UZBEKISTAN: Can prisoners pray in labour camp?
Abijan Yakubov, a prisoner in labour camp 64/47 near Navoi in central Uzbekistan, was punished by 15 days in isolation cell this spring for reciting the Muslim prayers (namaz), human rights activist Surat Ikramov told Forum 18 News Service, citing Yakubov's wife. When she complained, labour camp governor Mukhiddin Abdullayev explained to her that prisoners in his labour camp are "categorically forbidden" to say prayers. She added that other prisoners have been beaten to force them to renounce their Muslim faith. Farukh Mukhammedov, head of the Interior Ministry's State Directorate for Correction and Punishment, claimed to Forum 18 that prisoners who wish to recite the Muslim prayers at dawn (currently banned) are allowed by their faith to postpone these prayers. The government's senior religious affairs official, Shoazim Minovarov, admitted to Forum 18 that the problem exists. "We intend to discuss it with the State Directorate for Correction and Punishment and find a solution which will be acceptable to prisoners," he claimed.
Ikramov quoted Rashidova as declaring that when she asked the labour camp's deputy governor why her husband had been put in the isolation cell, he told her that Yakubov had infringed internal prison regulations. "When I asked for details of how exactly he had infringed the regulations the deputy governor told me that he had said prayers and that this was against the rules in that prison," Rashidova continued. She said that after that she also talked to the labour camp governor, Mukhiddin Abdullayev, and he confirmed that prisoners in that labour camp are "categorically forbidden" to say prayers.
Rashidova said that in labour camp 64/47 Khusniddin Bozorov, Mirsoat Agzamov, Isroil (last name unknown) and eight other prisoners have been forced to "renounce their faith" after being "physically abused" by guards under Amin (last name unknown), the head of the section. She said Isroil was beaten about the head, while the others were beaten unconscious. As a result one prisoner, Rustam Yulchiyev, declared a hunger strike from 8 March.
On 24 and 25 April Forum 18 tried about 20 times to ring the labour camp on the number given by directory enquiries, but the phone went unanswered.
"Prisoners are usually put in the cells for saying prayers before reveille or after curfew," Ikramov told Forum 18. He said the problem for Muslims in prison is that the time for the first morning prayer (at dawn) often comes before reveille. "The camp administration regards a Muslim who prays at that time as breaking prison regulations and so they put him in the cells. For a Muslim, though, it is very important to say prayers at the times prescribed by the canons of Islam."
Farukh Mukhammedov, head of the State Directorate for Correction and Punishment at the Interior Ministry in the capital Tashkent, asserted definitively that prisoners have the right to say prayers and that in so doing they do not infringe internal prison regulations. "Prisoners have the right to say prayers after reveille and before curfew," he told Forum 18 on 26 April. "We shall check up on any alleged infringement of this prisoners' right on the part of the labour camp administration."
But pressed by Forum 18 on whether prisoners have the right to say prayers before reveille or after curfew, Mukhammedov was more guarded. "Islam allows a Muslim to postpone prayer times if he is forced to do so by circumstances. It's a difficult question whether prisoners have the right to pray before reveille or after curfew. I'm not prepared to answer this on the telephone."
Shoazim Minovarov, the chairman of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, admitted that prisoners sometimes complain that they are not allowed to pray before reveille and after curfew. "This problem certainly exists," he told Forum 18 from Tashkent on 26 April. "We intend to discuss it with the State Directorate for Correction and Punishment and find a solution which will be acceptable to prisoners."
Muslim prisoners have long complained that they are obstructed in praying in prisons and labour camps, especially for prayers before reveille and after curfew, as well as in observing the Ramadan fast (see F18News 20 April 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=546). Death row prisoners wishing to see a clergyman before their execution were earlier denied access (see F18News 11 December 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=211), but this problem has reportedly now eased. (END)
For a personal commentary by a Muslim scholar, advocating religious freedom for all faiths as the best antidote to Islamic religious extremism in Uzbekistan, see http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=338
For more background, see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=546
For an outline of what is known about Akramia and the Andijan uprising see F18News 16 June 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=586
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=uzbeki
19 April 2006
As in 2005, Uzbekistan's Jehovah's Witnesses again faced raids, mass detentions and rape threats on their most holy day – the commemoration on 12 April of the death of Jesus, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "The NSS secret police and the ordinary police have carried out operations before on this day, but we have not seen repression on such a scale," Forum 18 was told. In Karshi [Qarshi], raids were particularly severe, with one Jehovah's Witness suffering severe concussion and a brain haemorrhage after being beaten by the police. Female Jehovah's Witnesses were threatened with rape. The raids took place despite assurances from the state Religious Affairs Committee that the government would not attack the commemorations. Also, as the Religious Affairs Committee itself admits, harassment of Protestants continues throughout Uzbekistan – even involving the authorities themselves breaking Uzbekistan's highly repressive laws.
12 April 2006
At least 22 Muslims are believed to have been arrested in the Uzbek capital Tashkent in a crackdown launched in late March. The authorities accuse them of being extremists and claim they had links with exiled imam Obidhon qori Nazarov and another imam, Ruhiddin Fahrutdinov, extradited back to Uzbekistan by the Kazakh authorities last November. Nazarov denies any links to the detainees. "Maybe some of these people heard my sermons or studied with my students," he told Forum 18 News Service from exile in western Europe. "But in fact the only 'crime' all these people committed is that they are devout Muslims." Human rights activist Surat Ikramov agrees. "The only guilt of the detainees is that they regularly read the namaz [daily prayers]," he told Forum 18.
10 April 2006
In Russia, there is much disagreement over how to respond to Hizb ut-Tahrir, Forum 18 News Service has found. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned as antisemitic in Germany, and its Danish spokesman was given a suspended jail sentence for distributing racist propaganda. Rejecting democracy and core human rights such as religious freedom and purporting to reject violence, it has made violently antisemitic statements but not publicly called for specific terrorist acts. In Russia, 29 alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members have been given jail terms, following a Supreme Court decision banning the organisation as terrorist. Some, such as Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the Sova Centre, think that monitoring and targeted prosecution of concrete cases of incitement to violence or hatred would be a more effective response. Mukaddas Bibarsov, co-chairman of Russia's Council of Muftis, told Forum 18 that he had only met three sympathisers, suggesting that, instead of prison terms, the Muslim community should challenge such people, but lamented that "there is no [Muslim] intellectual force to explain that (..) everyone must live by the Constitution here."