Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan strongman who exploited anti-terror fight, dies at 78

By Andrew Roth

September 2, 2016
Washington Post

Islam Karimov, the Communist Party apparatchik who transformed post-independence Uzbekistan into a brutal personal fiefdom while reaping political and economic benefits from the U.S. war in Afghanistan, has died in Tashkent. He was 78.

The president’s death was announced Sept. 2 by state television after days of official silence about his health.

His daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, wrote on verified social media accounts that he had suffered a “cerebral hemorrhage” on Aug. 27.

His death brings a threat of instability but offers slight chance of change in Uzbekistan, a landlocked, mostly Muslim country in Central Asia that Mr. Karimov ruled even before independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991. At least publicly, he had not named a successor.

A wily political survivor who emerged unscathed from Uzbekistan’s Soviet-era corruption purges, Mr. Karimov maintained iron-fisted stability over his 31 million people during the 1990s while neighboring countries were roiled by political turmoil and even civil war.

To maintain his grip, he fostered Uzbek nationalism, harassed the political opposition and targeted independent religious centers of power, justifying mass arrests of Muslims as necessary in the struggle against Islamist radicalism.

Although he eschewed the golden statues and other trappings favored by some post-Soviet dictators in his region, Mr. Karimov’s domination of his country’s politics for a quarter-century was no less complete, nor less savage.

As parliament considered a 1998 law to place tighter restrictions on religion, ostensibly to combat extremism, Mr. Karimov exhorted: “Such people must be shot in the forehead! If necessary, I’ll shoot them myself!” Reports of macabre methods of torture, including the boiling of prisoners to death, followed.

Mr. Karimov’s brand of stability found support in Moscow and in the West as a bulwark against Islamist radicalism — Uzbekistan shares a border with Afghanistan to the south — but he also led his country into economic stagnation. Although Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s most populous nation, rich in hydrocarbons and valuable minerals such as gold, 16 percent of the country lives below the United Nations poverty line of $1.25 per day, and Uzbekistan has become known for an annual cotton harvest produced through the forced labor of its citizens.

Meanwhile, Mr. Karimov’s family is believed to have amassed fabulous wealth, siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars in state profits and engaging in a byzantine political struggle in which Mr. Karimov’s daughter and once-prospective heir, Gulnara Karimova, reportedly has been put under house arrest by her mother.

Once known for a globe­trotting lifestyle at New York and Paris fashion shows that drew global scrutiny, Karimova has not been seen in public for two years after she was ensnared in a wide-ranging bribery probe involving foreign telecommunications firms seeking access to the Uzbek market. But perhaps her gravest mistake was publicly comparing her father to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Islam Abduganiyevich Karimov was born Jan. 30, 1938, in the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand, in what was then the Soviet Union, to an Uzbek father employed as a handyman and a Tajik mother. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from a technical school in Tashkent and found work as an engineer in an aviation plant.

In the late 1960s, he married into a well-connected family, became a protege of powerful Communist Party leaders and began advancing at the powerful state planning agency Gosplan. He was appointed finance minister in 1983 and six years later rose to the rank of first secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan.

As the Soviet Union collapsed, he quickly sidelined political opponents and consolidated his power, winning presidential elections and declaring independence from Moscow in 1991.

Even then, as Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms and the collapse of the Communist Party sparked starry-eyed visions of democratic transition in other post-Soviet republics, Mr. Karimov was charting an authoritarian path. He banned public protests and advocated Chinese-style reforms, a tremulous balance between a market economy and socialism.

Mr. Karimov was not alone in imposing insular and hard-line rule in former Soviet lands in Central Asia. In neighboring Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in 2006, had declared himself president for life and built a personality cult so sweeping that he renamed the months of the calendar. Niyazov’s successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, has maintained near-complete control and sharply limited relations with the West.

Mr. Karimov followed the path of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in leveraging a strategic location for aid and payouts from Washington for use as logistics hubs after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

At the same time, Mr. Karimov waged internal battles against political challenges or any hints of dissent. He portrayed his opponents, both the political opposition and independent religious organizations, as threats to national stability. By 1993, his main opponent, poet and political activist Muhammad Salih, had fled the country for exile in Turkey.

He also attacked religious centers of power, decrying the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. A series of six car bombings in Tashkent in February 1999, apparently a targeted assassination attempt against Mr. Karimov, sped a government crackdown.

“I’m prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the republic,” he said on Uzbek radio after the attack.

