Uzbekistan: "Islamist" Tag Used to Extort Money
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||13 March 2011|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Uzbekistan: "Islamist" Tag Used to Extort Money, 13 March 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d7f254bc.html [accessed 28 April 2015]|
The threat of arrest is being used to intimidate and extort money from people in Uzbekistan's southern region of Kashkadarya, rights activists say.
In a February 28 press release, the Tashkent-based Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders led by Surat Ikramov outlined concerns about the situation in Nishon district, where a pattern of blackmail has emerged.
The extortionists target individuals known to be devout Muslims and threaten to denounce them as extremists to the security services unless they hand over money, livestock or other property.
"Various people, both men and women, have recently been visiting me at home to demand money," a local man who gave his name as Askar said, adding that friends had advised him not to go to the police as this would only get them into more trouble.
The cases highlight the state of fear in Uzbekistan, where the authorities regularly round up and jail suspected Islamists. Last year, 13 men from Nishon district were arrested and charged with links to the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, and also to a hitherto unknown group called Jihodchilar ("Jihadists").
Another man who introduced himself as Kholmamat said his neighbour, whose brother was among the 13 detained, was approached by a blackmailer who demanded a ton of grain from his farm, "otherwise he'd write to the police identifying him too as a jihadist". Once again, the man complied.
A senior officer in the Kashkadarya provincial police department, who refused to give his name, denied any knowledge of cases like this.
Abdurahman Tashanov of the Ezgulik human rights group said it was common knowledge that individuals convicted of offences relating to Islamic activity were tortured and their relatives persecuted, so it was understandable that people would give away all they had to avoid ending up in that situation.
Ikramov said that while the blackmailers in Nishon district appeared to be motivated by personal gain, he suspected that they were in fact working for the police or National Security Service, which are keen to maintain high rates of arresting alleged religious extremists.
His group believes there are almost 10,000 people serving jail terms for convictions relating to alleged Islamic links. The commonest charges are "anti-constitutional activity" or membership of an illegal religious organisation.
This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.