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Uzbek Imam Shot, More Tit for Tat in Azerbaijan-Iran Row

Plus, Czech artist headed behind bars and Muslim hospital patients in Serbia get special gowns.

by Jeremy Druker, Ioana Caloianu, and Joshua Boissevain 24 February 2012

1. Uzbek imam and Karimov critic shot in Sweden

 

Obidkhon Qori Nazarov
A prominent Uzbek imam is in critical condition after an apparent assassination attempt on 22 February, Radio Free Europe reports. Fifty-year-old Obidkhon Qori Nazarov was shot several times outside his home in the Swedish city of Stromsund, including at least once in the head. The Uznews.net website says that his condition has worsened and that the police have no suspects in the attack.

 

RFE calls Nazarov “one of the most popular imams in Central Asia in the early 1990s,” which made him a target for the hard-line regime of President Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan. After the authorities moved to arrest him on charges of religious extremism and terrorism in 1998, he and his family fled to Kazakhstan, where they lived in hiding until Nazarov gained UN refugee status and moved to Sweden in 2006. In his years abroad, the imam has gained a large following through his support for greater respect for human rights and religious tolerance in Uzbekistan, and his backing for the secular political opposition.

 

Nazarov has said the terrorism and extremism charges were retaliation for not succumbing to government pressure to moderate his views. "Those who do not want us accuse us in many ways. It is ridiculous, but for the [Uzbek government], human rights defenders are the terrorists; journalists are the terrorists. In this situation, one should never react when they call you the same as well," he told RFE in 2006.

 

2. Czech artist to go to prison for traffic light stunt

 

A provocative Czech artist is set to enter prison on 24 February, the Mlada fronta DNES newspaper reports. In 2007, the former graffiti artist, who uses the pseudonym Roman Tyc, decided to “set free” the stiff stick figures on 50 Prague traffic lights, replacing the green and red silhouettes with his own creations. Surprised pedestrians were treated to stick figures urinating, lying down, sitting, drinking from a bottle, standing with a pistol to their heads, or having hanged themselves.

 

 

Tyc was charged with damaging public property and ordered to pay 80,000 crowns ($4,300) in damages and a fine of 60,000 Czech crowns. The artist, who refused to pay the fine lest it be taken as an admission of guilt, has been ordered to spend a month in prison – a sentence that many artists and lawyers, as well as the general public, consider too harsh.

 

In Tyc’s defense, the Prison Blues website was launched. “We thought that artists here no longer go beyond bars,” the site’s creators wrote, asking musicians and bands to “at least symbolically” enter prison with Tyc by sending a song for a compilation that the artist would take with him to his cell. Around 350 musicians answered the call.

 

The case has also drawn comparisons to the trial of Roman Smetana, who defaced political billboards in 2010. Without regard to party, he drew antennae on the heads of politicians and added slogans, indicating them as liars and criminals. Similar to Tyc, he paid damages but has refused to pay the additional fine and could soon spend 100 days in prison.

 

3. Journalists caught at center of Azeri-Iranian tension

 

As tensions mount between Iran and Azerbaijan, press freedom activists have expressed growing concern over the situation for journalists covering the two countries’ relations. On 18 February, Anar Bayramli, a journalist working in Azerbaijan for Iranian media, was arrested at his home in Baku on drug charges. The police also picked up a driver for an Iranian TV station, but the reasons for his arrest remain unclear.

 

In a statement, Reporters without Borders said it is “intolerable that [Azerbaijani officials’] paranoia should lead them to resort to a wide variety of pretexts to muzzle foreign and critical media organizations, even if they indulge in propaganda.” The statement added, “The Azeri authorities do themselves no favors by turning to the methods used by Iran.”

 

Relations between the two countries are strained, and the past month alone has seen a barrage of mutual cyber-attacks  and an alleged assassination plot in Azerbaijan. In November, a prominent Azerbaijani journalist and critic of both governments died after a stabbing attack.  

 

In its annual Attacks on the Press report, released earlier this week, the Committee to Protect Journalists said it had seen a rise in hostility toward foreign journalists in Azerbaijan. In response to these latest arrests, CPJ said in a statement that it believes the charges against Bayramli were fabricated and that before his arrest he was pressured by police to stop working for the Iranian press.

 

4. Hospital hijabs spark controversy in Serbian town

 

A small row between city officials and a hospital in a Muslim town in Serbia has brought the question of religion and health care into focus. Earlier this week, members of the Novi Pazar city council announced that they had purchased 30 special hospital gowns – complete with headscarves – to be worn by Muslim female patients at the hospital, according to Balkan Insight. The city council said the request for the gowns came from the patients themselves, who did not feel comfortable in the hospital’s standard wear.

 

The hospital, at first, would not accept the gowns from the city, citing official policy. The director of the hospital, Avdo Ceranic, said allowing the gowns would be against the country’s Health Care Act, which doesn’t specify special clothing for Muslims. “The General Medical Center is a state hospital, which applies the same rules to patients, regardless of religion, nationality, and gender,” Ceranic said.

 

The hospital, however, did accept the gowns later in the week, according to Novosti.rs.

 

5. Slovak bridge could be named after Chuck Norris

 

American actor Chuck Norris is the frontrunner in an Internet poll to pick the name of a new bridge in Slovakia, according to Reuters. The bridge, for cyclists and pedestrians, will cross the Morava River into Austria near the Slovak capital.

 

Already the martial arts expert/movie star has gained 1,157 votes, almost three-quarters of the total. Jokes about the ultra macho actor have become somewhat of a fad in Slovakia and across the Internet. In a far-distant second place is Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Teresa, with 8 percent of the votes. The online ballot goes until April and the final decision for the name will rest with the regional assembly, according to the Reuters.

 

Unlike in Budapest, where officials disqualified American satirist Stephen Colbert as a possible namesake for a bridge when he took the lead in a public competition, the regional governor in Slovakia told Reuters that officials would honor the wishes of the public.

Jeremy Druker is TOL's executive director and editor in chief. Ioana Caloianu is TOL's editorial assistant. Joshua Boissevain is a TOL editorial intern.
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