Friday, February 28, 2014

Political Islam and Regulation of Religious Material in Uzbekistan

Hizb ut-Tahrir in Uzbekistan
                Another political organization in the spotlight of the Uzbek government is the political Islamic party of Hizb ut-Tahrir.  The party calls for the unification of all Muslims to create a caliphate, which is a political structure based on Sharia law.  The influence of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) eventually reached from Palestine to Uzbekistan in the late 1990s.  The government of Uzbekistan has banned HT and has carried out widespread arrests of its members.  In 1999, dozens of HT members allegedly possessing weapons and ammunition were arrested in the Andijan region [1].  Since then, numerous reports suggest that many of the alleged HT members are tortured and die in the prison colonies.  To this day, arrests of alleged HT members continue in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. 
                The conversation concerning the alleged membership of these individuals is somewhat conflicting.  While an article on the HT’s Russia site states that some of those arrested in Andijan were “alleged” members, their testimony in court suggests that they proclaim their affiliation with HT and call for the creation of the Islamic state (caliphate) and its supremacy [2].  According to the article, the detainees “warned that the Islamic State will soon be revived, and they (the judges and prosecutors) will have to answer for all of their misdeeds. . . that all systems of government except for the Islamic system are incorrect.”  While the alleged affiliation to HT of recent detainees should initially be questioned, it certainly appears that some of these individuals openly promote their dedication to the organization and its cause.  The article reveres these individuals as martyrs, for “they are willing to make sacrifices and are willing to wage an ideological and political struggle.”  Although the official stance from an HT center in London claims to promote non-violent approaches to political struggle, it remains to be seen to what extent this call for non-violence is recognized by HT members in Uzbekistan in the near future. 
Uzbek State Legislation Regarding Religious Material
On 20 January 2014, the upper house of the Uzbek parliament (Oliy Majlis) signed into law a series of restrictions pertaining to the distribution and creation of religious materials.  While previous reports suggested that this law was already enforced in a de-facto manner, the January legislation represents the formal codification of this policy [3].  The first section of the bill called for the organization of a bureaucratic framework to be made within a month to implement the regulations.  Section two (points 5-8) require that any manufacturing of religious material must first be approved by this regulatory apparatus, and that the publisher’s name, address, and number of circulations be listed.  Section three outlines the responsibility of Uzbek customs control to seize incoming unauthorized media and forward them to the regulatory body.  Section four regulates the sale and distribution of any authorized materials, including requiring all sales and exchanges to be documented.  This section also prohibits the distribution of material with fundamentalist or anti-state themes (among many others).  This legislation also concerns religious material posted on the internet. 
                The government of Uzbekistan is very interested in regulating the distribution of religious materials, but the power to define what material is religious, provocative, anti state, etc. is vested in this regulatory committee.  Listed in this legislation are not only a variety of prohibited themes, but forms of media (print, CD, DVD, internet) as well.  Deputy Prime Minister Adkham Ikramov is cited in the legislation with the obligation to implement the measures.
                The January legislation can be expected to have a profound impact on social, religious, and political organization and mobilization throughout the near future.  Recalling the instability and violence of the late 1990s in the Fergana valley, it is most likely that the Uzbek government is seeking to prevent similar conflagrations by placing these controls on the production and distribution of media.  The broad definition of banned material, however, suggests that the regulation of specifically religious material will not be the sole outcome of this legislation.

1.      1. Memorial.  Organization which documents political activities in the former Soviet space. "Chast' 1. Spisok lits, osuzhdennykh ili arestovannykh v Uzbekistane v 1999 g. po politicheskim i religioznym motivam i obvinennykh v sovershenii prestupleniy, ne svyazannykh s nasiliyem"
2.      2. El'dar, Hamzin.  Hizb ut-Tahrir CIS.  "Khizb ut-Takhrir v Uzbekistane prodolzhit svoy prizyv do Sudnogo Dnya, c soizvoleniya Vsevyshnego Allakha!" January 1, 2013.
3.      3.  Record from the legislative session of the Oliy Majlis of Uzbekistan.  January 20, 2014.

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