Background Briefing

Silencing critical voices on Andijan

Assertion: “Allegations of arbitrary arrests and detention, including of eyewitnesses to the tragic events in Andijan in May 2005, are unfounded.... Allegations of prevention of the functioning of independent media and the intolerance of any form of dissent expressed therein, and increasing restrictions on freedom of expression, and of harassment, beatings, arrests and threats made against journalists and civil society activists attempting to document and publicize information on the events in Andijan, are unfounded. During the entire period, cases of such treatment have never come before the courts.”

Since the Andijan massacre, the Uzbek government has engaged in a fierce crackdown on human rights defenders, independent journalists and civil society institutions, which has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch and other organizations. Such individuals who seek to speak out about the Andijan events and highlight the lack of accountability for the crimes committed are the targets of harassment and other forms of retaliation, with many having had to stop their work or flee the country altogether. The fact that these incidents of harassment and persecution have not been brought before the courts is unsurprising, since the government denies that these incidents occur or that they constitute human rights violations, and only further underscores the utter lack of accountability for violations.

Numerous human rights defenders have been detained and have had criminal charges brought against them. Among those imprisoned is Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, the Andijan human rights defender whose bulletins alerted the world to what was happening on May 13 and who is now serving a seven-year prison term. Zainabitdinov’s son, Ilhom, was arrested in May 2006 on what appear to be politically motivated charges of theft and forgery. In addition, Mutabar Tojibaeva, a defender serving an eight-year prison sentence for her outspoken criticism of Andijan, was transferred groundlessly to a prison psychiatric ward in June 2006 for 10 days. Dilmurod Mukhiddinov, of the human rights group Ezgulik in Andijan province, was sentenced to five years in prison for distributing a statement by the chairman of the banned political movement Birlik that was critical of the Andijan events.

In 2006, the Uzbek authorities and the Uzbek media greeted the first anniversary of the Andijan events with complete silence. When a group of local human rights defenders gathered to commemorate the victims of the massacre at Tashkent’s Monument of Courage,6 men in plainclothes attacked them and pulled their posters away. One day later, plainclothes men followed a group of human rights defenders protesting at the Russian embassy in Tashkent and detained one person.

The recent trial of Dadakhon Khasanov, a well known Uzbek songwriter who wrote a song sharply criticizing the government’s role in the Andijan massacre, shows that the government has not relented in its efforts to chill dissent. In September 2006 he was convicted on charges of anti-state activities and received a suspended sentence. Five months earlier, in April, Jamal Kutliev, a physician from Bukhara, was sentenced to seven years in prison for possessing two cassettes with Khasanov’s songs.

6 A monument marking the 1966 earthquake that devastated Tashkent.