Uzbekistan: Government crackdown on human rights defenders

March 22, 2007

Uzbekistan: Government crackdown on human rights defenders

Members of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), an organization long denied official registration, have been among those unfairly tried and imprisoned, most recently for defending farmers’ economic rights and challenging official corruption.

Criminal libel case

Three leading HRSU members in Samarkand region were convicted on fabricated charges of extortion and criminal libel in October 2005. Norboi Kholzhigitov, a farmer and member of the banned Ozod Dehkonlar (Free Peasants) party, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, and teachers Abdusattor Irzaev and Khabibula Akpulatov to six years. They were alleged to have accused the head of a collective farm of unlawful activities and to have obtained the signatures of 60 farm workers in support of the complaint. The court dismissed further charges of threatening the President’s life, trying to overthrow the state and forming illegal organizations.

All three were reportedly tortured following their detention on 4 June 2005. Relatives and supporters have been harassed, including many of the hundreds of farmers who gathered on 8 June 2005 to protest that the charges against the three were fictitious. Since working on their case, their lawyer, who has a physical disability, has reportedly been assaulted twice by law enforcement officers, including once at his home on 18 July 2005. The use of criminal libel charges by the state – instead of civil libel proceedings brought by an individual – implied an injury to society at large that could not be justified in the case.

Azam Farmonov and Alisher Karamatov

Azam Farmonov and Alisher Karamatov, leading HRSU members in the town of Guliston
(Gulistan), were convicted of extortion and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment in June 2006. Following their detention in April 2006 they were taken to a pre-trial detention centre in the town of Khavast and reportedly beaten with truncheons on their legs and heels, near-suffocated with gas masks and forced to sign "confession" statements. At their trial, they were effectively denied the assistance of a defence lawyer. Although Tolib Yakubov, head of the HRSU, had registered as their legal representative, he was not given prior notice of the start of their trial and was later refused adequate time to prepare a defence.

Azam Farmonov and Alisher Karamatov had been investigating farmers’ complaints of official malpractice, extortion and corruption. Local officials were said to have subsequently pressured farmers into accusing the two activists of inciting farmers to implicate officials.

Ulugbek Khaidarov

Journalist Ulugbek Khaidarov was reported to have been severely tortured, both before and after he was sentenced in October 2006 to six years’ imprisonment for extortion. He had been arrested in September 2006 at a bus stop in Dzhizzakh shortly after he had felt a woman who brushed past him put something in his pocket. It turned out to be US$400, which he immediately threw to the ground, fearful that he was being set up.

After his wife visited him in detention a few days later, she reported that he looked ill and emaciated, and could hardly speak because his face was paralyzed on one side. His refusal of an independent defence lawyer at his trial and his request for relatives and human rights observers to leave the court strongly suggested he was acting under duress.

Following his conviction, he was sent to a prison in Navoi, where he and 14 other prisoners were reportedly forced to do strenuous and painful exercises, were kicked and beaten with clubs, including on their bare feet, and were all denied medical treatment. He was released in November after his conviction was quashed on appeal. Medical examination later revealed that he had a fractured heel bone.

Detention and assault

Some human rights defenders have been confined in psychiatric hospitals as a form of detention and punishment, or physically assaulted, detained or otherwise harassed and threatened.

Confined in psychiatric hospital