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Uzbek police in the Tashkent capital region have forced dozens of practicing Muslims to shave off their beards, a practice in the Central Asian nation that has been criticized by domestic and international rights organization for years.

Uzbek Service said that in recent weeks police in the city of Yangiyul, located 20 kilometers from Tashkent, have summoned men and forced them to shave their beards.

A local activist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that 22 men had their beards shaved in Yangiyul alone over the past month.

“Only religious men are forced to shave their beards,” he said, adding that the practice appears “systematic.”

Men said police don’t target those who grow a beard for fashion, but only practicing Muslims.

“The police say that we supposedly look like terrorists,” said one resident of Yangiyul. “We grow beards as this is considered in line with the traditions and practices of the Prophet Mohammad. They violate our rights.”

A local police official denied authorities are forcing men to shave their beards.

There have been frequent reports in recent years of police targeting men with long beards in Uzbekistan, in what is considered an effort to combat radical Islam in Central Asia’s most-populous nation.

In May, a video circulated on the Internet allegedly showing a police official in the eastern city of Namangan instructing his subordinates to single out men with beards and force them to shave while documenting the process, taking the men’s pictures before and after shaving. In June, police in Uzbekistan’s eastern city of Angren reportedly forced dozens of practicing Muslims to shave off their beards.

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