Human rights situation in Uzbekistan

Presentation of Mr Abdujalil Boymatov

human_rights.jpgDeputy Chair of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU)

The European Council Meeting on 13 November agreed to extend sanctions against the Uzbek Government on human rights grounds but to open the possibility of bilateral talks. An EU official said this would “test out what Uzbekistan tells us about their willingness to talk about human rights and rule of law”. An EU official, quoted by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass, explained that Brussels will seek to use “technical meetings” to promote the human rights improvements that can justify the lifting of sanctions. Such talks “will make it possible to step up the dialogue with Uzbekistan on human rights,” said the EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

The current situation provides for an historic opportunity to press for real change in the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. The Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan calls on the EU to press in particular for the following steps which are preconditions for improvements in the human rights situation in the country: 

  1. The release of 14 human rights defenders unjustly imprisoned or detained in psychiatric hospitals as a result of their legitimate work for human rights and 5 family members of a human rights defender imprisoned because of his work (see attached list).
  2. The legal registration of independent human rights organizations including the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan which has applied six times for registration without success.
  3. An independent commission of inquiry into the human rights violations in Andijan in May 2005.

It is important that the European Union pursues the question of human rights improvements urgently and consistently. Immediately following the European Council meeting five Uzbek human rights defenders were charged with belonging to un-registered organizations. Lydia Volkobrun(member of Society for the Protection of Rights and Freedoms of  the Citizen of Uzbekistan, SPRFCU), Yuri Konoplev (co-chairman, SPRFCU ), Abdujalil Boymatov(Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), Elena Urlaeva ( co-chairman,SPRFCU )and Kunduz Nishanova(member of SPRFCU) . The charges against them are being brought by Olga Krasnova and Konstantin Stepanov of the Government controlled Committee for Social Monitoring.

In addition, according to the family of Mutabar Tadjibaeva her health has seriously deteriorated. They think she may have been transferred from the psychiatric hospital where she was being held to a normal hospital but they have been refused permission to visit her. Officials have refused to provide any information on her condition or her whereabouts. 

These developments put in question the willingness of the Uzbek authorities to engage in genuine dialogue about human rights questions or to improve the human rights situation. The European Union should urgent raise these cases and take measures to ensure that Mutabar Tadjibaeva receives urgent and appropriate medical attention.

Human Rights Defenders 

There are no independent political parties legally registered or independent trade unions in Uzbekistan. Human rights defenders, opposition party activists, journalists and dissenting citizens are regularly targeted by the authorities and prevented from exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The events in Andijan in May 2005 resulted in a harsh crackdown by the authorities on all independent voices in Uzbekistan.

Particularly for human rights defenders, the situation in Uzbekistan is critical. Since the Andijan massacre in May 2005 this has worsened considerably and many human rights defenders have been forced to flee Uzbekistan in fear for their personal security and that of their families. Those that have remained are regularly threatened, arrested, beaten, tortured and imprisoned as part of a targeted campaign by the authorities aimed at silencing their criticisms of the Uzbek government in relation to human rights violations. The government does not stop at harassing human rights defenders themselves, but also targets their families. One of the most worrying and shocking tactics employed by the authorities is the use of anti psychotic medication to force human rights defenders to remain silent. This tactic was used during the Soviet times to prevent dissidents from speaking out and recent reports from Uzbekistan indicate that it is being used again.

The Government has also been harassing human rights defenders by using Government controlled organizations to bring legal cases against human rights defenders with fabricated charges of insulting the dignity and respect of specific individuals. The charges made against 14b human rights defenders on 8th November 2006 could result in the chairperson of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan Tolib Yakubov and  vice-president Abdujalil Boymatov facing fines of 10,000,000 Som (approx $8,000) and 500, 000 Som (approx $400) for the other 13 HRDs. 

The Uzbek government has also targeted non governmental organizations. Approximately 200 national NGOs have been forced to close down and it is almost impossible to register independent non governmental organizations. The Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan has applied for registration six times and each time it has been refused.

Human Rights Defenders in Prison or detained in Psychiatric hospital 

1)      Norboi Kholzhigitov, chair of the Ishtikhan district branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, arrested 4th June 2005, sentenced on 18th Oct to 10 years’ imprisonment by the Samarkand district criminal court.

2)      Khayatulla Kholzhigitov, member of the Ishtikhan district branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, son of Norboi Kholzhigitov, sentenced to 5 years, so he would not write in defence of his father.

