Despite the limited means available to obtain redress, the religious students who were expelled, threatened, and harassed actively advocated within the legal system or mainstream political channels for the restoration of their right to education.
They wrote letters to university administrators and appealed both in writing and in person to government authorities to be reinstated; some brought civil suits against the universities for reinstatement. Given the political nature of the campaign against religious Muslims, and the authoritarian nature of Uzbekistan's political system, it is not surprising that their attempts failed.
No official would break ranks by helping the expelled students, even on an ad-hoc basis. Students expelled from Tashkent State University appealed on their own behalf to the government Committee on Religious Affairs. That committee's chairman, Sharafudin Mirmakhmudov reportedly told the students to take their complaints to (former) Deputy Prime Minister Alisher Azizkhojaev. According to the students, Deputy Prime Minister Azizkhojaevemphatically rejected their request to be reinstated, and he told them, "If Mirmakhmudov helps you, he will answer for it, too."165
Students expelled from Tashkent State University were particularly active in appealing to government officials on their own behalf. They wrote dozens of letters and statements and paid visits to numerous government administrative offices, from the Muslim Board to the deputy prime minister. Officials consistently refused to consider the students' complaints on their merits and held that Islamic dress was prohibited and access to university would be denied until and unless they ceased wearing their religious attire.
Early in the process of their appeals for redress, the Tashkent State University students wrote to Minister of Higher Education Okil Solimov and his deputy. When they received no reply, the students then went to Solimov's office, where officials reportedly told them, "the expulsion was in accordance with orders from above," that they were "interfering with the internal politics of the country," and that they would get nowhere if they continued to dress this way.166
Minister Solimov also declined to meet with Human Rights Watch. In May 1998, Human Rights Watch made an official request, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to meet with Minister Solimov. We were informed that Minister Solimov was too busy to meet with Jonathan Fanton, Human Rights Watch chairman, and Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division. In a May 26 meeting with Human Rights Watch, however, Foreign Minister Komilov responded to questions about the expulsion of Muslim students:
I was appointed two days ago as the rector of the University of World Diplomacy and Economics and I want to promise you that if anyone were punished from the university, it would be because of poor educational level or poor discipline.167
He also assured Human Rights Watch that he would ask his colleagues about the reasons for the expulsions.168 As of January 1999, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not provided Human Rights Watch with any explanation for the expulsions.
Several female students who had been expelled from Tashkent State University appealed to the head of the government's Women's Committee, Dilbar Guliamova. Guliamova reportedly told them they would never be reinstated and that they were not helping Uzbekistan or themselves by comporting themselves in this way. On a second appeal to the committee, Guliamova reportedly said that it was "all over," that an order had come from the president, so there was "nowhere else to go," and that there was a new law against Islamic dress, so there was no way the students would be reinstated without removing their headscarves.169
Sayora Rashidova, representative on human rights (ombudswoman) to the Supreme Council (parliament or Oliy Majlis) of the Republic of Uzbekistan, failed to address at least one student's needs for assistance in claiming her rights. Raikhona Hudaberganova, for example, who was expelled from the Institute for Oriental Studies, testifiedthat Rashidova altogether failed to respond to her written application for help.170 The ombudswoman did, however, forward the student's complaint to Minister of Higher Education Solimov.171 His office then informed Hudaberganova that her expulsion was in accordance with the law.172 To our knowledge, Rashidova took no further action on the matter of Hudaberganova's expulsion.
Students also appealed to the religious leadership, in particular to the Mufti of Uzbekistan, who is the head of the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan and the highest-placed leader of official Islam in the country. In a meeting with Human Rights Watch, Mufti Bahromov said that expelled female students had come to him many times, crying and asking for help to be readmitted. The Mufti refused to help them, however. He and his deputy dismissed the students as "Wahhabis" and claimed their behavior was immodest, breached the codes of conduct, and amounted to violation of the constitution.173
Some students turned to the courts for reinstatement and for support for the right to wear religious attire on campus. In some instances, students' lawyers discouraged them from bringing a case and advised students to drop their cases. In two cases known to Human Rights Watch, courts heard students' complaints, but ruled against them. In no case did a court find in favor of a student and order the university to readmit him or her.
