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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Analysis: Coalition sparks human rights fears
President Islam Karimov
President Karimov: Anti-militant stance
By BBC Eurasia analyst Malcolm Haslett

In building their "coalition against terrorism" the United States and their allies have courted a number of countries which in the past have come under criticism from human rights groups for their restriction of civil liberties.

In their eagerness to consolidate the new "coalition", will Western governments now turn a blind eye to human rights abuses?

In the Uzbek capital Tashkent on Tuesday 32-year old Faizulla Agzamov, identified as one of the leaders of the banned Hezb-i-Tahrir Islamic party, was sentenced to 17 years imprisonment for plotting against the constitutional order of Uzbekistan.


Ten other members of the movement were given sentences ranging from three to 17 years. Agzamov admitted to being a member of Hezb-i-Tahrir, but denied the accusation of plotting against the constitution.

Ever since a series of car bombs exploded in Tashkent in February 1999, Hezb-i-Tahrir has been the target of a major crackdown on Islamic practice by the ex-communist President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov.

Struggle

He accuses the party of working hand-in-hand with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which for the last two years has been waging an armed struggle against the governments of Uzbekistan and its neighbour Kyrgyzstan.

Uzbek muslims
There are fears non-militant Muslims could be targeted

Hezb-i-Tahrir, however, denies that it engages in any militant activity, though it openly circulates pro-Islamic and anti-Karimov propaganda.

International human rights groups now fear that the victimisation of independent but non-militant Islamic groups may grow.

Rachel Dunbar from the pressure group Human Rights Watch said: "What we're worried about is that people who have nothing to do with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, but who are independent Muslims, we're worried that the government is going to try to blur the distinction between the two."

She added: "What we saw, for example, in many trials in Uzbekistan against independent Muslims was, you know, the only charges against the accused was membership of Hezb-i-Tahrir, their affiliation with a particular Imam, their distribution of literature."

Blind eye

Uzbekistan is only one example.


We are very, very concerned ... we fear that this crackdown could get a lot worse

Rachel Dunbar, Human Rights Watch
A general fear is growing among human rights activists that Western governments who in the past have expressed disapproval of human rights abuses may now turn a blind eye, because they want the co-operation of the governments involved.

They note, for example, that Russia is pressing the West to minimise criticism of abuses by its soldiers in Chechnya.

There is worry that the price for China's joining the "anti-terrorist coalition" could be an end or at least a toning down of criticism of Beijing's treatment of minority nations like the Turkic Uighurs in Xinjiang and the Tibetans.

Western governments have been quick to assure people that increased security in their own societies will not seriously affect human liberties.

But activists like Rachel Dunbar, however, fear that the interests of peaceful dissidents in places like Uzbekistan could be forgotten:

"We are very, very concerned. Because the fight against terrorism over the past three-and-a-half years has meant a crackdown on independent Muslims, obviously we fear that this crackdown could get a lot worse."

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See also:

24 Sep 01 | South Asia
US military threats dismissed
16 Sep 01 | Americas
Analysis: Building a coalition
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan neighbours key to US success
26 Sep 01 | Americas
The Pentagon and the press
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