UZBEKISTAN: Jail for leading home Koran study group?
Armed NSS secret police have raided the home of Normurod Zhumaev, a doctor in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, arrested him and confiscated Muslim religious literature and computer equipment, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. He is still under arrest and has been charged under an article of the criminal code which punishes "the creation or leadership of, or participation in, religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organisations". His wife says that he did lead studies of the Koran with a group of his friends, but insists to Forum 18 that the small group did not discuss politics. It is possible that Zhumaev may have attracted the NSS's attention because, like his family, he is a notably devout Muslim and a friend of an imam who was arrested in April.
Zhumaev works as a doctor at the Tashkent Scientific Research Institute for Dermatology and Venereal Diseases of the Ministry of Health. His mother Ergash Satarova, who is from the southern town of Karshi [Qarshi], told Forum 18 on 27 July that her son's home was raided at 5.30 a.m. on 17 July by six NSS officers, one of whom was in a mask and camouflage uniform and armed with an automatic weapon. As senior NSS officer, Saliev showed Zhumaev a search warrant. After their search of the flat the officers confiscated religious literature in Arabic and computer equipment and took Zhumaev to Tashkent's NSS investigation prison, where he is still being held.
"At first the NSS officers behaved quite aggressively," Zhumaev's wife Nargiza Abdurasulova told Forum 18 on 27 July. "It seemed they really thought there were armed terrorists in the flat. But when they did not find any weapons they began to treat us very politely. They even covered the handcuffs on my husband's wrists with a towel so as not to shame him in front of our neighbours."
Abdurasulova reported that Zhumaev has been charged with offences under article 244 part 2 of the criminal code, which punishes "the creation or leadership of, or participation in, religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organisations". She said investigators told her that her husband is a "Wahhabi". This is a label widely used in Central Asia and applied indiscriminately to all Islamic radicals, "independent" Muslims who refuse to attend official mosques, and, by some Uzbek officials, to Jehovah's Witnesses.
"They are also accusing him of attending private groups for the study of Islam," Abdurasulova added. "My husband really did study the Koran with his friends, but they did not discuss politics but only the suras of the Holy Book. Maybe the investigators were also alarmed that my husband knows Arabic well. But he is simply a well-educated person who in addition to Arabic speaks English quite well. I consider that my husband's only 'guilt' is that he is a deeply believing Muslim."
It was notable that during her meeting with Forum 18 Abdurasulova had her head and face completely covered apart from her eyes. This is extremely rare in Uzbekistan today, as usually even devout Muslim women wear a scarf with their face uncovered. It is possible that the Uzbek security service regarded the overt religiosity of the Zhumaev family as suspicious.
It is also interesting that, according to Abdurasulova, her husband, who comes from Karshi, is a close friend of the Karshi imam Rustam Kilichev who was arrested by the NSS after the recent terrorist attacks (see F18News 13 April 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=298 and 4 June 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=334). "My husband went on the haj with Kilichev," Abdurasulova told Forum 18, "and it is possible that after Kilichev's arrest the NSS decided to deal with his friends."
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22 July 2004
Urgench State University has, because of their beliefs, expelled three Hare Krishna devotees, under the pretext of low marks in exams, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. This follows NSS secret police closely monitoring the unregistered Hare Krishnas. In Uzbekistan, contrary to human rights agreements the country has signed, unregistered religious communities are forbidden. The university authorities have also attacked Hare Krishnas, the natural science faculty's dean, Ruzumbay Eschanov, making unsubstantiated allegations, including claiming that Hare Krishna devotees are planning a coup d'etat or putsch. Hare Krishna devotees Forum 18 has spoken to have been told by the NSS that Forum 18's correspondent will be expelled, but the NSS has refused to discuss this with Forum 18. Khorezm is one of Uzbekistan's most difficult regions for religious minorities, with only one open Christian church left and the NSS admitting that "we are the ones who closed down the Baptists' church".
16 July 2004
Begzot Kadyrov of the government's committee for religious affairs told Forum 18 News Service that while his committee supports the Jewish community's desire to re-establish the rabbinate abolished when the restrictive religion law was adopted in 1998, the justice ministry did not deem it "necessary". Without such a central organisation, the Jewish community cannot set up educational institutions. Asked by Forum 18 to comment on this continued denial of recognition of a rabbinate, chief rabbi Abe Dovid Gurevich explained that the community had to close down its yeshivas, the theological schools that train rabbis, while rabbis are in very short supply. "The closure of the yeshivas is a major issue for us." He believes the refusal to allow the reestablishment of the rabbinate harms Uzbekistan's international image.
15 July 2004
Using a letter from local Second World War veterans as a pretext, the authorities in Bostanlyk district near Tashkent have removed registration with the state land registry from a Baptist holiday camp, effectively closing it down. But Sobir Suleimenov, assistant to the council chief in Kizil-Su, the closest village to the camp, denied to Forum 18 News Service that the veterans wanted the camp closed. Villagers told Forum 18 that the authorities had encouraged protests against the camp. Rakhmatullo Ilyasov of Bostanlyk district administration, who ordered the registration cancellation, told Forum 18 that the law enforcement agencies had complained that "shady people" ran the camp and that its further functioning is therefore "inappropriate".