UZBEKISTAN: Six Arrested For Alleged 'Wahhabism'.

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 21 August 2001

On 21 June three men, Abduvale Takhirov, Tojali Alimov and Akhmajon Alimov, were arrested in their home village of Mirza-Khoja in the Uch-Kuprik district of Fergana region of Uzbekistan. On 11 July Iskhajon Artipov, Ashurali Pulatov and Kodorzhon Usarov were arrested in the village of Kum-Aryk in the same district.

Senior lieutenant Iminjon Khasanov of the Uch-Kuprik district militia department told Keston on 17 August that the arrests in both villages were carried out by officers of the secret police, the National Security Service (SNB), from Tashkent. Khasanov told Keston that the arrests were part of an operation by the SNB to root out Wahhabism from the Fergana valley of Uzbekistan. According to Khasanov, the arrested men are now being held in the investigation prison in the regional centre Fergana on suspicion of being Wahhabites.

The Wahhabites are followers of a Sunni Islamic religio-political doctrine which originated in 18th century Arabia on the basis of the teaching of Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhaba, who preached the strictest observance of monotheism, refusal to worship holy places and the cleansing of Islam from all accretions and innovations. Wahhabism is close to the official ideology of Saudi Arabia. However, in Central Asia the term is used as a label for Islamic extremists.

The Fergana valley (Andizhan, Fergana and Namangan regions) is an area of Uzbekistan separated by mountains from the rest of the country. It is economically more linked with regions of Kirgizia and Tajikistan that are also in the Fergana valley. The population of the Fergana valley is significantly more religious than in other areas of Uzbekistan. Even in Soviet times there was a network of semi-underground medressehs and mosques there which were beyond the control of the communist leadership.

Keston News Service met relatives of the recently arrested men on 17 August. They claim that the only "fault" of the arrested men was that they were devout Muslims and observed all the religious rituals. "My husband prayed the daily prayers and kept the fast. This was enough for the authorities to arrest him," Buimarali Takhirova told Keston.

"Today there are 1600 so-called Wahhabites held in Uzbekistan's prisons. Their only fault is that they are devout Muslims and observe all the religious rituals," Keston was told on 19 August by Mikhail Ardzinov, the chairman of the unregistered Independent Society for Human Rights in Uzbekistan.

Interviewed by Keston on 20 August Shoazim Minovarov, first deputy chairman of the state's Committee on Religious Affairs, categorically denied that there are any prisoners of conscience in Uzbekistan. "All these people were sentenced for criminal offences and terrorist activity," Minovarov told Keston. Minovarov stressed that so-called Wahhabism is not a criminal offence in Uzbekistan. "This label was adopted by journalists and unfortunately taken up by some state officials and law-enforcement officers lacking in competence," Minovarov told Keston.

However, according to senior lieutenant Iminjon Khasanov of the Uch-Kuprik district militia department, the only accusation brought against those arrested in Mirza-Khoja and Kum-Aryk is that they are adherents of Wahhabism. (END).