After torturing her son to death, allegedly by boiling him in water, the government of Washington's closest Central Asian ally, Uzbekistan, has sentenced his 62-year-old mother to six years of hard labor in prison, according to human rights groups, who are calling on the Bush administration to speak out against the continuing persecution of independent Muslims there.
The mother, Fatima Mukhadirova, was sentenced
last week on charges of possessing unsanctioned religious literature, membership
in a banned religion organization, and "attempted encroachment on the constitutional
order" after a closed trial.
Uzbek authorities alleged that she was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of
Liberation), a prohibited Muslim group that promotes the peaceful establishment
of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan and Central Asia. Currently, some 4,000 alleged
members of the group are believed to be in prison on similar charges, although
most rights groups estimate the total number of independent Muslims – that is,
those who practice outside government-controlled mosques – at more than 6,000.
"Uzbekistan's campaign against religious dissidents continues unabated,"
said Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch (HRW), "and it is time for the
U.S. to acknowledge that one of its key allies is systematically abusing the
rights of Muslims."
HRW called on the administration to designate Uzbekistan – whose president, Islam
Karimov, has ruled the former Soviet republic with an iron hand since before
the Soviet collapse – a violator of religious freedom under a special law that
authorizes the imposition of sanctions against offending countries.
Mukhadirova is the mother of Muzafar Avozov, a 35-year-old father of four
and a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir who was tortured to death in August 2002. While
prison authorities insisted that Avozov was killed after inmates spilled hot
tea on him, a forensic report based on photographs of his corpse studied by
the University of Glasgow pathology department found that his body had been
immersed in boiling water. His body also showed other serious wounds around
the head and neck, and his fingernails were missing.
The most populous of the Central Asian states, Uzbekistan established political
and military ties with the United States and west European states after the
Soviet collapse, but those ties became considerably closer in the wake of the
9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Karimov permitted US intelligence and military forces to use former Soviet
military bases to support operations in Afghanistan in late 2001, and the US
military has maintained its presence ever since.
Indeed, to underline Uzbekistan's importance, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld
had intended to travel to Tashkent to meet with Karimov in early December, but
the visit was canceled at the last moment due to bad weather. Secretary of Agriculture
Ann Veneman visited with Karimov last November, calling Uzbekistan a "strategic
ally of the United States" and offering both food aid and assistance in
developing Uzbekistan's agricultural sector.
Karimov has strongly resisted US and European appeals to institute far-reaching
political and democratic reforms. In addition to his repression of non-violent
independent Muslims, he has outlawed opposition parties, harassed and imprisoned
other dissidents, and despite his own promises has failed to stop torture that
human rights groups and the UN charge is used routinely against political prisoners,
particularly independent Muslims. Scores of dissidents have been executed after
After torturing her son to death, allegedly by boiling him in water, the government
of Washington's closest Central Asian ally, Uzbekistan, has sentenced his 62-year-old
mother to six years of hard labor in prison, according to human rights groups,
who are calling on the Bush administration to speak out against the continuing
persecution of independent Muslims there.
In a speech last fall before the National Endowment of Democracy (NED), Bush
criticized what he said were decades of Western tolerance for repression practiced
by western-allied Muslim governments and said that Washington would henceforth
promote and encourage democratic government and human rights in Muslim countries.
But he omitted any reference to Uzbekistan, an omission quickly seized on by
critics both in the US and in the Islamic world as evidence that Bush's rhetoric
He also failed to cite Tunisia, another close US ally, whose president, Zine
el-Abidine Ben Ali, will be Bush's guest at the White House this week. Ben Ali
will be the first leader from the Muslim world to visit Bush since the president's
Human rights groups, including HRW, Amnesty International, and Human Rights
first, say Bush's willingness to put serious pressure on Ben Ali – whose long-standing
intolerance of opposition, particularly Muslim activists, is not unlike Karimov's – to
implement wide-ranging reforms will be a major test of how seriously Bush intends
to follow up democratic rhetoric.
"Tunisia bills itself as a moderate Muslim nation," said Joe Stork,
acting executive director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division. "But
there is nothing moderate in the way authorities repress nearly all forms of
As in Tunisia, rights groups and regional experts have long argued that Karimov's
repression has actually radicalized many Uzbek Muslims, some of whom have been
associated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which Bush linked
to al Qaeda shortly after 9/11. These analysts say that nonviolent groups, such
as Hizb ut-Tahrir, have come under pressure from their own membership to adopt
Following the sentencing of Fatima Mukhadirova a spokesman for the group, declared:
"By intimidating and silencing old women, Karimov has illustrated his abject
failure to counter the rise of political Islam in the region. This failure is
yet another incentive for Muslims to intensify their work to remove such tyrants."
The authorities never alleged that Mukhadirova was an IMU member or favored
violence against the government. One of the charges for which she was found
guilty was that she had help establish "an underground cell of women propagating
the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
In fact, it appears that the government moved against her because of the embarrassment
she caused by publicizing the circumstances of her son's death, including sending
the photographs of his corpse to the British Embassy which then forwarded them
on to Glasgow for analysis. The British ambassador in Tashkent, Craig Murray,
told the London Guardian after last week's sentence that it was "appalling"
and that the chances of her surviving in prison were "very limited."
"She just asked for an independent investigation into the death of her
son, something which she is legitimately entitled to," Maisy Weicherdi,
a Central Asia researcher for Amnesty, told IRIN news agency in an assessment
that was echoed by several local rights groups in Tashkent.
"By arresting Mukhadirova, the authorities show that they can do whatever
they want despite pressure from the international community," Vasilya Inoyatoa,
head of the local group Ezgulik, also told IRIN. "In doing so, they wanted
to teach a lesson to others as well."
Mukhadirova will not be the only family member in prison. Her youngest son
is also there on charges of membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, according to HRW's
Denber, who added that her case "is tragic, but unfortunately it's typical
in many ways. We have seen hundreds of families decimated by the Uzbek government's
campaign to punish independent religious activity."
"Uzbekistan cannot be a good ally for the United States in the struggle
against terrorism unless it stops persecuting Muslims for the peaceful expression
of their faith," said Tom Malinowski, HRW's Washington director.