Students who resisted altering their religious attire faced not only expulsion, but also physical harm, arrest, and other coercive measures. Security and local government officials exerted additional pressure on students and their families, compiled dossiers on religious students, assigned agents to follow them, and harassed those who sought redress through international organizations.
Intimidation of Families
Government security officers reportedly threatened some families that their children would be physically harmed if they did not comply with university demands. In January 1998, an administrator from a university in Tashkent visited one student's home while she was at school. By her account, he told her parents that their daughter was a "Wahhabi" and that if she continued to wear a scarf, he, along with the National Security Service (SNB) and Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), would "deal" with her. The student's parents understood this to mean that he would give her name to the SNB and claim the family was "Wahhabist." The university administrator reportedly told the student's parents not to allow her to leave the house wearing a scarf.143
The student continued to wear her scarf to the university, however, and the intimidation escalated. Following the administrator's visit, the student's parents received a telephone call from a man identifying himself as an officer from the anti-corruption department of the MVD.144 He reportedly told the student's parents to report to the MVD building for a meeting, but they refused to do so without being issued an official summons.145 The student was eventually expelled.
The student's classmate, Shoknoza Gulamova, also received a call from the same MVD officer and from another employee of the MVD anti-corruption department, "Pyotr Kuliev."146 Gulamova described a meeting that took place between her father and "Kuliev" in February 1998:
In February my father met with him and "Kuliev" said that if I did not do what the rector said, I would be killed in a car crash or something like that or someone would drop a brick on my head or I would find myself under a car. At the very least I would be expelled from the university. My father said, "You can't expel her, because she received excellent marks." Then "Kuliev" said he could charge me with anything and put me in prison. He said that everybody knows that I am a "Wahhabist." My father said, "If something happens to my girl, I will lay the blame on you." But the officer said he couldn't prove it [that threats were made], because there were no witnesses in the meeting. Then my father said he would report what "Kuliev" had said to various radio programs. Then "Kuliev" said, "If you do, yourfamily will be killed." First, he said, my father and brother would be fired from their jobs and then we would all be killed.147
Gulamova's father did not press the matter further and did not approach the media with his story.
Male family members in particular were called upon and threatened by university officials to force their daughters or wives to comply with university demands. One female student who had been barred from attending classes or taking examinations, but had not yet received an official expulsion order, recounted, "My husband was called in [twice] and [university administrators] told him I should take off my headdress....I stopped going to university, because I didn't want pressure to be exerted on my husband."148
In some cases, the university administrators' threats frightened students into complying. Raikhona Hudaberganova recounted the pressure officials from the Institute for Oriental Studies brought to bear on one of her classmates:
Recently one girl's parents were called to the university and the parents made their daughter take off her scarf, and she did it. This girl was very sad about that, because she did not wish to remove her scarves. This girl's parents were told that their daughter had joined a criminal organization. The parents were frightened and were told that if she did not take off her scarves, she would be arrested. [One of the deans] said this....A professor...also told the girl's parents that their daughter would be arrested.149
Administrators at the Institute for Oriental Studies allowed the young woman to remain a student and complete her exams after she complied with their order.150 Reportedly, the professor also warned other students at the university that if students did not cease wearing their religious attire, falsified charges would be brought against them.151
Similarly, when fourth-year Fergana State University student Nilufar Ermatova resisted university pressure to force her to remove her religious dress, her family was threatened with SNB surveillance of their daughter. Ermatova reported that an administrator told her mother that her daughter had been put on a special government blacklist and threatened that the SNB would be checking on her. Ermatova's mother was reportedly seriously frightened and assured the official that Ermatova would wear a headscarf only in the "Uzbek style" from that point on.152
In at least one case, a student's conflict with the university served as a springboard for police to stop the religious practices of family members. A student expelled from Tashkent State University for not shaving reported to Human Rights Watch that his younger sister had been warned by police and local authorities to cease wearing hijab in public. The young man recalled that one day in the spring of 1998 a police officer came to his family's home with the head of the mahallah, or neighborhood council. The young man's father came out of the house and the police officer and head of the mahallah asked to speak to his daughter, but the father denied permission. "The policemanand mahallah head said they were coming to warn my sister not to leave the house in religious dress and that she could be stopped on the street and asked questions and detained for walking on the street in this dress," he told Human Rights Watch. She had regularly dressed in full hijab, with her face covered, up until approximately April 1998. The police officer reportedly asked the young woman's father if she was still in full hijab and what color it was and then left. The young man found the police interest in his sister's mode of dress and their ignorance of its real significance disturbing. "The police think that if you are in full hijab, you are even more of a Wahhabi," he declared.153
Arrest, Surveillance, and Other Intimidation.
