Authorities in Uzbekistan have in the last few days reportedly arrested four online writers, all of whom came to prominence for their Islamic and conservative views.
Adham Olimov, Ziyavuddin Rahmon, Otabek Usmanov and Miraziz Ahmedov were all detained in varying circumstances between August 28 and September 2.
Olimov, 32, a graduate of the National University of Uzbekistan and Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, has emerged as a prominent critic of government policies on Islam in his postings on Facebook, where he goes by the name Musannif Adham. His most recent posts were devoted to the right to wear the hijab in schools.
Olimov’s relatives say he was detained by police officers on the evening of August 28 and that before then his Tashkent apartment had been searched. Among the items allegedly confiscated by police were mobile phones, a laptop, a desktop computer, two external hard drives and Arabic-language books and dictionaries.
The Tashkent city prosecutor’s office told Olimov’s famiy that he had been sentenced to 15 days in detention for refusing to submit to police authority. He was also fined $23.
Rights activist Surat Ikramov told Eurasianet that he believes the reasons for the arrest were Olimov’s religious view and convictions. And the motivations for the other detentions appear at first glance to be similar.
Rahmon, a Tashkent-based blogger, and Usmanov, from Andijan, were detained around the same time as Olimov.
Rahmon came to prominence in February when he made a public call to ban a popular Turkish soap opera aired on Uzbek television on the grounds that it was supposedly sinful and contrary to Uzbek customs. Nothing is known about his arrest, but it is believed he was also sentenced to 15 days of detention.
Moscow-based Ferghana.ru reported that Usmanov was taken away by police from his workplace at the General Motors plant in Andijan. The website claimed, without identifying its sources, that he was placed in a cell holding what it described as “women of easy virtue,” and that this action incited a confrontation. Usmanov was sentenced to 15 days in jail on the basis of a complaint arising from that altercation, the website alleged.
Ahmedov, the last person in this group to be detained, was summoned to a police station in Tashkent on September 2. Previously, he had written, in an online commentary about the government’s official policy on school uniforms, that if his daughter was forbidden from wearing a headscarf, he would stop her from attending classes.
In a Facebook post written a day before he was due to go to the police station, Ahmedov wrote: "They have called me in to the police. Pray for me."
His current whereabouts are not known.
Writing on Twitter, Human Rights Watch researcher Steve Swerdlow expressed dismay at the detentions, calling them a mistaken way of reacting to enlivened dialogue about the role of Islam in Uzbek society.
“The wrong way to deal with such concerns is to detain bloggers on illegitimate pretenses, raid their homes without warning, and deny them access to attorneys in pre-trial detention. This is not the Uzbekistan that so many are striving hard to bring into being,” he wrote.