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Akram Yuldashev Is Dead

Akram Yuldashev allegedly confessed on Uzbekistan’s state-controlled television to organizing the May 2005 protests in Andijon.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, has learned from sources that Akram Yudashev, the imprisoned leader of the Akramiya religious group, died in prison five years ago.

Yuldashev had not been seen since late 2005. International rights groups had repeatedly called on Uzbek authorities to provide information about Yuldashev, his location and condition, but Uzbek authorities routinely ignored these requests.

Ozodlik spoke to sources on January 11 who confirmed Yuldashev had died of tuberculosis in prison some five years ago, though the sources could not provide an exact date or the location of the facility where Yuldashev was being held.

Akram Yuldashev rose to prominence in the mid-1990s as a religious leader in the area around the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon. Yuldshev authored a book titled Iymonga Yol (The Path To Faith) in which Yuldashev related his religious and philosophical ideas. Yuldashev wrote the book after becoming disillusioned with the now-banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir and parting ways with the sect.

His stature as a community and religious leader grew in his native Andijon region. During this time, Yuldashev worked as a math teacher and later in a textile plant.

In 1998, he was arrested on charges of narcotics possession and jailed for 30 months. However, he fell under an amnesty instituted by Uzbek authorities some months later and was freed.

On February 16, 1999, a series of bombs exploded in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, regarded as the first-ever terrorist attack in Uzbekistan. Yuldashev was arrested the next day and later tried and convicted of involvement in the Tashkent bombings. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

In the spring of 2005, demonstrations started in Andijon against the jailing of a group of local businessmen. These businessmen were acquaintances of Yuldashev. The appointments of new provincial and city officials some months earlier had upset the established system of patronage in the region and the businessmen had not only lost their enterprises but were in danger of losing their freedom as well.

On May 13, 2005, an armed group crossed from Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan, attacked a police station, stole weapons, then went to a prison near Andijon and freed the prisoners. Those prisoners mixed with the demonstrators in Andijon and violence broke out.

Uzbek authorities sent in troops to restore order and a bloodbath ensued.

Authorities blamed a group called Akramiya, followers of the imprisoned Yuldashev, for provoking the violence. Though he had been in prison for some six years, Yuldashev was branded as an instigator of the violence and appeared in court on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

Yuldashev's trial appearances in late 2005 were the last times anyone outside the government ever saw him. His fate has remained a mystery until now.

In the 10 years since Yuldashev was last seen, his family has tried to get information about Yuldashev's fate. Some members of the family fled to the United States and engaged legal aid and lobbyists to press the Uzbek government to divulge information about their imprisoned kinsman, all without result.

International rights groups such as U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) repeatedly released statements calling on Uzbekistan's government to provide some information about Yuldashev.

HRW's Steve Swerdlow reminded RFE/RL that his organization had issued a report on September 15, 2014, titled Until The Very End, which chronicled the incarcerations of 34 people. Swerdlow said Uzbek authorities provided some information about 33 of those 34 people. Yuldashev was the one person about whom Uzbek officials did not comment.

It now appears all these efforts during the last five years were in vain. The person all the people and groups were seeking information about was dead.

Uzbek authorities have still not commented on Yuldashev's reported death.

Ozodlik's Shukhrat Babajanov contributed to this report

There is an effort under way in Kyrgyzstan to place some regulations on marriages performed by mullahs to hold the religious figures responsible for marriages that should not have been allowed under the law.

It is a sensitive issue given that the line between mosque and state is being crossed and the ceremony in question has existed as long as Islam has been in the region.

The ceremony is called “nikah” (nike in Kyrgyz), and two members of Kyrgyzstan's parliament have introduced legislation that would give the local mullahs, or others (we’ll get to that soon), regulations to follow before they pronounce a couple man and wife.

Underage marriage is a problem in Central Asia despite legislation that sets a minimum age to be eligible for matrimony and requires the official registration of the union with the authorities. All the same, in the tight-knit communities of the region many marriages are still arranged by parents and performed by the local mullah. Often there is no documentation of such a marriage.

One of the parliamentarians raising the issue is Elmira Zhumalieva (from the Kyrgyzstan Party). She is a co-author of a bill that would require all marriages to be registered first with authorities. Any couple appearing before a mullah with a request for a religious wedding ceremony would have to have the appropriate forms documenting their civil union.

