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Memorandum to the U.S. Government Regarding Religious Persecution in Uzbekistan
August 10, 2001

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Key Sections


Recommendations: Uzbekistan and the International Religious Freedom Act

A Note On Islam in Uzbekistan

Background on the Campaign of Religious Persecution

Unlawful Arrests and Prosecutions: 1999-2001

Extrajudicial Executions


Social Punishment
Related Material

Focus on Human Rights in

UNLAWFUL Arrests and Prosecutions: 1999-2001

In April 1999, stepping up anti-dissident rhetoric in the wake of the February bombings, President Karimov publicly vowed to deal harshly with perceived enemies of the state-and with their entire families if necessary. He said, "The fathers who have brought them up will be brought to account together with their children. If necessary, I will sign a decree on this."14 The president did not have to sign a decree; the head of the country's law enforcement agency treated his words themselves as law, and almost immediately declared that the state would exact severe punishment on members of "dogmatic and extremist groups" who failed to surrender to police, and on their fathers.15

Once arrested, independent Muslims faced torture in pre-trial detention, including sustained physical torture and various forms of psychological abuse, including threats against and detention of their nearest relatives. Torture was facilitated by long periods of incommunicado detention, from several weeks to several months, during which lawyers and relatives could neither offer aid nor verify a detainee's physical state. Those arrested were most commonly charged with attempted overthrow of the constitutional order,16 preparation, possession or distribution of materials containing ideas of religious extremism, separatism, or fundamentalism,17 and membership in a forbidden religious organization.18

Unfair trials followed: legal counsel was frequently obstructed or denied; judges routinely accepted coerced confessions, ignored recantations, and refused to hear evidence of the torture used to extract self-incriminating statements. Convictions were handed down, even in the face of risibly inadequate or planted evidence-two bullets, five bullets, or some pamphlets, "discovered" on a third or fourth inspection of a home. Sentences ranged up to twenty years in prison. Prison conditions were inhumane, and prisoners suffered ill treatment and torture.

Group Trials
Arrests and trials of groups of detainees as alleged co-conspirators have been common since 1999, with a rough average of fifteen people prosecuted together. This method of prosecution suggests an urgency to produce convictions and to move large numbers of detainees through the judicial system; it also permits prosecutors to focus on one main defendant, coerce other defendants into accusing him of serious crimes, and then accuse those lesser defendants of association with him and with failing to inform the authorities of his illegal activities. Some examples follow.

· Thirteen men were tried in June and July 1999 for activities that-even according to the prosecution-involved no more than the exchange of ideas about religion; the state did not charge them with violation of any other article of the criminal code. Defendant Danior Hojimetov argued in court, "Each citizen has the right to express his views. We expressed ideas against the constitution, but I think this is freedom of expression."19 He was sentenced to twelve years in prison.
· In another group case, involving twelve defendants, Judge Akmadjonov of the Tashkent City Court explained their crimes as follows: "[T]hey said they did not carry out actions against the government...but it is evident that this propaganda itself is against the constitution of Uzbekistan."20 The propaganda in question was the literature of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which espouses an Islamic state established through peaceful means. The judge did not accept the defendants' testimony that the literature they had read and exchanged with others did not contain anti-state or anti-government ideas. He found-based on a report by the government's Committee on Religious Affairs analyzing the literature's content-that membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir constituted anti-state activity in itself, thus criminalizing nonviolent beliefs and association.
· In an August 23, 1999 judgment of the Andijan Regional Court, twenty-six men were convicted on charges related to their alleged membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir and sentenced to between three and eighteen years of imprisonment.21 The court also declared that Hizb ut-Tahrir was a terrorist organization, although the organization's written materials espouse nonviolence and none of the defendants had been charged with involvement in a violent act.22

Criminal Prosecution for Religious Literature, Ideas, and Practices
Judicial authorities, government leaders, and official Muslim clerics have called on observant Muslims to restrict their study of Islam to that which is offered by state institutions. Where people have participated in Hizb ut-Tahrir study groups, reading traditional texts as well as the group's own literature, the authorities have retaliated. While these accusations feature in most Hizb ut-Tahrir trials, the following cases are illustrative:

