WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 453, June 23, 2006

 

ANDIJAN OPPOSITIONIST ARRESTED AS UZBEK PURGE CONTINUES  The Uzbek authorities 
are using run-of-the-mill criminal charges to silence their critics.  By 
Gafurjan Yuldashev in Andijan

 

DUSHANBE BLASTS LEAVE EVERYONE IN THE DARK  Widespread scepticism that three 
explosions in quick succession can have been the work of teenage hooligans.  By 
IWPR staff in Dushanbe

 

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ANDIJAN OPPOSITIONIST ARRESTED AS UZBEK PURGE CONTINUES

 

The Uzbek authorities are using run-of-the-mill criminal charges to silence 
their critics.

 

By Gafurjan Yuldashev in Andijan

 

An opposition activist in Andijan appears to be next on the Uzbek authorities' 
list as they continue the nationwide purge that began after violence in the 
city last year

 

Shokirjon Muminjonov, a member of the opposition Birlik party, has undergone 
repeated questioning since June 3 after police said they found cannabis plants 
in his garden. 

 

Opposition members are in little doubt that the charge has been invented as a 
way of isolating and possibly imprisoning Muminjonov, in a pattern that human 
rights groups say has been repeated again and again in the last year.

 

"I live in a multi-storey building in the district centre of Jalalkuduk," said 
Muminjonov, who heads the local branch of Birlik there. "There's a plot of land 
next to our building, where I grow vegetables. It doesn't have a fence and it's 
accessible to anyone. On June 3, several police officers came to my house and 
told me that plants containing a narcotic substance were growing in my garden. 
When I looked, I did indeed find five or six wild cannabis plants about 15 or 
20 centimetres tall. 

 

"The chief of the police squad immediately took my passport and asked me to 
come in for questioning. Since then, I have been going to the police every day, 
and they ask me how these plants came to be in my garden."

 

During the search, police did not fill out an official report or remove the 
plants for examination, according to Muminjonov. 

 

He is being questioned by the police department responsible for combating 
terrorism, which deals with political cases rather than ordinary crimes. "They 
asked me about Birlik members and demanded that I write a list of the ones in 
Jalalkuduk district," he said.

 

"During questioning, the investigator has threatened me several times, saying, 
'Unless you give us a list of party members, we will put you in jail for 
growing illegal plants in your garden.'"

 

A local human rights activist who knows Muminjonov said, "Shokirjon Muminjonov 
has worked as a schoolteacher for around 40 years, and he is very respectable 
person. Just imagine, he doesn't even smoke and suddenly he is accused of 
growing cannabis. As everyone knows, wild cannabis grows everywhere, and you 
can even see it on the edges of cotton fields."

 

After May 2005, when security forces are believed to have killed several 
hundred people when they opened fire on crowds of demonstrators in central 
Andijan, the authorities began by arresting anyone they believed was involved 
in the protest, but then moved on to human rights activists and other 
dissenters both here and in the rest of the country. 

 

Especially in cases with no plausible connection to the Andijan protest, 
prosecutors have filed criminal charges unrelated to the individual's political 
activity or human rights work. 

 

This pattern was noted by the United States-based watchdog Human Rights Watch 
in a press release issued this week which highlighted three recent cases. Azam 
Farmonov and Alisher Karamatov, members of the Human Rights Society of 
Uzbekistan in the Syrdarya region, received prison sentences of nine years each 
on June 15, officially for extortion. A third man, Yadgar Turlibekov, was 
arrested in neighbouring Kashkadarya region.

 

In Andijan itself, the son of Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, a human rights activist 
given a seven-year sentence in January after speaking out about the Andijan 
massacre, has also been arrested in recent weeks, Human Rights Watch reported. 
Ilhom Zainabitdinov has been charged with forging banknotes and documents. 

 

"The Uzbek government has a long record of harassing human rights organisations 
that has intensified since the Andijan massacre," said Holly Cartner, Europe 
and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "In some cases, the government 
presses charges directly related to defenders' human rights work, and in others 
it accuses them of extortion or financial misdeeds."

 

As a result of the ongoing purge, many Birlik members in Andijan region have 
been detained or have fled the country. 

 

Birlik and the other major opposition party, Erk, have survived since the early 
Nineties despite numerous arrests and their leaders being forced into exile. 

 

After the Andijan violence, the regional branch of Birlik incidents distributed 
a critical statement which they distributed and also passed to the regional 
governor. The local authorities immediately arrested the party's regional chief 
Akbarjan Oripov, and three district branch officers, Nurmuhammad Azizov, 
Musajan Babajanov, and Dilmurod Muhiddinov. All three were subsequently charged 
with the serious offence of "undermining the constitutional system", and in 
January - after eight months in custody - Muhiddinov got a five-year jail 
sentence and the other two were released with three-year suspended sentences. 

 

"In the Andijan region, Birlik had 6,500 registered members," said Oripov. 
"After events in Andijan, they were all persecuted by the authorities. Some 
were arrested on various trumped-up charges, some left Uzbekistan and many went 
to Russia and Kazakstan as migrant workers."

 

The Erk party's head in Andijan, Isroiljan Khaldarov, left the country after 
being held for two days and fined for "resisting police officers" in October.

 

Before Andijan, Birlik was just about tolerated as an unregistered group rather 
than a political party, while Erk - although formally banned - also had members 
across the country. Now the authorities are clearly not prepared to allow them 
to exist even in the shadows. 

 

Togboy Razzakov, a Birlik member now living outside Uzbekistan, recalls how the 
opposition first began in the late Eighties, only to have the new regime hijack 
part of its agenda and crush the movement itself soon after independence in 
1991. 

