Musical thought-crime in Uzbekistan

Not content with arresting its critics, the government is cracking down on those who listen to dissident views – even when these are set to music.
By IWPR staff (29/05/06)

Following the jailing of two men for listening to a song criticizing the government’s role in the Andijan violence last year, there are concerns for the safety of the poet who wrote the words.

After security forces opened fire on thousands of demonstrators in the city of Andijan on 13 May 2005, poet and singer Dadakhon Hasanov felt impelled to write something the very next day.

In the days following the Andijan violence, listeners to Radio Liberty’s Uzbek-language service, which is beamed into the country from Prague, heard a series of angry songs written and performed by Hasanov.

“Don’t say you haven’t heard….There was a massacre in Andijan,” one of them began, before accusing President Islam Karimov of presiding over an indiscriminate massacre.

While the government insists that fewer than 200 people died – few or none of them innocent civilians – human rights groups inside and outside the country say that based on eyewitness accounts, many hundreds of men, women and children were killed in cold blood by the security forces.

The official refusal to allow an independent investigation to clarify matters has led to a rift with the West, which President Islam Karimov previously courted.

Using images redolent of the Central Asian landscape, Hasanov sang of people being shot down like mulberries shaken from a tree, and children lying dead and bloodied like red tulips.

Karimov was described as an unjust “Shah” who ordered Kalashnikov bullets to fly and ignored his subjects’ “cries of suffering”.

Hasanov is a well known figure in Uzbekistan and his songs are widely circulated even though they never get airtime on the tightly controlled state broadcasting outlets.

He has an impressive track-record as a dissident – his works were first banned in the eighties at a time when no one would have believed Uzbekistan would ever be a separate country. Throughout the transition from Soviet republic to Uzbek nation-state, he has continued to use his songs, accompanying himself on a traditional lute or “tar”, to comment on events and criticize the powers that be.

“Hasanov only sings political, revolutionary songs about Uzbekistan – about how instead of becoming independent, the country has grown dependent on its dictator,” said Alisher Saipov, a journalist in southern Kyrgyzstan where there is a large ethnic Uzbek community.

“These songs raise people’s spirits. He’s singing about what ordinary people are thinking… [the songs] create euphoria and excitement, and sometimes make you want to cry.”

“That’s the reason the authorities persecute people who listen to these songs and pass them around.”

Hasanov was called in for questioning on 12 April and a criminal case has been opened accusing him of actions undermining the constitutional system – a grave charge which amounts to an accusation of plotting a coup d’etat – and “producing and distributing materials that threaten public safety and order”, presumably the music tapes.

He has not been detained but has been ordered not to leave the country, and his Tashkent home and car have been seized as security.

“He’s been arrested a few times [already], but he still stands up and expresses his views on every historic event, such as Andijan,” said a local human rights activist who remains anonymous because of fears for his safety.

In a recent interview with the AFP news agency, Hasanov said, “Why should I be afraid? If they shoot again, I will answer with songs.”
As in the Soviet days of “samizdat”, cassettes with Hasanov’s recordings are passed privately from hand to hand.

To date, it has been unusual for the post-Soviet Uzbek authorities to jail someone for possessing dissident music, although other literature such as leaflets from the banned Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir has been used to secure convictions of Muslim extremists, real or imagined.

Last month two men – Hazrat Ahmedov, a 68-year-old pensioner, and pediatrician Jamal Kutliev, 58 – were sentenced to four and seven years respectively the western city of Bukhara. They were arrested in November last year, reportedly on the basis of an anonymous denunciation to the secret police.

They were then charged under the same “constitutional system” and “illegal materials” clauses as Hasanov, plus an additional provision which bans the illegal formation of public associations and religious organizations. This is likely to relate to their membership of the outlawed opposition party Erk.

Kutliev has led the local branch of Erk since 1990. Both he and Ahmedov were reportedly placed under heightened surveillance as part of the general post-Andijan crackdown, as the authorities pursued both open critics of the regime and other potential dissident voices.

“The two arrested in Bukhara belonged to the opposition, so other charges are brought against them accordingly,” said Ghofurjon Yoldashev, a former correspondent with Radio Liberty correspondent in Andijan, who pointed out that “even the police in Bukhara have their own cassettes of Hasanov recordings”.

Kutliev and Ahmedov are well-known and respected figures in the Bukhara area, so despite the secrecy surrounding the trial, many residents have heard what happened to them.

Before his arrest, Kutliev was the head of a children’s hospital in the town of Gidjuvan, where residents describe him as a decent and educated man. They also expressed shock that a pensioner like Ahmedov should be imprisoned.

As the human rights activist said, “His songs express the pain of the Uzbek people. And anyone who publicizes the feelings and pain felt by the people is persecuted by the dictatorship.”

There Was a Massacre in Andijan
(Translation of a song by Dadakhon Hasanov)

Don’t say you haven’t heard,
You well-dressed princesses.
Hey, you deaf and blind ones
-There was a massacre in Andijan.
On the president’s orders,
With Kalashnikov bullets
The people were shot at by his servants.
There was a massacre in Andijan

The Padishah [Shah] did not listen to the people,
He did not hear their cries of suffering,
He has not chosen the path of justice.

There was a massacre in Andijan
He let the armoured vehicles open crackling fire,
Killing young and old, Shooting,
shooting, shooting terribly.

There was a massacre in Andijan.
Shooting, cutting people to ribbons,
Hunting them down in the streets,
Like dogs biting their prey.

There was a massacre in Andijan.
Children died on the streets,
Bright red like tulips,
Shattered mothers were weeping,
There was a massacre in Andijan.

He destroyed a local community,
Shaken like fruit from a mulberry tree,
Both men and women.

There was a massacre in Andijan.
Women with babes in arms,
Pregnant women too,
Died begging for mercy.

There was a massacre in Andijan.
The whole world found out about this massacre,
Everyone was filled with anger.

There was a massacre in Andijan.
Fatherless sons born in the street
-That’s who did the shooting.
There was a massacre in Andijan.
The bastards who fired the shots
Are the kind who sleep with their mothers,
And are mired in their own excrement.

There was a massacre in Andijan
We tested our ruthless leader,
And found him a terrorist.
We were filled with hatred and sorrow.
There was a massacre in Andijan.
Uzbeks will not awaken,
Sunk in their fear,
Dictators will continue to shoot.

There was a massacre in Andijan.
Don’t say you haven’t heard,
You well-dressed princesses.

Hey, you deaf and blind ones
-There was a massacre in Andijan.

This article originally appeared in Reporting Central Asia, produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Foreign Office and the US State Department

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