· Shokhnoza Musaeva, twenty-nine and a mother of two, was sentenced to seven years in prison in August 1999 for teaching other young women about Islam and belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir. She was convicted of attempting violently to overthrow the state23 and of membership in a forbidden religious organization,24 the evidence consisting solely of her membership in the group, the use, possession and sale of Islamic literature, and the alleged proposals to create an Islamic state contained in that literature.25
· Abdusalam Sattarov's supposed crimes consisted primarily of studying Islam and exchanging ideas, for which he was sentenced to nine years in prison, later reduced on appeal to eight years. The original verdict stated: "...[H]e read religious literature and started to come to implement the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir. He was offered the post of mushrif [a position of responsibility within the organization] and propagandized. He agrees with the path of the party and will remain faithful to it."26
· The study of Islam also figured largely in the state's allegations against Bekzod Juraev, Sattarov's co-defendant. As the judge stated: "[H]e took lessons on party ideas and studied Islam and, in his own house, he later gave some lectures on Islam. He feels that the party ideas are correct and not against the government."27 His sentence of eighteen years was reduced by the Supreme Court to fifteen.

Hizb ut-Tahrir's advocacy of an Islamic state is officially conflated with active attempts to overthrow the current government, as when Judge Rakhmonov of the Chilanzar District Court declared the thirteen defendants guilty of anti-state activity because: "They said the democratic system is not good and Shari'a should be established instead through a Caliphate."28 Even prayer, in itself, draws suspicion and has been cited in court as evidence of subversive intent: in his verdict condemning alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir member Abduvali Guliamov to eighteen years in prison, Judge Mansrur Akhmadjonov declared: "He confessed that in 1996 he started to pray."29

Guilt by Association: the Persecution of Family Members and Followers of "Religious Extremists"
As noted above, President Karimov threatened in 1999 to punish the parents of "religious extremists." Uzbek authorities have followed through on this threat. A rights activist from Fergana City in the Fergana Valley told Human Rights Watch in February 2001 that police there routinely detain relatives of religious suspects being sought by police, and that the campaign to arrest and detain relatives of suspects had been stepped up dramatically following government leaders' announcements that parents would answer for their children's activities.30

This threat has been carried out and extended beyond immediate relatives to, in some cases, people having any connection with a disgraced cleric. Imam Obidhon Nazarov, well known during the mid-1990s as a popular and independent-minded religious leader and-by official appointment-imam of Tokhtaboi mosque in Tashkent, lost official favor when he began to speak openly about the 1995 forced "disappearance" of another imam, Abduvali Mirzoev. Nazarov-whose own current whereabouts are unknown-was removed from his post, and he and his family suffered years of increasing harassment. Two of his brothers were arrested in 1997 and 1999; his wife was detained in February 1999; his wife and mother have been compelled to appear at a series of public denunciations or "hate rallies" (see below, "Social Punishment"). From 1997 to the present, literally hundreds of young men who attended his services in the mid-1990s have been arrested and convicted on charges of narcotics and weapons possession. Local rights activist Mikhail Ardzinov estimates that police have arrested some 400 to 500 active supporters of Imam Nazarov since late 1997;31 rights defender Vasila Inoiatova put this estimate at thousands.32

· Nazarov's former deputy, Imam Abduvahid Yuldashev, was arrested in 1999, convicted, and released on parole. He was rearrested in July 2000 and held incommunicado for more than five months at Tashkent police headquarters, where he was beaten and charged with "attempted violent overthrow of the government"-in a case largely based on the allegation that the lessons he gave on the Koran and other Islamic texts while serving as a state-appointed imam were actually lessons in "Wahhabism" and calls for jihad. He was sentenced to nineteen years in prison.
· Law enforcement agencies have also targeted religious leaders only loosely associated with Nazarov, such as Abdurahim Abdurahmonov, who had gone to Nazarov for advice and to hear his sermons at Tokhtaboi mosque. Abdurahmonov was detained twice in 1998; he was so badly beaten on the second occasion that, when his wife next saw him (he was brought by police for a search of their home), he could hardly stand. He was amnestied at the end of 1998 but had suffered such severe nerve damage to his spine that he (a thirty-year-old) could no longer sit or stand upright.33 Compelled to report to police for questioning after his release, he refused to serve as an informant and was detained again in April 2000 and held incommunicado for two months, the entire pre-trial investigation period.34 The family had difficulty hiring a lawyer to defend him, as lawyers expressed fear of taking "religious cases."35 The state's indictment charged that Abdurahmonov was part of a criminal group along with Imam Nazarov and that he had directly participated in the February 1999 bombings-although, as one observer at the trial said, at that time he "had internal injuries and could not even walk for months, he coughed and lay in bed for months." Though the imam had "confessed" during the months of incommunicado detention, he recanted this confession at his trial. The verdict pointed to no specific criminal act.36 But Abdurahmonov was sentenced to seventeen years in a strict prison regime, convicted of inciting ethnic, racial or religious enmity, attempted violent overthrow of the state, and establishment of an armed criminal group, among other charges. A twenty-minute appeal hearing in Tashkent City Court upheld the sentence.

