- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan Amnesty International yesterday warned the world of the appalling human rights records of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, two Central Asian republics that have become key allies in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
Amnesty's new report, "Central Asia: No excuse for escalating human rights violations," predicts a deterioration in already paltry respect for human rights as the authoritarian governments of those and three other former Soviet republics in the region use the war against terrorism as an excuse to eliminate all opposition.
While Amnesty also named Kazakhstan, Krygyzstan and Turkmenistan, the human rights watchdog singled out Uzbekistan, the most powerful and populous Central Asian nation, whose dictatorial President Islam Karimov has threatened to shoot terrorists himself.
At least 1,000 U.S. troops are now stationed at the Uzbek air base of Khanabad 55 miles from the Afghan border.
Mr. Karimov's iron fist has been challenged over the past two years by bombings and armed incursions by religious extremists linked to Osama bin Laden and backed by the Taliban regime.
These events partly explain why the Uzbek president is willing to risk Russian and Islamic ire by allowing U.S. troops into Uzbekistan, now a frontline state in the global war on terrorism.
The Uzbek government has long insisted the world take the terrorist threat more seriously, including its proposals to establish an international anti-terrorist center within the United Nations. One week before the New York and Pentagon terrorist attacks, Tashkent had instructed the national carrier Uzbekistan Airways to put its worldwide offices on heightened alert for possible hijackings.
Ever since the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s, unorthodox Islamic beliefs have been seeping across Central Asia's long borders and gaining ground among those worst hit by social and economic dislocation.
In Uzbekistan's Ferghana Valley, which shares jigsaw borders with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, groups such as the Saudi-backed Wahabbis, and the radical, multinational Hizb ut-Tahrir, have formed countless underground cells. When they surface, their calls for an Islamic state are swiftly silenced, while the families of those arrested wait for months to learn of their whereabouts.
They are beaten immediately after arrest, at the militia posts and in jails, and at least 50 have died from these beatings in the past three years, said Mikhail Ardzinov, chairman of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan.
Mr. Ardzinov estimates there are at least 8,000 political prisoners in Uzbek jails, the majority of them from banned Islamic groups. A former political prisoner himself, beaten by police in his a crumbling Soviet-era apartment two years ago, he acknowledges the irony at this time of defending people who desire a state similar to the Taliban, but insists his embattled organization must defend the human rights of all Uzbek citizens.
"We expect this crisis will result in further crackdowns and controls," Mr. Ardzinov said in an interview. "Parliament has decided that everybody must come together with the president, and support his policies.
"So whoever is against him is considered a bad person. Just like in Stalin's time, we will be called enemies of the people. Karimov's policy against independent and opposition groups is already repressive. It is hard to imagine how it could get worse, yet it could."

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