Zhumalieva spokes with RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk.

“There are instances when girls 15 or 16 years old are married off [by] going through the nikah ceremony. Girls at this age are not mature enough for marriage,” Zhumalieva explained, adding that "every now and again the girls cannot resist the will of parents and after getting married they commit suicide.”

Aida Salyanova, parliamentarian and former prosecutor-general
Aida Salyanova, parliamentarian and former prosecutor-general

Zhumalieva and her co-author, Aida Salyanova (from the Ata-Meken Party), propose that “The mullah who performs the nikah ceremony must be held accountable.” According to their draft bill, that means the mullah must first have proof the couple -- any couple regardless of age -- coming to him have already “registered their marriage at a state agency.” If not, the mullah faces three to five years in jail.

Azattyk interviewed a woman named Adalat from the southern Nookat region who has been married three times, never once registering the marriages with the authorities.

“The first time I was married I was 14. At that time the parents arranged it. Father ignored my arguments, that I was too young, and my husband was much older than me,” Adalat recalled. “After two years we got divorced.”

Her father died and Adalat married a second time “of my own desire, to a man with three children, a marriage that also was not officially registered.”

After Adalat gave birth to a daughter, her husband went back to his first wife. “The third time I married and had two children, after that my husband told me I was ‘ugly’ and left, despite my pleading not to leave me, that I had no way of feeding the children and my pensioner mother.”

Since none of Adalat’s marriages was ever officially registered she had no legal basis to claim anything from any of her three ex-husbands.

Azattyk contacted Chinara Yrysbaeva, the legal representative at the Nookat mayor’s office. Yrysbaeva said there were many cases like Adalat’s in the district. Yrysbaeva said when these divorced wives come to officials seeking alimony or child support there is nothing officials can do since their marriages were never officially registered.

These are problems that go beyond just the marriage of underage girls, as Adalat’s experience shows.

But Baktiyar Toktagaziev from the Spiritual Department of Kyrgyzstan’s Muslims told Azattyk the legislation Zhumalieva and Salyanova are proposing needs to be carefully reviewed and studied.

“What kind of responsibility can a mullah have in this matter?” Toktagaziev asked. “If young women ask for him to perform the nikah ceremony, how can [the mullah] be held responsible?”

Toktagaziev said: “A mullah performs nikah, fulfilling his duties, and with that his part ends.”

Toktagaziev said his department was not against the legislation and pointed out that mullahs are supposed to ask the ages of the people getting married and inquire if they consented to the marriage. He said in order to make mullahs responsible under the law, the status of a mullah would have to be raised to that of a state official.

Azattyk also spoke with Jamal Frontbek kyzy, the head of the Muslim women’s organization Mutakallim. Frontbek kyzy said she believes the proposed legislation is a good idea, though she questioned whether the authors of the bill understand the depths of the problem.

Frontbek kyzy did object to holding only the mullah responsible. She said one of the biggest problems with focusing on the mullah is that “any person can perform a nikah just by reading namaz and no one has the power to prevent this.”

According to Azattyk, this is true. Preferably someone reading the relevant holy passages for nikah has at least made the hajj, but this is not essential.

Nikah is actually becoming more popular in Kyrgyzstan and there are solid reasons for that.

The first is simply that young people in Kyrgyzstan are becoming more religious and wish to have a religious ceremony that formalizes their wedding.

For people far from the cities, where the marriage registration bureaus are located, the trips back-and-forth to complete all the paperwork needed for a marriage can be daunting. Many therefore choose to simply have the nikah ceremony performed in their town or village.

For people in the cities, the long process of registering the marriage, which involves much waiting in line, is also inconvenient.

And it goes without saying that those who marry a second, third, or even fourth wife can only get married through nikah.

But as Azattyk has reported, the consequences for women without official marriage documents can be devastating if one day their husband abandons them.

And obtaining official documents provides protection for underage girls.

It is a contest between state and religion and, as Frontbek kyzy noted, this idea of forcing responsibilities on mullahs has come up before but in the end not been instituted.

Azattyk’s Gulaiym Ashakeeva contributed to this report, which was based on material from Ashakeeva, Kanymgul Elkeeva, and Eleonora Beyshenbek kyzy

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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.