Induced to "Repent"
In April 1999, President Karimov promised leniency and forgiveness to those "religious extremists" who would come forth and turn themselves in voluntarily.37 Hundreds of men who accordingly declared they had renounced their religious feelings or affiliations begged for forgiveness and pledged their loyalty to the state were rewarded with incommunicado detention, torture, and lengthy terms in prison.

· The case of Nakhmiddin Juvashev is a poignant example of what happened to such men. In early 1999 this observant Muslim and member of Hizb ut-Tahrir turned himself in, offering a written statement requesting forgiveness and leniency. He was arrested and his house searched. According to a relative who was present, police inspected the house three times before claiming to find bullets among Juvashev's possessions; this is a common scenario in cases researched by Human Rights Watch.38 In custody, Juvashev suffered savage torture, which was used to elicit a confession that he had attempted to undermine the constitution, in violation of article 159 of the criminal code.39 Sentenced to nine years of imprisonment on the basis of that self-incriminating statement, he was released on parole after an appeal to the Supreme Court, in August 1999. Three months later, Jizzakh police compelled him to pay them a large bribe by threatening to detain him; once paid, they detained him anyway, and upon his release, he fled Jizzakh. In August 2000, officers of the National Security Service (SNB) rearrested him, along with a nephew, and tortured them both. (For common torture methods, see below, "Torture.") His family was prevented from seeing him for more than two months. In January 2001 Juvashev and his brother, Idrisbek Umarkulov, were sentenced to fourteen years and six years in prison, respectively.

Arrests Across State Borders and Requests for Extradition
The Uzbek government has sought the arrest abroad of religious leaders branded "Wahhabis" or leaders of Hizb ut-Tahrir. In some cases, they have made extradition requests to compliant states, including Russia. In others, the government has sent its own agents to kidnap and bring the suspects to Uzbekistan.

· Kyrgyz citizen Imam Yuldash Tursunbaev, who served as a spiritual leader in Uzbekistan from 1989 to 1996, was apprehended in Kyrgyzstan by Uzbek state agents in August 1999.40 He was held incommunicado in Uzbekistan for more than three months and interrogated without benefit of counsel. He "disappeared" for a period: state agents denied arresting him until late September, despite eyewitness testimony of the apprehension.41 He was then convicted in a closed trial session inside Tashkent's remand prison. The state charged him with being a "Wahhabi" and aligned with militants. He admitted affiliation with Tavba, one of the groups named in the indictment, but at the time of his membership the group had been legal and according to him, nonviolent and nonpolitical.42 He was also charged, oddly, with not confining himself to secular subjects while serving as religious leader in Namangan.43 Convicted of attempting to commit terrorism, incitement of ethnic, racial or religious enmity, attempted violent overthrow of the state, and several other counts of criminal code violations, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison.44
· Accused Hizb ut-Tahrir leader Nodir Aliev, a citizen of Uzbekistan who had resided in Russia, was detained in Moscow by Russian police on May 28, 2001. Russian authorities held him incommunicado for two weeks-ignoring protests launched by his lawyer and rights groups-before agreeing to extradite him to Uzbekistan on June 9, 2001. He was transferred directly to the SNB in Tashkent, where he was charged with distribution of Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets and attempted overthrow of the state, an allegation carrying a possible sentence of twenty years in prison. As of this writing, Aliev is in SNB custody.

