UZBEKISTAN: Mother of torture victim heavily fined, but not now given hard labour
Just hours before US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was due to arrive in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, Forum 18 News Service has learnt that an appeals court today (24 February) commuted a six-year sentence of hard labour imposed on a 62-year-old Muslim grandmother, Fatima Mukhadirova, to a fine roughly equivalent to 2/3rds the average annual salary. She is the mother of Muzafar Avazov, a religious prisoner tortured to death in August 2002. It has been suggested by Human Rights Watch that the authorities prosecuted Mukhadirova to take revenge, primarily because she tried to get a genuine investigation into the murder of her son and because she is an "independent Muslim woman". Her lawyer, Alisher Ergashev, told Forum 18 that "She is free now, but the court has not declared her innocent, so I am not satisfied with the ruling."
Ergashev said Mukhadirova had been convicted under two articles of the Criminal Code: 159 (attempted encroachment on the constitutional order) and 244 (1) (preparation or distribution of documents containing a threat to public safety and public order). "However in fact under both articles the accusations were unproven."
He said the Tashkent city court where Mukhadirova's appeal was heard took into account the fact that she is a woman, as well as her old age, and decided to free her with a fine of 280,000 sums (2,006 Norwegian kroner, 229 Euros or 288 US dollars). This is more than two thirds of the estimated average annual salary.
Mukhadirova is the mother of the late Muzafar Avazov, a religious prisoner who died from torture in August 2002 in the notorious prison camp at Jaslyk in Karakalpakstan in northwestern Uzbekistan. An investigation into his death by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded that Avazov had been submerged in boiling water. Those who saw his body also reported that there was a large, bloody wound on the back of his head, heavy bruising on his forehead and the side of his neck, and that his hands had no fingernails. Prison officials claimed he died after other inmates threw hot tea at him.
The Uzbek authorities alleged that Mukhadirova is a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), a Muslim group that advocates the establishment of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan and elsewhere. An estimated 4,000 members of the group have been jailed in Uzbekistan for possession and distribution of unapproved religious materials and for affiliation with the group. Mukhadirova, whose youngest son is also in prison on charges of Hizb-ut-Tahrir membership, had spoken out against the arrests of independent Muslims and the torture and death of her eldest son.
Allison Gill, Human Rights Watch's representative in Uzbekistan, told Forum 18 on 20 February that the authorities have simply taken revenge on Mukhadirova, primarily because she had tried to get a genuine investigation into the murder of her son and because she is an "independent Muslim woman".
"Mukhadirova was a simple believer who told the whole world about the excesses being perpetrated in Uzbek prisons," Vasilya Inoyatova, head of the independent human rights organisation Ezgulik (Good Deed), told Forum 18 on 20 February in Tashkent. "The authorities have taken revenge on her for this."
Yet a senior religious affairs official strongly denied this. "People are not convicted for their religious beliefs in Uzbekistan - I can say this with complete authority," the head of the government's committee for religious affairs Shoazim Minovarov told Forum 18 on 21 February in Tashkent. "I will not make any comment on Mukhadirova's case."
The previous Human Rights Watch representative in Uzbekistan, Matilda Bogner, told Forum 18 several months ago that the Uzbek authorities would not tolerate "independent" Muslims who avoid the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Uzbekistan, which is virtually at one with the state apparatus.
"Formally no-one in Uzbekistan is imprisoned because of their religious activity, but often it is quite hard to draw the line between politics and religion," Bogner told Forum 18. "The 'crime' of many so-called Hizb-ut-Tahrir members consists solely in the fact that they met in people's homes and talked about religious matters." According to Human Rights Watch calculations, Uzbekistan has around 6,000 Muslim political prisoners.
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18 February 2004
Although believers are frequently tried and fined for conducting unregistered religious activity, which Uzbekistan has criminalised, Forum 18 News Service has discovered that, unseen by outsiders, the National Security Service (NSS, the former KGB) also often engages in "preventative work" with members of religious minorities. NSS officers indicate to believers that they know a lot about them and their community, and interrogate them further about the community's activity and plans in an apparent bid to intimidate and threaten them. Vadim Negreyev - an officer from the NSS national headquarters in the capital Tashkent cited by a number of believers for his role in investigating minority faiths – declined to discuss his work with Forum 18. The NSS engages differently with members of the majority Muslim faith – unregistered communities are immediately closed down as soon as they are discovered.
16 February 2004
Forum 18 News Service has learnt that two Jehovah's Witnesses have been fined a month's wages for "failing to observe the prescribed manner of communicating religious doctrine" and their literature, including a copy of the New Testament, has been sentenced to be burnt. Judge Jamila Khojanova told Forum 18 that " "if we hadn't made the decision to have the literature destroyed, then Khojbayev and Ajigilev would have started distributing it again and we cannot allow that.". Forum 18 pointed out that this literature is not illegal, and so the bookburning is illegal. Another Jehovah's Witness has been sentenced to three days in jail. These sentences are part of a continuing pattern of persecution throughout Uzbekistan, in which the NSS (National Security Service) secret police have threatened "to work on the Jehovah's Witnesses in earnest".
16 February 2004
In all Central Asian states easily the largest percentage of the population belongs to nationalities that are historically Muslim, but it is very difficult to state the percentage of devout Muslim believers. Governments are intensely pre-occupied by "political Islam", especially the banned strongly anti-western and antisemitic international Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir. However, there is absolutely no certainty that all Muslims subject to severe governmental repression are Hizb-ut-Tahir members. In Uzbekistan, where there are estimated to be 5,000 political prisoners alleged to be Hizb-ut-Tahir members, mere possession of Hizb-ut-Tahrir literature is punished by at least 10 years' in jail. Also, Muslims' rights have been violated under the pretext of combating Hizb-ut-Tahrir. In southern Kyrgyzstan, for example, teachers have told children not to say daily Muslim prayers - even at home - and banned schoolchildren from coming to lessons wearing the hijab, the headscarf traditionally worn by Muslim women.