The Akromians: a radical Islamic sect or respectable businessmen?
NOBODY HEARD THE RADIO
The tragic events in the Ferghana Valley could be foretold several days before the armed revolt. Here is an interview with one of the defendants charged with being an activist of Movement Akromia broadcast by Deutsche Welle on May 8.
Some experts believe that it was precisely the unfair trial of the men called Akromians, tortures and threats used against defendants that sparked the Andizhan rebellion. On May 8, Deutsche Welle (Focus program) broadcast an interview with a man facing charges as an Akromian. The movement became the foremost newsmaker in Andizhan. A glance at the interview makes it plain that the rebellion in the Ferghana Valley was easily predictable.
N. Bushuyeva, V. Volkov, Deutsche Welle, May 8, 2005:
Human rights community claims that trials of the Akromians are becoming more and more frequent. One such trial is taking place in Andizhan where 23 businessmen face charges of being the Akromians. All defendants plead innocent. According to human rights society Ezgulik, Syrdarja Municipal Court recently sentenced to imprisonment 7 persons charged with involvement with the Akromians. Ezgulik leader Vasilja Inojatova says that prosecution did not even bother to present any incriminating evidence. The National Security Service is running an investigation that involves 20 businessmen from Tashkent and Andizhan. All of them are suspected of being the Akromians too.
Talib Yakubov, Chairman of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, says that all defendants are wealthy young businessmen. Yakubov suspects that the war on Akromia, a non-extremist Moslem organization denied official registration, is but a smoke-screen hiding someone's financial interests.
Twenty executives of Turon Production (a company that manufactures furniture in Tashkent and Andizhan) are in trouble. They were arrested by the National Security Service last year. When their apartments were being searched, secret services confiscated jewelry, cellular phones, cars, and whatever cash was found. The searches were carried out without witnesses or protocols.
Yakubov says that confiscation of valuables from businessmen reminds him of the dispossession of the kulaks in the Soviet Union in the 1930's. "The authorities have concentrated on businessmen, the people with finances," he said.
The businessmen in question denied any involvement with the Akromians and called themselves ordinary believers practicing moderate Islam. Turon Production Assistant Director Mamudzhon Kurbonov says that investigators from the National Security Service tortured arrestees and threatened to rape their wives unless they confessed membership in Akromia.
Kurbonov: They told us they would stop at nothing. They said that if I had the stamina to endure everything, all torture, they would bring in my wife and interrogate her in the next room so that I could hear everything. They sneered that my wife was probably pretty, and so on. That I could not endure. I signed the confession.
The businessman said that all young men were released from detention cell on the condition that they would remain within reach. They were told that the trial would take place soon.
Kurbonov: I was shown some materials the investigation had compiled where a specialist in religious affairs stated that the Akromians represented an organization that helped its activists financially at first so as to eventually make them a threat to society.
Deutsche Welle failed to identify the quoted specialist in religious affairs. As for the movement as such, it was founded by one Akram Yuldashev from Andizhan in 1996. Yuldashev was taken in two years later. He is currently in prison.
Shoazim Minovarov, Chairman of the Committee of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, explains that Akromia was denied official registration by the Justice Ministry and was therefore outlawed.
Minovarov: Akromia is an Islamic sect. It was established by the so called mullah Akram from the Ferghana Valley. He inserted some new details and even meanings into Islamic rites. In fact, any new interpretation of even the order of rites, the order of prayers wrecks havoc with Moslem unity. Akromia is a harmful organization from the point of view of the very doctrine of Islam and from the point of view of interests of integrity and stability of Moslem society.
A confidential source in the National Security Service claims that the Akromians have the support of certain financial circles. Along with purely religious affairs, they are involved in clandestine political activities in the interests of the said circles.
Commenting on Yuldashev's book Road to the Truth, Yakubov said, "Yes, I read some fragments. There is nothing awful about the book, I'm telling you right here and now. Its author merely presents his views on how harmony should be achieved. "Help thy neighbor" is the central idea of the book."
Even assuming that the Akromians and their activities are outlawed in Uzbekistan, surely this is not the reason to call everyone involved in charity an Akromian.
"Yes, we were involved in numerous charity projects," Kurbonov said. "We transacted money to orphanages and to the poor. We are believers. We perform the Namaz and we attend the mosque but it does not make us Akromians, does it?"
Defendants' lawyers Rukhuttdin Kamilov and Kabuldzhon Vakhidov say that prosecution has no proof of the businessmen's guilt - i.e. involvement with the Akromians or any illegitimate activities. Press Service of the National Security Service declined comment.
Victims of the National Security Service demand an immediate end to harassment of Moslems practicing ordinary Islam and a recompense for what was done to them.