Cleric flees Uzbekistan after Muslim headscarf row

FILE PHOTO: Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) during a meeting in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Pavel Golovkin/Pool/File Photo

ALMATY (Reuters) - An Uzbek imam who ran into trouble for urging President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to lift a school headscarf ban said he has left the mainly Muslim nation due to pressure from security services.

Fazliddin Parpiyev, former cleric at one of the capital Tashkent’s mosques, was the first dissident to leave Uzbekistan under Mirziyoyev who has largely sought to liberalize the former Soviet republic and encouraged emigres to return.

The 32-year-old iman wrote on Facebook this week that he had been summoned by state prosecutors and no longer felt safe in Uzbekistan. He did not disclose his and his family’s location, but said it was thousands of kilometers away.

In a case showing the limits of Uzbekistan’s newly-proclaimed tolerance, Parpiyev was sacked after a Facebook video saying that despite recent reforms, Muslims were still being oppressed over religious symbols like hijabs and beards.

Security services detained several other bloggers who had criticized the school uniform regulations.

In his Facebook post on Thursday, Parpiyev said despite his flight, he still supported Mirziyoyev and policies such as cracking down on corruption.

“I wanted to contribute to his reforms,” he said. “I followed his call for criticism. I still have confidence in him.”

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor general’s office said it had summoned Parpiyev for a 20-minute conversation to warn him that one of his posts could breach laws against ethnic hate speech. She said the conversation involved no psychological intimidation and there was no criminal investigation.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne