Uzbekistan: Journalists Abused by Mob of Women

Police "incite" market women into attacking journalists trying to cover Hizb-ut-Tahrir demonstration.

Uzbekistan: Journalists Abused by Mob of Women

Police "incite" market women into attacking journalists trying to cover Hizb-ut-Tahrir demonstration.

Uzbek policemen know they're likely to get into trouble for roughing up inquisitive journalists working for Western media organisations, so they get angry groups of women to do the job for them instead.

The security forces appear to have done just that last month at the Chor-su market in the old quarter of Tashkent. Word had leaked that Muslim women whose menfolk had been locked up for belonging to the Islamic Hizb-ut-Tahrir organisation planned to meet there on January 20 to protest about prison ill-treatment.

Security forces sealed off most of the would-be demonstrators in their homes. Protesters who made it on to the streets were pushed into buses and whisked away.

In the event, only a few journalists arrived at the market - correspondents from IWPR, BBC Radio, Radio Liberty and a local human rights representative. They found themselves under intense scrutiny by plainclothes policemen and agents from the National Security Service, NSS.

Rakhmatjon Kuldashev, the Radio Liberty correspondent, said, "I was really offended. One of the officers came up and asked in a belligerent tone 'who are you, what are you doing here?' It was very nasty."

Suddenly a group of quite different women appeared. About 10 to 15 stallholders and gypsies yelled insults at the correspondents and claimed they were getting in the way of market business.

The IWPR correspondent asked in Russian how a handful of journalists could possibly interfere with their trading. "This is Uzbekistan," one market woman bellowed. "You have to talk Uzbek or go back to Russia." Further attempts by the reporters to remonstrate with the women was met by even fiercer tirades.

Security men looked on, beaming approval. "It is clear these women were brought here and encouraged to drive us out of the market," said Bakhtier Imamov, a correspondent for the Uzbek service of the BBC. IWPR sources say such groups of women are regularly blackmailed by the police into attacking anti-government demonstrators.

When the journalists started to move away, the market women, now some 50 strong followed them still hurling abuse. A squabble broke out when the wife of one of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir detainees ran up to us saying she'd been chased and beaten by the mob. The rights activist, Vasilya Inoyatova, offered to escort her away.

"We asked the market women to let us leave but they pushed us, hit us and pulled my hair," Inoyatova said. "We finally managed to get away - both of us were badly beaten, especially the woman I was trying to protect. The police and security services saw everything but did nothing."

Police officers shrugged off the whole incident, saying local people had been provoked by the Hizb-ut-Tahrir women. "You see," one officer told Imamov, "the people don't want all these religious types organising meetings here."

This was not the first time Hizb-ut-Tahrir women have tried to stage protests over claims that their menfolk are being beaten and abused in prison. A similar demonstration last December was also broken up by the authorities.

"I'm not a fan of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and I'm against the setting up of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan," said Inoyatova. "But I'm convinced that if the authorities in Uzbekistan listened just once to the demands of these women they would not have to spend so much times battling religious groups."

Independent human rights organisations say there are now 7000 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Uzbek jails. They say about 4000 of them are members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR director in Uzbekistan

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