Zokir Aliev, a U.S. citizen since 2014 who traveled to Uzbekistan to visit relatives, was detained in mid-June and accused of having links to a terrorist group. On July 4, a provincial court turned in a guilty verdict and levied a $67 fine on Aliev.
Aliev was arrested shortly after arriving in Qarshi in the southern Qashqadaryo Region. In a statement, the State Security Service — the renamed National Security Service (NSS) — accused Aliev of joining the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) back in 2000 and taking part in attacks in Afghanistan “against Afghan armed forces and NATO-led coalition troops.”
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan, wasn’t established until December 2001 and didn’t have its mission expanded across the country until 2003. The IMU, at the time being hosted in Afghanistan by the Taliban, suffered the Taliban’s fate in the opening moves of the war in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. One of the group’s leaders was allegedly killed in a 2001 U.S. airstrike and the other forced to lead what remained of the group into exile in Pakistan after March 2002’s Operation Anaconda.
Aliev was released from detention in late June and ordered not to leave the country. Aliev told RFE/RL after his release that he had never been to Afghanistan and never supported extremists. RFE/RL reported:
He added that he had not seen his relatives in many years and decided to make the trip after President Shavkat Mirziyoev called for the return of the Uzbeks who left the country in the years after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
According to Aliev, he entered Uzbekistan legally on a 90-day visa that he obtained at the Uzbek Embassy in the United States after receiving an official invitation from his relatives.
According to Reuters, Aliev “said he had only taken part in some Uzbek opposition activist meetings in Turkey in the 1990s.”
In early July, the verdict was in: the provincial court convicted Aliev of having links to the IMU and calling for the overthrow of the government. He was then fined $67.
One can be forgiven for being a touch confused. Not only did this particular case progress from arrest to conviction in seeming record time, it concluded with only a fine. As Reuters reported, the court apparently imposed the small fine based on a multiple of the official minimum wage as of December 1999. The Uzbek criminal code, it’s been pointed out, “says the punishment for such offenses can be as mild as a fine, or a fine plus prison time.”
Uzbekistan historically has resorted to heavy-handed rulings in cases related to terrorism, the IMU especially, making the $67 fine remarkable.
That said, there remain cracks in the case and likewise, the Uzbek justice system. A light fine on an innocent man is still a breach of justice. Aliev, in his comments to RFE/RL back in June when he was released, maintained his innocence. There are many questions that come to mind, foremost among them about what evidence the court used to convict Aliev and why he was granted a 90-day visa only to be arrested upon his immediate return? Was that by accident or design? The answer could have troubling implications for expat Uzbeks considering returning home under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who has worked hard to depict himself as a reformer and Uzbekistan as open.
The $67 fine may seem light, but given the domestic atmosphere surrounding the issue of immigration and “extreme vetting” in the United States, Aliev’s troubles may have just begun. It’s just not clear why.