Defenders Under Threat
Uzbek authorities detained Alisher Karamatov and Azam Farmonov on April 29, 2006 as the two men defended the rights of local farmers.
The two, both of them regional heads of the independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, were allegedly tortured by authorities, charged with extortion and subjected to an unfair trial where they were denied adequate legal representation.
Amnesty International considers Alisher Karamatov, aged 41, and Azam Farmonov, aged 30, to be prisoners of conscience, jailed because of their efforts to defend the rights of local farmers who had accused district farming officials of extortion and corruption.
The two human rights defenders maintain that after they investigated the farmers' allegations and confronted local officials with their findings, some of the farmers were coerced, including through physical intimidation, into claiming that Farmonov and Karamatov had pressured the farmers to accuse the local officials of wrongdoing.
Authorities gave no prior notice of the start of the men's trial in June 2006, and their legal representative had just four days to prepare the defense. The men were sentenced to nine years' imprisonment for extortion under Article 165 of the Uzbekistan Criminal Code. Amnesty International considers the two men to be prisoners of conscience who were, in truth, jailed on account of their human rights activism. When authorities arrested Farmonov and Karamatov in 2006, they took the two to the pre-trial detention center in the town of Khavast, where they were kept incommunicado for at least a week.
They say that they were beaten and tortured during that time, including by having a gas mask put over their head and the air supply turned off. They reported being beaten on their legs and heels to force them to sign confessions.
There have been recent serious concerns for the health of Alisher Karamatov, who has been treated for tuberculosis in Sangorodok, a prison hospital facility near Tashkent, since October 2008. He had been subjected to torture, beatings and humiliation by prison guards since 2007 while held at Karshi prison camp and had lost nearly half his body weight. Azam Farmonov continues to be held at Yaslik prison camp.
Amnesty International is concerned that the number of human rights activists and independent journalists from Uzbekistan who have been imprisoned or harassed by the Uzbekistani authorities for their work has not decreased.
Levels of persecution have steadily risen since the May 13, 2005 Andizhan events, when security forces fired into crowds of people gathering in Andizhan's central square, killing and wounding hundreds of people. In the aftermath of the Andizhan events, the Uzbekistani authorities gradually tightened controls on freedom of conscience and expression. The imprisonment, ill-treatment and harassment of individual human rights defenders have accelerated as protests over the killings in Andizhan have refused to go away.