<<previous  | index  |  next>>


Religious Persecution


From 1992 to 1997, the Uzbek government sought to establish strict state control over religious activity. During this period, there were sporadic arrests and “disappearances” of prominent independent Muslim leaders. In December 1997, the murders of several police officers and government officials in the province of Namangan provided the pretext for the Karimov government to crack down more heavily on independent Islam, portraying it as a threat to the country’s stability. The authorities closed independent mosques, and began arresting Muslim believers for having attended religious services of imams who had run afoul of the government or for manifesting their faith in other ways, such as by taking private religious instruction or by wearing beards. Hundreds were arrested and sentenced to long jail terms.

The crackdown developed into a systematic, widescale campaign that intensified following the first significant incident of political violence in Uzbekistan—a series of bombings near government buildings in Tashkent in February 1999 that killed sixteen people and wounded more than one hundred. Police undertook mass sweeps of entire neighborhoods throughout the country, expanding the targets of the religious repression to include relatives of suspected independent Muslims. In 1999 and 2000, Uzbek militants based abroad—known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)— launched armed incursions into Uzbekistan and neighboring Kyrgyzstan.64 The government further justified the crackdown as necessary to counter the IMU threat.

There are currently thousands of Muslims in prison for the peaceful expression of their faith;65 some are charged with membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), an organization that advocates the reestablishment of the Islamic Caliphate by peaceful means, and some are accused of “wahhabism,” a derogatory term used to denote an Islamic “fundamentalism” or “extremism.” Some are imprisoned merely on the basis of being family members of suspected independent Muslims.66

Mahalla committees play many roles in the government campaign against independent Muslims. They carry out surveillance and information collection for the authorities and assist law enforcement agencies in the arrest of residents suspected of “religious extremism.” They help to organize meetings to publicly denounce and humiliate independent Muslims and their relatives. They also discriminate against the families of independent Muslims in the distribution of social assistance and arbitrarily refuse to issue them civil certificates or other documentation.

A 2001 case involving a suspected Islamic “fundamentalist” in the Fergana Valley illustrates several of the roles the mahalla committee plays in the campaign against independent Islam. The mahalla committee chair facilitated the arrest of “Alisher A.” (not the man’s true name), who died in custody about a month later after being beaten. Alisher A’s relatives told Human Rights Watch, “[One and a half years later] the mahalla committee, hokimiat and police still disturb us all the time. The mahalla committee demanded that we, as a family, should apologize before them. About six months ago there was a meeting with several mahallas. They told us to ask for forgiveness, to admit that our son really had studied… the wrong path, that it was a mistake… We refused to apologize.”67

Means of Control: Surveillance

“The mahalla listens to everything and passes it on…”68

Since the intensification of the campaign against independent Muslims in 1997, the surveillance role of mahalla committees has increased. President Karimov and other high officials have stressed the need for local communities, and mahalla committees in particular, to be vigilant in watching and passing information on to law enforcement bodies.69 Both the Mahalla Law and practice make it clear that mahalla committees work closely with law enforcement agencies. As one Uzbek human rights activist put it, mahalla committees “don’t put people in jail, but they point to who should be put in jail.”70

In breach of the right to respect of privacy, family, and home, and freedom of religion, mahalla committees help law enforcement agencies throughout the country to collect information about people’s religious beliefs and practices.71 This information is then collated into lists of people considered potential Muslim extremists.

Through door-to-door visits or by summoning residents to their office, mahalla committees have collected information about who prays, has a beard, and teaches children about Islam. Law enforcement agencies reportedly have given mahalla committee chairmen a list of questions about mahalla residents that the committee should provide answers to. These have included:

  • A list of names and addresses of those who encourage women and children to pray namaz (the five daily prayers of Islam);

  • A list of those who observe namaz in unauthorized places in the city;

  • Information about “Wahhabists” who have served a prison sentence and their families;

  • A list of those who have a beard or previously had a beard;

  • Information about family members of “Wahhabists who are overeighteen years old, but have not served in the army;

  • A list of those considered “authoritative,” “leaders,” or “unruly;”72

  • The government also expects mahalla committees to watch mosque activities. Speaking immediately after the February 16, 1999 bombings in Tashkent, President Karimov decreed:

    …[E]very neighborhood committee should supervise the work of its local mosque. What are those mosques there for? …Mosques are designed to improve the life of the neighborhood, to improve people’s lives and to inculcate the belief in life after death in the minds of people. They should also explain to people what it’s like to have a guilty conscience, and to arouse their conscience. I repeat that if there is a mosque in the neighborhood then the local council should keep their eyes open.”73

    According to a local rights defender in Fergana City, the mahalla committees there have been tasked with intense surveillance of residents, including physically following their movements. 74

