KYRGYZSTAN: New Charges Against Muslim Activist.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 8 April 2002

The lawyer for the detained Muslim rights activist Bahodyr Akhmedov has told Keston News Service that, apart from the accusation of harbouring weapons, her client has now been charged with new offences, on the basis of evidence given by a criminal in Uzbekistan. But, speaking to Keston in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on 30 March, Natalya Chebutova refused to say precisely what new charges have been brought against Akhmedov, citing the confidentiality of the investigation. She said he continues to be held in solitary confinement in Bishkek. Contacted by telephone on 30 March, the investigator at Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (NSS) in charge of Akhmedov's case, Medil Bagtygulov, declined to reveal to Keston what the new charges are, also citing the confidentiality of the investigation.

Akhmedov is a member of the Committee for the Protection of Muslims' Rights - an officially registered non-governmental organisation - and the son of a prominent imam in the town of Jalal-Abad in southern Kyrgyzstan. He was arrested by NSS officers on 11 January in his home town after weapons were allegedly discovered in a search of his home. He was accused of harbouring weapons illegally under article 241, part 1 of the Criminal Code.

However, many human rights activists and politicians in Kyrgyzstan believe that the authorities have moved against Akhmedov on account of his religious beliefs, and that NSS officers surreptitiously hid the weapons in his house. The chairman of the parliamentary sub-committee for religious affairs, Alisher Sobirov, told Keston back in January that although Akhmedov holds "quite radical" views, he doubted he would have gone so far as to break the law (see KNS 22 January 2002).

"Personally, I have no doubt that the weapons were slipped surreptitiously into his house," Chebutova told Keston. "It is revealing that the weapons were supposedly found in a gas cooker, which Akhmedov's wife used to prepare their food every day!" She suggested that Akhmedov's arrest may have come at the instigation of Uzbek special forces. "I am not making any allegations, but let's ask ourselves who benefits from this arrest?!" she declared.

Akhmedov, who is from Kyrgyzstan's ethnic Uzbek minority, has been included on a list of "untrustworthy characters" by the Uzbek special forces. "Bahodyr never used to go to Uzbekistan in case he was arrested there," Akhmedov's wife Marina Akhmedova told Keston back in January. (END)