3)      Sattor Izraev, member of the Ishtikhan district branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, arrested 4th June 2005, sentenced by the Samarkand district criminal court on 18th October to 6 years.

4)      Khabibulla Akpulatov, member of the Ishtikhan regional branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan arrested 4th June 2005, sentenced by the Samarkand district criminal court to 6 years on 18th October.

5)      Nasim Isakov, member of the Jizak regional branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (city of Jizak), arrested 27th October 2005 for ‘slander’, sentenced to 8 years.

6)      Azam Formonov, chair of the Syrdarya regional branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan  Sentenced to 9 years in prison on 15th June 2006 in the Yangier city court. He  was sent to the concentration camp near Zhaslyk (Republic of Karakalpakstan), the first time a human rights defender was sent to a place where before only persons convicted on religious grounds were detained.

7)      Alisher Karamatov, chair of the Mirzaabad district branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (Syrdarya region). Sentenced to 9 years in prison on 15th June 2006 in the Yangier city court.

8)      Saidzhakhon Zainobitdinov, former chair of the Andijan branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, director of the human rights organisation ‘Appeal’ (city of Andijan), arrested on 23rd May 2005. Was sentenced to seven yearsimprisonment in Tashkent on 5 January 2006, after what was effectively a secret trial. His current whereabouts are unknown.”

9)      Yadgar Turlibekov, 69 years old, chair of the Kashkadarya regional branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, arrested 16th June 2006. The Karshi criminal court, presided over by Judge A. Jalilov, sentenced the HRD Yadgar Turlibekov to three and a half years for the false charge of ‘Extortion’, article 165 of the Uzbekistan Criminal Code on 6 October 2006.

10)  Ikhtiyor Khamroev, member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan and son of the Chair of the Jizak regional branch, was sentenced to three years in prison for “hooliganism” on 25 September 2006 because of his father’s human rights work and his own human rights activities. His father, Bakhtiyor Khamroev was assaulted by a Government organised crowd of angry women on August 18  2006  in the presence of British diplomats.

11)  Jamshid Karimov , independent journalist, member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, correspondent for the Institute for the reporting of war and peace (IWPR, Great Britain) is the son of President Islam Karimov’s elder brother Arslan, who died in a car crash 17 years ago. Thirty-nine-year old Jamshid Karimov left his home in Jizzakh on September 12 to visit his mother at the hospital. That was the last time his relatives saw him.On September 25, uznews.net quoted “sources close to Jamshid Karimov’s family” as saying the journalist had reportedly been sent to a psychiatric hospital in Samarkand, some 100 kilometers southwest of Jizzakh. Jamshid Karimov is notoriously critical of his uncle and his government, his blood ties to the Uzbek leader have safeguarded him and his family from trouble.

12)  Dilmurod Muhiddinov, a human rights activist from Andizhan and a member of Ezgulik (Goodness) an officially registered human rights organization, arrested 28th May 2005. He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by the Srednechirchik District Court in Tashkent region on 12 January 2006.

13)  Mutabar Tadzhibaeva is the Chairwoman of the human rights organization Fiery Hearts Club, which is based in Ferghana City in Uzbekistan. She is also one of the founders of the national movement Civil Society and a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Mutabar Tadzhibaeva has monitored human rights violations in Ferghana Valley and she has reported on issues such as the violations of women’s rights to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), an international non-governmental organization which trains journalists in human rights reporting. Mutabar Tadzhibaeva was due to attend an international conference on human rights defenders in Dublin on 8 October 2005 hosted by Front Line. She was detained on 7 October when she was scheduled to fly to Tashkent to get a connection to Ireland. On 6 March 2006 human rights defender Mutabar Tadzhibaeva, was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. She was subsequently moved to a psychiatric hospital and her current whereabouts are not confirmed (see above).

14)  Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, chairman of the Andijan human rights group Appeliatsia (Appeal), was arrested on 21 May 2005 and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment on 5 January 2006 after what was effectively a secret trial that violated international standards. Saidjahon Zainabitdinov had been arrested after speaking out about the massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters in Andijan on 13 May 2005 and charged with “defamation” and “anti-government activities.” His current whereabouts are unknown, but he is believed to be in detention in Tashkent.