Thousands of Muslims were arrested, and reports of torture followed. Several alleged Islamists discovered in 2002 were boiled alive, according to human rights agencies and a forensic report by the British Foreign Office. Rights organizations claim that Uzbekistan is still holding thousands of political prisoners, far more than any other post-Soviet country.

Mr. Karimov’s most ferocious known act of repression came in 2005. After the arrest of 23 businessmen in the eastern city of Andijan, Uzbek security forces fired into a crowd of thousands with live ammunition. Mr. Karimov said the protesters were armed, while eyewitnesses claimed they were peaceful, and many were women and children. The government put the death toll at 187, but rights workers claimed it was far higher.

Despite such human rights abuses, Washington sought out Tashkent as a key ally in the fight against Islamist militancy. After the 9/11 attacks, the United States struck a deal with Mr. Karimov to use the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in the country’s south to ferry troops to Afghanistan.

After a White House meeting in 2002 with President George W. Bush, Mr. Karimov received more than $500 million in aid and credit.

The relationship unraveled after the slaughter in Andijan provoked calls by Washington for an international investigation.

In response, Uzbekistan evicted the U.S. military from Karshi-Khanabad, cutting off a key transit point for humanitarian relief to northern Afghanistan.

However, by 2008, the two countries had repaired the relationship, and the United States was using Uzbek territory to ship military cargo along a land route to Afghanistan. The Obama administration’s top diplomats — Hillary Clinton and John F. Kerry — have continued diplomatic forays to Tashkent to maintain ties in their roles as secretary of state.

Mr. Karimov’s first marriage, to Natalya Petrovna Kuchmi, with whom he had a son, ended in divorce. In 1967, he married Tatyana Akbarovna, with whom he had two daughters.

His elder daughter, Karimova, 44, a diplomat educated at Harvard, released pop anthems with glossy music videos under her stage name Googoosha. At home, she was known for strong-arming local businesses. In documents released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, U.S. diplomats described her as “the single most hated person in the country.” Her Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.in 2001 from an Afghan American businessman also stoked negative headlines.

Mr. Karimov’s younger daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, 38, who lives with her businessman husband in Paris, is not believed to be seeking power. Instead, the country’s next leader probably will be chosen by a number of political kingmakers.

But the Soviet-style system assembled by Mr. Karimov is likely to persist.

“Authoritarianism will remain in Uzbekistan for the time being, and I think for a long time,” said Kamoliddin Rabbimov, an Uzbek political scientist in exile who formerly worked in Tashkent’s Institute of Strategic Studies. “They think that these methods are the only way to maintain the stability and the integrity of Uzbekistan’s government.”

Valentine's Day Comes Under Attack In Uzbekistan

By RFE/RL's Uzbek Service
February 13, 2014

TASHKENT -- Valentine's Day is under attack in Uzbekistan.

Several universities have asked students to sign contracts affirming they will not celebrate the holiday on February 14.

Islamic clerics in Tashkent told RFE/RL that sermons against Valentine's Day will be included in Friday Prayers.

Officials say Valentine's Day contradicts the national traditions and mentality of the Uzbek people, as well as the religion of Islam.

RFE/RL correspondents report from Tashkent that, as elsewhere around the world, prices for flowers, chocolate, and perfume have soared as young people buy gifts for their partners.

Valentine's Day has become popular among Uzbek youth in recent years, despite official attempts to obstruct it.

In the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, meanwhile, education officials imposed a Valentine's ban on all schools to avert the holiday's "negative influence on the mental health of children."

Uzbek filmmaker convicted of slander

February 10, 2010

MOSCOW — An Uzbek film director was convicted of slander on Wednesday for making a documentary on wedding rituals in the authoritarian ex-Soviet state, but released on amnesty, the artist and her lawyer said.

Umida Akhmedova said the court in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, found her guilty of slander and "offense through mass media."

Akhmedova's film, "The Burden of Virginity," describes hardships young women face in the mostly Muslim nation during and after the traditional nuptial ceremonies, including the public demonstration of a bloodstained bedsheet after the first night.

The film has never been shown in Uzbekistan, but is available online.

Akhmedova's public trial before Judge Bekzod Irmatov used a conclusion of government-appointed experts that found her film "offensive for the Uzbek nation" and a media campaign that lambasted her films and photographs.

Akhmedova also said the experts negatively evaluated her photo album on the life of rural Uzbeks, concluding the pictures prompt foreigners to think that Uzbekistan "lives in the Middle Ages."

