Uzbek police stop women gathering against religious persecution in capital

Jan 24, 2002: Text of report by banned Uzbek opposition Birlik web site on 22 January People had known days in advance that the relatives of those put in prison convicted of belonging to [the banned Islamic party] Hezb-e Tahrir were gathering in the centre of the Chorsu bazaar in [the Uzbek capital] Tashkent at 1000 hours [local time, 0500 gmt] on the morning of 21 January. That day the Radio Liberty station and BBC correspondents, a representative of Internews and human rights defender Vasila Inoyat [also known as Vasila Inoyatova] arrived at the scene. The bazaar was full of police with Interior Ministry and National Security Service buses, cars and countless officers deployed at intervals of 10 metres.

These tried to prevent protesters gathering by detaining every woman in a headscarf who entered the bazaar. They even took some of them away in buses to an unknown destination. An incident happened in the meantime. The journalists found themselves encircled by gypsy women who make their living by stealing, extorting and palm reading in the bazaar.

There were no more than 20 of them at first. Some of them would shout swear words at journalists and others would murmur and plead: "Please, go away. Police have taken our cigarette boxes away and said we would get them back if we could drive you out. Our children are at home hungry, please, show mercy and go away." Soon after some women who, judging from appearances, had some training began to join the gypsies. They were behaving very aggressively. In an attempt to avoid an argument with this crowd the journalists tried to back up and get out of the bazaar.

As they were doing so, the crowd started to beat a woman wearing a headscarf who then asked Vasila to come to her protection. The violent crowd, now of over 100, turned on them both and began to beat them up. Vasila, who came close to passing out from the beatings, was rescued from the crowd by a Birlik member called Nabi-aka [term of respect] who happened to be passing by at that time. But the other woman kept getting battered for quite a while. The scene of police officers looking on calmly as the innocent woman was having the living daylights beaten out of her was much more horrific than that of the violence of the crowd.