TASHKENT, November 24 (RIA Novosti) - Uzbekistan has condemned a U.S. State Department decision to include it on a list of so-called Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) for Severe Violations of Religious Freedom, the Uzbek foreign ministry said Friday.
"Religious tolerance has always been, and continues to be, one of the most important aspects of Uzbekistan's government policy," a ministry statement said.
"This step demonstrates yet again the one-sided approach and double standard applied by the American State Department to such crucial questions as religious freedom," it said.
Countries of Particular Concern are designated annually by the U.S. State Department under the International Religious Freedom Act. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice added Uzbekistan to the list this year for what John Hanford III, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, called "widespread and severe" violations of religious freedom in Uzbekistan.
"Muslims have long borne the brunt of the government of Uzbekistan's harsh repression," Hanford told a press conference on the announcement of the CPC list for 2006. "The government continues to target observant Muslims for arrest, often considering conservative Islamic practice to be evidence of extremism and terrorism."
He said that thousands of observant Muslims with no ties to extremist organizations have been harassed or detained simply on the basis of their religious beliefs or practices.