Uzbekistan: Hizb ut-Tahrir trial ends with prison term, suspended sentences
Activists say the authorities have failed an important test on religious freedoms.
A court in Uzbekistan’s capital has convicted five people for membership in the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The trial, which ended on July 9, had been seen as a test of how the government’s stance against non-mainstream Muslims is evolving against a backdrop of slow political reforms. Rights activists argue the Tashkent court’s decision shows little progress has been made.
Four of the defendants received relatively mild sentences compared with the harsh treatment often reserved for religious cases under the late President Islam Karimov, who died in 2016. Guzal Tokhtakhadjayeva, 32, was given a three-year suspended sentence and was released from custody. In addition to being found guilty of belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tokhtakhadjayeva was determined to have distributed illegal religious literature and raised funds for the group.
Others on trial, Umida Uzakova, 30, and Mukhammadamin Abdurakhmanov, 26, were ordered to remain under house arrest for three years. Uzakova Nasiba, 52, was sentenced to four years under house arrest.
The toughest penalty was reserved for Mukhammad Rashidov, 33, who was sentenced to eight years in a penal colony.
While the punishments are reminiscent of times when especially devout Muslims could expect tough treatment, the Hizb ut-Tahrir trial was distinguished for its relative openness. From its very opening, on April 11, rights activists and journalists have been able to be present in the courtroom and follow proceedings.
But that, say activists, is where the progress ended.
Surat Ikramov, a rights advocate who closely monitored the trial, claimed in remarks to Eurasianet that all the evidence presented in court was obtained through torture and psychological mistreatment.
“A completely absurd, religiously motivated verdict has been handed down. Lawyers for the defendants asked the court to acquit their clients because of the absence of corpus delicti, there was no proof of guilt and they demanded that they be released in the courtroom,” Ikrakov said.
Tokhtakhadjayeva’s older sister, Dildora Agzamkhadjayeva, said that the whole family is in shock at the severity of Rashidov’s penalty. In considering the sentence for Rashidov, who is married to Tokhtakhadjayeva, the court considered a previous conviction on similar grounds.
"It is very strange that on the one hand the court gave Tokhtakhadjayeva a suspended sentence but that her husband got eight years,” Agzamkhadjayeva said. “Who will feed their three children? Guzal is sick and is not yet able to work. We will fight to the end to free Mukhammad Rashidov.”