Her lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, said the court "completely ignored" his arguments and evidence proving Akhmedova's innocence. He said the judge could have used the conviction to sentence the director to three years in jail, but instead used an amnesty to release her.

Uzbek officials were not available for comment.

Since the 1980s, Akhmedova, 55, has filmed more than 20 documentaries. Her recent films cover topics tabooed in the official Uzbek media such as ordeals of Uzbek women whose husbands earn a living abroad, the life of ethnic Russians amid rising nationalism, and the official condemnation of the country's Soviet past.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov, the nation's former Communist boss, has ruled the Central Asian nation with an iron fist since before the Soviet collapse, wiping out dissent and eliminating opposition.

Karimov's government censors the media, filters unwanted Internet resources and bans "corrupting" films from Russia or Hollywood.

In 2006, folk singer Dadakhon Khasanov was given a three-year suspended sentence for writing a song about a bloody government crackdown on the 2005 popular uprising in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan.

Rights groups and witnesses say hundreds of mostly unarmed protesters were killed by government forces in Andijan. Authorities insist 187 died and blamed Islamic radicals for instigating the violence.

Uzbek leader blames Islamic militants for violence

May 14, 2005 9:35 PM

By Dmitry Solovyov

ANDIZHAN, Uzbekistan (Reuters) - Uzbek President Islam Karimov on Saturday blamed Islamic militants for violence in which troops fired on protesters and hundreds of people are alleged to have been killed.

One human rights campaigner said the death toll in Andizhan on Friday could have been as high as 500, which would make it the bloodiest incident in Uzbekistan's post-Soviet history.

As night fell on the town in the east of the country, tension was high, with armoured vehicles positioned at crossroads and trucks blocking main thoroughfares.

Residents earlier buried the dead. "In my own neighbourhood, there were five burials of dead relatives and loved ones today," said Ismail, 25, owner of two small food shops.

The government of Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most populous state, is an ally of both Moscow and of Washington's "war on terror" and has been widely accused of severe repression of political opponents.

Few observers expect the uprising in Andizhan to emulate the success of the March rebellion in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, which led to the overthrow of its president.

In his first word on the violence, Karimov denied any order had been given to troops to open fire. He said rebels who seized a state building belonged to the outlawed Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

"I know that you want to know who gave the order to fire at them ... No one ordered (troops) to fire at them," a visibly angry Karimov told a news conference in the capital Tashkent.

Karimov, who has been in power since 1989 and holds the country in a tight grip, said 10 police and troops had been killed and 100 wounded.

He said there was a higher number of rebel casualties, but made no mention of dead or wounded among protesters. He said the protesters were relatives of the 30 rebels who stationed them as human shields outside the building they took over.

But a human rights campaigner in Andizhan, Saidzhakhon Zainabitdinov from the Uzbek rights group Appeal, told Reuters by telephone: "The total number of deaths could reach 500 people from both sides."

Most of the dead were killed by heavy machineguns mounted on armoured personnel carriers, he said, adding the streets were strewn with spent bullet-casings. A pro-opposition reporter counted 30 corpses and a doctor spoke of "many, many dead".

A woman in her 30s said she knew that the regional hospital and another big clinic were holding many dead bodies.

State television and news outlets in the tightly controlled country kept silent on all but official versions of events.

But in Russia the state-run First Channel showed footage of five or six bodies with gunshot wounds lying on the streets and some being loaded onto a truck. One person lay dead, still astride his bicycle.

A protest of around 1,000 people continued on Saturday, but the situation was calmer and fewer soldiers were on the streets, Zainabitdinov said.

The violence in Uzbekistan follows unrest in March in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, where violent protests started in the city of Osh, just across the border from Andizhan, and led to the ousting of President Askar Akayev.


According to Kyrgyz border guards, as many as 4,000 people, including women and children, fled to the nearby village of Kara-Su on the closed border. At another point, 500 people forced their way across the border.

Karimov said the rebels had hoped the upheaval in Kyrgyzstan would help them to foment trouble.

In the past 18 months, there have been peaceful uprisings in two other ex-Soviet republics, Ukraine and Georgia, both of which installed Western-leaning leaders. Central Asia's hardline leaders have reacted by clamping down further on dissent.

Russian news agencies said Karimov called Russian President Vladimir Putin and both men expressed concern at the danger of destabilisation in Central Asia, made up of five ex-Soviet states.

The EU and NATO called for a peaceful resolution to the Uzbekistan conflict.