One student's attorney was extremely reluctant to take on his case. When administrators of Tashkent State Technical University pressured a young man from Namangan to shave his beard in January 1998, the student turned to a private lawyer for help. The lawyer told the student that the case could not be won and that he could do nothing, because university administrators were acting in accordance with government policy. He advised the student to shave his beard. The student told Human Rights Watch that he then felt he had no option but to shave his beard, which he did.174
Before they went to court to challenge their expulsion, Umida Asimova and Dilfuza Turdieva appealed to the Institute for Oriental Studies leadership and wrote to government officials, including Minister of Higher Education Solimov and his deputies. Asimova also met with two of Solimov's deputies; she recalled, "They promised they would decide that question about scarves and marks. One of the ministry officials said there would be a commission at the university to administer an exam, but that I couldn't pass the exam."175 According to the students, no such commission was established.176
After their expulsion, Asimova and Turdieva retained a lawyer and, on May 7, 1998, filed a civil case in a Tashkent district court, calling on the Institute for Oriental Studies to restore their academic status. On May 20, the court held a meeting of the parties involved and the students were informed that their lawyer had been offered a unique settlement deal. Under the proposed arrangement, the institute would investigate the case and the young women would be able to apply for reinstatement after three months. The students' lawyer encouraged them to accept this offer, since she believed they would lose in court, and they consented.
In a December 7, 1998, letter to Ombudswoman Sayora Rashidova and others, Asimova and Turdieva reported that on August 30, 1998, Rector Ibrohimov rejected their written appeals for reinstatement. He allegedly gave them no explanation for the decision, and it was not clear whether or not the students' cases had in fact been investigated further by the institute, as allegedly promised, during the three-month postponement. According to Turdieva and Asimova, the rector said that if the students wanted to return to the institute, then they would have to remove their hijab and pay a large fine to the institute.177
The young women decided to reactivate their court case. They claimed, however, that Judge Kurbanova did not give them a fair hearing. They alleged that she failed to consider seriously documents and arguments provided by the students and consistently interrupted the students' presentation of evidence and witness testimony, while admitting without question the arguments of the institute's administration. Judge Kurbanova ruled that the students' expulsions had been well-founded, and fined Turdieva and Asimova 5,500 som (approximately U.S. $55), payable to the state.178
Asimova and Turdieva appealed Judge Kurbanova's ruling to the Tashkent Municipal Court, which rejected their appeal. Asimova and Turdieva filed an appeal before the Supreme Court.179 As of January 1999, there was no information available as to whether or not the Supreme Court had agreed to review the case.
As noted above, Raikhona Hudaberganova also sought reinstatement through the courts. As in other cases, her lawyer initially tried to discourage her from filing her case and suggested that she instead comply with the government order. He told her, "Take off your scarf, I cannot go against the president."180 Nonetheless, she decided to move forward with the case.