    During criminal trials, judges and mahalla committee members have spoken openly about the surveillance role of mahallas in the government campaign against independent Islam. In one trial of thirteen men accused of membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a mahalla committee chairman called as a witness acknowledged that he had been instructed to inform higher authorities of illegal activities in his area. Asked what he would do if he discovered a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir in his neighborhood, the chairman responded that he would inform the police.75

    In another trial of four men and two women accused of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, mahalla committeemember Tohir Sharipov was called as a witness and reproached when he could not say whether the husband of the accused was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. “Why don’t you know?” the judge asked, “the mahalla should know everything about its inhabitants.” Later the judge asked, “[d]id you think she was guilty of something?” to which Sharipov replied, “No, and if she had been attending Hizb ut-Tahrir meetings, I would have found out about it. If she had been doing something wrong, we would have heard about it.”76

    Together with police, mahalla members also conduct passport checks to ascertain compliance with residence permit requirements and serve as witnesses to police searches. They also register “suspicious” pious Muslims who are required to report to the committee on their activities.

    In the case mentioned above, Sharipov, a member of a mahalla committee in the Shaihantaur district of Tashkent, testified in court that he was asked to witness the search of the house of Nozira Rakhmatullaeva, one of the defendants. “On January 24, 2002, I was invited by police to observe the search of [the defendant’s] house. They found three bags and a computer.”77 Rakhmatullaeva was given a two-year suspended sentence for attempting to overthrow the constitutional system and spreading “extremist” literature.

    In September 1999, the assistant chairman of the Suzuk Ota mahalla committee testified in court about the July 10 search of the house of human rights activist Ismail Adylov. The assistant chairman reportedly told the court that he was present as five or six police officers searched the house and found a bundle of leaflets. The leaflets, which Adylov says were planted in his house, were said to contain extremist religious materials. Adylov was sentenced to six years in prison, but was released in July 2001 after intense international pressure.78

    As part of the implementation of the government’s policy to involve mahalla committees in the state campaign against independent Muslims, some individuals were forced to report their activities not only to the police, but also to their local mahalla committee.

    “Malika M.,” who had been a religious prisoner, told Human Rights Watch in February 2001 that every month since her release from prison in September 1999 her mahalla committee had summoned her to write a statement. In the statement she had to swear that she had not proselytized and was not a member of any unofficial organization and state that she understood she would be punishedif she were a member of such a group. Explaining the mahalla committee’s interest in her, the elderly grandmother said “I’m on the list of dangerous people.”79

    A representative of the Bektimir district mahalla committee visited the mother of Shukhrat Abdurahimov, a religious prisoner, in October 1999, prior to parliamentary and presidential elections. The representative presented her with a document to sign indicating support for President Karimov. Abdurahimov’s mother told Human Rights Watch, “They only came to me, not to other neighbors.”80

    Authorities continued to monitor the Abdurahimov family after the presidential elections, as well. A representative from the mahalla visited Abdurahimov’s mother every month and compelled her to write a description of her activities, noting where she had been and with whom she had spoken, and attesting that she had not attended any illegal meetings or continued the activities of her son.81

    “Nargisa N.,” a woman from Namangan, whose husband was sentenced to three and half years in prison for his religious expression, told Human Watch that after being the subject of a “hate rally” organized by her mahalla committee, the committee members came regularly to her house. “The mahalla come to me and check whether I have been anywhere.”82

    On May 26, 2003, about thirty women family members of religious prisoners participated in a protest against the prison conditions under which their relatives were held. The police beat and then detained the women at the Khamza district police station in Tashkent. After some hours the police took each woman to her local mahalla committee, where each sat with representatives of the committee who demanded a written statement, including a promise not to participate in any more protests.83

    The head of a mahalla committee in Margilan, in the Fergana Valley, visited Akhmadjon Madmarov, a human rights activist and father of three sons in prison for the expression of their Muslim faith, on June 5, 2003, and requested that Madmarov meet with a procurator at the office of the mahalla committee. When Madmarov arrived, he found himself facing a “commission” made up of police, procurators, and mahalla committee members. The “commission” showed him an official warning letter, stating that if he participated in further protests, he would be charged with a crime. A procurator at the meeting demandedthat he sign the letter. He refused, stating that he had not participated in any protests, but that he had acted as an observer to a protest against the treatment of religious prisoners several days earlier in his capacity as a human rights defender. “The procurator told me to sign the warning letter. I refused and said that I haven’t breached anything. He said, ‘okay, the commission will write in the minutes that you refused to sign.’ I asked for a copy of the letter. They refused to give it to me.”84

