ASIA / UZBEKISTAN – New law “On freedom of conscience and religious associations” clarifies what is meant by “mission”
Tashkent (Agenzia Fides) – Many positive aspects stem from the new law “On freedom of conscience and religious associations” approved on July 7 in Uzbekistan. This is explained to Agenzia Fides by Fr. Jerzy Maculewicz, Apostolic Administrator of Uzbekistan, and Fr. Ariel Álvarez Toncovich, priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, pastor of Samarkand.
“This law, which concerns all religious denominations in Uzbekistan, emphasizes freedom of conscience: everyone can choose their convictions. Toncovitch. The priest also underlines how the new law makes it possible to overcome an important obstacle for the 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 seeks to alienate the faithful from other faiths. This new law has the merit of clarifying what is meant in Uzbekistan by the terms “mission” and “proselytism”, by specifying that what is prohibited is, in fact, exerting pressure on people to change their position. religion “. This result was obtained thanks to a request from the Apostolic Administrator, Fr. Jerzy Maculewicz, who spoke with other Uzbek religious leaders at one of the meetings that preceded the drafting of the text. legislative.
Another important aspect, according to the priest of Samarkand, is that the reform does not prohibit children from attending religious organizations, provided that membership is spontaneous and that there is parental consent: “Certainly, in general , we can say that it is a measure which allows us to work in peace and which does not impose additional limits “, concludes Fr Toncovitch. Improvements are also planned from a bureaucratic point of view, such as the underlined Fr. Jerzy Maculewicz: “In the past, in order to register a new parish, it was necessary to collect at least a hundred signatures of people who declared themselves interested in attending it, and it was necessary to obtain the consent of the inhabitants of the district. legislation, it is enough to sign about fifty people and the consent of the neighboring population is no longer necessary.In addition, the documentation can finally be sent electronically: the response will have to arrive within a specific timeframe and, in the event of refusal, it must always be accompanied by a motivation ”, explains the Apostolic Administrator.
Since 2016, following the death of authoritarian President Islom Karimov, Uzbekistan has embarked on a slow path of opening up, summarized in the “Strategy 2017-2021”, which sees among the “priority areas” of intervention also ” interethnic harmony and religious tolerance. “As the Apostolic Administrator tells Agenzia Fides, the government has asked all the religious leaders present in Uzbekistan for an opinion on the reform, a country which, by its nature of bridge between two worlds, is characterized by a great ecumenical spirit. According to the Franciscan, in fact, “the Silk Road has strongly marked the features of this land: the travelers who traveled the road from Europe to China s ‘are often stopped there. ”However, the coexistence between cultures and religions dates back to much earlier times: in Buhara there is a synagogue that is at least 600 years old, but Jews say their arrival dates back to around 2000 years. In the 8th century AD, the Muslims arrived and until the 13th century a large community of Nestorian Christians lived here. In addition, Soviet rule favored the arrival and mixing of different nationalities. Often, the Poles sent to the gulags of Siberia, after the period of forced labor ended, moved to Uzbekistan due to the favorable climate and the presence of many other compatriots. According to data provided by the Uzbek Parliament, “today there are 2,277 organizations of 16 different religious denominations in the territory of the Republic”. Of these, 2,094 are Islamic communities, based in 2,067 mosques; 166 Christian religious organizations, 8 Jewish communities, 6 Bahá’í communities, one Hare Krishna society, one Buddhist temple.
There is also the Uzbekistan Interfaith Bible Society. Currently, the small Uzbek Catholic community, made up of about 3,000 baptized, has 5 parishes across the country: to the 700 or so faithful in Tashkent, there are others present in Samarkand, Bukhara, Urgench and Fergana. In Angren, where it is planned to build a new church, there are 25 faithful. (LF) (Agenzia Fides, 7/14/2021)