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Mysterious Disappearances in Uzbekistan

An Arabic teacher disappears without trace amid concerns that police might implicate him in March violence.
By IWPR staff

Farrukh Haidarov who disappeared on June 25 with his son Abdullo.

The unexplained disappearance of four Arabic teachers in the Uzbek capital Tashkent has been linked to the violence blamed on Islamic radicals earlier this year. Relatives of one man say they believe police are holding him, but the authorities deny this.


In the latest case, Farrukh Haidarov, 32, disappeared on June 25 after dropping off his six-year-old son at a park but failing to come back to pick him up.


His wife Zuhra Fahrutdinova believes that he has been detained by the security forces in connection with several days of shooting and explosions – some possibly the work of suicide bombers - at the end of March and beginning of April. The violence left 47 dead, including 10 police officers and 37 members of an as yet unidentified radical Islamic group.


“I am worried that the investigators need to find the culprits at all costs, and so they could have arrested my husband and ‘made a terrorist’ out of him,” said a worried Fahrutdinova. “I’m afraid that he is close to standing trial, and will be presented as one of the terrorist leaders.”


Haidarov – who studied at the Islamic Institute in Medina, Saudi Arabia between 1991 and 1997 - taught Arabic at a cultural centre run by the Egyptian embassy in Uzbekistan.


The cultural centre is likely to have been the focus of police investigations since several young Uzbek women implicated in the attacks had studied Arabic there.


Investigators have said at least three of the women from the Arabic courses died in the explosions. One of them, 19-year-old Dilnoza Holmuradova, is alleged to have blown herself up at the city’s Chorsu market on 29 March, killing a policeman as well, while two others, Shahnoza Inoyatova and Zahro Turaeva, are said to have died in a shootout with police.


A fourth woman, Sevara Azimova, who also took the Arabic course, is currently under arrest under suspicion of involvement in the violence.


Haidarov’s wife says he was a practicing Muslim and a respected expert on Islamic affairs and the Arabic language. But she insists he was never part of any Islamic organisation, and never had any problems with the police, who have spent the last decade pursuing suspected members of various radical groups.


She is adamant that Haidarov has not gone underground to avoid the police, and points to the large number of suspected Islamic activists arrested in recent years, as well as the many cases where human rights groups have raised serious concerns about the quality of evidence brought against them, allegations that confessions have been extracted under torture, and unfair trials.


Uzbekistan’s two law-enforcement agencies, the interior ministry which controls the police and the National Security Service, a successor to the Soviet KGB, deny that they are holding Haidarov or that any criminal charges have been brought.


The head of the criminal investigations at the interior ministry, Alisher Sharafutdinov, said for the record that Haidarov was not being held by police.


“We have checked all the arrests made during the period of Farrukh Haidarov’s disappearance,” said Sharafutdinov. “This person was not detained by police agencies and no criminal case has been opened against him. If he had been arrested by the police, then in accordance with the law, his relatives would have been informed.”


Olimjon Turakulov, press officer for the NSS, said, “If the NSS had arrested Farrukh Haidarov, then within three days, charges would have been pressed against him, he would have been provided with a defence, and of course his relatives would have received information about it.”


Another officer at the criminal investigations department suggested that the missing man may be on the run and that his relatives are trying to cover it up. “Haidarov may have suspected that he would soon be arrested, so he decided to disappear to avoid arrest,” said the officer, who declined to be named. “There are many cases of this kind, and the wives play the role of women grieving for their vanished husbands.”


But Fahrutdinova denied this, saying, “He couldn’t have left home without telling me anything, or even taking his passport. If we had felt under threat, we would have left the country together - my husband would have taken me with him. We stayed in Tashkent because we knew we were not breaking any law and we had nothing to fear, we are simply peaceful Muslims.”


Three other Arabic teachers have disappeared since April, but their families are refusing to give interviews and do not want be named, for fear that if their husbands are indeed being held by police, they could face retribution.


Tolib Yakubov, who heads the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, said it was possible that Haidarov and the others were being held incommunicado, since his group has recorded numerous previous cases where people have been held for months either by the interior ministry or the NSS without their relatives being informed.


“It is normal practice for police not to inform relatives that family members have been arrested - there are hundreds of such cases,” he said.


The Egyptian cultural centre is refusing to discuss its missing teacher, with its director saying he could not comment on staff or student matters.


Egypt’s ambassador has also refused to speak about the case, saying through a secretary that “this is an internal matter for Uzbekistan”.


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