Back in early February, police in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, detained 20 men in their early thirties on charges of disorderly conduct. Fifteen were released immediately, but the remaining five were slapped with 15-day jail terms for allegedly harassing a woman and refusing to obey police orders.
Although the episode did not seem especially noteworthy on the surface, the National Security Service – or SNB in its Russian initials – quickly got involved.
What drew the interest of security agents was that all the detainees were members of Uzbekistan’s tiny community of ethnic Iranian Shia Muslims. The homes of the men were searched, seemingly in a hunt for compromising religious literature. Attention focused on two of the five detainees – Zhahangir Kulizhanov and Shavkat Azimov.
When the pair served out their petty hooliganism rap, they were charged with another, more serious, crime – illegally establishing a public association, or religious organization. The suggestion was that they were secretly propagating radical Shia views among members of their community.
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