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Uzbekistan Refuses to Renew Visa for U.S. Rabbi in Tashkent

Uzbekistan has refused to renew the visa of an American rabbi who serves as the head of the Jewish community in the former Soviet republic’s capital of Tashkent.

Rabbi Abba David Gurevitch, who was born in Russia and holds a U.S. passport, has worked in Uzbekistan since 1990.

His visa was regularly renewed until it expired a month ago. The Foreign Ministry declined to give a reason for rejecting his renewal application.

Gurevitch, the chief emissary of the Lubavitch movement for Central Asia, said he hoped the matter was merely a bureaucratic snafu.

“I hope everything will be settled soon,” Gurevitch said in a telephone interview from Tashkent.

Some members of the Uzbek Jewish community said they were alarmed by Gurevitch’s visa problem.

Since his arrival in this Central Asian state, Gurevitch has played a crucial role in the renewal of Jewish life in the region. He has opened several Jewish educational institutions, including a Jewish day school in Tashkent.

Some 30,000 Jews live in Uzbekistan, most of them in the capital.

The visa controversy comes in the wake of the country’s new law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, which came into force in May.

Under the law, all religious groups need to re-register with the authorities. At least one Jewish group — the Tashkent-based Jewish Education Center of Central Asia — has reported difficulties in obtaining permission to operate because of the law.

Human rights activists have described the law as harsh and discriminatory but the Uzbek government argued that such provisions are necessary to prevent the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.

The Jewish center, which is headed by Gurevitch, has served in recent years as an umbrella for Lubavitch activities in Uzbekistan and neighboring states.

The authorities said the center could not be registered because it did not have members in eight Uzbek regions as required by the law. But Jewish officials claim it is impossible for them to comply because Jews live in only six regions.

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