UZBEKISTAN: Devout Muslims or "Wahhabis"?
Trials of Muslims – apparently for seriously practicing Islam – are under way in Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. They have been accused of "Wahhabism" - a term widely and loosely used by the authorities to imply a Muslim they dislike. Surat Ikramov, of the Human Rights Initiative Group of Uzbekistan, has told Forum 18 that the cases are "a complete fabrication." Also, two of nine people deported from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan have been jailed for six years in a labour camp for links with exiled imam Obidkhon Nazarov, who is accused of being a Wahhabi leader. Nazarov told Forum 18 from exile that "my crime against President Karimov was only to take a stand against alcoholism and corruption and standing up for the rights of Muslim women." Shukhrat Ismailov of the state Religious Affairs Committee told Forum 18 that "Nazarov openly criticised our President and inflicted great harm on Uzbekistan," but could not say what harm had been caused.
On 19 April, the Tashkent Regional Court under Judge H. Shermuhamedov delivered guilty verdicts on eight residents of Yangiyul accused of being "Wahhabis," a term widely and loosely used by the authorities to imply a Muslim they dislike. Dilshod Madaliev received a two-year sentence under Articles 244-1 (participation in extremist religious organisations) and 216 (illegal establishment of social or religious organisations) of the Criminal Code, while the rest of the accused – Dilshod Maripaliev, Zoir Juraev, Mansur Holikov, Bakhtier Abduhalilov, Bahrom Misiraitov, Alisher Tulyaganov and Alisher Karjavov – were given suspended sentences of between two and three years under Article 216.
In Namangan Regional Court the trial under Judge Yahehojaev of six men also accused of being "Wahhabis," as well as membership of the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is proceeding, under many articles of the Criminal Code.
"In reality, the guilt of those on trial in Tashkent and Namangan consists only in being devout believers," Surat Ikramov, head of the Human Rights Initiative Group of Uzbekistan, told Forum 18 from Tashkent on 6 May. "The case against them is a complete fabrication," he claimed
Also in Tashkent, Ikramov noted that on 11 April Sharofiddin Latipov and Nozim Rakhmanov were sentenced to six years in a labour camp by Judge Jamshid Saidaliev at the Shaikhontakhur district court. All the accused were found guilty of belonging to a "Wahhabi" religious movement, and in the prosecution's indictment Latipov and Rakhmanov were accused under Article 244-2 ("setting up, leading, or participation in religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organisations") of the Criminal Code.
Latipov and Rakhmanov are two of the nine people who were deported by Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan in November 2005. Tashkent accused all the deportees of having links with the former imam of Tashkent's Tukhtaboi mosque, Obidkhon Nazarov, who Tashkent claims is a Wahhabi leader (see F18News, 12 April 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=758). Ikramov thinks that the remaining deportees will also be put on trial shortly in Tashkent.
"It is true that I knew Sharfiddin Latipov and Nozim Rakhmanov very well. These people are not 'Wahhabis' – they are just devout Muslims. Nor am I a Wahhabi. My crime against President [Islam] Karimov was only to take a stand against alcoholism and corruption and standing up for the rights of Muslim women," Obidkhon Nazarov told Forum 18 on 10 May from exile in Europe. According to Nazarov, the Uzbek authorities have launched a campaign to track down his supporters and other devout Muslims. "It is just an excuse to deal with believers. Most of those arrested have nothing to do with me," he maintains.
The deputy head of the Uzbek government's Religious Affairs Committee, Shukhrat Ismailov, said that he had details of all the legal proceedings under way in Uzbekistan against "so-called believers". "I can tell you with authority that all these people are on trial not for their religious beliefs, but for their anti-constitutional activity," Ismailov told Forum 18 from Tashkent on 10 May. "Obidkhon Nazarov openly criticised our President and inflicted great harm on Uzbekistan," he stated. However, Ismailov could not outline in what precise way Nazarov had harmed Uzbekistan. (END)
For a personal commentary by a Muslim scholar, advocating religious freedom for all faiths as the best antidote to Islamic religious extremism in Uzbekistan, see http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=338
For more background, see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=777.
For an analysis of whether the May 2005 Andijan events changed state religious policy in the year following, see http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=778. For an outline of what is known about Akramia itself, see http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=586, and for a May 2005 analysis of what happened in Andijan http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=567.
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=uzbeki
10 May 2006
13 May 2006 is the first anniversary of the violent suppression of the Andijan uprising, which the OSCE thinks may have resulted in the deaths of between 300 and 500 people. Forum 18 News Service has been trying to establish whether these events have changed the religious freedom situation. It is hard to isolate Andijan-related events from the ongoing attack on human rights in Uzbekistan, but violations against the religious freedom of people of all faiths have clearly become worse. Much remains unknown about the Andijan events, including whether or not the Akramia group – which was at the centre of the events - is a peaceful religious group. Currently, Protestant Pastor Bakhtier Tuichiev describes the situation in Andijan as very tense. "Rumours are circulating that on 13 May demonstrations will be held." He told Forum 18 that police patrols have been stepped up and that many Muslims are being called in for "preventative talks" with the police and the NSS secret police.
10 May 2006
In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service finds that serious violations of religious freedom and other key human rights continue. Amongst many serious violations – which breach the country's international human rights commitments - in recent months have been: a complete ban on Protestant activity in north-west Uzbekistan, including threats to children to make them renounce Christianity; Muslim prisoners being barred from saying Muslim prayers; continuing police and NSS secret police raids on religious communities, especially Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses; massive increases in unregistered religious activity fines; use of interlocking laws and regulations to attack peaceful religious activity by all faiths; and the detention and deportation of Forum 18's Central Asia correspondent. The situation in Uzbekistan is bleak, and it is likely that violations of religious freedom and other key human rights may even become worse.
9 May 2006
Russian lawyer Kirill Kulikov has been barred from entering Uzbekistan to help local Jehovah's Witnesses with the numerous prosecutions and denial of registration to their communities they face, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Held at passport control on arrival at Tashkent airport early on 26 April, Kulikov was denied access to anyone, including the Russian Embassy, and forced to board a Moscow-bound flight that evening. "Entry to the Republic of Uzbekistan is closed," is the statement on his deportation document - the same wording used when Forum 18's correspondent was deported in 2005. "I am sure the reason for my deportation was the fact that I was defending believers' rights," Kulikov told Forum 18. He was deported a few days after three Turkmen Protestants, held when police raided a Protestant pastor's home in Urgench, were deported back to Turkmenistan, with stamps in their passports barring them also from future visits.