The civil suit was brought before the Mirabad District Court of Tashkent, presided over by Judge Ulughbek Bakhshulaevich Navruzov.181 Judge Navruzov upheld the institute's argument that Hudaberganova must alter her appearance to comply with the regulations on dress stipulated in the institute's code of conduct. On the issue of admission to exams, she and other female students would have to uncover their faces, so that professors could identify them. Hudaberganova would not be allowed to teach children while in hijab. Hudaberganova filed an appeal before the Tashkent Municipal Court.182 Hudaberganova lost this appeal and a subsequent appeal, heard by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Uzbekistan. As of July 1999, she was preparing a complaint of religious discrimination addressed to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.183
Some students who despaired after failing to be reinstated at their original university attempted to apply elsewhere. This also failed, as the policy of excluding religious students from educational institutions proved uniform. Farida Halikova's story reveals the true absence of options open to students after expulsion. After Institute for Oriental Studies administrators barred her from classes and then expelled her, Halikova returned to her home town in the Fergana Valley. There, Halikova applied to Fergana State University to continue her education. Only monthsafter joining the philology department at that institution, Halikova was again forced out because of her religious attire.184
The Price of Return
The most obvious condition for the return or readmission of expelled students was the removal of their headscarves or beards. As the rector of the Pediatric Medical Institute in Tashkent put it, "The doors of our institution are open for them, if they come in normal clothes. If, in our presence, they are in normal clothes, I will change my order."185
However, removal of religious attire does not suffice for reinstatement. Universities demanded that the expelled students repeat the year of study in which they were dismissed, even when they had only their exams left to complete. Students are also required to pay a fine or are placed in the category of tuition paying students in order to qualify for readmission. Even before Judge Kurbanova fined Turdieva and Asimova, the Ministry of Higher Education explained to the young women that payment of a fine of 10,000 som would be a condition for their reinstatement, in addition to removal of their religious clothing and repeat of their final year of study.186 The administration of Tashkent State University stated explicitly that students expelled for religious dress could rejoin the ranks of the university only as paying students. Rector Dolimov told Human Rights Watch that "To be readmitted, they have to re-apply with a letter and pay 70,000-80,000 soms [approximately U.S. $100], like the paying students."187 This is significant as only a minority of students at the university pay tuition, a practice slowly being instituted. This policy had not yet affected the students under question in this report.
Financial penalties thus served as a disincentive to students to pursue legal remedy and as an additional obstacle to obtaining reinstatement.
165 Human Rights Watch interview with students from Tashkent State University, names withheld, Tashkent, May 23, 1998.
166 Human Rights Watch interview with students from Tashkent State University, names withheld, Tashkent, May 23, 1998.
167 Human Rights Watch interview with Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov, Tashkent, May 26, 1998.
169 Human Rights Watch interview with students from Tashkent State University, names withheld, Tashkent, May 23, 1998.
170 Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript of the civil trial of Raikhona Hudaberganova versus the Institute for Oriental Studies, Mirabad District Court hearing, Tashkent, July 16, 1998.
171 Letter from Sayora Rashidova, ombudswoman, to Minister of Higher Education Solimov, document number 06-3/282, May 12, 1998, translated from Uzbek.
172 Letter from R.I. Kholmuradov, first deputy minister of higher education, to Raikhona Hudaberganova, document number 89-02-139/X-92-2, May 20, 1998, translated from Uzbek.
173 Human Rights Watch meeting with Mufti Abdurashid Qori Bahromov, Chairman of the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan, and his deputy, Atakul Mablamulov, Tashkent, May 25, 1998.
174 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, July 1998.
175 Human Rights Watch interview with Umida Asimova and Dilfuza Turdieva, Tashkent, June 11, 1998.
176 Ibid. The exam was for students who believed they had received low marks as retribution for wearing religious attire.
177 Letter from Umida Asimova and Dilfuza Turdieva to Sayora Rashidova, December 7, 1998, translated from Russian.
178 Ibid. Under the 1998 amendments, violating article 14 of the law on freedom of conscience incurs a fine of five to ten times the minimum monthly salary (U.S. $11). See above, "Laws and Rules Regulating Religious Attire."
179 Information provided by Mikhail Dmitrivich Ardzinov, chairman of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, January 18, 1999.
180 Human Rights Watch interview with Raikhona Hudaberganova, Tashkent, June 14, 1998.
181 For details on this case, see above, "Laws and Rules Regulating Religious Attire."
182 Information provided to Human Rights Watch by Mikhail Dmitrivich Ardzinov, chairman of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, January 18, 1999.
183 Human Rights Watch interview with Raikhona Hudaberganova, Tashkent, July, 1999.
184 Human Rights Watch interview with Farida Halikova, Tashkent, December 18, 1998.
185 Human Rights Watch interview with Rector Damin Abdurakhimovich Asadov, Tashkent, June 3, 1998.
186 Human Rights Watch interview with Umida Asimova and Dilfuza Turdieva, Tashkent, June 11, 1998.
187 Human Rights Watch interview with Rector Turabek N. Dolimov, Tashkent, May 25, 1998.