UZBEKISTAN: Imprisoned Independent Muslim Refuses to Beg for Pardon.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 22 July 2002

Abdurahman Abdulayev, an independent Muslim serving the second year of a five year prison sentence, has categorically refused to write a request to be pardoned, his brother Amed Abdulayev told Keston News Service from Nukus, the capital of the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan in north-western Uzbekistan. "The local authorities gave us to understand that if he wrote a request for pardon my brother would be released," Amed Abdulayev told Keston by telephone on 18 July. "It was impossible to persuade Abdurahman to do it. I can understand him - he's not guilty, and he doesn't want to be released as a pardoned criminal." The local branch of the National Security Service (SNB, the former KGB) - which initiated the case - has insisted to Keston that Abdulayev was guilty of the subversion charges brought against him.

Abdurahman Abdulayev was sentenced to five years' imprisonment on 21 February 2001 by Nukus city court under Article 159 of the Criminal Code, which punishes "an attempt against the constitutional order". His opportunity to be freed came during the amnesty declared by Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 22 August last year in honour of the country's tenth anniversary of independence. However the only prisoners who were eligible were those who wrote a request for pardon to the president. As he refused, Abdulayev remains in prison.

Abdulayev's case gives a clear example of the Uzbek authorities' policy towards independent Muslims. He was put on trial after "subversive" religious literature was found in his home during a search on 27 June 2000. Rem Yogai, Abdulayev's lawyer, said he is sure the literature had been planted at his client's home. Yogai told Keston by telephone on 18 July that Abdulayev was a victim of a campaign then being conducted across Uzbekistan against what the authorities describe as "Wahhabism", a label attached in Central Asia to any Muslim groups of fundamentalist orientation, frequently having very little in common with the brand of Islam which predominates in Saudi Arabia.

Unlike other regions of Uzbekistan, such as the Fergana valley, Karakalpakstan has practically no fundamentalists. Yogai believes that the Karakalpakstan SNB was simply trying "not to fall behind their colleagues in other regions in exposing Wahhabis".

The anti-Wahhabism campaign saw some farcical moments - for example the description on local television as "Wahhabis" of three native Karakalpak Protestant Christians who were arrested in February 1999 after drugs were planted on them. One of the Protestants was sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment, the other two to ten years in prison, but all three were released following international pressure only six months later, after writing an appeal to President Karimov for pardon (see KNS 23 August 1999 and 6 June 2002).

"Subversive literature was found at Abdulayev's home," the investigator in charge of Abdulayev's case at the Karakalpakstan SNB, Marat Izmagombetov, told Keston by telephone on 18 July. "Yogai, as his lawyer, has the right to assert that Abdulayev is not guilty, but the court came to a different conclusion." (END)