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Key Reporter on Religious Freedom is Seized in Uzbekistan


Unsettling news from the Tashkent airport this morning: Forum 18’s Igor Rotar, the most prolific Western reporter doing the dangerous job of covering religious freedom in repressive Central Asia, is being detained by Uzbekistan dictator Islam Karimov‘s secret police.

You may remember Rotar from my June 9 item, “New York’s Love Affair With Uzbek Dictator.” Forum 18, an Oslo-based Christian human-rights organization, covers religious freedom even-handedly but thoroughly—too thoroughly for the likes of Karimov.

The Uzbek tyrant, recently noted for the Andijan massacre, is just another erstwhile POTUS pal who, between doing favors for George W. Bush and Enron’s Ken Lay and participating in the Pentagon’s rendition program, has been known to have prisoners boiled to death.

Rotar’s latest big report on Uzbekistan’s religious freedom (or lack thereof) came in April. It presented an ominous picture of the heavily Muslim country:

Unregistered religious activity is illegal and believers are routinely punished even for religious meetings in private homes. Missionary work is banned, while religious teaching is tightly controlled. Religious literature is censored by the government’s religious affairs committee. Virtually all religious communities are subject to harsh government control, especially Islam. The government even controls the numbers of Muslims who can travel on the haj pilgrimage.

So it’s no shock that the latest news about Rotar is also ominous:

Forum 18 has been told by reliable sources that the detention was “for political reasons at the highest levels,” on the instructions of the National Security Service secret police.

International condemnation of the detention is growing, as Igor Rotar is a respected religious freedom journalist. Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch stated that “this is an ugly situation, and it is in line with the repressive measures that this government has taken against the media and freedom of religion.”

Alex Lupis of the Committee to Protect Journalists said that “we are very concerned for Rotar’s safety and call on the Uzbek authorities to release him and to end their campaign of harassment and intimidation against the independent media.”

His situation may be only temporarily terminal, however. Forum 18 notes:

He has still not been permitted to communicate with anyone; he does not appear to have suffered further physical harassment. He spent the night on the floor of Tashkent airport’s transit lounge, and it is believed that the Uzbek authorities originally encouraged him to buy a ticket out of the country, to avoid being seen to formally deport him.

As you know, the U.S. itself is being thrown out of Uzbekistan, too—but only because Karimov’s repression got so bad that it finally became indefensible.

Karimov’s harsh repression of Muslims has continued to create more radicals. Pretty soon, he’ll be in hot water himself.

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