    2002 Prison Amnesty

    In December 2002, President Karimov declared an amnesty for certain categories of prisoners which included some people convicted of non-violent “extremist” activities.85 The regulations under the amnesty set out requirements for the release of religious prisoners, including a letter of sincere repentance from the prisoner, the conclusions of the prison administration as to the active repentance of the prisoner, a guarantee letter from close relatives and from the mahalla committee in which the prisoner previously lived.86 Relatives of religious prisoners were usually informed by the prison authorities, the police or local authorities, or sometimes by the prisoners themselves, that they must obtain a guarantee letter from their mahalla committee.87 The letters were a guarantee signed by the chair and members of the mahalla committee to take responsibility for released prisoners. Although some religious prisoners were released under the amnesty, the abuse of their freedom of conscience and religion was set to continue. The amnesty process shifted the burden of controlling the religious practices of the prisoners from the jails to the mahalla committees. The requirement of a guarantee from a mahalla committee foretells on-going restrictions on ex-prisoners’ freedom of conscience and religion, since the mahalla committee undertakes to ensure that the released prisoners will not continue to manifest their beliefs as in the past.

    In one letter obtained by Human Rights Watch, the mahalla committee agreed to “take responsibility for [the prisoner’s] rehabilitation in the future.”88 In other letters, the committees agree to act as a “guardian” to the prisoner upon release, or to keep “him under observation.”89 Some letters were then also signed by the head of the regional police station, confirming that the guarantee letter was genuine.

    The authorities, in requiring such letters, expect the mahalla committee to keep released religious prisoners under close observation and control, or otherwise possibly face consequences themselves.90 Human Rights Watch encountered several cases where the mahalla committee refused to sign such letters, thereby practically blocking the possibility of releasing prisoners.91

    Human Rights Watch received reports of prison authorities who refused to accept the mahalla guarantee letters from the relatives and refused to release the prisoners under the amnesty.92

    Extrajudicial Punishment

    During the Soviet era, in particular in the 1920s and 1930s, communist officials organized public meetings to condemn those deemed to be acting contrary to the goals and dictates of the party. Similar public denunciations are held in present-day Uzbekistan, now organized by mahalla committees, hokimiats, the police and procurator’s office, as well as members of the official state clergy. 93 These events portray the role of mahalla committees and other government agencies in the state’s policy of violating freedom of religion and conscience through the government’s campaign against independent Muslims. They are carefully staged spectacles that function as a form of extrajudicial punishment, shaming and humiliating independent Muslims and their immediate relations. Speeches made by officials at the meetings serve as warnings, frightening people into abandoning religious practices the state finds objectionable or disavowing relatives or friends who have been branded “enemies.” Officials discredit the meetings’ subjects as worthless to society, and as bad mothers, fathers, and neighbors, thereby further isolating such people from the support networks that their community would otherwise provide. Such “hate rallies,” targeted at individuals because of religious belief and practice, are a form of intimidation intended to limit the free expression of religion, in particular, of Islam in Uzbekistan. In this respect, they violate Uzbekistan’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect the rights of freedom of expression and conscience.94

    The public denunciation in Namangan against Omina Muidinova, her three sons, and other male relatives provided a live warning of the dangers of following religious trends not sanctioned by the state. On April 5, 2000, a group of public officials and representatives from the Namangan city mahalla committee convened a public meeting to denounce Islamic beliefs and activities deemed threatening to the constitutional system of Uzbekistan. Numerous residents were called to attend the public meeting, which was held in the Namangan hokim’s office and presided over by Deputy Hokim A. Lukmanov.95

    The meeting began with a broad warning to area residents to shun religious trends deemed harmful to the state. Speakers called for the defense of citizens from “religious extremism” and particularly from the influence of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Officials hailed fidelity to the motherland, condemned her traitors, and warned citizens about encroachment on the existing order.

    In the second stage of the “hate rally,” the officials brought Omina Muidinova, a forty-seven-year-old mother of six, to the hall in handcuffs along with her three sons, brother, and son-in-law. The family was forced to stand before the crowd, surrounded by guards, to hear the officials’ accusations against them. The presiding officials charged that Muidinova had conspired, “under the mask of Islam,” with “ferocious religious extremists,” to establish an Islamic state in Uzbekistan.

    The meeting leaders then called on citizens to give their opinion of Muidinova and her family. Several men stood up to condemn Muidinova and called for punishment of her parents. People shouted out, demanding that the family be executed.

