New governor, new rules in Andijan
Recently I came across the news that the Uzbek authorities have introduced new restrictions on Islamic practices in Andijan province. This is sad news because the restrictions will definitely fuel anti-government sentiment among believers. Despite this, few believers are ready to protest against the new rules.
Ahmadjan Usmanov, the newly appointed governor of Andijan province, has introduced a number of decrees restricting Islamic practices in the province. All Andijan restaurants and cafes are now required to serve alcohol, while traditional Islamic calls to prayer will be banned in mosques throughout Andijan province. In addition, theologians and Islamic clerics are forbidden to preach at wedding ceremonies, and mosques are not allowed to admit children and teenagers for public prayers. Employers are forbidden to allow their employees to pray at work. Offenders must pay a fine of more than $400 if they breach any of these rules.
A long-time Karimov loyalist, Usmanov was appointed by President Islam Karimov on 13 October to replace Saidullo Begaliev, who Karimov dismissed on grounds of abuse of power and nepotism. Prior to his appointment, Usmanov served as chief of police in Namangan province. Usmonovâ€™s police background and his previous experience in cracking down on Islamists in Namangan played a major role in his appointment.
The rules aim to counter a growing religious trend in the region, where many restaurants and cafes owned by devout Muslims have stopped serving alcohol. Wedding ceremonies involving Islamic clerics and sermons have become widely popular. Most workplaces have provided for prayer-rooms to their employees, and Friday prayers have attracted a large number of children and teenagers.
The new rules imposed by Usmanov are also designed to weaken Islamic religious associations, which have emerged as a potent force in Andijan. These groups control many businesses in Andijan, including cafes and taxi companies. The new restrictions come after the authorities imposed strict regulation over entrepreneurial activity. Under a decree effective since 1 July, all persons involved in taxi operations are required to join a state-controlled enterprise that has the power to issue and revoke licenses, collect revenues, and impose fines.
Many Andijani residents are quietly complaining about the new regulations and are accusing the new governor of religious intolerance and discrimination. They point out that many Muslims in other provinces are not affected by similar rules. But few believers and entrepreneurs in Andijan will object to the rules openly for fear of inviting arrest. Memories are still fresh of the 2005 Andijan crackdown, which began when 23 local businessmen were jailed for â€œreligious extremism.â€?
On their part, the authorities deny accusations of religious intolerance, and the Uzbek Foreign Ministry dismissed recent condemnation by the US Department of State as â€œmeddling in domestic affairs of a sovereign state.â€?