UZBEKISTAN: Women Protest Hizb-ut-Tahrir Arrests.

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 18 April 2001

A female battalion of police in Andijan, in eastern Uzbekistan’s Fergana valley, broke up a demonstration outside the Andijan regional administration's offices on 21 March by a group of women whose relatives had been convicted for distributing leaflets for the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party, which is banned in Uzbekistan. Rafika Umarova and Matlyuba Omanova, who took part in the protest, told Keston News Service on 25 March that the police had arrested several demonstrators and that no-one knew where they had taken them.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which was founded in 1953 in the Near East, aims for the unification of Muslims worldwide under a single caliphate, regulated by Sharia law. In Uzbekistan, members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir are being sentenced to prolonged periods of imprisonment (a minimum sentence of 10 years' detention) under the following articles of the Criminal Code: Art. 159 (threat to the constitutional set-up), Art. 156 (Incitement of racist or religious dissent), Art. 161 (preparation or distribution of documents containing a threat to public security and public order), and Art. 242 (establishment of a criminal association).

Employees of the National Security Service took video film of the estimated 100 demonstrators. Women bore placards carrying the text: ‘The year of widows and orphans?’, a satirical reference to the decision of the Uzbek authorities to declare 2001 the year of Mother and Child. The demonstrators said their relatives were not members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, but had been arrested simply because they were law-abiding Muslims and observed all the religious statutes. They demanded their immediate release.

Umarova and Omanova told Keston that on 2 February 2000 their sons, Khairullo Umarov and Ulugbek Omanov, had been given some Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaflets. The court sentenced them to 16 years' detention. `Have our sons suffered simply because they were true Muslims and observed the cycle of prayer and wore beards?' they asked.

Muzafarmirzo Iskhakov, chairman of the Andijan branch of the Society for Human Rights in Uzbekistan, told Keston on 24 March that the previous day an attempt had been made to hold another demonstration, but that the police and the National Security Service had prevented it from going ahead. He said that the police had arrested all those who assembled. In a telephone interview with Keston, the responsible official at the Andijan regional administration, Abdul Sultanov, denied the very fact that the demonstration had taken place. `Everything's peaceful here, I was on duty at the administration building on 21 and 23 March and I didn't see any meetings,' he told Keston. It is interesting that at the start of his conversation with Keston, Sultanov made a remarkable slip of the tongue, saying that he personally had not taken part in the meeting. However, speaking to Keston on 27 March, the spokesman for the Uzbek president Rustam Zhumayev confirmed that the meeting had taken place, but denied that the police had arrested any of the demonstrators. Zhumayev told Keston that no attempt had been made to hold a second meeting on 23 March.

According to some Muslim sources in Uzbekistan, a repressive campaign is underway against committed Muslims who carry out all their religious obligations. The authorities are said to be using accusations of membership of Hizb-ut-Tahrir as a means of putting true Muslims behind bars. Some sources say that mullahs have even taken to keeping a bottle of vodka at home so that, if there is a knock at the door at night, they can quickly rinse their mouths out with it. If the visitors turn out to be employees of the National Security Service, the smell of alcohol may save them from a spell in prison.

There are around 10,000 political prisoners in Uzbekistan today. The majority of these are in prison simply because they are fervent Muslims, Keston was told on 26 March by the press officer of the Society of Human Rights in Uzbekistan, Ruslan Sharipov. (END)