"I think that repression is basically the policy of the Uzbek government and this will be quite brutally suppressed, I fear," Craig Murray, Britain's former ambassador, told British television.


The anti-government Hizb ut-Tahrir denied starting the violence, a spokesman in London said. The pan-Islamic group has been blamed by Karimov for several past attacks, including explosions at the U.S. and Israeli embassies that killed four people, but it says it is non-violent.

The protesters, some calling for Karimov to stand down, gathered after armed rebels stormed a prison and freed inmates, including 23 businessmen charged with religious extremism. The rebels seized the building and took about 10 police hostage.

Former ambassador Murray said the 23 had been detained on "patently false charges of Islamic extremism".

Uzbek troops retook the state building from the rebels late on Friday, but the area remained sealed off and sporadic gunfire was heard. Officials said the rebels had refused to compromise.

Journalists were told to leave Andizhan, but some were able to return later in the day after roadblocks were eased.
Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country bordering Afghanistan that is one of the world's leading cotton exporters, gave the United States use of a military airbase after the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.

Rights groups say there are at least 6,000 religious and political prisoners in Uzbekistan, where only state-sponsored Islam is allowed, and that torture is widely used.



Muslim rebels take over Uzbek town

Wednesday 18 May 2005 7:43 PM GMT

Rebels hoping for an Islamic state are firmly in control of an Uzbek border town.

The taking of Korasuv, a town of 20,000 inhabitants in eastern Uzbekistan, threw up a new challenge to the government on Wednesday as it tried to prove to sceptical diplomats that its troops didn't fire on innocent civilians in nearby Andijan.

"We will be building an Islamic state here in accordance with the Quran," rebel leader Bakhtiyor Rakhimov said. "People are tired of slavery."

The government of President Islam Karimov shrugged off Rakhimov's claims as "nonsense", but the rebel leader said his followers are ready to fight any government troops that come to crush the rebellion.

The rebels claim to control 5000 followers, and there was no sign of Uzbek officials in Korasuv on Wednesday, which they fled after rioters attacked police and government offices on Saturday.

Political opening

Karimov's government has long feared that any social unrest could be used by Muslim groups to promote their own goals.

And the uprising in the nearby town of Andijan that set off the violence on Friday, which was focused on social and economic demands, may have provided the opening Muslim activists have craved.

"While one cannot call Uzbekistan an Islamic country and other sources of the conflict in Uzbekistan are social and clan-based, Islam as a very strong ideology, a strong factor, will be ready to fill the ideological voids created by the regime of Islam Karimov," Russian analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said.

"So I consider that in the coming two-three years, an Islamic revolution and the Islamisation of Uzbekistan is unavoidable. Of course this will be accompanied by bloodshed."

Karimov's government has blamed the unrest on "terrorists" and has denied that troops fired on civilians, although an AP reporter saw troops opening fire on protesters in Andijan on Friday.

The government cites 169 dead in Andijan, but opposition activists say more than 700 were killed - more than 500 in Andijan and about 200 in Pakhtabad - most of them civilians.

Interior Minister Zakir Almatov has dismissed allegations of a crackdown by troops in Pakhtabad.

Judging by Friday's shooting, the government's first response was to crush the Andijan uprising before it could spread.

Second hotspot

The emergence of a second hotspot in Korasuv, 30km to the southeast on the border with Kyrgyzstan, coincided with an intense international focus on Uzbekistan - and that may be staying Karimov's hand.

Uzbek officials took foreign diplomats and journalists on a lightning-quick tour of Andijan on Wednesday, showing them a prison and the local administration building and arranging
meetings with local officials, as the top UN human-rights official called for an independent investigation.

The people of Andijan were kept blocks away from the delegation, leaving little chance for an objective assessment.

"I consider that in the coming two-three years, an Islamic revolution and the Islamisation of Uzbekistan is unavoidable. Of course this will be accompanied by bloodshed"

Stanislav Belkovsky,
Russian analyst

"We blocked a few roads for your security," Almatov told the delegation as it was taken along streets lined with cordons of troops and police.

Inside the gutted administration building, a local official pointed at signs of looting and described how insurgents had allegedly executed local officials whom they took hostage and used civilians as a shield as they tried to flee.

Almatov ignored a reporter's request to visit to a school where a prominent local doctor had said 500 bodies were stored following the violence.

After three hours in Andijan, the delegation was flown back to the capital, Tashkent. Some diplomats complained the trip was too short and there was no opportunity to speak to Andijan residents.

