Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Uzbek charges trumped-up: Journalists

The Associated Press report on the escalating violence in Uzbekistan was clear on what the Tashkent government considers its source. Bagila Bukharbayeva's report for the AP, widely distributed around the world, contained this paragraph:
The Uzbek unrest began overnight Friday when protesters freed as many as 2,000 prisoners, including the 23 members of the Akramia Islamic group on trial on charges of being members of a group allied with the outlawed radical Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir. It seeks to create a worldwide Islamic state and has been forced underground in most of Central Asia and Russia.
The U.S., which maintains a military base in Uzbekistan that's used to support Middle East combat operations, agrees. But many in Uzbekistan do not. Writing for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting -- a London-based organization that trains journalists in war reporting, among other things -- Matluba Azamatova wrote the following about the trial that is seen as the flashpoint for the violence:
The basis for the case is that the accused, who were arrested in June-August 2004, were members of a covert group called the ?Akramia?, named after Andijan native Akram Yuldashev who once wrote an Islamic treatise and who has spent years in Uzbek jails.

Most of the defendants were successful businessmen, and 15 ran their own private firms, employing some 2,000 people in all ? a workforce which now faces unemployment. They were also involved in charitable work, and sympathisers say their devout Muslim beliefs made them try to conduct business in an ethical way, in a country where corruption is rife.

The fact that the men occupied respected positions rather than being radicals living on the margins of society meant they had substantial public sympathy in the city when their trial opened in February.
Azamatova goes on to note the view of a number of residents of Andijan: that the trial was intended largely to drum up opposition to a major thorn in the side of the government of Islam Karimov. His government has been accused of using torture and repression to maintain power by Human Rights Watch and others. Karimov claims the 23 jailed were affiliated with a group called Hizb ut-Tahrir ("Party of Liberation"), which openly has called for a united Islamic government in the heavily Muslim Central Asian region of former Soviet republics. Karimov paints the group as radical Islamists, but this characterization is far from universal, reports Kathy Gannon for the Associated Press:
Hizb ut-Tahrir, founded in 1953 in Jordan by Sheik Takuddin an-Nabahani shares the goal of creating a huge Islamic state with groups that are on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida.

Hizb ut-Tahrir sometimes meets with leaders of these groups, but the organization's London-based spokesman, Dr. Imran Waheed, insisted, ``We only talk and meet to try to convince them to our way of bringing about change, which is a nonviolent one.''
``I believe that 99 percent of Muslim people anywhere in the world want the same thing, a caliphate to rule them,'' Waheed told AP in a telephone interview, adding that Central Asia is one of the most fertile recruiting grounds for Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The reasons should be sadly familiar, Gannon reports: "[C]orrupt authoritarian regimes rule over bankrupt economies; legions of disillusioned youths are unemployed; and ruined social systems are bereft of basic health and education services once provided by the former Soviet Union." Analysts fear that with further repression, the militants within the group could hold sway. That could mean a rising wave of unrest in the region where Ronald Reagan and his disciples take credit for having ended decades of Soviet repression and won the Cold War.


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