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Qishloq Ovozi

The Islamic State group is the newest terrorist boogeyman to spur a crackdown in Uzbekistan.

With fear of extremist attacks running high in many places of the world, the authorities in Uzbekistan appear to moving to preempt any acts of terrorism there. According to information coming out of Uzbekistan, more than 160 people have been detained in areas around the capital, Tashkent, since the end of October, all apparently on suspicion of being involved with the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

However, Uzbek authorities have a history of casting a very wide net when security operations are initiated and there is already reason to believe many of the people being incarcerated are not from IS, though they are from an outside Islamic sect that has grown popular in Central Asia.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, has been reporting about the detentions.

Ozodlik reported the first group of 16 people was detained in Tashkent's Zangiatin district on October 29. At least 25 more people were taken into custody during the first days of November and detentions have continued regularly since then, all in the Zangiatin district. Most are from the village of Nazarbek, the others were from the mahallas (neighborhoods) of Oltin Tepa and Eshonguzar.

Uzbek law enforcement said on November 6 that those detained were "Salafis" who were connected to militants in Syria.

Members of the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, speaking under condition of anonymity from Uzbekistan, told Ozodlik most of those detained were fellow members. "Up to 90 percent," one Hizb ut-Tahrir member claimed.

Uzbek authorities banned Hizb ut-Tahrir more than 15 years ago, claiming it was an extremist group. It is an Islamic sect, tracing its origins back to Palestinian refugees in the 1950s. Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks to create an Islamic caliphate but disavows the use of violence to achieve this goal. It has gained thousands of followers in Central Asia despite being banned in every one of the five Central Asian states.

Governments in the region, particularly the Uzbek government, have tried for years to blame Hizb ut-Tahrir for violent acts committed in Central Asia but to date none of these governments has been able to supply compelling evidence to back up their claims.

Uzbekistan's government for many years attempted to link Hizb ut-Tahrir to a legitimately violent group -- the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Now it seems Tashkent is linking Hizb ut-Tahrir to the IS group.

Russia's Regnum news agency was the first to report that more than 150 people had been taken into custody in the Tashkent area on suspicion of ties to IS. Regnum cited "sources" in Uzbekistan's law enforcement organs.

Ozodlik called veteran Uzbek rights defender Surat Ikramov, who for some 20 years has been invaluable in bringing to light facts surrounding the detentions of hundreds of people (at least) in Uzbekistan.

Ikramov confirmed detentions in Zangiatin district, some 60 to 70, he said. Ikramov added that about 10 more people had been detained in Tashkent's Shaykhantakhur district and at least one more person in the capital's Almazar district. Ikramov said that in the Almazar district the figure could be higher.

Ikramov has visited the districts and spoken with relatives and associates of many of those detained. Ikramov said most of those currently in custody are "believers" and that they were being accused of involvement with IS and other extremist organizations.

Ikramov also said almost all of the detained had been worked as migrant laborers outside Uzbekistan.

"In law enforcement organs they work the same old way," Ikramov said. "Maybe in those countries where they worked they were able to visit various websites, in particular the website of the 'Islamic State,' and this became known to our security forces."

A resident of the Shaykhantakhtur neighborhood told Ozodlik he heard more than 160 "of the brothers in faith" had been detained recently. This person said homes being searched were usually of "those who just returned from working abroad."

So who are these people who are being detained?

At first, the Uzbek authorities said publicly they were Salafis but it appears from what Ikramov said that now Uzbek authorities are investigating the detainees for links to IS. The Hizb ut-Tahrir supporter said many of those in custody were supporters of his group.

In any case, suddenly detaining such a large number of people in the same district of the capital raises some questions about whether these are preemptive proxies.

In the spring, Uzbek law enforcement and security agencies conducted a series of exercises in Uzbekistan's section of the Ferghana Valley. Often during these "exercises," people were officially taken, briefly, into custody.

There was the tale of the two female suicide bombers in Uzbekistan's eastern Ferghana Province in mid-August. Uzbekistan's media reported about it at that time; Uzbek authorities launched a security sweep of the area in which they were allegedly seen. The two women vanished, "possibly into Kyrgyzstan," officials said. Nothing more was ever heard of them.

Then there was the explosion at a bus stop in downtown Tashkent on a Friday afternoon in early September. The authorities later called that a "drill" to test the response of various law enforcement agencies and emergency services, none of which had been informed that the explosion was a simulated event.

