UZBEKISTAN: Murdered Muslim Preacher's Widow Arrested.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 19 April 2002

Musharaf Usmanova, a mother of six and the widow of well-known Muslim activist Farhod Usmanov who was murdered in an investigation isolation cell in Tashkent in 1999, has herself been arrested at the home of her sister in the Uzbek capital. About 50 men dressed in civilian clothes took part in her arrest on the night of 14 April, Usmanova's 16-year-old daughter Mahbuba told Keston News Service on 16 April. Neither Keston nor human rights activists in Tashkent have been able to discover what has happened to her since her arrest.

"Our mother's only crime was to be a very pious woman," Mahbuba Usmanova declared. "Since the authorities murdered our father, all our male relatives have spent time in prison. At present, five of our relatives are in prison, including my husband. Now it seems the authorities have decided to deal with the female part of our family as well."

Musharaf Usmanova's arrest is significant, as the Usmanov family is held in great respect by devout Muslims in Tashkent. Usmanova's husband Farhod was the son of a well-known Tashkent imam. Although Farhod himself was not officially a clergyman, he was an active preacher and had many followers. On 14 June 1999 he was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the banned Islamist party Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and ten days later was murdered. More than a thousand people attended his funeral.

Keston has learned that to this day the Usmanov family strictly observes Islamic rules. Even the teenage girls wear a hijab, a headscarf that completely covers the head and neck, other than the face. At home they do not watch television in case they see sex scenes.

"According to our information, Usmanova was arrested because the authorities suspect her of organising a demonstration by Muslim women demanding the release of prisoners of conscience," the chairman of the Independent Organisation for Human Rights in Uzbekistan, Mikhail Ardzinov, told Keston in Tashkent on 17 April. "We are extremely concerned that, at least so far, no-one knows where Usmanova is being held. At the Internal Affairs Administration of Tashkent city they say she is not being held there. It turns out that this person has simply disappeared."

Keston's attempts on 17 April to find out what had become of Usmanova at the republican and Tashkent internal affairs administrations proved equally fruitless. Officials, who refused to identify themselves, kept giving Keston new telephone numbers, though each time no information was forthcoming.

"Usmanova's arrest is not an issue that comes within our remit," the deputy chairman of the government's committee for religious affairs, Shoazim Minovarov, told Keston on 18 April in Tashkent. "We would only be able to take this up if we had a statement about the disappearance of a believer."

One human rights researcher told Keston that the arrest appeared to represent part of a new campaign against religious women. (END)