Walking in daylight in Uzbekistan is OK, for now.
Marim Matkarimov says he just wanted to take a stroll to lose some weight. Instead, he spent the night in a detention center in his hometown of Urgench, in western Uzbekistan.
He wasn’t alone.
Matkarimov was among 3,706 people detained by police overnight on August 26-27 for what provincial police initially described as “taking aimless strolls.”
The figure — and the reasoning — appeared on the official website of the police department of Khorezm Province, where Urgench is located. The statement also said that several of the detainees were fined and others got “preventative conversations” with officials before being released.
The text has since been removed.
But authorities have provided no further details.
Uzbekistan has tightened security in the run-up to Independence Day celebrations on September 1, marking the country’s exit from the Soviet Union in 1991.
I was walking on the street…around midnight. Suddenly, a police vehicle came and took me to a police station.”
— Marim Matkarimov
But the Interior Ministry’s press department announced that police in Urgench “did not have any instruction to detain citizens.”
Asked by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Zokir Ismoilov, a spokesman for the Khorezm police, declined to say what the legal basis for the detentions was.
“Good people don’t walk the streets at night,” Ismoilov added.
An Urgench-based lawyer told RFE/RL that “strolling without a purpose is not a criminal offense or a violation of any law…unless a nighttime curfew has been announced.”
The lawyer spoke on condition of anonymity, citing potential government pressure in the tightly controlled country.
“Any citizen can walk with or without any purpose at any time they wish,” he said.
Matkarimov says he is “overweight” and suffers from high blood pressure and that doctors have recommended that he walk 5 or 6 kilometers every day.
“I was walking on the street…around midnight,” he says. “Suddenly, a police vehicle came and took me to a police station. I spent the night in the detention center. A trial took place in the morning, and I was fined and let go.”
Matkarimov says his specific offense was not carrying a valid ID.
The Urgench police move did not sit well in the capital, Tashkent, where officials criticized the provincial authorities for “overstepping their authorities and violating people’s rights.”
“The news of the arrest of nearly 4,000 people has obviously prompted concerns in society,” the Interior Ministry’s press department said, adding it hoped the Khorezm police “would not repeat similar mistakes in the future.”
Written by RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service