A drill, possibly, but in all these events since spring there seems to be some intent to sow a bit of respect and fear among the people of Uzbekistan, to show the people the authorities are watching and ready to act.

So once again, who are these people who are being detained?

Are some of them genuinely a threat to Uzbekistan's stability or are they wrongly accused and simply meant to serve as an example?

Based on material from Ozodlik

Witch Hunt In Tajikistan

Former party member Saidumar Husaini is now in jail.

Tajik authorities have unleashed an unprecedented crackdown on a group the Tajik government has identified as Islamic terrorists. Until this year, these terrorists were part of Tajikistan's government and partners in a peace deal that had lasted 18 years.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a press release on November 2 criticizing "the Tajik government's ongoing efforts to control religious activities, [including]...the recent ban of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan [IRPT] due to allegations of extremism."

The USCIRF reported that, since early September, when the Justice Ministry officially closed down the IRPT, some 200 members had been arrested, many of them before a Tajik court that ruled in late September that the IRPT was a "terrorist" group.

The press release noted that among the IRPT members now in jail were "former parliamentarian Saidumar Husaini, IRPT Deputy Chair Mahmadali Hait, journalist Hikmatulloh Saifullohzoda, [and] Islamic scholar Zubaidullah Roziq."

According to Human Rights Watch, Husaini told his lawyer, Buzurgmehr Yorov, he was being tortured in jail.

Yorov recounted Husaini's claim in an interview on September 28 and was himself arrested later that same day. Yorov now faces charges of fraud and document forgery.

Yorov is not the only IRPT lawyer currently under arrest; there are several, including Nuriddin Mahkamov, who was arrested at the end of October.

An IRPT lawyer was also among those arrested. USCIRF reported that "jailed IRPT lawyer Zarafo Rahmoni informed her sister that she had been raped [while in custody]...." According to Rahmoni, she was released after she threatened to commit suicide.

Under amendments passed by parliament on November, Yorov and Rahmoni are likely to lose their legal licenses. The amendments require all lawyers to undergo certification by the Justice Ministry every five years and any attorneys who have previously faced charges will no longer be allowed to practice law.

Fayzinniso Vokhidova is a well-known lawyer in Tajikistan who has regularly defended opposition figures. She told RFE/RL's Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, that it will be the Justice Ministry's decision who can and cannot work as a lawyer. "Those lawyers who defend the interests of opponents of the authorities will lose the possibility of receiving permission to work [as an attorney]," Vokhidova said.

IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri was out of the country when, several months ago, it became clear Tajik authorities were preparing criminal charges against him. Kabiri has remained outside Tajikistan since, denying accusations against him and charges against other IRPT members.

But according to the USCIRF, Kabiri's relatives still in Tajikistan have been targeted. "Many of Kabiri’s relatives and his driver were tortured into confessing involvement in a deputy Tajik defense minister's violent attack on a police station."

There are many unanswered questions about the former deputy defense minister's attack on a police station and about his alleged connections to the IRPT.

The IRPT was part of a curious alliance during the 1992-97 Tajik Civil War. The IRPT is exclusively a Sunni Muslim group but during the war years its allies were a mainly Shi'ite group from eastern Tajikistan -- Lali Badakhshan -- and the Democratic Party of Tajikistan. Together they formed the United Tajik Opposition (UTO).

Their wartime opponents -- the Tajik government -- were overwhelmingly officials from the Soviet-era communist government, atheists with no exposure to representative democracy.

The conflict quickly became a standoff. According to some estimates, as many as 100,000 people were killed before the exhausted combatants reached a peace deal in June 1997. As part of the deal the UTO received 30 percent of the places in government and the IRPT was officially registered as a party, becoming the only legal Islamic party in Central Asia. The IRPT, as the major contributor to UTO forces, took the lion's share of the government positions. In the years since the peace deal the opposition's 30 percent dwindled.

At the start of 2015, the IRPT still had two members in Tajikistan's parliament. But despite being the second largest party in Tajikistan with a conservative estimate of some 40,000 members the IRPT failed to win even one seat in the March 1 parliamentary elections this year.

Since June 1997, the IRPT has upheld its pledge to keep the peace in Tajikistan. Any credibility as the Tajik government could claim was greatly enhanced by the presence of an opposition Islamic party and now that is gone.

Now the IRPT, the Tajik government's partners in peace, have been stripped of their political legitimacy and are being hunted and jailed.

As a result, amid myriad problems Tajikistan already faces, the durability of an 18-year peace is now an issue.

Radio Ozodi's Mirzo Salimov contributed to this report

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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