UZBEKISTAN: Islamist Prisoners' Wives Protest Against Prison Sentences.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 18 February 2002

On 29 January, the wives of imprisoned members of the banned Islamist party Hizb-ut-Tahrir staged a demonstration in the Uzbek city of Andijan, the regional centre of the Fergana valley, Keston News Service learned on 16 February from sources in the city who asked to remain anonymous. Some 40 demonstrators, dressed in traditional Islamic clothing, called for the authorities to release their husbands, "whose only crime is to be law-abiding Muslims". The demonstrators also complained that, having declared an amnesty last December, Uzbek president Islam Karimov did not start releasing prisoners of conscience, but only criminals. Within less than an hour the demonstration was dispersed by the police.

A number of residents confirmed to Keston in Andijan independently of each other that the demonstration had taken place. Nevertheless, the head of the International Department of Uzbekistan's Committee for Religious Affairs, Abdulla Ismailov, who also spoke to Keston on 16 February in the Kyrgyz city of Jalal-Abad (50 kilometres - 30 miles - east of Andijan), said he knew nothing of the demonstration.

The Hizb-ut-Tahrir party, which campaigns for the unification of Muslims throughout the world under a single caliphate, is banned in Uzbekistan. The authorities there routinely hand down lengthy prison sentences (averaging around 10 years) on its members. However, in the past year the wives of imprisoned party members have begun to stage demonstrations to protest against their imprisonment. The women appear to rely on Muslim tradition, which regards the repression of women as a particularly grave sin. In spring 2001 the wives held two such demonstrations in Andijan, while at the end of December a similar demonstration took place in the Uzbek capital Tashkent. At least for the time being the women's tactics appear to be justified by the reaction of the authorities: although the demonstrations have been dispersed, the authorities have decided against arresting the demonstrators. (END)