    When officials instructed Muidinova to address the crowd, she said only that her relative, Akmal Ergashev, had persuaded her to become an observant Muslim and that she had subsequently urged others to become observant Muslims, to “embark on the true path of Islam.” Omina Muidinova, her three sons, and other relatives were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges of “Wahhabism” and attempted overthrow of the state.96

    In another case, the mother of one religious prisoner told Human Rights Watch, “[w]hen I didn’t go to the mahalla meeting they held it anyway and spread all these lies that my son was a terrorist and that we were ‘enemies of the people.’” She said that authorities did not invite her closest neighbors, who are supportive of her, to the meeting, but peopled the event with members of the mahalla committee and employees of the procurator’s office and hokimiat.97

    The wife of a well-known imam in Tashkent told Human Rights Watch that in a hate rally targeting her, those poised to speak in her defense were silenced:

    The local head of the mahalla organized a meeting… in February 2000. The procurator, hokimiat, and mahalla representatives were there. They spoke badly about [my husband] saying that he had a bad effect on youth… They told our neighbors not to visit us or have anything to do with us… In the meeting in our mahalla, one person asked “What is the reason for this meeting?” When the organizers understood that he would say something good about [my husband], they stopped him speaking. They wouldn’t let me or [my husband’s] mother say anything in our defense. [My husband’s] mother began to speak in her defense. The head of the mahalla shut her up and said that she could talk at the end, but at the end they didn’t let her speak.”98

    In January 2000, according to his lawyer, police detained Ibrahim Obidov, on the basis of his religious beliefs and would not release him until he asked for forgiveness in a series of meetings organized by mahalla committees. After complying, he was released. However, he was subsequently arrested, and on August 21, 2000, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for participating in private lessons in Islam.99

    In late 1999, Omina Yuldasheva, the wife of Imam Yuldashev, who had just been released from prison on fabricated charges of drug possession, was reportedly compelled to attend a public denunciation of “Wahhabis” in the meeting hall of the local mahalla committee.100 Members of the committee, police officer Jamal Suliev, the Sobir Rahimov district procurator, and other government officials were present. About ten other pious Muslims were also called in.

    The religious men and women, whom authorities referred to as “Wahhabis,” were directed to one side of the room while authorities explained that they had been brought there to receive a warning for participating in religious sects and being “people who cover their faces.” Authorities screamed at the gathered Muslims, ordering them not to cover their faces and not to be involved in any religious “sects.” A man introduced as an imam reportedly told participants that it was necessary to wear hijab (Islamic head covering) only in Arab countries with desert sand and that Uzbekistan’s climate did not require one to cover one’s face. Moreover, he said, the directive to cover one’s face is not written in the Koran.

    The fiercest warning reportedly came from Officer Suliev. One participant at the meeting recalled:

    Suliev scared us all. He said, “We have helped the local police officers and they have guns and nightsticks and handcuffs for you, and they can do anything, if you step out of line. They have cars to take you wherever.” He said law enforcement officials had civilian assistants in the community [the posbon] to inform the local police officer. He said, “This meeting is a warning and if you take another step out of line, the next place you’ll be going is Jaslyk.”101

    Suliev allegedly threatened, “You better listen to me, if just once you don’t respond to calls from the district police station or the neighborhood police station, you will be on a flight to Jaslyk.” 102

    Three days after the first “hate rally,” the local police officer ordered those on the police list of “Wahhabis,” including Yuldashev’s wife, to attend another public denunciation at the local school. Also in attendance were representatives of the mahalla committee, the chair of the local government’s women’s committee, Muhayo Saidova, and the district hokim. The district procurator presided over the meeting, which was attended by local residents. One of the estimated twenty religious Muslims compelled to attend the meeting reported to Human Rights Watch, “[o]ne by one, we were called up to say that we were against sects. They made one man take the Koran and swear he was not part of a sect.” Others were reportedly directed to ask forgiveness from the 100-person assembly. Imam Yuldashev’s wife was reportedly allowed to leave without being forced to stand before the group and ask for forgiveness.103

    “Mukhtabar M.” was released from prison in September 1999 after serving a ten-day misdemeanor sentence for membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir and meeting with other women to discuss Islam. After her release, she became the target of invasive and intimidating scrutiny by her local mahalla committee and other state authorities. In conjunction with local police, the mahalla committee called a public meeting to denounce the elderly woman and Hizb ut-Tahrir members in general. According to Mukhtabar M., all the women in her mahalla who wore headscarves were summoned to the meeting. There, Anvar Qori, imam of Tashkent, announced that all those wearing hijab were not required to wear this type of dress. The meeting organizers called on those present to locate and report others who wore hijab. They warned the women that members of Hizb ut-Tahrir were “dangerous” and said, “you should fear them and shun relatives who are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.”104

    One woman compelled to attend a public denunciation in her mahalla said that the chairman and the local imam denounced the mother of Murad Otometov, a young man arrested on June 14, 1999, for distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir literature. The imam reportedly dismissed the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir as “wrong” and blamed the parents of young people for not keeping them from this group. The neighborhood police officer also addressed the crowd, announcing that Hizb ut-Tahrir was opposed to the government and would ruin the country, she recalled. When questioned about the motives behind inviting women in hijab to the meeting, he stated, “We invited those women whom we suspect of Hizb ut-Tahrir membership.”105

    Mahalla committees regularly called on residents to halt religious practices deemed to be outside of acceptable parameters. For instance, mahalla committee representatives summoned men to tell them to shave their beards and instructed women to remove their head scarves. In at least one case, a mahalla committee held a fake trial of a woman for wearing a head scarf and released her with a warning.

