Content Regulation / Censorship, Religious Expression
Otto-Preminger-Institut v. Austria
Closed Expands Expression
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The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) ruled that a school’s treatment of a student violated Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibits “coercion that would impair the individual’s freedom to have or adopt a religion” (para 6.2). Raihon Hudoyberganova started wearing a hijab to the Tashkent State Institute in Uzbekistan during her second year of studies. That year, the Institute adopted a regulation that barred students from wearing religious dress to school. Hudoyberganova refused to abide by the regulation and was suspended from the students’ residence and, eventually, from the Institute. The UNHRC reasoned that although the freedom to manifest one’s religion is not an absolute right, but rather one that can be subject to limitations, Uzbekistan had provided no justification as to why the restriction in this case would be necessary.
Raihon Hudoyberganova entered her studies at the Tashkent State Institute for Eastern languages in 1995 and joined the Islamic Affairs Department in 1996 . She started wearing a hijab during her second year of studies. In September 1997, the Institute closed the Muslim prayer room and students wearing hijabs were urged to transfer to the Tashkent Islamic Institute. Hudoyberganova complained about these infringements to the Institute’s Dean, who in turn summoned her parents and claimed that Hudoyberganova had joined a dangerous religious group. Hudoyberganova’s parents withdrew her from the Institute at the time due to her mother’s illness, but she returned in December 1997, still wearing a hijab.
On January 17, 1998, the Institute adopted a new regulation prohibiting religious dress on its premises. Hudoyberganova was informed of it and signed it, although next to her signature she expressed her disagreement with the regulation. The next day, the Dean summoned her and asked her to take off the hijab, on the ground that she had signed the new regulation.
In February 1998, the Institute shut down the Islamic Affairs Department in response to students continuing to wear hijabs despite the Institute’s regulations. On March 25, 1998, Hudoyberganova was suspended from the Institute. The official reason was that she had a negative attitude towards professors and had violated the Institute’s regulations. Hudoyberganova complained about the Institute’s decision to the Chairman of the Committee of Religious Affairs within the Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan and to the Minister of Education. Both replied and urged her to respect the Institute’s regulation.
Hudoyberganova then filed a lawsuit before a district court in Tashkent, requesting her student rights to be restored. The Institute replied with a demand to arrest Hudoyberganova for violating a national law passed on May 15, 1998, that barred Uzbek citizens from wearing religious dress in public places. The district court dismissed Hudoyberganova’s lawsuit. She appealed, but the lower court decision was upheld. She also appealed to the Ombudsman, who replied with a copy of a letter from the Institute’s Dean where he alleged that Hudoyberganova had violated the Institute’s regulations and belonged to an extremist Wahhabi sect.
The UNHRC found that Hudoyberganova’s rights under Article 18 of the ICCPR had been violated because, although “the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs is not absolute and may be subject to limitations, which are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others,” Uzebekistan had asserted no justification as to why the restriction in this case would be necessary (para. 6.2).
Three UNHRC members dissented. One, Sir Nigel Rodley, argued that since Uzebekistan had not explained the basis for restricting Hudoyberganova, the UNHRC should not have taken the lack of it into account. Ruth Wedgwood argued that there was a lack of information to make a judgment on this case. Moreover, she cited an ECtHR decision (ECtHR, Şahin v. Turkey, No. 44774/98 (2005)) where the ECtHR ruled that wearing a hijab to a state university might implicate the freedoms of others by making some persons feeling a need to conform. The third dissent was from Hipolito Solari-Yringoyen, who argued, among other things, that a state educational institution is not a place of worship and that regulations on religious attire applied to all faiths.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The UNHRC’s ruling reiterated that regulations limiting freedom of religion must be explicitly justified to withstand scrutiny.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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