UZBEKISTAN: Muslims fined for prayers in closed mosque
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."
Subsequently the chairman of the court of Tokukurgan district, Yunusjon Rakhimov, fined the imam 5,000 Uzbek soms (37 Norwegian kroner, 5 Euros or 5 US dollars), while five other believers were fined 1,000 Uzbek soms each. The judge imposed the fines because the mosque is not registered at the regional justice ministry, citing Uzbekistan's religion law which bans unregistered religious activity. The mosque was deprived of registration in 1998 during a widescale crackdown on religious activity.
Local Muslims told Forum 18 that in Tokukurgan district the authorities have established a quota for the opening of mosques - no more than one a year. Therefore Katarzan's Muslims have so far not tried to register the Aman-Buak mosque.
Local officials claimed not to remember the fines handed down on the Muslims. "To be honest, I simply do not remember whether I did or did not fine believers from the Aman-Buak mosque," Rakhimov told Forum 18 on 25 March in the village of Tokukurgan, on the outskirts of Namangan. "I have a lot of things to do and I simply cannot remember everything."
That same day, the deputy head of Tokukurgan district Karimjan Khudoinazarov told Forum 18 that he "could not recall any instances where believers had been fined for holding services in an unregistered mosque". Khudoinazarov also categorically denied that the authorities had set a quota for the opening of mosques.
Before the adoption of the 1998 religion law, which required all places of worship to re-register, there were 1,200 mosques functioning in Namangan region. "Today there are just 185," the chairman of the regional committee of the Independent Organisation for Human Rights, Gulyam Khalmatov, told Forum 18 on 26 March in Namangan. "The authorities are using various pretexts to try to limit the number of mosques in our region."
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.
19 March 2003
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.