Security agents watched, arrested, and threatened the lives of ousted religious students. University administrators routinely threatened to file charges against the students or call the police to have them arrested.
In a chilling case of intimidation, several months after a university administrator reportedly informed Nazar Nazarov, who had advocated for the rights of fellow religious students at the university, that the SNB was aware of his activities, police detained and physically abused him.154 After interrogating the student, the police major threatened to have him expelled from the university for being a "Wahhabi." Nazarov told Human Rights Watch that he believed police detained him because he had not shaved that day and he was wearing trousers that came above the ankle, a style supposedly worn by "Wahhabis."155 The story of his detention clearly illustrates the dangers beyond expulsion that religious students face.
On the morning of May 1, 1998, two policemen in plain clothes, who identified themselves only as Said and Valijon, reportedly approached Nazarov and cursed at him as he was waiting for his friends by a bus stop. By his account, the officers took him to a neighborhood police station in the Shakhantaursky district of Tashkent where they accused him of robbery and involvement in a murder. "They said I was a Wahhabi and working against the government and that I killed people," the young man recounted. The officers brought a woman into the interrogation room whom Nazarov alleged had not even been at the scene of his arrest. She stated that at the time of his arrest she had seen the young man drop two bullets from his pocket and that she would willingly testify to this in court. The fabrication of evidence through the planting of small numbers of bullets or small amounts of narcotics on people has become commonplace in political cases in Uzbekistan and there is great potential for false witness to be brought against arrestees.156
Nazarov recalled that he was terribly frightened:
They said I would be put in prison...they swore at me. I said I would bring a complaint to the court....I said that human rights exist and that they have no right to abuse me. After I said this, they began to insult me twice as much....I requested a lawyer and said I would not answer more questions without a lawyer. One policeman said, "What, you think you live in America?"...Then one of them wrote a report about the arrest and that I was charged with Wahhabism.
Nazarov's ordeal was not yet over. He was taken to the Shakhantaursky district police station, where a station major (name withheld) reportedly questioned him about his religious education, who had taught him to pray, what books he read, and about several government addresses in the young man's address book. Nazarov told Human Rights Watch that he overheard the officer make plans with a woman at the station to "go catch Wahhabis" later that evening. He said the major then slapped him across the face several times, again asking who was his religious teacherand where he had gotten these government addresses and for what purpose. He said he explained, as he had before, that he had gotten these addresses from a directory. The major then reportedly accused the student of working against the government, of being a terrorist and a "Wahhabi." "I said I didn't do any of those things and I am only a Muslim and not a Wahhabi."
Finally, Nazarov said he was instructed to write a statement about why he had government addresses in his address book and to give information about himself and his parents, including their places of employment. The station major put this statement in a case folder that also contained many photographs of men with beards, and put the case in a safe. Before releasing him, Shukurov warned Nazarov that he would inform the university and that they would expel him because he is a "Wahhabi."157 After approximately four hours of detention and questioning, the young man was released. He remained shaken by the episode, however. When he spoke with Human Rights Watch, he recalled:
The entire time I was in the office, people came in and out, all without uniforms, all asking about me, asking the major, and the major would say that I am a "Wahhabi" and each person who heard this insulted me, as many as fifteen or more people.158
When female students at the Pediatric Medical Institute in Tashkent were orally informed of their expulsion, they responded by asking to see the written order. Dean Rustan Almonovich Gulyam said to them, "If you argue, I will call the police."159 In their further pursuit of a written order, the students wrote a statement for Rector Asadov's signature that declared that the students had been expelled because they wear headscarves. He refused to sign it and said that if the young women wrote an appeal to other state officials, he would call the police and they would be detained.160 They received the written expulsion order and were evicted from the school dormitories. Afterward, the pressure continued, this time, allegedly, from the SNB. Human Rights Watch received a report in July that plainclothes agents believed to be from the SNB or MVD had been following the young women. On at least one occasion, they approached the women, warning them not to speak again to any international organizations. Following that incident, the students were said to be too afraid to meet with Human Rights Watch again.161
In several other cases, intimidation took the form of blatant surveillance of student activities. Many students reported that they believed they were being followed. Human Rights Watch was able to verify this on one occasion, when a group of students who had been expelled from Tashkent State University came to the office of Human Rights Watch to meet with our representatives, including Human Rights Watch Chairman Jonathan Fanton. On May 23, security agents in plain clothes followed the students to the office. When Human Rights Watch representatives escorted the students out of the building after the meeting, they saw the security agents waiting in the otherwise empty courtyard. The two men then followed the group closely as they went out to the street and continued to follow one group of students as they left.