    In Tashkent in 1999, while Imam AbduvahidYuldashev was in police custody, his wife was called to the local mahalla committee and told she would be tried that day by a “mahalla court” for wearing hijab.106 The so-called judges presiding were mahalla committee members, other community members, and the neighborhood police officer. At the end of the “trial,” they allowed Yuldasheva her “last word,” a defendant’s final speech in his or her own defense in a criminal trial in Uzbekistan. She reportedly said that she would continue to wear hijab. The “judges” reportedly screamed at her for wearing hijaband not actively participating in mahalla events, such as holiday celebrations. They wrote a report of the proceedings but refused to show it to Yuldasheva. They allegedly told her simply, “Now you have been warned.”107

    One of the earliest cases of a public denunciation documented by Human Rights Watch dates to 1998, when the wife of a man imprisoned for his religious beliefs was forced to attend a meeting organized by the local mahalla committee in Namangan. Members of the committee, police, hokimiat, and regional women’s committee, along with neighbors attended. The victim told Human Rights Watch:

    A car came and took me along with other women. They said we were religious extremists. It was like a court. Some people spoke well about us and some spoke badly. All of us women said that we don’t do anything wrong. We just pray. The chairman of the mahalla told us not to wear hijab, to take it off and that we mustn’t wear it. The police forced us all to take it off… Now I don’t wear a scarf covering my face. I would wear it if I could. I like it.”108

    Following a series of protests staged by female relatives of independent Muslim prisoners in Andijan in March and April 2001, local mahalla committees allegedly began to intensify the frequency of public denunciations. An Andijan rights activist told Human Rights Watch that in each neighborhood mahalla committees had targeted half a dozen relatives of religious prisoners for routine harassment and public humiliation.109

    Mahallas continued to organize public denunciation, at least through June 1, 2003.110 A rights activist from the Fergana Valley told Human Rights Watch that officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the procurator’s office, as well as members of the Komolot youth group regularly attend meetings organized by mahalla committees to denounce independent Muslims. He said that the meetings usually include announcements of arrests of independent Muslims and warnings to other residents not to follow their example.111


    Social Assistance

    The mahalla committee has wide discretionary powers over whom to grant assistance, there being few objective criteria and little external control.112 The authority to allocate funds for social assistance gives mahalla committees significant leverage over families within their neighborhood. Mahalla committees sometimes use this to pressure families, usually women and children, to change their behavior to comply with government-directed norms. Such practices, when used, discriminate against both independent Muslims and women, forcing them to either change their behavior or give up social assistance.113

    Human Rights Watch has documented several cases in which mahalla committees refused to pay social assistance on the grounds that the family applying was related to independent Muslims usually described as “enemies of the people,” a Soviet-era term for dissidents or those who belonged to groups deemed to be class enemies, such as private farmers or “bourgeois nationalists.” 114

    Although such clear cases of discrimination in social assistance exist, they do not rise to the level of a systematic practice. Some families of imprisoned independent Muslims receive social assistance from their respective mahalla committee. However, when mahallas do engage in such discrimination, its impact can be devastating, particularly in those families that have lost several wage-earners to the arrest campaign and imprisonment.

    One woman who was left without financial support in October 2001 after her husband, two brothers, and brother-in-law were imprisoned as “Wahhabis,” applied to her mahalla committee in Tashkent for social assistance to help support her four children. “The head of the mahalla said to me himself, ‘you are a family of terrorists, of “Wahhabis,” enemies of the people and we won’t give you any help.’”115

    Another woman whose two sons and husband were arrested in 1999, leaving her at home alone with a sick daughter, told Human Rights Watch that she approached her mahalla committee in Khorezm several times in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Each time thecommittee refused to give her social assistance, and on one occasion a committee member reportedly told her, “[y]our family is ‘Wahhabist.’ It is forbidden to help you.”116

    The wife of an imam wanted by police since 1998 told Human Rights Watch that her mahalla committee in Tashkent would not grant her social assistance. She was supporting six children and had no paid employment. “I went and said to them, ‘okay don’t help us, but don’t say bad words about us.’ The chairman of the mahalla said ‘You have to understand that there is pressure from above. We are forced to say such things.’”117

    Issuing Documentation

    Uzbekistan has maintained much of the bureaucracy of Soviet times, which means that the ordinary citizen is often required to produce documentation, from passports to reference letters, when approaching government officials. One of the roles of a mahalla committee is to provide some of this documentation to its residents. Human Rights Watch has encountered cases where the chairman, usually the individual authorized to issue documentation, has refused to provide such documentation or has made it difficult to obtain on the basis of religion. Sometimes the chairman will impose conditions on the provision of documentation, such as requiring a woman to remove her headscarf.

