I wrote earlier today about the weird trumped up Uzbek Terror hype machine, and how it might have snagged a man for committing, essentially, a thought crime. Jamshid Mukhtarov is currently in custody on suspicion of providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union.
We’ll set aside questions of whether the IJU exists anywhere outside of an Internet chat room. What’s interesting is the history of Mukhtarov himself. Registan.net contributor Sarah Kendzior is digging through a lot of Uzbek-language material on him, but from what she and I have dug up before, he used to be a fairly well known figure in the Uzbek human rights movement in Jizzakh, in the Ezgulik Human Rights Society. In 2005, Mukhtarov wrote for Ferghana.ru:
“Human rights activists and oppositionists giving the population of Dzhizak the alternative information on the tragic events in Andizhan this May are being suppressed and harassed,” Dzhamshid Mukhtarov of Human Rights Society Ezgulik told foreign journalists on December 22. According to the activist, 15 representatives of the human rights community were assailed and beaten and threatened with displacement in Dzhizak itself and its environs.
Mukhtarov himself barely avoided arrest on fabricated charges of being an Islamic fundamentalist in August 2005. He avoided detention only because Birlik leader Vasila Inoyatova phoned the then Interior Minister Zakir Almatov on his behalf. Mukhtarov’s activeness in the human rights movement rekindled his conflict with law enforcement agencies.
David Walter blogged about the incident for Registan.net:
Another very interesting nugget that comes out of these stories, though, is that in Dzhizak in particular (I don’t necessarliy recall seeing this in other regions) these human rights activists, when they are arrested, are rung up on charges of “islamic extremism” rather than the more sophisticated (but equally vague) financial charges that Tashkent authorities like to use. The Dzhizak authorities seem consistently more exhuberant about enforcing and maintaining the party line (along with an enthusiastic strain of America-bashing) and less concerned about being openly corrupt than their Tashkent peers.
So Mukhtarov has been caught up in a web of trumped-up charges of extremism before. But his story is more complicated than that. A leaked State Department cable (sigh, I’m so sorry) describes Mukhtarov as being at the center of a power struggle within Ezgulik. Vasila Inoyatova, the woman who had kept the Jizzakh authorities from arresting Mukhatarov in early 2005, later asked the Jizzakh authorities to dissolve that branch of Ezgulik in December of 2005 after the local director stopped filing reports and began speaking out against her. Mukhtarov took over control to the Jizzakh branch, but also didn’t file reports. He then left Uzbekistan for Russia to earn money for a few months.
By the time Mukhtarov came back, in October of 2005, he wanted to realign the Jizzakh Ezgulik branch from Birlik to the Free Farmer’s Party (a Ferghana.ru profile of him, from December of 2005, notes that Mukhtarov was also involved in trying to defend local farmers from having their land seized by corrupt local authorities). The Jizzakh branch of Ezgulik was dissolved soon afterward. The problem is that the Free Farmer’s Party wants to overthrow the regime, while Birlik, the party the Tashkent headquarters of Ezgulik associated itself with, favored more gradual evolution in governance.
So even back then, Mukhtarov had openly expressed solidarity with regime change in Tashkent — hardly a crime, but it did make him a target for the authorities. According to the Common Language Project, in 2006 Mukhtarov was caught distributing Human Rights Watch literature about the Andijon massacre and was placed under house arrest for trumped-up “sexual harassment” charges. He was quickly smuggled over the border to Kyrgyzstan.
I know that we can’t go home until President Karimov is ousted. I’m sure that if I were to return now I would be killed. It is hard to maintain hope that things will change and we will be able to return home — everyone is so afraid after what happened in Andijan.
While in Kyrgyzstan, however, Mukhtarov ran into some problems. JM Berger, who runs the Intelwire site and published Jihad Joe, a study about domestic radicalization in the U.S., sent along a grab from Lexis-Nexis. 24kg reported in 2006 that Mukhtarov, living in exile in Osh, complained thatKyrgyz special forces threatened to hand him over to the National Security Service of Uzbekistan if he didn’t leave the country. According to employees of the committee on migration and employment, 24kg reports, Muhtarov made fabricated reports and appeals to various international organizations complaining of persecution.
I can’t find out how he wound up in the U.S., though around that time many countries, including the U.S., were granting asylum to Uzbeks who fled the violence in Andijon. While Mukhtarov and his family were not direct victims of Andijon, they did have to flee the country in response to his activism about it. It’s possible he managed to get asylum that way.
Something happened to Mukhtarov while he was in this country. Maybe. In this photo, taken in 2008, he appears a bit nebbish perhaps but certainly no radical. In the photo above, provided by Radio Ozodlik, Mukhtarov seems to have taken on the fashions of Islamist militarism. It’s a pretty shocking change for a man who argued to passionately, and at such great risk, for the rights and freedoms of his family and countrymen.
However, the only thing the U.S. federal authorities have revealed is that Mukhtarov is, apparently, guilty of sending some emails. They call that “material support” because it was to people believed to be associated with a Foreign Terrorist Organization. It’s awfully thin gruel for a terror investigation.
What is bizarre is what a dramatic change this is for Mukhtarov. Weirdly, his family was mentioned in the 2005 Uzbekistan country report published by the State Department, but that’s been taken offline (cache is here for the time being). He has a history of being hounded by the authorities for his outspoken views on rights, and for being falsely accused of Islamism by the government of Uzbekistan.
Are the current charges similarly trumped up? We just don’t know, and both Sarah Kendzior and I are looking into this a lot more (expect her to write when she’s finished digging through VOLUMES of Uzbek-language material). But for right now we’re just putting this out there to see if anyone else is able to come up with something.
This is a truly bizarre case, one of the weirdest I’ve seen. And it has a helluva lot more questions than answers.