"I think we need to be realistic about how much can be achieved in a whistle-stop tour of ambassadors in a large delegation format over such a short period," British Ambassador David Moran said.

Sharia law

It was equally difficult to assess just how great a force Rakhimov and his Islamic followers in Korasuv represent.

Rakhimov's men, uniformly clad in traditional V-necked white shirts and embroidered skull cups, could be seen around the town, although no weapons were visible.

"All decisions will be taken by people at a mosque. There will be rule of Sharia law," Rakhimov said. "Thieves and other criminals will be tried by the people themselves."

Among the groups that promote Islamism, the one that probably has the most followers in formerly Soviet Central Asia is the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party, which Uzbek authorities accuse of inspiring attacks in Tashkent and the central city of Bukhara last year that killed more than 50.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which says it rejects violence, denied responsibility.

Rakhimov said he and his supporters did not belong to any Islamic organisation. "We are just people," he said. "We just follow the Quran."

Ikbol Mirsaitov, a Kyrgyz expert on Islam, speculated that some of the activists may have been people who had escaped the prison in Andijan, because they had very short beards - indicating they had grown them just in the past few days.

Hizb ut Tahrir

Asked if he was afraid government soldiers would try to regain control of Korasuv by force, as they did in Andijan, Rakhimov said: "They came here today, a few military people. I turned them back."

"Soldiers and police are also sons of this people," he said. "We don't have weapons, but if they come and attack us we will fight even with knives."

Badanboyev, the rebel leader's aide, said people from other towns in the Fergana Valley, including the Kyrgyz city of Osh, had joined them.

Sadyk Kamalitdin, another Kyrgyz expert on Islam, said the group probably included some Hizb-ut-Tahrir members, protesters who had fled Andijan, and rank-and-file Muslims, and their plans for an Islamic state would remain 'a dream".

"It won't work. The Uzbek authorities will take action against them in two or three days or in a week," he predicted.


UZBEKISTAN: Mahalla and Mullah block Jehovah's Witness registration

This article was published by F18News on: 1 December 2005

By Igor Rotar, Forum 18 News Service

The latest instance known to Forum 18 News Service of a religious minority being barred from gaining state registration – thus rendering its activity illegal – is a Jehovah's Witness community in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. Following open hostility against the community from the head of the city's Yaksarai district, a subsequent meeting of local residents (the Mahalla committee), presided over by the local Mullah (Islamic clergyman), reversed a decision to allow a Jehovah's Witness congregation to apply for state registration. Under Uzbekistan's complex registration procedure, which institutionalises obstacles to religious minorities, the approval of both the Mahalla committee and the head of the district administration is necessary before a religious community can even apply for state registration from the Ministry of Justice. The Mahalla committees, theoretically independent but in practice under state control, are used to maintain controls over religious believers of all faiths.

Jehovah's Witnesses in the capital Tashkent have complained to Forum 18 News Service that, in November, Valim Muladjanov, the Hakim (administration chief) for the city's Yaksarai district, revoked a decision taken a year ago to allow a local congregation to apply for registration. A subsequent meeting of local residents, presided over by the local Mullah (Islamic clergyman), blocked the application from going ahead, rendering continuing religious activity by the community illegal. The Jehovah's Witnesses – who have been allowed to register only two communities in Uzbekistan – have been trying in vain for many years to register in Tashkent.

Under Uzbek law, a religious community only has the right to operate if it has been registered with the Ministry of Justice. Uzbekistan's registration procedure institutionalises discrimination against religious minorities as, in a complex procedure, all applications must have the prior written consent of the committee of the Mahalla (a local self-governing agency that administers a city sector and is the lowest level of government) for the district in which the religious community intends to open a place of worship. This permission must also be certified by the Hakim, or head, of the district administration. Significantly – and in defiance of Uzbek international human rights commitments - the government has banned all unregistered religious activity and participants in such activity risk penalties under the Administrative or Criminal Codes.

The Mahalla committee where the Jehovah's Witness congregation is based approved the registration of their place of worship at the end of 2004. However, it remains unclear why Muladjanov demanded new written permission from the Mahalla committee, Andrei Shirobokov of the Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 from Tashkent on 24 November. Additionally, speaking in the presence of the head of the Mahalla committee, Muladjanov declared that he personally opposed the registration of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Forum 18 tried to reach Muladjanov at the Yaksarai district administration to find out why he had revoked the earlier Mahalla committee approval and was demanding that it be considered again. However, on 1 December his aide Alisher (who did not give his last name) said that Muladjanov was away on a work trip. Alisher claimed to know nothing about the case.