 

"I joined the opposition movements back in the Soviet era. We were fighting for 
independence, to make Uzbek the official language, and to democratise society," 
he said. "We in the opposition had a substantive programme for the country to 
emerge from crisis. [President] Islam Karimov stole this programme from us, and 
suppressed the people who'd created it. The Birlik movement.... continues to be 
repressed by the dictatorial regime. 

 

"There are now three officers from the [interior ministry] police or the 
National Security Service for every one opposition member in Andijan. So I too 
have had to leave Uzbekistan, and now live outside the republic."

 

Gafurjan Yuldashev is a journalist from Uzbekistan.

 

 

DUSHANBE BLASTS LEAVE EVERYONE IN THE DARK

 

Widespread scepticism that three explosions in quick succession can have been 
the work of teenage hooligans. 

 

By IWPR staff in Dushanbe

 

Three explosions in the centre of the Tajik capital Dushanbe have sparked fears 
of renewed instability among residents, who remain sceptical of the official 
explanation that they were caused by a gang of teenagers.

 

The explanation did little to curb rumours that dark forces were trying to 
cause trouble ahead of the presidential election scheduled for this November.

 

The first blast, just after midnight on June 15-16, was in front of the Iranian 
embassy and also just 100 metres from Tajikistan's parliament. The second 
explosion was just 20 minutes later, close to the offices of the Charity Fund 
run by the opposition Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP. Finally, at 8:30 the same 
morning, there was yet another explosion near the Constitutional Court and the 
Kainak business centre. 

 

The interior ministry said there were no casualties, although windows were 
shattered by the blasts.

 

Interior ministry press office chief Khudoinazar Asozoda told IWPR on June 20 
that officers were considering all possible options ranging from a malicious 
prank by young hooligans to a deliberate attempt to create instability - though 
he did not say by whom or to what end. Asozoda said the three incidents were 
definitely connected, but were not acts of terrorism. 

 

At this point, the ministry said only that the first explosion involved 
fireworks packed into a plastic bottle. 

 

On June 21, Asozoda issued an official statement covering the two later 
explosions, saying they were the work of adolescents. Asozoda told reporters 
that the gang had found some flammable material at a nearby building site and 
made makeshift bombs. Ten youths had been arrested, he said, adding, "There is 
no political aspect or terrorist motive." 

 

This explanation did not, however, include the first incident near the embassy 
of Iran, a country with which Tajikistan has maintained cordial relations based 
in part on a shared cultural heritage. 

 

The fact that the initial criminal case was launched by the ministry for 
security rather than the interior ministry, which is in charge of the uniformed 
police who deal with routine crimes, suggested that the matter was being 
treated more seriously than officials cared to admit. 

 

By the time news of the arrests came out, the rumour-mills were already 
spinning fast. 

 

"It's impossible that three explosions in the city centre of the city were the 
work of hooligans. They would be too scared to do such a thing, said Maya 
Barotova, a Dushanbe resident. "It's more likely to have been prompted by the 
upcoming presidential election that promises to be very turbulent since there 
are plenty of dissatisfied people in the country."  

 

Most observers expect President Imomali Rahmonov to win re-election easily in 
the November ballot, although opposition parties are likely to field one or 
more challengers. 

 

Muhiddin Kabiri, deputy head of the IRP, whose offices are close to the second 
blast site, expressed similar scepticism about the main official line. 

 

"I don't believe this was an act of hooliganism. All the explosions happened 
almost simultaneously and in the centre. Most likely that they were well 
planned and had some purpose," Kabiri told the Avesta news agency. "I have no 
inkling about who this attack was aimed at." 

 

But Kabiri does not think the IRP was the target. If that had been the case, he 
said, the attack would have been aimed at party headquarters on the other side 
of town.

 

Kabiri's colleague Hikmatullo Saifullozoda, who heads the IRP's analytical 
centre, said the explosions were definitely coordinated and most likely 
political. "These explosions were deliberate, and certain interest groups were 
behind them. Most likely they are somehow related to the upcoming presidential 
election," he said. 

 

Although it is unclear which group would benefit from violence, the 
pre-election periods are always a time of heightened tensions. A month before 
the February 2005 parliamentary ballot, there was a car bomb attack outside the 
ministry for disaster management in which only the driver died. It took the 
authorities until March 2006 to reveal any details. 

 

In a country which experienced five years of civil war ending in 1997, people 
remain nervous about the slightest hint of instability. Residents of Dushanbe 
city centre were alarmed by the blasts and the lack of what they saw as a 
credible explanation.

 

"Now I'm afraid to let my children go play outside even in the daytime," said 
Najiba Rasulova, a mother of two. 

 

Her neighbour Anna Semenova said, "I don't know what I'm going to do. I'll 
probably exchange my flat for somewhere on the edge of town, or even leave 
Tajikistan. It will never settle down here." 

 

The same night that the three blasts took place in Dushanbe, there was a 
massive explosion on the pipeline which brings natural gas from Uzbekistan to 
the Tajik capital. 

 

Eyewitnesses said the blast, just 20 kilometres away from Dushanbe, caused a 
huge fire, with flames shooting 50 metres into the air. It took firefighters 
four hours to deal with the blaze, which left most of the capital without gas 
for heating and cooking. 

 

Although early reports suggested that a simple gas leak was involved, the 
Ministry of Security again got involved in the investigation, and prosecutors 
opened a file treating the matter as sabotage.

 

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA No. 453

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