Uzbekistan's police are reporting another round of arrests involving members of the banned Islamic group Hizb-ut Tahrir
. According to police, they have detained more than 40 members of the group, an astounding figure since Hizb-ut Tahrir is usually constructed of small cells (usually five people with one teacher who is the only one who knows how to contact a member of another cell). In this latest case, Uzbek authorities say the teacher had set up a community that included all of the people arrested.
The Uzbek government has accused the group of supporting terrorism and has attempted to link Hizb-ut Tahrir to terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan during the last decade.
Rights groups believe there are at least several thousand Hizb-ut Tahrir members
currently in Uzbek jails. The group publicly calls for the creation of a caliphate in Central Asia. While advocating the overthrow of secular regimes in the region, Hizb-ut Tahrir, publicly at least, disavows the use of violence in attaining that goal. To date there has been scant evidence presented by any government in Central Asia that any member of Hizb-ut Tahrir has had in their possession anything more dangerous than literature and promotional videos for the group.
Previous trials of Hizb-ut Tahrir members have been opaque and defendants have said they have been tortured and their family members threatened.
Also this week, the Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ) has voiced concern over reports that authorities in the western Uzbek city of Nukus have brought another charge against independent journalist Solijon Abdurahmonov, who did freelance work for RFE/RL.
Abdurahmonov has already been charged with narcotics use -- although that has now been upgraded to narcotics possession with intent to sell. If Abdurahmonov is found guilty he faces up to 20 years in prison.
The CPJ noted in an August 5 press release that "investigators in Nukus acknowledged that Solijon Abdurahmonov's blood test results revealed no sign of drug use." The charge of intent to sell narcotics surfaced after the test results came back negative.
More evidence then that Uzbekistan is failing to clean up its act. In recent months, the Uzbek government has been seeking to strengthen ties with the West, particularly the United States, after a chill in relations that followed the Uzbek government's crackdown on unrest in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon
in May 2005. The Uzbek government has portrayed itself as a frontline defender against terrorism and justified the arrests of Hizb-ut Tahrir members, and alleged members of other banned Islamic organizations, as part of an antiterrorism campaign that benefits countries far from Central Asia. But such campaigns and crackdowns seem to only benefit the authorities and enable them to keep their iron grip on power.
-- Bruce Pannier