Religious students who were not expelled were at times subject to other intense pressure from university officials and security agents. Some reported that they had been told by university administrators that they had been placed under official observation. Probation-style "observation" by university administrators appeared to be accompanied by more insidious surveillance of students by security agents. One student from Tashkent State University recounted:
All was normal until winter 1997. Now there is a full-scale campaign to not allow religious people into the classroom and they have begun to threaten students with lists and files on all of them. The dean, Bohobov, told students, as a threat, that files on them had been compiled by the security services.162
University administrators warned religious and outspoken students that officials at even the highest levels in the security services were monitoring their activities. It appeared that university officials were attempting to intimidate students and dissuade them from organizing dissent or even expressing their opposition to university policies on religious practice. For example, students at the Institute for Oriental Studies delivered a statement to Rector Ibrohimov calling on him to reopen a place for them to pray at school. One of the institute's deans responded several days later by summoning to his office at least one of the students who had signed the request.163 The dean stated that the young man's connection with the statement meant that he was a "Wahhabi" and he threatened the student with expulsion. In an apparent effort to silence the student and frighten him into halting his activism, the dean disclosed that the statement was known about by Major General Rustam Inoyatov, National Security Service Chief, and by Baktiar Gulomov, then special advisor to President Karimov.164
143 Human Rights Watch has independently confirmed the name of the university and the identity of the university administrator and student involved in this incident; however, we have withheld this information in order to protect the safety of the student and her family. Human Rights Watch interview, Tashkent, June 1998.
144 The name of the officer has been withheld. Ibid.
146 Pseudonyms are used here in place of the real names of the student, her father and the second MVD officer in order to protect the safety of the student and her family. Ibid.
148 Human Rights Watch interview, Tashkent, May 27, 1998.
149 Human Rights Watch interview with Raikhona Hudaberganova, Tashkent, June 14, 1998. The young woman discussed here is a student in the philology department of the Institute for Oriental Studies and is originally from a city in the Fergana Valley. To protect the student's safety, Human Rights Watch has declined to name this student and has withheld the names of the dean and the teacher.
151 Human Rights Watch interview with Umida Asimova and Dilfuza Turdieva, Tashkent, May 23, 1998.
152 Written statement of Nilufar Ermatova, April 14, 1998, translated from Uzbek. A pseudonym has been used in place of this student's real name.
153 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, May 1998.
154 Not the student's real name.
155 Oksana Maklay, "The Puritans of Islam-Or A Headache for Presidents," Moskovskiy komsomolets, September 16, 1998.
156 See, Human Rights Watch, "Crackdown in the Farghona Valley."
157 As of June 1998, however, the young man had not been expelled from his university.
158 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, June 1998.
159 Human Rights Watch interview with Nodira Khojaeva and Mamlakat Monsurava, Tashkent, June 3, 1998.
160 Human Rights Watch interview with Nodira Khojaeva, Mamlakat Monsurava, and Dilora Bainazarova, Tashkent, June 1, 1998.
161 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, July 1998.
162 Human Rights Watch interview with students from Tashkent State University, Tashkent, May 23, 1998. The suggestion that lists and files on religious students were being compiled by the state security services is credible and part of an overarching pattern of government surveillance of independent Muslims. As noted above, in "Background," Human Rights Watch learned that surveys were being conducted to establish citizens' degree of religiosity and that files on respondents were then maintained by local police chiefs. Human Rights Watch interviews, names withheld, Kokand, May 1998; and Central Asia Monitor, news and comments section, volume five, 1998, p. 31. That publication cited a Vremya MN article, which reported that local leaders were monitoring the movements and behavior of religious and non-religious residents in Uzbekistan and maintaining lists of "potential trouble-makers." In addition, following the explosion of five to six bombs in Tashkent on February 16, 1999, Minister of Internal Affairs Zakir Almatov, discussing the government's investigation of the bombings, reportedly claimed that his ministry had the names of 6,000 people alleged to be members of extremist groups. Associated Press Newswires, "President Calls for Extremists to Surrender, Some Heed His Call," April 5, 1999. Given the probable surveillance of citizens regardless of outward signs of religiosity, it is reasonable to expect that those students whose appearance suggests that they are strictly observant would be targets of surveillance and information gathering by the state intelligence service.
163 Human Rights Watch withheld the name of the dean involved in this incident. The student's name has been withheld at his request.
164 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, June 1998.