A series of terrorist acts that took place in late March and early April of this year in Uzbekistan took the lives of twenty-eight people. Sixteen terrorists were also killed in shootouts, and fifteen militants blew themselves up while detonating improvised explosive devices. Approximately fifty people were wounded. The prosecutor general of Uzbekistan, Rashid Kadyrov, stated at a recently held press conference that nineteen people, including four women, had been detained in connection with the terrorist acts (Fergana.ru, February 2).
The wide scale arrests that immediately followed the terrorist acts caused concern among both Western and local human rights watchdogs and activists. The arrests hit the religious part of the population the hardest. For example, all religious people who had previously been subject to criminal or administrative penalties were summoned to local police stations, where they were interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted.
However, while representatives of religious minorities (such as Protestants, Jehovah’s witnesses, and Krishna followers) were released after prophylactic interviews, so-called “independent Muslims” (those who participate in religious rituals outside of the registered mosques) were frequently arrested (see: http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=298).
According to Human Rights Watch, the repressions are widespread and are approaching in scale the mass detentions that followed the terrorist acts of 1999 in Tashkent (see: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2004/04/01/uzbeki8386.htm). The arrests are often facilitated by planting on the targets drugs, weapons, or proclamations from the Hizb ut-Tahrir party – the radical international Islamic party that advocates the unification of all Muslims into a unified Caliphate. The Human Rights Watch representative in Tashkent, Gill Alisson, told Jamestown that in the aftermath of the terrorist acts at least seventy “independent Muslims” were arrested in Tashkent oblast alone.
According to sources available to this Jamestown correspondent, who conducted a study in the Ferghana oblast, approximately thirty Muslims were arrested there. Given that Uzbekistan is divided into twelve oblasts and the Karakalpak Republic, it would be plausible to assume that the number of those arrested after the terrorist acts could total several hundred. The new wave of arrests in Uzbekistan, where the number of political prisoners is already counted in the thousands, could damage further the image not only of Tashkent, but of Washington, which is considered a strategic ally of Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan’s Defense Ministry, State Customs Committee, and Border Troops have received US$516,600 in equipment from the United States. The aid comes from the U.S. State Department under the aegis of the Export Control and Related Border Security program and the Aviation/Interdiction Project. Another shipment of US$600,000 worth of equipment is also scheduled for 2004; and in 2005, Uzbekistan will receive two helicopter trainers worth a combined US$6.5 million and two patrol boats totaling US$5.8 million (Tribune.uz, May 1).
Recently, Uzbek human rights activists wrote an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. In it, they asked the U.S. government to reduce assistance to Tashkent because of the human rights violations that occur in the country. According to the letter, the money appropriated by Washington for its ally in the war against international terrorism is in fact frequently spent on financing repressions against ordinary citizens in Uzbekistan (BBC, May 4).
Under such circumstances, President Islam Karimov’s assurances that the trial of the terrorists, planned for either late summer or early fall of this year, give reason to be optimistic that the situation will become more stabilized. It is therefore possible to predict that after the trial the repressions will probably decline. It is especially important that Islam Karimov promised to make the court proceedings completely open to the public. For comparison, the trial of terrorists in 1999 was conducted basically behind closed doors. At the time the number of journalists allowed to attend the trial was strictly limited by the authorities.