Prague, 19 May 2005 (RFE/RL) – Rakhimov's elder sister Yulduz Rakhimova was in her brother's house this morning with him, his wife, and five little children when he was arrested.
"Today, between 4 and 5 a.m., some 30 armed people came to Bakhtiyor's house. I think they were either soldiers or special forces. All of them had machine-guns. There were some thirty people. I didn't count. I saw them in the window. They fired one shot. I looked and saw young men walking slowly like in movies," Rakhimova said.
Rakhimova told RFE/RL that soldiers did not show any arrest warrant. She said they beat her brother before taking him away.
"While I was talking to them my brother got up," she said. "Meanwhile, the armed men entered the room. Bakhtiyor said, "OK, OK" and asked them to go outside, so they don't wake any children up. But soldiers entered the room where children were sleeping. I said, 'There are kids here, they are going to be scared to death when they see your weapons'. They didn't listen to me, handcuffed [Bakhtiyor], hit his head with the butt of the machine gun, started kicking. It went on for quite some time. They didn't want him, didn't ask any questions."
Bakhtiyor Rakhimov has been a well-known figure in the border town of Karasu. Local people say he was one of those who initiated reconstruction of the bridge over the Shahrikhansay River that lies between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The bridge was destroyed two years ago at the order of Uzbek authorities. The act was seen as a crackdown on cross-border trade.
Pictures of Rakhimov riding a horse have been shown by many international channels since yesterday. Media reported -- referring to Uzbek refugees in camps in Kyrgyzstan -- that Rakhimov said the country must be ruled by Sharia law and that he had announced his intention to install an Islamic government in Uzbekistan.
Rakhimov and his aides -- also prominent people in Karasu -- were detained early today as Uzbek government troops occupied the city. The entry of the troops put an end to the "people’s power” situation established in Karasu after 14 May, when protesters chased local authorities out of the city.
Rakhimova said the soldiers' visit and Rahimov's arrest came as a surprise to all the family’s members.
"They went further upstairs and told children, 'You should come with us'. I asked if I could dress the children. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law looked shocked. She didn't have time to put her clothes on and was standing wrapped in a blanket. She was crying and asking them, 'don't shoot, don't shoot,'" Rakhimova said.
However, Rakhimova says, the situation got worse when she realized that not only her brother, but also a teenage nephew was to be detained.
“[Bakhtiyor’s] son was also detained. He will turn 14 on 2 June," she said. "His name is Olovuddin. After [Bakhtiyor and his son were detained], a new group of soldiers came in. I told their commander: ‘Among those you’ve arrested, there is a 14-year-old boy who didn’t take part in anything. Please, release him.’ They promised to release him, but they haven’t done so. I’m trying to do something now but I don’t know whom I should talk to and where I should go. It is very difficult for [the boy’s] mother.”
The Uzbek authorities have blamed Islamic extremists for the recent unrest in Andijon and Karasu. They have repeatedly said that banned Islamic groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and Akramiya were behind the attacks on government facilities last week.
Rakhimov’s sister insists her brother was not a member of any religious group. “Bakhtiyor opposes any groupings because he believes that dividing people into groups is wrong," she said. "We all are equal creatures of Allah. Yes, he believes in Allah, in God. But don’t we all need belief and faith?”
Bakhtiyor Rakhimov is a relatively wealthy farmer who was also involved in charitable activity.
Independent observers and human rights activists say the trial of 23 entrepreneurs from Andijon accused of belonging to a banned Islamic group that directly preceded the outbreak of last week’s unrest in eastern Uzbekistan was part of the Uzbek government’s crackdown on local businessmen.[For more on these events, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: Unrest in Uzbekistan]See also:
What Really Happened On Bloody Friday?
Where Does Crisis Go From Here?
Protesters Charge Officials With Using Extremism Charges To Target Entrepreneurs
Analysis: Economic Concerns Primary In Andijon
Background: Banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Faces Dwindling Appeal, Internal Divisions
Interview: Opposition Leader Tells RFE/RL About 'Farmers' Revolution'