Government of Uzbekistan Continues to Silence Human Rights Defenders, Despite Release of Prominent Uzbek Human Rights Defender
According to Uznews.net, human rights activist Alisher Karamatov was released on 12 April after completing six years of a nine-year prison term. The torture suffered by Mr. Karamotov and nearly simultaneous detention of other Uzbek human rights defenders indicates the gravity of human rights abuses by the Government of Uzbekistan. The GOU silencing its citizens, whose voices flicker as a spark of democracy in a state of repression, ensures continued human rights abuses, including the state controlled forced labor and forced child labor in the cotton industry.
Karmatov was an activist with the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan in Guliston, Syrdarya Region until April 29, 2006, when he was arrested along with fellow activist Azam Farmonov. He was charged with extorting money from farmers in Syrdarya Region to solve their problems with local officials. Amnesty International considered him a prisoner of conscience and named him a 2011 “priority case.”
Karamatov’s relatives have repeatedly warned that the activist faced violent forms of torture, such as being forced to stand naked in the cold. His wife, Namuna Karamatova, reported that the activist’s health seriously deteriorated during his imprisonment. In 2008, a medical examination in prison determined that he had developed a serious form of tuberculosis in both of his lungs.
Karamatov’s release came on the heels of a visit by a US delegation headed by Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan J. Cook on March 27, 2012 to Tashkent. Such visits by high ranking US and EU diplomats often include negotiations to release individual prisoners of conscience. These negotiations benefit both sides: Uzbekistan demonstrates good will and ‘signs’ of progress on its human rights record, and the US (or EU) delegation does not return home empty handed – and with tangible evidence that their engagement and dialogue with the dictatorial regime is productive.
However, the productivity of this US visit seems to have been reduced to nil in light of the surrounding pattern of arrests and charges against other activists. By extending prison terms and detaining additional Uzbek journalists and human rights defenders, the GOU communicates that it will continue to deny its citizens’ their basic human rights.
Since January, 4 Uzbek human rights defenders and journalists have been imprisoned or their sentences extended:
1. Mukhammad Bekjanov completed a 13-year prison sentence in January, and by the end of the month the GOU extended his prison sentence for an additional 5 years for alleged “violation of internal prison rules,” a charge routinely used to justify extending the terms of prisoners of conscience. Mr. Bekhanov is the former editor of the newspaper Erk, a voice of opposition to the President Karimov regime. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Bekjanov and fellow Uzbek journalist Yusuf Ruzimuradov, hold world records in terms of the length of prison sentences for journalists.
2. Abdurasul Hudoynazarov, former chairman of the Angren branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan Ezgulik, recieved similar treatment by the GOU. Mr. Hudoynazarov was convicted for 9.6 years in 2006 and is serving time at Penal Colony No. 21. The prison administration recently charged him with “violation of internal prison rules.”
3. Erkin Kuziev, Chairman of the Ferghana Branch of Ezgulik, was charged with Articles 168 (Fraud) and 211 (Bribery) by the GOU in early April, as reported by Ezgulik on April 9.
4. Gulnaza Yuldasheva, member of the Uzbekistan Initiative Group of Human Rights Defenders, was detained on charges of bribery, as reported on April 12, 2012.
In the past, law enforcement agencies would plant drugs to justify the detention of activists. Now they now routinely use charges of fraud or bribery. The pretexts change, but the pattern of imprisoning and torturing human rights defenders and journalists continues and needs to stop. Protecting Uzbek people’s rights to freedom of expression and association is essential to ending the state system of forced labor for the cotton harvest and laying the foundations of democracy.
See Human Rights Watch, “Uzbekistan: Activist Free but Crackdown Widening” for more coverage