    Feruza Kurbanova told Human Rights Watch that after receiving a suspended sentence on March 7, 2001, for belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, the police from the department that oversees those on suspended sentences instructed her to provide them with a photograph and a character reference from her mahalla committee. When Kurbanova went to the mahalla committee for the reference, the committee chair reportedly shouted at her, “you should not have been released.” They refused to provide her with the necessary document and threatened that they would organize a public meeting and force her to ask for forgiveness. The mahalla committee did not organize the meeting, however, but did continue to monitor and attempt to control Kurbanova’s activities.118

    Keeping Mahallas in Line

    Some mahalla committee representatives have refused to cooperate in the crackdown against independent Muslims. Sometimes, however, this has led to pressure and threats from the hokimiat or other authorities, thus reinforcing the control exerted on mahalla committees from central government authorities.

    In some cases the mahalla committee has provided moral support to families allegedly connected to “extremists.” A mother of two sons who are in prison, accused of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir recounted, “[t]he mahalla knows my family and that my sons are honest and have higher education. They came to me and were supportive.”119

    Another woman, whose husband, two brothers, and brother-in-law were all imprisoned after the February 1999 bombings in Tashkent on charges related to their nonviolent expression of religion, told Human Rights Watch about the treatment of her father after these events in his mahalla in Surkhandaria. “My father is a very respected person. The hokim said that he must be destroyed. He said bad things about him, but the mahalla is respectful. The people also respect him. The hokimiat organizes meetings where they speak badly about my father, but it doesn’t affect him.”120

    However, the position of a mahalla chairman who is not inclined to carry out the repressive policies of the government is a precarious one. Committee chairmen are often called before the hokimiat to answer for themselves and can be threatened with dismissal. Mahbuba Kasymova, a human rights activistin Tashkent, was sentenced in July 1999 in a politically motivated trial to a five-year prison term for fraud and concealing a crime, but was released in December 2000 after international pressure on the government. Before her imprisonment, she was subjected to a “hate rally” at which the chairman of her area mahalla committee actively participated. She told Human Rights Watch that after her release, the now former chairman came to her and apologized.

    The former chairman came to me and said, “I feel very uncomfortable in front of you because I think I was to blame for your time in prison…. The police called me. Four of them forced me to give evidence against you. I said that she is a good woman with children…. They threatened me, if you don’t say anything, tomorrow your son will be here [in the police station].” So then he said, “I can’t consider that woman to be a woman and she should sit forever in jail.”121

    The wife of a well-known imam wanted by the Tashkent police for his purported “Wahhabism” told Human Rights Watch:

    In March 1998… I needed to get a letter of recommendation for [my husband]. The chairman [of the mahalla] gave a very good letter of recommendation. The hokimiat…[found out]… and were very angry with him that he gave such a good reference letter. They threatened him, even with dismissal. He wanted to stay in his position and so now he talks badly about [my husband] in other mahallas.122

    In September 2002, the chairman of a Tashkent mahalla reportedly told the mother of “Bakhtior B.”—who was awaiting trial on sedition charges based on his alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir—that he had just received a letter from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, dressing him down for not working effectively against “extremism,” and for writing positive character references for several young men suspected of involvement in “extremist” activities. The chairman had written two good character references for Bakhtior B. since his arrest on June 16, 2002.123

    64 In 1999 the IMU launched incursions only into Kyrgyzstan. In 2000, they entered both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

    65 See for example, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, March 31, 2003, available Human Rights Watch has documented over 1,175 such cases.

    66 See Memorandum to the U.S. government regarding religious persecution in Uzbekistan, August 10, 2001, Human Rights Watch, available

    67 Human Rights Watch interview with relatives, Fergana Valley region, March 5, 2003.

    68 Human Rights Watch interview with the mother of a religious prisoner who did not want to be identified, Tashkent, December 12, 2002.

    69 “Uzbek president addresses the parliament: part 1-4 complete,” Uzbek Television first channel, Tashkent, in Uzbek 0500 GMT January 22, 2000, BBC Worldwide Monitoring; “Uzbek president tells parliament greater vigilance needed,” Uzbek Radio first program, Tashkent, in Uzbek 0500 GMT August 30, 2000, BBC Worldwide Monitoring. “Uzbek minister urges vigilance against ‘terrorist activities,’” Uzbek Television first channel, Tashkent, in Uzbek 0300 GMT October 26, 2002.

