National Security Service attack families who choose to hold a religious wedding.
As soon they get informed about the wedding, they surround the newlyweds’ home to issue a stern warning, known euphemistically as a "preventive chat”.
A representative of Uzbekistan’s government committee for religious affairs confirmed that local officials were visiting the homes of families that held Islamic weddings.
"Members of the [banned] Hizb ut-Tahrir movement have begun holding weddings that hardly merit the name,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
For Uzbek government, holding weddings without music was a good reason to suspect the families choosing to wed in a religious ceremony.
"The women wear black, there are sermons, but no music or dancing. It’s a kind of meeting,” the government official said.
"The rest of the neighborhood is unaware whether it was a wedding or a funeral. So such families are being told that this is not a good practice, and that that they should hold proper weddings."
Despite government’s measures, many Uzbeks still dream of holding a religious wedding.
"Where will those lists go? Will they lead to persecution?" Tashkent resident Aziz, 27, who is planning to get married in late August, at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
He wants to hold an Islamic wedding but says officials in his local neighborhood are drawing up lists of people who do so.
Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most populous nation, is at the heart of a geopolitical power struggle between the West and Russia.
The country, where Muslims make up 88 percent of the 28 million population, is one of the world's biggest producers of cotton and has huge natural gas and mineral reserves.
Yet, economy is sluggish and unemployment is towering.
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”.