Uzbekistan new law “On freedom of conscience and religious associations”

Many positive aspects derive from the new law “On freedom of conscience and religious associations” approved on July 7 in Uzbekistan. This law, which concerns all religious denominations in Uzbekistan, emphasizes freedom of conscience

Newsdesk – July 17, 2021 – Gaudium Press   In an interview with Agenzia Fides conducted on July 14,2021, Fr. Jerzy Maculewicz, Apostolic Administrator of Uzbekistan, and Fr. Ariel Álvarez Toncovich, priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, parish priest of Samarkand said that “This law, which concerns all religious denominations in Uzbekistan, emphasizes freedom of conscience: everyone can choose their own beliefs. It specifies that the country is secular and that there is a clear distinction between religion and the State”.

Fr. Toncovich underlines how the new law helps to overcome an important obstacle for missionaries present in Uzbek territory: “In this part of the world, the word ‘mission’ is not conceived in a positive way, but rather as a constraint, a work of forced persuasion, which tries to alienate the faithful from other confessions. This new law has the merit of clarifying what is meant in Uzbekistan by the terms ‘mission’ and ‘proselytism’, specifying that what is prohibited is, in fact, exerting pressure on people to change their religion”.

This result was achieved thanks to a request of the Apostolic Administrator, Fr. Jerzy Maculewicz, who spoke together with other Uzbek religious leaders in one of the meetings that preceded the drafting of the legislative text.

Another important aspect, according to Fr. Toncovich, is that the reform does not prohibit children from attending religious organizations, provided that membership is spontaneous and that there is parental consent.

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Improvements are also foreseen from a bureaucratic point of view, as pointed out by Fr. Jerzy Maculewicz: “In the past, to register a new parish, it was necessary to collect at least one hundred signatures from people who declared themselves interested in attending it, and it was necessary to obtain the consent of the inhabitants of the area. With the new legislation, only fifty people need to sign and the consent of the neighbouring population is no longer necessary. Furthermore, the documentation can finally be sent electronically: the response will have to arrive in a precise time frame and, in the event of rejection, it must always be accompanied by a motivation”, explains the Apostolic Administrator.

Since 2016, following the death of the authoritarian president Islom Karimov, Uzbekistan has embarked on a slow path of opening, summarized in the “Strategy 2017-2021”, which sees among the “priority areas” of intervention also “inter-ethnic harmony and religious tolerance”.

(Via  Agenzia Fides)

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