    70 Human Rights Watch interview with rights activist who did not want to be identified, Namangan, October 26, 2001.

    71 The right to respect of privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and protection of honor and reputation is contained in Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United Nations Human Rights Committee in General Comment 16 (Thirty-second session, 1988), states that under article 17, it is the duty of a state to ensure that information concerning a person’s private life is never used for purposes incompatible with the Covenant. In this case, the collection of information is used for the purpose of restricting the right to freedom of religion (article 18 of the Covenant).

    72 Appendix to press release, “Nachalo massovikh repressii protiv musulman v Uzbekistane,” [The Start of Widescale Repression of Muslims in Uzbekistan], Memorial Human Rights Center (Moscow), February 26, 1999.

    73 “Uzbek president speaks on bomb attacks, promises amnesty for prisoners,” Uzbek television first channel, 14:53 February 16, 1999, BBC Worldwide Monitoring.

    74 Human Rights Watch interview with “Bakhrom B.,” a local rights defender, Tashkent, February 27, 2001. Bakhrom B. is a pseudonym.

    75 Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript, Chilanzar District Court hearing, July 5, 1999.

    76 Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript, Akmal Ikramov District Court, May 17, 2002.

    77 Ibid.

    78 Human Rights Watch interview with Ismail Adylov, Tashkent, June 18, 2002.

    79 Human Rights Watch interview with “Malika M.,” Tashkent, February 2001. Malika M. is a pseudonym.

    80 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of Shukhrat Abdurahimov, Tashkent, November 1999.

    81 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of Shukhrat Abdurahimov, Tashkent, May 9, 2000.

    82 Human Rights Watch interview with “Nargisa N.,” Namangan, October 26, 2001. Nargisa N. is a pseudonym.

    83 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with the husband of one of the women, Tashkent, May 27, 2003. Human Rights Watch interview with a local human rights activist, Tashkent, May 27, 2003.

    84 Human Rights Watch interview with Akhmadjon Madmarov, Tashkent, June 7, 2003.

    85 Most years an amnesty is declared to begin on a public holiday under which certain categories of prisoners are released. The 2002 amnesty began on December 8, 2002, Constitution Day, and continued for a three-month period.

    86 Regulations on fulfilling the Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On the amnesty of the tenth anniversary of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan,” December 3, 2002.

    87 Written apologies from prisoners stated that the prisoner was correctly convicted, will support the president, and will report any information about others involved in extremist or anti-constitutional activities, otherwise the prisoner would be guilty of a crime. Human Rights Watch interview with “A.A.” (not the person’s true initials) the father of religious prisoners who did not want to be identified, Tashkent, January 27, 2003. Human Rights Watch interview with “B.B.” (not the person’s true initials) a human rights activist who did not want to be identified, Tashkent, February 5, 2003.

    88 Human Rights Watch translation, letter on file in Human Rights Watch, dated January 4, 2003.

    89 Human Rights Watch translation, letters on file, dated January 21, 2003, January 26, 2003, January 27, 2003.

    90 At the time of writing the amnesty process was still under way and it was still unclear how the authorities would react to breaches of guarantees.

    91 Human Rights Watch interview with the mother of a religious prisoner, “D.D.,” who did not want to be identified, Tashkent, January 30, 2003. Human Rights Watch interview with A.A., Tashkent, January 27, 2003.

    92 Human Rights Watch interview with a friend of a religious prisoner who did not want to be identified, Tashkent, January 27, 2003. Human Rights Watch interview with the father of another religious prisoner who did not want to be identified, January 27, 2003, and January 30, 2003. Human Rights Watch interview with human rights activist who did not want to be identified, February 5, 2003. Human Rights Watch interview with mother of yet another religious prisoner who did not want to be identified, January 30, 2003.

    93 The procurator has powers of a state prosecutor, combined with oversight powers, such as ensuring the legality of arrest and detention and of the investigative process.

    94 Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, respectively, protect the rights to freedom of conscience and of expression. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force Mar. 23, 1976. Uzbekistan ratified the ICCPR in 1995.

    95 The information on this case comes from a written report to Human Rights Watch from Akhmat Abdullaev, Namangan representative of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, undated.

