The three-day feast of Id al-Fitr (Bairam) on January 29-31, which ended the Moslem holy month of Ramadan, may have provided the Uzbek authorities with a convenient timing for releasing alleged Islamic radicals arrested last December. According to Amnesty International, most of the approximately 100 detainees had been released as of late January. They were said to have been beaten while in custody. (AP, January 29). With the end of Ramadan, 200 officially authorized Uzbek pilgrims returned after completing the hajj to holy places in Saudi Arabia, according to Uzbekistan’s Moslem Spiritual Department. That country is also the presumed source of Wahhabi proselytism, which Uzbekistan’s secular leadership has recently cited as an added justification for its efforts to contain Islamic influence in general.
Most of the December arrests were carried out in and around the city of Namangan in the eastern Ferghana Valley, following the murder of four policemen there. Although blaming the violence specifically on Wahhabi militants, the authorities’ crackdown was more general. They rounded up non-Wahhabi Islamic activists, took down loudspeakers from mosques, cut off communications to suspected hotbeds of unrest and broke up a demonstration of veiled women said to be wives and mothers of those detained. State media did not report those measures. (The New York Times, January 28) The government has yet to substantiate its case that Wahhabis are agitating in Uzbekistan. The authorities may be seeking to blame Islamic groups for the violence that, according to some indications, had stemmed from organized crime.
The crackdown in Namangan reflected President Islam Karimov’s perception that radical Islam stands poised to penetrate Central Asia. Compared to the other Central Asian presidents, Karimov takes a distinctly more alarmist view of the Taliban movement and supports the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is currently conducting a counteroffensive against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. Karimov has also objected to Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov’s accommodation with the United Islamic Opposition in neighboring Tajikistan. During the first years of his rule, Karimov silenced secular liberal critics. More recently he has refocused on Islam. The reported release of most of those detained last December may, however, presage a relaxation of the latest tensions.
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