10/16/2006, 00.00
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Muslim leaders and faithful subject to arrest and imprisonment

Mosques are denied independence as they are subject to controls by the governmental Muslim Board. The government wants to control Islam from within and slams extremist charges against all those who are independent.

Tashkent (AsiaNews) – The ex imam of Tashkent was condemned on 17 years in prison on 15 September for "religious extremism", said Forum 18. The news agency described his arrest as "part of government efforts to make all mosques subject to the state's Muslim Board".

Fahrutdinov was sentenced for "undermining the constitutional basis of the Republic of Uzbekistan", for "illegally setting up religious organisations" and for
 "preparing or distributing documents that pose a threat to public safety and public order". He was one of nine Uzbeks who fled to Kazakhstan and who were forcefully repatriated by the Kazak authorities in November 2005. They were accused of ties with Obidhon qori Nazarov, an influential imam now exiled in Europe and charged with being a Wahhabi leader.

But Surat Ikramov, chairman of the Human Rights Initiative Group of Uzbekistan, said "Fahrutdinov's sole crime was that he was an educated and influential imam who did not hide his independence from the authorities. 'Wahhabi' is simply a term used by the authorities to arrest independent Muslims." Relatives and neutral observers were barred from the trial.

Ikramov said that on 6 October, Bahrom Nivozov was arrested. "A believer, but not a member of any religious movement, he had to spend three years in hiding for fear of persecution." Now he is charged with "participating in religious extremist and banned organisations". The police broke down his door, beat him and then took him into custody at the prison of the Interior Affairs Ministry.

Wahhabism is a radical Muslim movement that preaches more severe customs and the advent of a universal caliphate. In recent years, Uzbekistan suffered because of the violent activities of fundamentalist groups but now the public authorities and the courts accuse of extremism practically any Muslim who operates outside the government-controlled Muslim Board. The government wants to control Islam, the most widespread faith in the country, from within.

Shoazim Minovarov, head of the government's Religious Affairs Committee, said all mosques must be subject to the authority and controls of the Muslim Board. This in turn is completely under the control of the state. In 1998, a religion law required all places of worship to re-register and mosques that did not do so were closed.

In 1998 the ex imam Nazarov was forced to flee abroad to avoid arrest after he publicly criticized this new law. His son and many of his relatives have gone missing after arrest.

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