15)  Abdulahat Madmarov, Abdullah Madmarov, Habibulla Madmarov, Hamidulla Madmarov and Abdusamad Madmarov, are respectively the three sons and two nephews of Ahmadjan Madmarov, a prominent long-standing human rights defender, winner of the 2006 Front Line Award. He is the regional chairman of the Independent Human Rights Organisation of Uzbekistan, NOPCHU. His sons and nephews have been arrested and tortured or ill-treated as mechanism of targeting Ahmadjan Madmarov, due to his outspoken human rights activities, including promoting and defending religious freedoms. 

Registration of human rights organizations 

It is extremely difficult for NGOs to register in Uzbekistan. The authorities continue to tighten restrictions on local groups, taking steps to receive advance permission to carry out events, demanding participant lists for activities, and restricting the transfer of grant money from international donors. In addition, in December 2005, the Senate approved an amendment to the Criminal Code on Administrative Liability. The amendment creates a number of new regulatory measures for NGOs and increases the power that the authorities will have to penalize NGOs. Amongst these new provisions are that NGOs can be penalized for the use of unregistered logo, for conducting events without the consent of the registering body, for failing to provide reports of their activities to the registering body or for failure to provide reports in a “timely manner”. 

The Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan has been active since 2nd February 1992. We have branches in 11 regions of Uzbekistan and in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan. We havebranches in 11 regions, 10 districts, and two cities and in three towns. Only in the Navoi region do we not have a branch. We have 600 members. In different years, 25 HRSU members were unlawfully convicted and served, or still serve, prison terms in the jails of Karimov’s regime. In July 2001 the head of the HRSU Kashkadarya regional branch, the former parliament deputy Shavrik Ruzumuradov, was beastly tortured and died in the dungeons of the Ministry of the Interior. HRSU has applied for registration with the Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan six times, but without obtaining registration. 

            1st time: In March 1992

            2nd time: Later in 1992

            3rd time: 3rd October 1996

            4th time: 3rd April 1997

            5th time: 29th November 2001

            6th time: 27th November 2003.

 According to information provided by ‘Freedom House’ and the NGO ‘Democracy and Justice’, in the period from 1996-2004 the Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan refused registration to 15 human rights organisations in addition to the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan.

·          Iskander Khudaibergenov ‘Centre of Democratic Initiatives’

·          Tamara Chikunova’s ‘Mothers against the death penalty and torture’

·          Atanazar Arifov’s society ‘Mazlum’

·          Akhtam Shakhimardanov’s ‘Centre for social justice monitoring’ (Tashkent region)

·          Khaitbai Yakubov’s independent organisation ‘Nazhot’ (Khorezm region)

·          Komil Gafurov’s human rights organisation ‘Nurafshon’ (Samarkand region)

·          Komil Ashurov’s ‘Samarkand centre of democratic initiatives’

·          Pollina Braunberg’s ‘Committee for legal  aid for prisoners’ (Tashkent region)

·          Ismolil Dadajanov’s ‘Uzbekistan democratic forces forum’

·           ‘Centre for voters initiatives’ (Karshin region)

·           Society for the Protection of Rights and Freedoms of  the Citizen of Uzbekistan, (SPRFCU)

·          Bobomurad Abdullaev’s ‘Ozod Ovoz’ and others.

According to a survey of organisations that have been able to register the process of registration takes at least a year and a half. Representatives of the Ministry of Justice and its sub-sections break the terms laid down by the law in relation to processing of applications and make groundless demands when it comes to registration papers. And when corrections have been made they point out new, non-existent errors. In certain cases applicants were told openly: ‘we’re not going to register human rights organisations.’

 Andijan

On 13-14 May 2005 the streets of Andijan were covered with the blood of thousands of innocent people. Human Rights Watch describes “the massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters. “ Amnesty International also refer to hundreds killed. We speak about thousands and have the sincere conviction that this number will be confirmed by the thousands of persons who witnessed this bloody massacre. There can be no significant progress on human rights in Uzbekistan until there is an independent inquiry into the killings and those responsible are brought to justice. 

Conclusion 

The European Union has committed itself to press for concrete improvements in the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. Given the previous record of the Karimov regime we must be skeptical about how much can be achieved by “dialogue.” The European Union must insist on concrete measures being put in place before it reviews its position in 3 months time. Ensuring human rights defenders are free to conduct their legitimate activities must be a basic precondition for any other progress on human rights. And the victims of Andijan still demand justice.

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