On 22 February 2012, an attempt was made on the well-known Uzbek Imam and theologian Obidkhon Nazarov, who was living in the town of Stromsund in Northern Sweden.
Before his escape, the offender fired several shots at Obidkhon, leaving him seriously wounded. A gun silencer and backpack with weapons was found near the site of the crime, suggesting that the offender was a professional contract killer acting on orders. Obidkhon Nazarov is in critical condition, according to his doctors. An investigation into the incident has only just begun, but we have grounds to suspect the involvement of the Uzbek security forces in organizing this crime.
Brief Biographical Information about Obidkhon Nazarov:
Obidkhon Nazarov (born in 1959), goes by his Muslim name Obid kori Nazarov. From 1990 to 1996 was the imam of the Tashkent Friday Mosque “Tukhtaboi.” After he made several critical statements about the disappearance in 1995 of the authoritative religious figure, Abduvali kori Mirzaev, the Uzbek authorities called for his dismissal from religious service. Shortly after, they brought a criminal case against him. In 1998, Obidkhon Nazarov was put on a wanted list. For the following two years, he lived in hiding in Uzbekistan. In 2000, he left Uzbekistan, relocating to Kazakhstan, where he received political refugee status through the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). In 2006, he was granted political asylum in Sweden.
The Uzbek authorities accuse Obidkhon Nazarov of religious extremism and involvement in terrorist plots. Approximately 5,000 Muslims in Uzbekistan languish in that country’s prison system for similar charges, but are denied their right to a fair and open trial, as well as the right to select their own legal counsel. Many are serving out their sentences in the penal colony “Jaslyk,” which some observers have compared to the prisons of the Stalin era, and being subject of systematic torture and inhuman treatment. The Karimov regime does everything it can so that these prisoners have no right to defend themselves suitably.
The courts in the country are in flagrant violation of due process for criminal procedures and are in complete disregard of claims by the accused that they have been subject to torture during investigation. Despite allegations by the Uzbek authorities of Obidkhon Nazarov’s involvement in extremist activities, he repeatedly spoke in defense of all religious confessions in Uzbekistan, for freedom of speech, and for other political freedoms. Obid kori has been an outspoken opponent of the Karimov regime, but has been a proponent of peaceful methods of political change, and has rejected notions of the creation of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan.
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According to the president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia Nadejda Atayeva, - «there is every reason to believe that the mastermind behind this crime is in Tashkent. This crime comes from the Karimov regime, and should be qualified as an attempted political assassination. These actions of the Uzbek security services could and should be characterized as an act of international terrorism and as their modus operandi for suppressing dissent in the country».
That Uzbekistan’s special services bear responsibility for this crime, speaks volumes about the circumstances of this attempt, and on the entire background of the Karimov regime with its opponents.
The crime was preceded by an out-and-out smear campaign by the Uzbek authorities against Obidkhon Nazarov. In 2010, the Uzbek State TV aired a documentary film called «Khunrezlik» («Bloodshed»). In it, imam Obid kori was accused of involvement in religious extremism and terrorism. Then, through the website “Press-Uz.info,” which the Uzbekistan National Security Services created for propaganda purposes, the regime sounded explicit death threats against its opponents.
This kind of harassment through the mass media controlled by the Uzbek authorities was the same that preceded by the political assassination of Alisher Saipov, the prominent journalist, an ethnic Uzbek and citizen of Kyrgyzstan. He published in Osa newspaper h Siyosat (Politics) with criticism of the ruling regime in Uzbekistan. As a punishment, Alisher was shot in front of his office. The law enforcement agencies of Kyrgyzstan did not respond professionally to the incident, nearly destroying the investigation. But there is little doubt that the murder of Alisher Saipov was done by the Uzbekistan National Security Services.
A similar political assassination was executed by Uzbekistan’s security services in September 2011 in Russia. A member of the oppositional “People’s Movement of Uzbekistan,” businessman Fouad Rustamkhodjaev, who was a Russian citizen, was killed by gunshot. The law enforcement agencies in Russia, just like their colleagues in Kyrgyzstan, failed to conduct a full investigation and identify the offender. But did they really want to do so? It is a rhetorical question, given the long-standing practice of close cooperation between the Russian and Uzbekistan special services.
The special services of Uzbekistan are responsible for other crimes, in particular attempted murders. For example, in 2001, they made a foiled attempt on the life of the leader of the “Erk” opposition party, Muhammad Solih. Through the coordinated work of the Norwegian and Swiss intelligence agencies, Muhammad Solih’s murder was prevented.
Political assassinations on the territory of other states is not the only method in the Uzbek security services’ arsenal in their struggle against dissent. They commonly employ the practice of kidnapping so-called “undesirable” characters and manage to bypass any local legal procedures to extradite these individuals to Uzbekistan, where arrest, torture, unfair trials, and long prison sentences await them.
The greatest number of disappearances of Uzbek citizens takes place in Russia. We know of at least 20 such cases. For example, on December 21, 2011, a native of Samarkand, Rustam Zohid, was kidnapped. On September 15, 2010, three natives of Andijan region, S. Satavaldiev, M. Yusupov, and A. Bekpulatov were kidnapped. Following their kidnapping, the three individuals were put on a flight to Tashkent using fake documentation issued by the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Russia. Upon their arrival, they were escorted to Andijan. They were then accused of belonging to banned religious organizations, as well as having links with the leader of the opposition party “Erk,” Muhammad Solih. The investigation into the case of the three kidnapped men was conducted in an expedited, closed-door process, and in gross violation of the Criminal-Procedural Code of Uzbekistan and international law. Neither human rights activists nor independent journalists were admitted to the court proceedings.
