Police in a district near the Uzbek capital entered new territory last week when they were required to swear on the Koran that they would 'not take bribes' or 'engage in extortion.'
The oath fits with President Shavkat Mirziyoev's effort to position himself as a fighter of corruption since he came to power in September 2016, but stands in contrast to his predecessor's efforts to suppress Islam.
Sources in Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry tell RFE/RL that the oath-taking ceremony was part of a state-run anticorruption program launched under a presidential decree from Mirziyoev.
One Interior Ministry source, speaking to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on condition of anonymity, said taking part in three training sessions and the oath-taking ceremony was obligatory for all police in the district under an order from the district police leadership rather than an order 'from above.'
There was no direct order from the president or the Interior Ministry requiring all police to place their hand on the Koran and vow to be good cops, the official told RFE/RL.
Nevertheless, the chief imam from the Yukorichirchik district was called in to take part in the oath ceremony and all officers there were required to take part.
On social media, many Uzbeks have said the country's police and the Koran were like entities from different universes during the 26 years the late President Islam Karimov ruled Uzbekistan.
Karimov loathed Islamic leaders in the country and used his security forces to rein in their influence and control, claiming that his crackdowns were against Islamist extremists.
Following the ceremony, many Uzbeks have been expressing doubts on social media that the use of the Koran in an oath ceremony will have any impact on the daily behavior of police officers.
President Shavkat Mirziyoev (left, with army officers) has sought to publicly distance himself from old security practices.
Long History Of Corruption
Uzbekistan's police have long been criticized for mistreating detainees, extortion, taking bribes, and other forms of corruption.
In early 2017, Mirziyoev said more than 4,500 police officers had been fired for 'bribery and abuse of authority' since he took power in September 2016 following Karimov's death. And the crackdown has continued.
Several senior law enforcement officials were arrested in 2017 and 2018 on charges of corruption and exceeding their authority.
They include former Prosecutor-General Rashid Qodirov, who was arrested on February 22 on charges of bribe-taking and abuse of office.
Within a month of Qodirov's arrest, dozens of other law enforcement officials were also rounded up in connection with the case.
Mirziyoev charged that Qodirov was regularly taking bribes from regional prosecutors. 'Why was the former top prosecutor arrested? Because they were all thieves,' he said on March 7, speaking about officials who came to their posts under Karimov.
Mirziyoev said district prosecutors had been paying tens of thousands of dollars to Qodirov to 'buy' their positions. 'Now the detained district prosecutors are telling how much in bribes they paid to the former chief prosecutor,' he said.
Senior officials in Uzbekistan's once-powerful security apparatus, now known as the State Security Service, have also been dismissed and arrested on corruption charges since Mirziyoev took power.
Mirziyoev described some of those security officers as 'mad dogs,' accusing them of carrying out torture on detainees and targeting successful businessmen for extortion.
Those who have been convicted have received prison sentences of up to 16 years.
Written by Ron Synovitz in Prague with reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service Ron Synovitz
Ron Synovitz is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL.
SynovitzR@rferl.org Subscribe via RSS RFE/RL's Uzbek Service
RFE/RL's Radio Ozodlik is one of the only sources of reliable news and information for people in Uzbekistan. The country remains one of the most repressive in the world in terms of media freedom and human rights issues.
firstname.lastname@example.org Subscribe via RSS
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036