On July 2, identical protest demonstrations were held in Tashkent and Andizhan by scores of female relatives of imprisoned members of the clandestine Islamic movement Hizb ut Tahrir. A few representatives of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU, not to be confused with the Independent Organization for Human Rights in Uzbekistan, IOHRU) were present at the protests. These demonstrations mark a stark departure from the standard behavior of Hizb ut Tahrir members and supporters. Their behavior thus far has been characterized by extreme discretion, underground tactics, quiet dissemination of leaflets and other forms of propaganda, and attempts at penetrating the governing establishment.
The only known public protest, sparked by Hizb ut Tahrir previously, was a noisy picket by female relatives of detained activists in Kara-Suu, Osh Region, Kyrgyzstan in March. The emergent pattern suggests either that the movement is entering a new phase, in which it resorts to new tactics, or–which seems more likely at the moment–that its support is spreading to wider circles that are not conditioned to adhere to the conspiratorial methods of the movement’s original core.
Beyond that change in tactics, the demonstrations in Tashkent and Andizhan suggest that central planning was involved. On the same day in both places, women–many of them in religious dress, and some accompanied by children–gathered at bus stops in front of the Khakimats (mayoral and regional authorities) to demand the release of their husbands, sons or brothers, detained for their affiliation with the banned Hizb ut Tahrir. The women arrived in successive groups at intervals; after the police would pick up one group, the next group would arrive, only to be dragged to police vans, amid much wailing to attract public attention. All women were fined and released the same evening.
The demonstrations supported a petition by the detainees’ families to President Islam Karimov to amnesty the detainees. An amnesty is in fact reported to be in the works for some of the detainees, in connection with the tenth anniversary of national independence in September. IOHRU chairman Mikhail Ardzinov considers the protests justified but ill-timed because they may reinforce the authorities’ second-thoughts about that amnesty (Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), July 3; Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Central Asia, no. 59, July 6; see the Monitor, May 29).
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