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Prominent Uzbek Cleric In Critical Condition After Sweden Shooting

Obidkhon Qori Nazarov has been living in Sweden since he was granted political asylum in 2006.
Obidkhon Qori Nazarov has been living in Sweden since he was granted political asylum in 2006.
RFE/RL's Uzbek Service is reporting that Uzbekistan's prominent religious cleric Imam Obidkhon Qori Nazarov, who has survived an apparent assassination attempt in the Swedish town of Stromsund, has been transferred to another Swedish town under protection of police guards.

A Stromsund police spokesman confirmed that a 50-year-old man was shot in the town on February 22 and hospitalized with gun wounds.

The spokesman declined to give any other details, saying that an investigation was under way.

On February 22, a source close to Nazarov said he remained in critical condition after being shot 3 to 4 times.

Nazarov has been living in Sweden since he was granted political asylum in 2006.

With tens of thousands of followers and admirers, he is considered one of the most powerful opponents of the regime of President Islam Karimov.

Shortly after arriving in Sweden in March 2006, Nazarov broke eight years of silence in an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Alisher Sidikov.

He and his family had just received refugee status from the United Nations after living in hiding in Kazakhstan since 1998.

Nazarov was one of the most popular imams in Central Asia in the early 1990s, making him a target of Karimov's government.

Nazarov, who was 47 years old at the time of the interview, left Tashkent for Kazakhstan after Uzbek authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of religious extremism and terrorism.

The United Nations concluded that Nazarov was a victim of political persecution by the Uzbek authorities and needed to be protected.

From exile, Nazarov became one of the leading supporters of the secular opposition and democratic change in Uzbekistan.

Calling For Peaceful Change

He told RFE/RL that the Karimov government hadn't had a "fair attitude" toward Islam since the Soviet days, when "people in power used to put their will over the wishes of the people."

"Now in Uzbekistan we see the same situation. They don't want to give broad opportunities to the people," he added. "While, in fact, Allah wants people to live freely and have lots of opportunities, [officials] wanted to rule using communist methods."

Nazarov said he responded to pressure from the government by telling officials that times had changed and he "didn't want to carry out their orders."

That made him a terrorist in the eyes of Tashkent, which also accused him of leading fundamentalist Wahhabis in Uzbekistan.

Nazarov denied that charge. "What we are preaching is in line with Allah's words and his prophet's interpretation," he told RFE/RL.

"But those who do not want us accuse us in many ways. It is ridiculous, but for the [Uzbek government], human rights defenders are the terrorists; journalists are the terrorists. In this situation, one should never react when they call you the same as well.

"I do not support a change of government with arms. We believe things can get better through peaceful means."

Nazarov also refuted allegations that he and his followers were seeking the establishment of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan. His wish, he said, was to see freedom of religion so that Muslims and Christians and other religions could all benefit.

"We want a society where human rights are respected and freedom of religion is guaranteed," he said.

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