UZBEKISTAN: Has imam been framed?
One day before he was due to take up his post as imam of a mosque in the town of Margelan, a satellite town near Fergana, young imam Alokhon Ishankhojayev was arrested after police and secret police officers claim to have discovered a gun and bullets during a house search. At his trial, which began on 17 June, five witnesses retracted earlier testimony that he had tried to turn them against the constitutional order. One admitted he was drunk that day and had signed a statement the secret police had drawn up without reading it. Ishankhojayev denied the charges. "I am a believer and have nothing to do with politics, let alone with terrorist activity," Forum 18 News Service heard him tell the court. Prosecutors are continuing the case.
A graduate of the medresseh in the capital Tashkent, Ishankhojayev had been appointed imam of Margelan's Kulka-tash mosque and was due to take up his post on 1 April. However, on 31 March officers of the secret police (National Security Service, NSS) and the police came to his house with a search warrant. During their search, the officers claim to have discovered a gun and bullets and immediately arrested him.
At the first court hearing on 17 June, where Forum 18 was also present, Ishankhojayev said that the weapon had been planted on him. "I am a believer and have nothing to do with politics, let alone with terrorist activity," he told the court. "Weapons are simply no use to me." He pointed out to the judge that one of the bullets had been "found" between the pages of a copy of the Koran. "It's simply ridiculous - no believer would keep a bullet in the Holy Book."
In his turn, the judge Burkhan Usmanov asked in detail about what Ishankhojayev had studied in 1991 under a certain "unofficial" mullah Anvar (whose surname was not given in court), who had later been convicted for being a member of the banned Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir. "I was 15 years old in 1991, and Anvar taught me only about Islam," Ishankhojayev insisted. "At that time no-one in Uzbekistan knew about Hizb-ut-Tahrir and in general Anvar did not talk to us about politics."
One of the main accusations - that Ishankhojayev had turned others against the constitutional order – appears to be fabricated. The witness Isroja Muminov, one of those whom Ishankhojayev supposedly turned against the constitutional order, completely retracted his evidence in the courtroom. "I was drunk that day," Muminov told the court on 17 June. "I was suddenly called into the NSS offices and asked to sign some papers. I didn't even read them. In fact, not only did Ishankhojayev not work on me, I don't even know him."
Other witnesses also retracted their evidence at the next court hearing on 23 June. According to the human rights activist Madmarov, who attended the second court hearing, all four witnesses questioned that day, who had previously signed declarations stating that Ishankhojayev had tried to turn them against the constitutional order, retracted their evidence.
Madmarov told Forum 18 that in the wake of the terrorist attacks at the end of March and beginning of April, the National Security Service and the police "evidently had a plan for how many people should be arrested on suspicion of committing the terrorist attacks" (see F18News 4 June 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=334 ). He said most of those arrested were devout Muslims and claimed that Ishankhojayev is a victim of "this witch hunt".
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24 June 2004
Jehovah's Witnesses are to step up their attempts to end what they claim are regular police beatings of their members in Uzbekistan. In the latest incident, Tulkun Khankeldiyev and Oleg Zagibin were detained on 17 June for "illegal" street preaching in the town of Uchkuduk. Jehovah's Witnesses claim they were severely beaten at the police station before being fined. "The police acted very craftily. They beat our brothers so as to cause severe pain, but in such a way as to leave no bruises on their bodies," Jehovah's Witness spokesman Andrei Shirobokov told Forum 18 News Service. Uchkuduk's deputy police chief denied this absolutely, but insisted to Forum 18 the police were right to detain them.
23 June 2004
Khabibulo Khadmarov, a devout Muslim from the Fergana [Farghona] Valley, has been sentenced to six years in jail. The main accusation was that he was a member of Tabligh and that a manuscript found on him contained "extremist" sentiments. However, one human rights activist, Akhmajon Madmarov, described it to Forum 18 News Service as "a standard work of theology". The staff of the local university philosophy department, who analysed the manuscript, were described to Forum 18 by Madmarov as "the same as those who worked there in Soviet times. In other words, the people who are today acting as experts on Islam are the same as those who previously used to demonstrate the harmfulness and anti-scientific nature of religion." Tabligh members in Central Asia insist on their commitment to the group's original avowedly apolitical foundation.
15 June 2004
It is believed that the Uzbek authorities are behind anonymous night-time telephone calls and continuing threats being made against the wife and young children of Rustam Satdanov, a lawyer forced to flee Uzbekistan and seek political asylum in the USA for his work defending Jehovah's Witnesses. Satdanov received political asylum on 11 May. His wife, Asiya Satdanova, and their young children, who are still in Tashkent, told Forum 18 News Service that they are being anonymously threatened with "serious difficulties" if Satdanov does not return immediately to Uzbekistan. He himself told Forum 18 that if he returns the authorities would, using fabricated criminal charges, punish him for defending religious believers.