2017-08-10 | Terrorism

Uzbekistan offers former extremists a 2nd chance

By Maksim Yeniseyev

Thousands of former extremists have been cleared under the rehabilitation programme since June.

One of the rehabilitated former extremists is sports commentator Khairullo Khamidov (shown). He and 57 other Tashkent residents came off the blacklist August 5, he posted on Facebook. [Facebook]

TASHKENT -- Former Uzbekistani extremists, whom the government long treated as pariahs even after they left prison, are getting a second chance in life.

Since June, under a rehabilitation process, authorities have been removing the names of convicted or suspected individuals who, in the government's eyes, have reformed.

The process is meant to "open a new page" in their lives so that those citizens can work "for the prosperity of the homeland", say officials.

An exhaustive review

Teams of imams and law enforcement personnel are reviewing the blacklist, which contains thousands of names and took years to compile. Everybody on the list was suspected, accused or convicted of extremism.

"It's a classified list .. that the country started compiling after terrorist attacks [in Tashkent] in 1999," Tashkent-based political scientist Umid Asatullayev told Caravanserai. "Individuals on the list are subject to closer surveillance. Authorities monitor their movements."

The teams of imams and law enforcement personnel regularly hold discussions with ex-extremists and with Muslims suspected of co-operating with extremist groups to see whether they deserve to come off the list.

Caravanserai previously reported in July on officials' decision to allow citizens with past ties to extremism to resume normal life.

"The process of rehabilitation, which started this year, is unique," Asatullayev said. "Officials never used to mention the problems of former extremists ... They considered them forever 'corrupted'."

Thousands come off the list

Since the beginning of the campaign, imams have proposed rehabilitating 10,990 individuals, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Of that number, 4,152 have been de-listed so far, RFE/RL reported July 27, citing its sources within the Spiritual Administration for Muslims of Uzbekistan.

The process will continue, according to RFE/RL.

The most recent de-listing took place in Tashkent August 5, according to a source in the Uzbekistani government's Committee for Religious Affairs (KDR) who requested anonymity.

"We know that some of you went down the wrong path without understanding it," read an official statement handed out to participants at the event in Chilanzar District, Tashkent, according to Kun.uz. "We know your families felt society's negative attitude. Effective immediately, you're off the list. We hope you will become part of society."

Returning to normal life

One of the ex-extremists to benefit from that Tashkent event is sports commentator Khairulla Khamidov. He received a six-year prison sentence in May 2010 for founding an illegal organisation and promoting Salafism, which Uzbekistan outlaws. He ended up serving about five years.

On August 5, authorities removed Khamidov and 56 other Tashkent residents from the blacklist, he posted on Facebook about the August 5 rehabilitation.

Khamidov is hoping to rebuild his career.

"I had to remain home every night 10pm to 6am and report my movements," he told Kun.uz of his initial period after leaving prison. "I hope a TV station will hire me. I miss sports commentary."

"Everyone has the right ... to be forgiven if he [or she] hasn't committed a major evil," Tashkent resident Dilshod Makhmedov told Caravanserai. "If [past offenders] remain oppressed, they only become more embittered because they have no way out."

Attitudes might be softening inside the halls of government in reaction to that perception.

In 2016, Caravanserai wrote that Uzbekistani officials did not intend to offer amnesty to citizens who had committed crimes and presented threats to security or to public safety.

"I think that the authorities' next step could be amnestying individuals convicted under extremism-related articles of the Criminal Code," Asatullayev said. "The sentences for these crimes are extremely long. But many are deceived into joining extremist networks and deserve forgiveness."

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