UZBEKISTAN: Long sentences for five Tashkent Muslims
Five Muslim men in their twenties and thirties have been sentenced in Tashkent to long periods of imprisonment on charges relating to what the authorities allege was their membership of the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which aims to establish an Islamic state in Central Asia. The men maintained they were simply ordinary Muslims seeking to study their faith. "The accused did indeed know members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but they themselves were not engaged in political activity," Ismail Adylov of the Independent Human Rights Organisation of Uzbekistan told Forum 18 News Service. "They were simply trying to gain a more profound knowledge of Islam." Thousands of Muslims are serving sentences in Uzbekistan on charges of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir or distributing its leaflets.
The five men - Adyljon Ziyayev (born 1966), Davron Rashidov (born 1978), Rustam Nigmatov (born 1974), Bakhodyr Khashimov (born 1979) and Shoakbar Azimov - went on trial at the Shaikhantur district court of Tashkent on 3 February. On 10 February the judge, Mirgani Mizakhidov, pronounced all five guilty under several articles of Uzbekistan's criminal code: Article 159 (attempting to undermine the constitutional system); Article 244-1 (preparation or distribution of documents containing a threat to social security and social order); and Article 244-2 (the creation of, leadership of and participation in religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist and other banned organisations).
All the accused were sentenced to long periods of imprisonment. Ziyayev was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, Rashidov received nine years, Nigmatov and Khashimov each received eight years, while Azimov received seven years.
However, human rights activists believe there are serious doubts about the justice of the sentencing. All the accused declared that they had no wish to be involved in politics but simply, as believers, wanted to study Islam. They admitted that they had attended illegal classes to deepen their knowledge of their faith, but claimed that as soon as they realised their lecturers included members of Hizb ut-Tahrir they immediately stopped attending. The accused also claimed that during the investigation they were subjected to systematic beatings, including being whipped.
"Essentially, up to 90 per cent of this court case could have been fabricated," Adylov maintains. "Unfortunately for them, there happened to be members of Hizb ut-Tahrir among their new acquaintances."
Thousands of Muslims are serving sentences in Uzbekistan on charges of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir or distributing its leaflets. Some are genuine supporters of the movement, which claims to reject violence, while others are simply devout Muslims who have Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets planted on them. Although Islam is the dominant faith in Uzbekistan, the government keeps very tight control over all Muslim activity and many Muslims are too afraid to attend mosques frequently for fear of being branded a Hizb ut-Tahrir activist.
17 March 2003
Pentecostals in Muinak in Uzbekistan's western region of Karakalpakstan fear that two church members, Kuralbai Asanbayev and Rashid Keulimjayev, may again face punishment under the administrative code for meeting together as Christians, less than three months after the two were beaten and imprisoned for five days. Local officials denied to Forum 18 News Service that the two were beaten in December. The leader of the local Pentecostal community, Salavat Serikbayev, has told Forum 18 that Protestants in the town have virtually no way of meeting together and live like the first catacomb Christians under the Roman Empire.
14 March 2003
Bakhtier Tuichiev, pastor of the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in the city of Andijan in the Uzbek part of the Fergana valley, was summoned to the regional internal affairs administration on 10 January and warned that if the church did not halt its activity in the absence of registration, then "serious trouble" was in store for him. On 11 January the deputy head of the city department of internal affairs, Major Sumanov, came to a church service and asked why the church was operating without registration. The church has been trying to register for more than a year – so far in vain. "Of course, I have submitted the registration documents, but I am sure we will be refused," Tuichiev told Forum 18 News Service back in January. As of mid-March, the church had not been registered. Tuichiev reports that he is under National Security Service surveillance.
13 March 2003
Charges against a pastor of a registered Baptist church for holding a small-scale service last December in a private home owned by a church member have now been withdrawn, yet Dmitri Pitirimov, spokesman for the Uzbek Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, said the church remains pessimistic. "Although the administrative charges against Pastor Nikolai Obyedkov have happily now been dropped," he told Forum 18 News Service on 9 March, "persecution of Baptists is continuing in a whole series of districts of Uzbekistan." Pitirimov pointed to several other raids on Baptist meetings in recent months, one in the run-up to Christmas which for the families present, he complained, "spoiled the occasion in advance".