Shirobokov told Forum 18 that, the day after Muladjanov's openly declared his opposition to Jehovah's Witness registration, the head of the Mahalla invited Jehovah's Witnesses to a residents' meeting, presided over by the local Mullah. All those who spoke at the meeting said that Jehovah's Witness teachings were against Islam and that therefore Mahalla residents did not want a Jehovah's Witness place of worship on their territory. "This Mahalla's population is made up mostly of Uzbeks. Let them open their church in a Russian Mahalla," people told the Jehovah's Witnesses at the meeting.

Shirobokov insisted the meeting was prompted by the authorities, pointing out that a year earlier the same Mahalla committee agreed to the registration of their community. "The authorities are actively exploiting the Mahalla system of self-government which is theoretically independent, but is in fact completely controlled by the authorities," he complained to Forum 18. "Although the Mahalla leadership has changed since last year, we shouldn't have to keep going to them for permission."

Begzot Kadyrov, from the government's Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18 that the Jehovah's Witnesses had already complained to him about the Mahalla meeting. But he defended the power of the Mahalla to veto the opening of places of worship of faiths the people do not like. "If residents of the Mahalla don't want a Jehovah's Witness church on their territory, we cannot make them change their minds," he told Forum 18 from Tashkent on 24 November. "The Mahalla system is an ancient institution of Uzbek society. Mahalla residents have together resolved their own problems for many years. Current Uzbek laws reinforce the Mahalla system of self-government at a juridical level."

Although the Mahalla leadership is formally elected by local residents, in practice it is appointed by the government and is often used as an instrument of state control. Mahalla committees have long played a role in supervising, controlling and restricting religious activity and often refuse to approve religious communities' registration applications, whether for mosques, Christian churches or places of worship of other faiths. The Mahalla's are also used to control Muslims.

Until last January, Mahalla committees even had to approve which local Muslims could go on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca. In late October, the head of a Mahalla in Tashkent's Mirobad district, Olga Bedrina, was sacked for having allowed a Full Gospel Church to function.

Shirobokov also maintains that "NSS [National Security Service] secret police officers tell us [Jehovah's Witnesses] openly that our work is not wanted in Uzbekistan." He stated that Jehovah's Witnesses in Karshi [Qarshi] in central southern Uzbekistan are in the most difficult position of all their communities, their situation having deteriorated sharply since August. "For example, a police officer struck Jehovah's Witness Guzal Buzurukova while she held a small child in her arms," he told Forum 18. "He told her husband that he would imprison him if he did not renounce his faith."

Kadyrov said he knew nothing about the incident in Karshi. "Of course, if a policeman did strike a woman, that is a matter of concern. Why didn't the Jehovah's Witnesses tell us about it straight away?" he told Forum 18. "I'm always telling them that they should contact us as soon as they encounter problems with the police. But in fact we often only find out about the Jehovah's Witnesses' problems during court cases."


Muslim cleric goes on trial
Updated: 2006-07-31 16:09

TASHKENT - A Muslim cleric accused of terrorism is due to go on trial in Uzbekistan on Monday in a case seen by rights activists as part of a clampdown on people who operate outside a state-approved version of Islam.

Uzbekistan, a Muslim Central Asian state, is criticised in the West for jailing religious activists and using torture in jails. President Islam Karimov says he is fighting extremists who want to set up an Islamic caliphate in his ex-Soviet state.

Human Rights Watch said Imam Rukhiddin Fakhrutdinov was kidnapped by Kazakh security forces and deported to Uzbekistan in late 2005. He is now accused of extremism and involvement in acts of violence that hit Uzbekistan in 2004, it said.

"He was among dozens of other Uzbek nationals who fled religious persecution in Uzbekistan and were living in southern Kazakhstan," it said.

Uzbek security officials were not available for comment. Human Rights Watch said Kazakh officials deny arresting Fakhrutdinov.

Uzbekistan tolerates only a state-approved version of Islam.

Karimov says "terrorists" tried to stage a coup in the town of Andizhan last year. Witnesses said hundreds of unarmed people were killed when troops opened fire on a crowd. The government says 187 people, either extremists or police, were killed.

The West has criticised Uzbekistan for using the uprising in Andizhan as an excuse to step up its campaign against dissent.