UZBEKISTAN: Five-year registration denial for Namangan mosque
Five years after it was closed by the authorities, Muslims in the Fergana valley city of Namangan have told Forum 18 News Service that their repeated attempts to register the Panjera mosque – where up to 500 people used to worship - have come to nothing. The day after a visit by OSCE officials in February, local officials warned the Muslims that "they could only meet with foreigners in the presence of the authorities". Local officials denied to Forum 18 that they knew anything about the repeated registration applications.
Local Muslims told Forum 18 that at the end of February believers from the Panjera mosque met representatives of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), who were visiting from Tashkent. They claim that the following day, the chairman of the Alisher Navoi mahalla committee, Mushin Khajabayev, and a member of the secret police, the National Security Service, visited them and warned that "they could only meet with foreigners in the presence of the authorities".
Per Normark, human rights officer at the OSCE office in Tashkent, confirmed that at the end of February staff from the OSCE office made an unofficial fact-finding trip to Uzbekistan's section of the Fergana valley and met a number of believers. "If it is true that believers have since encountered problems with the authorities, then that makes us puzzled," he told Forum 18 on 30 March in Tashkent.
Khajabayev admitted to Forum 18 that he had spoken to the Muslims in the wake of the OSCE visit but denied that there was anything sinister. "Currently, springtime in the city creates a dangerous fire risk," he told Forum 18 on 26 March. "I did indeed meet believers at the Panjera mosque along with one other person - I believe he was from the fire service. We made inquiries about the fire safety of the mosque and at the same time we asked the believers what they had been talking about with the foreigners."
According to believers at the Panjera mosque, they submit registration documents with the local authorities each year, but receive no reply. Attempts by Forum 18 to clarify with officials why the mosque has been unable to gain registration proved fruitless. "We have not heard anything about the Panjera mosque," the head of the department for social relations at the Namangan city administration, Akmal Atakhanov, told Forum 18 on 27 March. "Probably the believers sent the necessary documents for registration straight to the regional justice committee."
Under Uzbek law, believers seeking registration for their community must initially submit the necessary documents to the city administration. The city administration then writes a covering letter and sends the documents to the regional justice department. "What you say is the first I have heard about believers' problems at the Panjera mosque," the deputy chief of the justice department for Namangan region, Kamaluddin Ergashev, told Forum 18. "Probably their documents are with the city administration. At least, no documents have reached us."
7 April 2003
Six Muslims in the village of Katarzan in the Uzbek section of the Fergana valley, including the local imam, were fined after holding prayers at their closed mosque in February to mark the Muslim festival of Uraza Bairam (Feast of Sacrifice or Id al-Adha). Local Muslims, who preferred not to be named, told Forum 18 News Service that some 300 believers had gathered for prayers on 12 February at the Aman-Buak mosque – closed by the authorities five years ago - because they had not managed to get to the nearest registered mosque five kilometres (three miles) away. The judge told Forum 18 that he could not remember if he had fined the six. "I have a lot of things to do and I simply cannot remember everything."
27 March 2003
A week-long investigation by Forum 18 News Service across the Fergana valley – the most devoutly Muslim region of Central Asia that straddles Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – has revealed widespread popular hostility to the US war on Iraq, which one local called "a war of civilisations". Yet there was no evidence that this hostility to the war – which enjoys the tacit support of the Uzbek government – will lead to new instability in the Fergana valley. "While the situation will quickly become strained in the rest of the Muslim world, here everything will stay virtually unchanged," a local Muslim leader told Forum 18 in the Kyrgyz town of Osh. Even members of the banned Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir conceded that people are more concerned about surviving in the harsh economic climate than about their fellow-Muslims. "You must understand that our people are asleep," Uzbek Hizb ut-Tahrir members told Forum 18. "Even the co-operation between [Uzbek president]Islam Karimov and the US and the extermination of Iraqi Muslims have not awoken Uzbeks."
26 March 2003
A group of police officers and officers of the secret police, the National Security Service, raided an apartment on 28 February in the town of Khojali. A Baptist who asked not to be named told Forum 18 News Service that ten Baptist women of the local ethnicities, Kazakh and Karakalpak, had gathered in the apartment for a Christian meeting. They were insulted and held for 27 hours, although a local police officer denied this to Forum 18. "Nobody insulted them and there were no violations of the law by the police," he declared. This is the latest in a series of raids on Protestant Christians in Uzbekistan's western autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan.