Uzbek authorities have staged public denunciations of independent Muslims and their families, calling primarily on mahalla committees and the official clergy to carry them out. Public denunciations are carefully staged spectacles at which independent Muslims and their families are vilified, humiliated, and called upon to make statements of contrition. They serve to punish and ostracize their victims, alienating them from their local networks of support, and spreading fear among communities about the dangers of involvement in unsanctioned religious activity.
Public denunciations of independent Muslims organized by the Karimov government echoed meetings held during the Soviet era. In particular the gatherings mirrored those in the late 1920s and 1930s that condemned individuals whose behavior was contrary to the goals and dictates of the Communist Party or whose social origins made them “enemies of the people.”638 Attended by ranking party officials, the Soviet-era meetings featured denunciations of fellow community members or co-workers and self-recrimination by participants. The “hate rallies” of present-day Uzbekistan are carefully staged spectacles organized by mahalla committees and city mayors. They are held in school auditoria or other large halls and include participation by police and procuracy officials as well as members of the officially sanctioned clergy. They are an important propaganda exercise in the government’s campaign against independent Muslims. They have also served to make average citizens complicit in the persecution of their friends and neighbors.
Attendance at a public denunciation is obligatory both for its targets—some of whom are awaiting trial on religion-related charges—and for spectators, whom mahalla and other local officials have summoned to the events. Officials’ speeches at the meetings serve as warnings, aimed at frightening people into abandoning religious practices the state finds objectionable or into disavowing relatives who have been branded “enemies.” Officials give general warnings against taking the “wrong” religious path and then vilify the meetings’ subjects as “terrorists” and “extremists.” State officials accuse their targets of being worthless to society, bad parents, and bad neighbors. These public denunciations isolate the subjects from the support networks that their community would otherwise provide. The hundreds of assembled community residents then have a turn at lambasting the targets, sometimes calling for their incarceration or execution. In some cases the targets, often detainees at the time, are forced to endure hours of verbal abuse, but are rarely given a chance to speak in their own defense.
Targets of hate rallies may be those awaiting trial on religion-related charges, or their relatives. Both categories of people are branded “enemies of the state” or “enemies of the people.” Relatives of leading religious dissidents, either missing or in jail, have found themselves the subjects of repeated “hate rallies” that can also involve criticism of their own religious practice, such as the wearing of hijab (Muslim attire ranging from a scarf covering the hair to clothing covering the entire body and face). The subjects of the assembly are called upon to disavow their loved ones, outline their own supposed misdeeds, and to beg for forgiveness not only of their neighbors and the gathered law enforcement agents, but also President Karimov and all of the people of Uzbekistan.
An example of the structure and content of a typical “hate rally” was the public denunciation organized by local officials in Namangan against forty-seven-year-old Omina Muidinova, her three sons, and other male relatives on April 5, 2000. These family members were accused of Wahhabism” and charged with attempted overthrow of the state.639 Held in the Namangan mayor’s office, the meeting was presided over by Deputy Mayor A. Lukmanov.640 Other officials who convened the meeting included Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs B. R. Parpiev; chief of the Namangan province police department, B. Subkhanov; the mayor of Namangan province, T.A. Jabbarov; Namangan province procurator Kh. Sabirov; and representatives from the Namangan city mahalla committee.
Following a pattern seen in other “hate rallies,” 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 the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir.641 Officials hailed fidelity to the motherland, condemned her traitors, and warned citizens of the consequences of encroachment on the existing order.642
In the second stage of the “hate rally,” the officials offered a live illustration of the dangers of following unsanctioned religious trends. Omina Muidinova, three of her sons, her brother, and her son-in-law, all of whom had been arrested by police during the preceding months, were brought into the hall in handcuffs. The family was made to stand before the crowd, surrounded by guards, to hear the officials’ accusations against them. One observer commented that the proceeding resembled a court hearing, and indeed it featured charges and judgment but it lacked a defense. The officials charged that Muidinova had conspired, “under the mask of Islam” with “ferocious religious extremists” such as IMU leader Juma Namangani, to establish an Islamic state in Uzbekistan.643 The officials then called on citizens in attendance to give their opinions of Muidinova and her family. Several men stood up to condemn Muidinova, and some of these called even for punishment of her parents. Others demanded that the accused family be executed.644 When the 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.”645 After the rally, Muidinova and her relatives were returned to pre-trial detention. Two months later they were tried and sentenced to prison terms ranging from eleven to thirteen years on charges of Wahhabism and attempt to overthrow the state.
The technique of forced public humiliation has also been used against relatives of detainees. For example, after Imam Iuldashev’s release, in late 1999, the authorities compelled his wife to attend a public denunciation of so-called Wahhabis.
Prior to the public denunciation, local authorities summoned Iuldashev’s wife to two separate meetings at which they privately warned her and other independent Muslims about their religious practices. At the first meeting, at the mahalla center (a meeting house of the neighborhood council) in the Sobir Rakhimov district of Tashkent, the presiding officials included deputy police chief Jamal Suliev and the Sobir Rakhimov district procurator. In all, they had summoned about ten people “on the list,” or registered with police, whom the meeting organizers referred to as “Wahhabis.” The authorities explained that they had been brought there to receive a warning and charged that they were members of religious sects and “people who cover their faces.”646 A man introduced as an imam told participants that it was necessary to wear hijab 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, to wear hijab, is not written in the Koran.647 One participant at the meeting recalled, “[Officer] Suliev scared us all. He said, ‘We have helped the local police officers and they have guns and nightsticks and handcuffs [to use on you], and they can do anything, if you step out of line…’ 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.’”648
The following day, the same individuals were instructed to visit Muhayo Saidova, from the district mayor’s office, for one-on-one meetings. At these meetings, Saidova required that each person write a note swearing off any involvement with “religious sects.”649
Two days later, twenty or so “Wahhabis,” including Iuldashev’s wife, were ordered by the local police officer to appear at the local schoolhouse, where about one hundred local residents also gathered. Presiding over the meeting were Dilbar Guliamova, chair of the central government Women’s Committee; Muhayo Saidova; the district mayor; the district procurator; and representatives from the local mahalla committee.650 “One by one, we were called up to say that we were against sects,” recalled a participant. “They made one man take the Koran and swear he was not part of a sect.”651 Others were directed to ask forgiveness from the assembly, although Imam Iuldashev’s wife was reportedly allowed to leave without being forced to do this.652
During the two-hour public meeting, the procurator focused his comments on well-known imams Obidkhon Kori Nazarov and Tulkin Kori Ergashev, calling them “murderers and terrorists.”653 He charged, “Your leaders, Tulkin Kori and Obid Kori, took your money and used you for terror, they leave blood on your hands, and we must punish them. These leaders must be punished; [otherwise] those who do not understand and follow them will end up answering for them.”654
Hate rallies organized against Imam Nazarov’s wife, Munira Nasriddinova, and mother, Mukharramkhon Nazarova, followed a similar line. Nasriddinova described the first public denunciation that the two women were compelled to attend, on February 10, 2000, at a local school:
Nasriddinova said that a second meeting was held on February 17 and that Dilbar Guliamova, the head of the government’s Women’s Committee, and a representative of the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan were among the officials there who spoke against Nazarov and denounced his mother. Nasriddinova told Human Rights Watch:
In addition to issuing their own threats and condemnations, government officials called on others in the crowd to denounce the Nazarovs. Nasriddinova said, “One supposed witness said we hold religious meetings in our home. We now fear they will bring more pressure on us.”657
The authorities also called on other subjects of the hate rally to address the gathering and express their contrition. Nasriddinova recalled that during the meeting on February 17, the officials called on a woman named Muiasar Azimjonova, who wore a headscarf with her face uncovered, “They called on her to ask for forgiveness. She instead began to criticize [officer] Suliev, so they turned off the microphone.”658 Another young woman from the neighborhood, named Halida, who prayed regularly and wore a headscarf, was also called upon to speak at the meeting.659 Nasriddinova said, “They asked Halida why she was on the ‘black list’ and she said, ‘because I wear a headscarf.’ The officials got furious and said she was messing with politics.”660
The public denunciations are also attempts to convince individuals, particularly those accused of “extremism,” that they should inform on and condemn others like themselves, in order to show support for the state and official Islam. The elderly “Mukhtabar M.” (not her real name) was released from prison in September 1999 after serving a ten-day administrative sentence for membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir and meeting with other women to discuss Islam. Local police and the mahalla committee in her area called a public meeting to denounce her and Hizb ut-Tahrir members in general.661 According to Mukhtabar M., all the women in her neighborhood who wore headscarves were summoned to the meeting. There, Tashkent City Imam Anvar Kori announced that all those in hijab were not required to wear this type of dress, and authorities called on those present to locate and report others who wore it. They warned the women that Hizb ut-Tahrir members were “dangerous” and told participants they should fear them and shun relatives who were members.662
While isolating independent Muslims from the rest of the community was evidently a goal of this public denunciation, it was not the result. Mukhtabar M. asserted that her neighbors understood and supported her, “They never scold me and are not afraid to talk to me; they help me.”663
Authorities have organized repeated public denunciations of some families. Female relatives of independent Muslim prisoners staged a series of protests in Andijan in March and April 2001. Local mahalla committees there allegedly responded by intensifying the frequency of public denunciations, described by one Andijan rights activist as “little inquisitions.”664 The activist reported that in each neighborhood local authorities had targeted half a dozen relatives of religious prisoners whom they routinely harassed and publicly shamed.665
Even after authorities convicted Shukhrat Abdurakhimov, they did not cease persecution of his family. Local government authorities made Abdurakhimov’s mother the subject of public denunciations at three public meetings, organized by the mahalla committee in her neighborhood. At those meetings, officials charged that the family was engaged in anti-state activities and branded Abdurakhimov an “enemy of the state.” “Family members of arrested Muslims live in fear, because they [authorities] follow our every move,” wrote one of Abdurakhimov’s relatives in an international appeal.666 Abdurakhimov’s mother was also compelled to report to police and representatives of her mahalla committee regarding her own activities, even her preferred candidate in the presidential elections.667 Moreover, according to a person close to the case, the city procurator visited the school where she taught, to ask her supervisor if she was against the state, and then required her to write a statement to her students attesting that her son had “followed a wrong path.”668
One woman told Human Rights Watch, “I have three sons in prison—one in Nukus, one in Karshi, and one in Tavaksai. They were accused of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir...When there was a meeting, they called my sons ‘enemies of the state.’ There were people from the procuracy and the mayor’s office there, and they called me there, and I was the only mother of Hizb ut-Tahrir members present.”669 Referring to herself and other mothers of arrested independent Muslims, she added, “We are all afraid.”670
Sometimes it is not government officials and clergy who promote public humiliations but representatives of other state-approved entities—operating with at least the tolerance of the state. A young schoolteacher in Andijan told Human Rights Watch that members of a pro-government political party organized a “hate rally” against her because a relative had been arrested for membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir: “After my brother was arrested, I had problems at work. The leader of Fidokarlar [a registered political party] organized a public meeting and called my brother an ‘enemy of the state.’ They said I was from a bad family. They organized the meeting at the school where I work.”671 The government’s conduct encourages this sort of initiative. A rights activist from the Fergana Valley reported that officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and procuracy officials, as well as members of the state-sponsored Komolot youth group (formerly the Young Communist League), regularly attend meetings organized by mahalla committees to denounce independent Muslims.672 He said that the meetings usually include announcements of arrests of independent Muslims and warnings to other residents not to follow their example.673
Public denunciations also take place in official mosques, just prior to or after prayer services. In these cases the state-appointed imam makes a general statement warning of the consequences of following the “wrong” religious path and then calls on “volunteers” to come forward to admit their guilt to the congregation and ask for forgiveness. The pool of “volunteers” is, however, comprised of detainees who have been brought to the mosque by police and who sit, in some cases, handcuffed to plain clothes security agents, while waiting their turn at self-denunciation. Judging from the statements of contrition Human Rights Watch was able to obtain, they are highly scripted. Those who “volunteered” to make such speeches had been promised that they would be released in exchange, but in fact some remained in custody after the event, and others were released but rearrested within months or even days, and were subsequently convicted and sent to prison.
Official clergy have on occasion incorporated denunciations of independent Muslims into their religious services. For example, according to a local resident and human rights defender in Fergana city, Imam Tokhir Kori of the state-sanctioned Juma mosque, the largest in that area, called on worshipers at his services to shun “Wahhabis” and members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and to “drive them from our midst.”674
At the subsequent trial, others described the public shaming. Tokhir Obidov’s attorney pointed out that his client was detained first in May 1998, then again in January 2000, when he was taken to a mosque, interrogated before others, and required to ask for forgiveness, which he did. Then he was detained again in February 2000.677 After police allegedly tortured Anvar Mirakhmedov and forced him to confess to false charges, they took him to a series of mosques where he was compelled to call on young people not to follow the path of “Wahhabism.”678 Faizullo Saipov told the court that police also had compelled him to give a penitent speech before those assembled for prayer at a mosque, to warn those in attendance of the harmfulness of “Wahhabism” and “extremism.”679 Saipov recalled, “The first time we were detained, they said, ‘There are thirty of you, the President knows who you are.’ They took me to meetings three times, and I asked for forgiveness.”680
The detainees were brought to a number of mosques for public shaming, among them to the Kokcha mosque in Tashkent. Human Rights Watch obtained a videotape of the imam’s sermon given on January 21, 2000 at the Kokcha mosque and the detainees’ pleas for forgiveness. Police brought the detainees in handcuffs during prayer time; the video shows Imam Rakhmatullo opening the event by pointing out the detainees and plainclothes police in the front row of the assembly. He then proceeded with a markedly political sermon that illuminated his role as state functionary and blurred the line between the mosque and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.681 Among his comments:
The imam then went on to detail his interview with a recent group of religious detainees on police premises:
The next stage of the “sermon” involved a live, public shaming of the detainees in question, introduced by the imam, who presented the men’s experience as a cautionary tale of the dangers of studying Islam outside of the state mosque:
One detainee told the congregation:
The remarks of subsequent detainees followed the same pattern. One man identified as Alisher Zakhidov reiterated Imam Rakhmatullo’s message that private study of Islam was incorrect and that those interested in obtaining Islamic education should turn to the state-run mosques, “We were secretly acquiring knowledge... we later embarked on the Wahhabi path. I swear to Allah that I'm never going to return to that path and if I decide that I'm going to acquire knowledge, like the respected imam said, everyone should go to his local mosque and if this is asked of them the imams will help to the extent that they are able.”686
As noted above, the men who expressed their contrition were not all freed exactly as promised. Ibrahim Obidov’s lawyer said that, even after his client’s participation in the Kokcha gathering, police refused to release Obidov until he also asked forgiveness at a public denunciation organized by his mahalla committee, and paid a fine. Less than a month later, on February 10, police detained Obidov again. Forced, according to his lawyer, to “admit to things he did not do,” Obidov was sentenced to ten years in prison on August 21, 2000.687
Fatima Mukhadirova with photos of her dead son, Muzafar Avazov, in Tashkent. Avazov, convicted for membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, was apparently tortured to death in 2002 while in custody in Jaslyk prison.
© 2003 Reuters Limited
638 Shiela Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1999), pp. 29, 116, 135, 199-200, and passim.
639 According to Judge Eronov’s verdict for the Namangan Province Court issued on June 29, 2000, the state accused Muidinova 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.”
The state’s charges against Muidinova’s relatives were identical to those brought against her, with the additional accusation that her brother had a copy of the training video in his car and that police found ten copies of a document with the heading “Come holy day, hurry good people” and four additional pieces of paper in his home titled “Beginning the Year.” Court records reveal that none of the defendants in the case conceded the charges against them, save that they knew of Akmal Ergashev’s whereabouts in hiding and that they had viewed the videotape in question. According to the verdict, Muidinova testified that she had met with Ergashev while he was in hiding and that she and her relatives had watched a video he gave her depicting terrorist training camps in Tajikistan. The judge also reported that Muidinova said she had initially agreed to send one of her sons to Tajikistan, but then changed her mind; none of her sons attended the camp.
640 Written report to Human Rights Watch from Akhmat Abdullaev, Namangan representative of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, undated.
646 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, August 1, 2000
655 Human Rights Watch interview with Munira Nasriddinova, Tashkent, February 19, 2000.
659 According to Nasriddinova, a National Security Service agent regularly followed Halida and threatened her with arrest if she refused to give him information about her family members.
660 Human Rights Watch interview with Munira Nasriddinova, Tashkent, February 19, 2000.
661 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, February 2001.
664 Human Rights Watch interview with a rights activist from Andijan, name withheld, Tashkent, April 20, 2001.
666 Written statement to then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright from a relative of Shukhrat Abdurakhimov, name withheld, May 9, 2000.
667 A representative of the Biktimir district mahalla committee visited Shukhrat Abdurakhimov’s mother in October 1999, prior to parliamentary and presidential elections. The representative allegedly presented her with a document and told her, “If you are for Karimov, sign. If you are against him, don’t bother.” Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, November, 1999. Commenting on this incident, Abdurakhimov’s mother told Human Rights Watch, “They only came to me, not to other neighbors.” She told them she had not made up her mind, and refused to sign. Human Rights Watch interview with the mother of Shukhrat Abdurakhimov, Tashkent, November, 1999. Police later detained Abdurakhimov’s wife just prior to the presidential election.
668 Human Rights Watch interview with a person close to Shukhrat Abdurakhimov, name withheld, Tashkent, November 1999.
669 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, March 1, 2000.
671 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Andijan, May 18, 2000.
672 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, February 27, 2001.
674 Human Rights Watch interview with a local rights defender, name withheld, Tashkent, February 27, 2001.
675 These men would later be tried among seventeen so-called Wahhabis in August 2000 in Tashkent City Court. See “Imams, Their Followers, and ‘Wahhabis’” in Chapter III.
676 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Tashkent, August 4, 2000. Dilshod Unusov’s lawyer also confirmed in court that the men were first detained “and released after asking forgiveness, although they didn’t commit any criminal acts.” Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript, Tashkent City Court, Judge Sharipov presiding, August 4, 2000.
677 Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript, Tashkent City Court, Judge Sharipov presiding, August 4, 2000.
681 Imam Rakhmatullo allegedly testified in court against accused Wahhabi Ziakhonov, stating that the defendant traveled with Obidkhon Nazarov to Mecca in 1985. Rakhmatullo allegedly testified that Nazarov met there with “Wahhabis” and that since Nazarov was a “Wahhabi” and Ziakhonov was his student, he claimed, then Ziakhonov was also a “Wahhabi.” Ziakhonov was sentenced to eight years in prison. Human Rights Watch interview with rights defender Vasila Inoiatova, Tashkent, July 2000.
682 Unofficial transcript, videotaped speech of Imam Rakhmatullo Kori, in Kokcha mosque, Tashkent, January 21, 2000, translated from Uzbek.
687 Human Rights Watch unofficial transcript, Tashkent City Court, Judge Sharipov presiding, August 4, 2000