The Uzbek National Security Services are able to kidnap refugees and migrants in neighboring Kyrgyzstan quite freely and with impunity. Here are just a few examples:
Isroil Kholdarov, a member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU) “Ezgulik” was kidnapped in May 2006 in the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan. After some time, he emerged in Uzbekistan, and in February 2007, the Andijan regional court sentenced him to six years imprisonment under Articles 159 (subversion of the constitutional order) 216 (illegal organization of public associations), 223 (illegal travel abroad), 244-1 (distribution of materials containing threats to public safety).
Validjon Babadjanov was kidnapped on August 16, 2006 in Kyrgyzstan. Already by August 21, 2006, it became known that he was detained in the basement of the National Security Services of Uzbekistan. Sydillo Shakirov, Bakhtiar Akhmedov, and Ilhom Abdunabi were abducted in August 2006 in Kyrgyzstan.
In addition, the Uzbek security services are trying to put pressure on refugees from Uzbekistan through threats on the telephone, or by putting pressure on their relatives that continue to live in the country. Such pressure from the Uzbek security services (regular phone calls, blackmail, threats to relatives or through relatives) were applied on several Uzbek political refugees – Akmal Khaidarov (Canada), Muhammad Solih (received asylum in Norway), Jodgor Obidov (Austria), Mirakhmat Muminov and Shovrukh Khalikov (USA), Alisher Abidov and Mukhabbat Pozilova (Norway) Bakhtiyor Mukhtarov (Finland).
But the greatest numbers of those subject to informational attacks and harassment from Uzbekistan are those living in Sweden. These, in addition to Obidkhon Nazarov, are his brothers – Abdumalik, Abdufatah, and his son Mukhitdin; as well as Hasan Temirov, Mukhammadsalih Abutov, journalists Kudrat Babadjanov and Tulkin Karaev, opposition members Alim Karabayev, Maruf Abduraffarov, Avazbek Fayozov and others.
It is worth noting that in 2010 Obidkhon Nazarov had already reported to the Swedish police of his concerns of being followed by suspicious individuals. But unfortunately, his reports were ignored. For a long time, the Swedish police ignored the claims of other Uzbek political emigrants, who had reported on how they were subject to pressures from the Uzbek intelligence services by phone or through blackmail of their relatives in Uzbekistan. The Swedish authorities’ failure to assess the actions of the Uzbek security services in time has resulted in a sense of impunity by the Uzbek special services, and their decision to organize a political assassination, in violation of the national sovereignty of Sweden.
There is reason to believe that the Uzbek secret services have prepared their assassinations and kidnappings of their countrymen living abroad very thoroughly. Their plots were hatched in Sweden, or possibly in other European countries, where they have an infrastructure for the preparation and execution of terrorist activities. Their operations would not be possible without the support of Uzbekistan’s diplomatic missions. The coordination of such actions is done with the active participation of the Secretaries of the embassies, who are “creatures” of the National Security Services. The embassies play a crucial role in the abduction of citizens of Uzbekistan, taking advantage of their diplomatic immunity, and using diplomatic transport.
In addition to participation in the abduction of opponents of the Karimov regime, diplomatic missions play a key role in organizing a system of surveillance of Uzbek political emigrants. Through its embassies, as well as through secret services of Uzbekistan, they employ intimidation and threats of criminal prosecution to recruit informants among students studying abroad, artists travelling to foreign countries, as well as among the emigrants themselves. The Association is aware of facts of similar attempts by Uzbek embassies to recruit collaborators and informants.
The intelligence agencies actively support all kinds of business structures created by the Uzbek authorities or citizens abroad. First of all, the staff of the overseas representative offices of “Uzbek Airways,” is involved in the kidnapping and forcible return of Uzbek nationals to Uzbekistan. Also, it is worth noting the work of a number of so-called consulting firms and companies of various profiles that are registered in Europe and managed by Uzbek staff. All of them should be subject to intense scrutiny by Western intelligence agencies. It is important to take these steps not only to protect Uzbek asylum seekers, but also to protect the sovereignty of the European countries themselves. Until now, such precautions have been ignored by the authorities of Sweden and the EU. As a result, Sweden and other EU countries have become a staging ground for acts of international terrorism, committed by the Karimov regime.
The West should finally respond adequately. Otherwise, a series of political assassinations and kidnappings could continue. We propose that the authorities of the US, Sweden, and the EU consider taking the following measures:
1.To the authorities of Sweden and other European countries – not only to investigate the assassination of Obidkhon Nazarov, but also investigate cases of pressure on Uzbek refugees by the Uzbek intelligence services.
2.To the authorities of the US, Canada, and European countries:
- to investigate the activities of Uzbek diplomatic missions and Uzbek companies accredited in these countries, and to put them under close observation;
- to establish stricter control over the activities of the Airline “Uzbekistan Airways,” especially Uzbek diplomatic services and transport access to landing.
3. To the European Union – to revisit the issue of new sanctions, but this time on other grounds – on charges of Uzbekistan’s involvement in international terrorism.
4. To the United States of America – to withdraw its decision to provide military assistance to Uzbekistan, as it can be used by the Uzbek government for terrorist purposes.
5. To Germany - to issue a ban on the planned sale to Uzbekistan of electronic surveillance equipment by some German companies. There is no doubt that this equipment will be used against political opponents and dissidents within the country and abroad.
We hope that the European Union, the United States, and Canada will react seriously to our observations and suggestions.