14 Uzbek television first channel, April 1, 1999, carried by BBC Worldwide Monitoring, April 3, 1999.

15 Minister of Internal Affairs Zokirjon Almatov, Uzbek television first channel, April 4, 1999, carried by BBC Worldwide Monitoring, April 5, 1999.

16 Article 159 of the criminal code.

17 Article 244-1 of the criminal code.

18 Article 216 of the criminal code.

19 Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript, Chilanzar District Court hearing, July 9, 1999.

20 Tashkent City Court hearing, Tashkent, May 14, 1999. Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript.

21 Human Rights Center "Memorial" and the Information Center for Human Rights in Uzbekistan, List of Individuals Arrested and Convicted.

22 Kriminalnye Vesti Fergany, February 8, 2000, as reported in BBC Worldwide Monitoring, February 14, 2000.

23 Article 159 part 3 of the criminal code.

24 Article 216 of the criminal code.

25 Verdict of Urta-Chirchik District Court, issued by Judge T. Sh. Zainutdinov, August 12, 1999.

26 Tashkent City Court hearing, Tashkent, May 14, 1999. Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript.

27 Ibid.

28 Chilanzar District Court hearing, July 20, 1999. Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript.

29 Tashkent City Court hearing, Tashkent, May 14, 1999. Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript. Other charges against Guliamov included dissemination of Hizb ut-Tahrir literature and illegal possession of narcotics and a grenade. His sentence was reduced to fifteen years by the Supreme Court.

30 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, February 27, 2001.

31 Human Rights Watch interview with Mikhail Ardzinov, chair of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, March 9, 2001.

32 Human Rights Watch interview with Vasila Inoiatova, Uzbek human rights defender, Tashkent, March 8, 2001.

33 Human Rights Watch interview with his wife, Muborak Abdurahmonova, Tashkent, May 26, 2000.

34 Ibid; also Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, August 1, 2000.

35 According to the attorney who accepted the imam's case, "Lawyers don't want to take these...cases because their phones are tapped and they are followed." Human Rights Watch interview with Mukhtabar Hasanova, Tashkent, August 8, 2000.

36 For example, the verdict states that Abdurahmonov "supported" a call to establish an organization called Tizhoratchi (tradesmen) and that this group's members sent 500 men to military training camps abroad. But Abdurahmonov himself is not named as a member of the group, is not alleged to have sent anyone to a military camp, and his "support" of the group is not given elaboration in the verdict. The verdict asserts that the imam conspired with others to explode a water reservoir in Charvok, but again points to no specific act to uphold this statement. Verdict in Akmal Ikramov District Court, issued by Judge F. B. Shukurov, July 7, 2000.

37 In a press conference given on April 1, 1999, President Karimov said, "As president and leader, I promise that we will forgive those who give themselves up." Uzbek television first channel, April 1, 1999, reported by BBC Worldwide Monitoring April 3, 1999.

38 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Juvashev's wife, November 1, 2000.

39 Human Rights Watch interview with Juvashev's second lawyer, name withheld, Jizzakh, July 2 1999; also Human Rights Center "Memorial" and Information Center for Human Rights in Central Asia, List of Individuals Arrested and Convicted.

40 At the beginning of the 1990s, he had presided over the congregation of the Otallohon mosque in Namangan, a place of worship later labeled "Wahhabi" by the Karimov government.

41 Written statements of three eyewitnesses, dated January 17, 2000, on file at Human Rights Watch; verdict of the Tashkent Province Court, issued by Judge Mansura Jalilova, February 29, 2000.

42 Written report by the Kyrgyz rights group Justice, February 3, 2000. According to Vasila Inoiatova, the Tavba (Repentance) party was established in Baku in 1991 and had as its stated aim the unification of Muslim branches. Human Rights Watch interview with Vasila Inoiatova, Tashkent, March 8, 2001.

43 The prosecution specifically charged that he had "gathered...people of religious-extremist mood in the Otallohon mosque and, instead of teaching secular science, started teaching them views of establishing an Islamic state." Indictment against Yuldash Tursunbaev, issued by Senior Police Investigator of Special Criminal Affairs R. A. Gafurov, December 28, 1999.

44 Verdict of the Tashkent Province Court, issued by Judge Mansura Jalilova, February 29, 2000.