UZBEKISTAN: Illegally kidnapped Muslim jailed
An Uzbek former teacher of Arabic in a Russian mosque, kidnapped in 2004 and illegally taken to Uzbekistan without the consent of the Russian authorities, has been given a lengthy prison sentence on a wide range of terrorist-related charges, which his lawyer told Forum 18 News Service are "absurd". Mannobjon Rahmatullaev was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment on 20 January, his lawyer telling Forum 18 that only one offence, under article 223 (illegal exit abroad or illegal entry), when he travelled on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1992. The imam-hatyb of the Saratov central mosque, Mukadas Bibarsov, where Rahmatullev worked, said he had been "shocked" by his colleague's abduction. "If Rahmatullaev had really been involved in politics then I would have been in favour of his deportation from Russia," Bibarsov told Forum 18 from Saratov on 17 February. "I knew this man well and I can testify that he was an honest faithful Muslim who never committed any crime."
The sentence was imposed for breaking the following articles of the Uzbek Criminal Code: 155 (terrorism), 156 (incitement of national, racial or religious enmity), 159 (undermining the constitutional order), 223 (illegal exit abroad or illegal entry into Uzbekistan), 242 (organisation of a criminal conspiracy), 244-1 (preparation or distribution of materials containing a threat to social security and social order), 244-2 (creation of, leadership of or participation in religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organisations) and 248 (illegal possession of weapons, military supplies, explosives or explosive devices).
However, Abdukahor Usmanov, Rahmutullayev's lawyer, claims that his client in fact committed only one offence, under article 223 (illegal exit abroad or illegal entry into Uzbekistan), when he travelled on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1992. "Rahmatullaev himself admitted that he travelled to Saudi Arabia illegally," Usmanov told Forum18. "However, according to article 64 of the Uzbek Criminal Code, a person who has committed an offence under article 223 is freed from criminal responsibility if five years have passed since the offence was committed. So Rahmatullaev should have been freed of responsibility under the statute of limitations." In Usmanov's view, all the other charges against Rahmatullaev are "simply absurd".
Rahmatullaev, an Uzbek citizen, had lived since 1995 in the Russian town of Marx, in the Saratov region. In 2003, the Procuracy General of the Russian Federation turned down an Uzbek request for his extradition, but he was abducted from his home the following year and taken to Uzbekistan without the consent of the Russian authorities.
"Rahmatullaev was indeed abducted," his lawyer in Saratov, Rustam Hametov, told Forum 18 from the town on 17 February. "We have established that he was not checked in as a passenger at Saratov airport. I presume that he was simply injected with some narcotic and illegally taken out of the Russian Federation without the knowledge of the border guards." The Saratov regional procuracy opened a criminal investigation into Rahmatullaev's abduction, but the case was closed as it was impossible to identify the abductors (see F18News 21 January 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=495).
The imam-hatyb of the Saratov central mosque, Mukadas Bibarsov, where Rahmatullev worked as an Arabic teacher, said he had been "shocked" by his colleague's abduction. "If Rahmatullaev had really been involved in politics then I would have been in favour of his deportation from Russia," Bibarsov told Forum 18 from Saratov on 17 February. "I knew this man well and I can testify that he was an honest faithful Muslim who never committed any crime."
The lawyer Usmanov emphasised to Forum 18 that his client's religious convictions were seen as incriminating. Rahmatullaev was accused of taking lessons in 1985 from Hakim kori Vasiyev, in Margelan in the Fergana valley, and also of studying at the medresseh with Abduvali Mirzoyev. Mirzoyev and Vasiyev are unofficially considered in Uzbekistan to be the ideologists of Wahhabism, a movement in Saudi Arabian Islam. This is a label widely and indiscriminately used in Central Asia for Islamic radicals and Muslims who refuse to attend official mosques and even for Jehovah's Witnesses by some Uzbek officials.
Mirzoyev and Vasiyev indeed used elements of Wahhabism in their sermons, in particular preaching against veneration of mazars (tombs) and against extravagant weddings and funerals, although generally they followed the tenets of the Islam traditional in Uzbekistan.
In 1995, Abduvali Mirzoyev, who was the imam of the central mosque in Andijan, disappeared while boarding a plane at Tashkent airport. Most human rights observers believe he was abducted by the Uzbek secret police. Hakim kori Vasiyev, who is almost 100 years old, has not been arrested - possibly because of his age - and continues to live in Margelan. "At the trial Rahmatullaev was repeatedly accused of being a follower of Wahhabism," Usmanov told Forum 18. "However, I cannot understand how a person can be accused of studying 20 years ago under a man who has never himself been prosecuted!"
Usmanov also stated that crucial to Rahmatullaev's conviction was the testimony of his brother, Abduhoshim Alimov, who admitted to investigators that 19 bullets and part of an explosive device, which were found in his home and car on 3 May 2001, were left for safe-keeping by his brother Mannobjon Rahmatullaev back in 1992. Rahmatullaev categorically denied that he had ever had such materials, or had ever left them with his brother for safe-keeping. "Abduhoshim Alimov should not be condemned," human rights activist Lutfullo Shamsudinov told Forum 18 in Andijan on 4 February. "He simply succumbed to pressure from the investigators, fearing that if he did not sign the witness statement he and his sons would themselves end up behind bars."
When Forum 18 met Abduhoshim Alimov in Andijan on 4 February, he categorically refused to discuss his brother's case. However, Alimov did confirm that he was not present when the police discovered the bullets and explosive device. "I did not know what was in the package left by my brother," he told Forum 18. "However, the police said that they had found bullets and an explosive device in it." (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 http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=uzbeki
16 February 2005
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."
16 February 2005
The Protestant Peace Church, just outside the capital Tashkent, and the capital's Jehovah's Witness congregation are the latest victims, which Forum 18 News Service knows of, of the state's refusal to grant registration to religious communities it does not like. Both communities are now at risk of prosecution, with the possibility of large fines and jail terms. The reasons given to the Peace Church for the decision, in a letter which contained grammatical mistakes seen by Forum 18, included the claim that the application contained "many grammatical and spelling mistakes." None of the reasons given are specified by Uzbekistan's religion law. A Jehovah's Witness spokesperson told Forum 18 that the impact of the decision on Jehovah's Witnesses will be "a never-ending cycle: the police periodically fine our believers because of the activities of unregistered religious congregations, while the justice authorities simply ignore our attempts to register those religious congregations."
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!"