Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 86

At the instigation of President Islam Karimov, the Uzbek parliament on May 1 changed the law “on freedom of conscience and religious associations.” While the previous law, adopted in 1991, reflected the liberalization of the perestroika era, the new law is significantly more restrictive. It obligates all mosques to register with the state; requires all religious associations to have at least one hundred members in order to qualify for registration, instead of the ten members required by the previous law (the change effectively bans the associations smaller than one hundred members); and it stipulates criminal prosecution for membership in unregistered associations and for religious activities unlicensed by state authorities.

In his address to the parliament, Karimov attacked “Wahhabis” in general for allegedly trying to turn Uzbekistan into an Islamic state, and the group Islamic Warriors in particular for last December’s murders in Namangan. “Such people must be shot in the head. If necessary I’ll shoot them myself if you lack the resolve,” said the president in his address which was broadcast live. Karimov accused foreign missionaries of stirring up trouble in industrial centers. He lashed out at local authorities for “paying greater attention to building mosques than schools” and for accepting bribes to authorize the activities of subversive Muslim groups. And he called for a campaign among young people to stop the spread of Islamic influence.

According to Karimov, the Islamic Warriors’ leaders Tahir Yoldoshev and Juma Namangani have found a haven in Tajikistan’s opposition-controlled Tavildara area. Warning that “Tajikistan will come to Uzbekistan tomorrow,” Karimov called for strict preventive measures in Uzbekistan.

Two criminal trials have been launched in recent days by the Uzbek authorities against Islamic groups. In one trial, mentioned by Karimov in his address, fundamentalists are accused of both conspiring to destroy food processing plants, water reservoirs, hydropower plants, and official buildings and of planning to murder state officials in the Ferghana Valley towns of Namangan and Andizhan.

In the other trial, apparently also in Ferghana, members of a “Wahhabi” group are accused of conspiring to set up an armed detachment. The prosecution claims that this group was influenced by Uzbek Islamic Warriors leaders now in Tajikistan and that it was armed and trained by Islamic forces in that country’s Tavildara area. (Uzbek Television, Radio Tashkent, Russian agencies, May 1; see also Kyrgyzstan item below). –VS