    96 Undated written report to Human Rights Watch from Akhmat Abdullaev. Muidinova and her relatives were handed prison sentences ranging from eleven to seventeen years of imprisonment. Verdict of the Namangan Province Court, June 29, 2000, on file with Human Rights Watch. According to the verdict, the state accused Muidinov of maintaining contact with her relative, Akmal Ergashev, who had been on a police wanted list. She was also accused of recruiting people for terrorist training camps in Tajikistan. The main evidence supporting the charges was a videotape of the training camp, which Akmal Ergashev allegedly gave her. Police also claimed to have found religious literature in her home, which state officials examined and found to contain “opinions contrary to the constitutional order and relating to political organizations and religious trends,” as well as “calls for the overthrow of the existing government order and creation of a Caliphate.”

    97 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of “G.G.” (not the person’s true initials), a religious prisoner who did not want to be identified, Tashkent, February 27, 2001.

    98 Human Rights Watch interview, Tashkent, December 11, 2001. [The imam’s wife asked not to be identified by name.]

    99 Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript, Tashkent City Court hearing presided over by Judge V. N. Sharipov, August 4, 2000.

    100 Imam Yuldashev was again arrested in July 2000 and was held incommunicado for five months. In April 2001, Judge Najimov of the Akmal Ikramov District Court found Yuldashev guilty of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and leadership of a criminal, religious extremist organization, and sentenced him to nineteen years in prison. Yuldashev testified in court that police had tortured him after his arrest. Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript, Akmal Ikramov district court hearing, April 9, 2001.

    101 Jaslyk prison, in a desert in the far west of Uzbekistan, is infamous for torture and ill-treatment of the inmates. Human Rights Watch interview with a participant at the meeting who did not want to be identified, Tashkent, August 1, 2000.

    102 Ibid.

    103 Human Rights Watch interview with a witness to the meeting who did not want to be identified, Tashkent, August 1, 2000.

    104 Human Rights Watch interview with “Mutkhabar M.,” Tashkent, February 2001. Mutkhabar M. is a pseudonym.

    105 Human Rights Watch interview with participant at the meeting who did not want to be identified, Tashkent, July 12, 1999.

    106 The Mahalla Law does not give committees any judicial authority.

    107 Human Rights Watch interview with a person close to the case who did not want to be identified, Tashkent, August 1, 2000.

    108 Human Rights Watch interview with “Gulchara G.,” Namangan, October 26, 2001. Gulchara G. is a pseudonym.

    109 Human Rights Watch interview with a rights activist from Andijan, Tashkent, April 20, 2001.

    110 Human Rights Watch interview with “Sabina S.,” a relative of a religious prisoner, Tashkent, June 11, 2003. Sabina S. is a pseudonym.

    111 Komolot was formerly the Young Communist League. Human Rights Watch interview with Bakhrom B., a rights defender, Tashkent, February 27, 2001.

    112 See Richard Pomfret, “Uzbekistan, Income Distribution and Social Structure during the Transition,” paper prepared for United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research, June 1999, and John Micklewright, Aline Coudouel, Sheila Marnie, “Targetting and Self-Targetting in a Transition Economy: The Mahalla Social Assistance Scheme in Uzbekistan,” January 2001,

    113 See domestic violence section below for other examples.

    114 Because the government severely underfunds the mahalla social assistance program, mahallas cannot help all families that apply for assistance. Human Rights Watch received data about four mahallas in which the committees received a modest 50,000 som (approximately U.S.$35.00 at the time of research) per month for the provision of material aid to poor families. With this amount the committees could help approximately ten families per month, at 5,000 som per family. These mahalla committees estimated that they had between forty and 123 poor families in their mahalla territory.

    115 Human Rights Watch interview with Dilfuza D., Tashkent, December 11, 2001. Dilfuza D. is a pseudonym.

    116 Human Rights Watch interview with Mariam M., Tashkent, May 30, 2002. Mariam M. is a pseudonym.

    117 Human Rights Watch interview with the imam’s wife, Tashkent, December 11, 2001. The imam’s wife asked not to be identified.

    118 Human Rights Watch interview with Feruza Kurbanova, Tashkent, March 14, 2001 and October 24, 2002. Days prior to the Independence Day celebrations on September 1, 2002, the deputy head of the mahalla committee came to Kurbanova at home and warned her not to leave her house until the celebrations had finished

    119 Human Rights Watch interview with “Rano R.,” December 12, 2001, Tashkent. Rano R. is a pseudonym.

    120 Human Rights Watch interview with “Fatima F.,” December 11, 2001, Tashkent. Fatima F. is a pseudonym.

    121 Human Rights Watch interview with Mahbuba Kasymova, Tashkent, October 22, 2001.

    122 Human Rights Watch interview with the wife of the imam, Tashkent, December 11, 2001.

    123 Human Rights Watch interview with the father of “Bakhtior B.,” Tashkent, September 27, 2002. Bakhtior B. is a pseudonym.

    <<previous  |  index  |  next>>

    September 2003