UZBEKISTAN: Prisoner's wife freed – but why was she jailed?
Halima Boltobayeva, a Muslim prisoner's wife, has been freed after two months in jail and given a one year suspended sentence, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Local human rights activists have told Forum 18 that she was framed by prison staff, after she refused to accept their claims that she dressed like a "shahidka", a term widely used for a female Muslim terrorist. As a devout Muslim, she wears the hijab headscarf and a long garment that covers her entire body. The Prosecutor had demanded that she be given a three year jail sentence, which demand Judge Zainuddin Begmatov did not accept. He told Forum 18 that he had "imposed an extremely light sentence" and couldn't understand why human rights activists were not happy with the situation. But local human rights activist Ahmajon Madmarov commented to Forum 18 that "an innocent person was not vindicated and spent almost two months in prison. So the authorities have once more demonstrated that they can punish believers at their discretion."
Boltobayeva, a Muslim whose husband is in jail, insists that she is innocent of any offence and that the real reason for her trial was that she annoyed prison staff when visiting her husband. She states that she was told by prison staff that she dressed like a female Muslim terrorist, as she wears the hijab headscarf and a long garment that covers her entire body. She retorted that she would dress as she believed was fitting which, according to a local human rights activist, led to prison staff arresting her to, as they put it, show "who is boss here." As a reason for their actions, prison staff claimed to have found leaflets on her from the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Boltova has insisted that these leaflets were planted (see F18News 21 January 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=495). An outline of Hizb ut-Tahir's aims is given at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=170 .
In a telephone interview with Forum 18 on 15 February, Judge Begmatov stated that he had "imposed an extremely light sentence" and couldn't understand why human rights activists were not happy with the situation. Previously, the judge has refused to comment on the case to Forum 18.
However, local human rights activist Ahmajon Madmarov, who was present throughout the trial, thought that there was reason to be concerned by the case. "Of course, it is good that Boltobayeva was not sent to prison. However, an innocent person was not vindicated and spent almost two months in prison. So the authorities have once more demonstrated that they can punish believers at their discretion," Madmarov told Forum 18 in Margelan.
No investigation is under way into the actions of the prison staff. (END)
For background information, see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom
survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=105 .
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at
15 February 2005
Uzbek authorities have banned the relics of two saints, recognised by the Russian Orthodox Church, from entering the country. The two saints, Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fyodorovna and a lay-sister Varvara, were both nuns martyred by Communists in 1918, by being thrown alive down a mine shaft. The Russian Orthodox diocese of Central Asia told Forum 18 News Service that "we cannot understand why the Uzbek authorities have deprived [Orthodox believers] of the opportunity of venerating the holy relics." The relics have already been brought to eight other former Soviet republics. Shoazim Minovarov, chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs, whose committee was asked to allow the relics to enter, categorically refused to comment to Forum 18 on the ban, saying "You can think what you want! I don't wish to express my opinion on this question. After all, you don't need to receive a comment at a ministerial level every time!"
14 February 2005
Local people Forum 18 News Service has spoken to reject Uzbek government and foreign press allegations that an Islamic charitable organisation, called by the authorities 'Akramia' and by its members 'Birodar', was set up by people who wanted to use violence to set up an Islamic caliphate. Twenty three businessmen prominent in Islamic-inspired charitable work – whom the authorities accuse of being members of a "criminal" and "extremist" organisation – are currently due to be tried. One local human rights activist, Lutfullo Shamsuddinov, told Forum 18 that he believes the authorities have deliberately chosen to stage the trial in a small town, which is hard for human rights activists and foreign observers to reach. No date has yet been set for the trial to begin. The father of one of the detainees, Shokurjon Shakirov, insisted to Forum 18 that the arrested businessmen used the money in the mutual benefit fund that they had established to carry out charitable work and regularly transferred money to children's homes and schools.
21 January 2005
Halima Boltobayeva, a Muslim whose husband is in jail, was told by prison staff when visiting her husband that she dressed like a female Muslim terrorist, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Boltobayeva, who for religious reasons wears the hijab headscarf and a long garment that covers her entire body, retorted that she would dress as she believed was fitting. According to a local human rights activist, prison staff then decided to show her "who is boss here." She is now on trial accused of being a member of the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, even though she has stated that "she hated Hizb ut-Tahrir as her husband had ended up in prison because of the organisation."