Uzbekistan: Karimov extends war on Islam to women

  • From: "Muslim-News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 28 May 2002 09:09:56 +0100

International rights watchdog Human Rights Watch says Uzbek authorities
in the past several weeks have expanded their crackdown on dissident
Muslims to include women. 

The New York-based group reports that two weeks ago, Uzbek police
rounded up female protesters in the Ferghana Valley and the capital,
Tashkent, detaining at least 18 women. 

The same week, a court sentenced four women to prison for alleged
membership in a banned religious group. Another four women are currently
on trial for similar charges. 

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report issued 1 May accuses Uzbek President
Islam Karimov of extending his campaign against non-mainstream Muslims
to include women. 

Marie Struthers is HRW's interim representative in Tashkent. She says
that since the end of the 1990s, Uzbek authorities have conducted a
concerted campaign of arrests and convictions against members of various
Muslim groups deemed by the state as extremist and posing a threat to
regional security. 

"This includes very often unlawful arrest, lack of access to independent
legal representation, trumped-up charges, witnesses who provide
insufficient and contradictory testimony, unpreparedness of lawyers,
prosecutors, and judges." 
Thousands of men have been detained in the crackdown, but until
recently, very few women were targeted for arrest. Struthers says,
however, that is beginning to change. 

"The campaign is characterized by a mounting number of detentions of
women, particularly those who wear the headscarf and who demonstrate to
protest the government's harsh policy against these men who have been
given prison sentences, and to protest the harsh treatments that are
accorded religious prisoners in Uzbekistan." 

On 23 April, HRW reports, Uzbek police detained at least nine women and
their children in the capital Tashkent and at least another nine in
Margilan, in the Ferghana Valley. The watchdog group says several dozen
women in both areas were protesting the persecution of Muslim dissidents
and demanding the release of male relatives jailed for suspected links
to allegedly extremist Islamic opposition groups. 
Struthers says the trend doesn't stop with detentions. HRW recently
observed two trials of women charged with membership in Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberation, is an Islamic group calling
for the peaceful re- establishment of the Caliphate in Central Asia. It
has denounced the U.S.-led antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan. On 24
April, a court in Tashkent sentenced four women to prison for alleged
membership in the banned religious group. The sentences ranged from a
two-year suspended sentence to four years in prison. The second trial,
involving another four women facing similar charges, is continuing in
the capital. 

Struthers notes the trials coincide with an increase in the number of
demonstrations being held by women to protest the detention of family

"According to international and local human rights organizations, there
may be close to 7,000 male prisoners convicted at this time. So it's no
surprise that women would protest not only the absence of men from their
households, but the harsh treatment accorded to them while they've been

Some observers say evidence of women's growing roles in Hizb-ut-Tahrir
suggests the organization is finding replacements for male members who
have been imprisoned. Vitali Ponomarev is the program director for
Central Asia at the Moscow-based human rights center, Memorial. 

"Women's groups were always a certain part of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. And there
existed certain female groups, which gathered separately from men's
groups. Approximately two years ago, Hizb-ut-Tahrir decided that women
take more of a part in the group's political actions, because Uzbek
authorities are not so rigid in their actions and attitude toward women
as they are toward men." 

HRW's Struthers calls the targeting of women a worrying trend, saying it
is a clear indication there will be no let- up in the campaign against
non-official Muslims. 
Some, however, argue that the number of Hizb-ut-Tahrir members being
arrested is already on the decline. But Memorial's Ponomarev says this
does not mean authorities are any less diligent. 

"On the one hand, the public activity of Hizb-ut-Tahrir has decreased.
And on the other hand, it has begun to operate more underground. That is
why it became more difficult [for authorities] to find new activists --
new members of Hizb- ut-Tahrir, to arrest them." 

At a recent press conference held in Tashkent during the visit of
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami at the end of April, Karimov
indicated there would be no change in his government's policies.
Describing the wave of arrests and court cases as a struggle against
radical extremists, Karimov declared, "This is not an example of events
that have simply started to happen more often, but a continuous struggle
against radical Islamic activities." 

The aims of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Karimov added, "are radical and extremist
and we will persecute this organization on Uzbek territory in accordance
with our legislation." 
Tashkent has recently won praise for its cooperation in the U.S.-led
‘campaign against terror’. But human rights activists are concerned that
international criticism of Uzbekistan's poor human rights record has
fallen by the wayside in the wake of 11 September. 

Karimov says repression of ‘extremist Islamic groups is justified. But
rights activists warn the government crackdown will only fuel the
militancy of such groups. Struthers says if measures are not taken to
uphold the religious and human rights of independent Muslims, the number
of ‘extremist’ Islamic groups will only increase. 
"If [the repression] continues, it's only going to continue to feed the
ground for the fostering of more extremist groups that have no other
avenue to voice their peaceful beliefs." 

Karimov tried to soften his reputation for intolerance ahead of a U.S.
visit in March. An Uzbek court, in an unprecedented ruling, sentenced
four policemen to prison sentences for torturing to death a detainee and
seriously injuring a second. The country also registered its first
rights group, the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan.
Critics, however, have argued that such conciliatory gestures were made
for the benefit of the Western community and do not reflect any true
softening of policy in Tashkent. 
Copyright 2001. This news item is distributed via Middle East News
Online ( All rights reserved. May not be
redistributed, published or used for broadcast without prior written
authorisation from Middle East News Online. 
Source: UmmahNews 

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